Thursday, 23 February 2012

Getting into hot water

The heating system was fixed a couple of weeks after we moved in, and we have a panel on the wall under the stairs to adjust it. For all that we're trying to build a house that doesn't need a heating system in a country where houses traditionally don't have them, we seem to have done just that.

I think this is the first house in Japan I've lived in that has plumbed hot water and it's certainly the first house with any kind of central heating system. It's very European in the sense that it effectively has a boiler with a supply of hot water for washing and also for heating. For a day or two our boiler was running out of hot water, but this was because the heat was all being sent under through the pipes under the floor.

Hot water running out is something that anyone who has lived in a boiler culture will be aware of. My wife has never forgotten getting in trouble for using all the hot water when we were staying in a bed and breakfast before my brother's wedding. 

The concept of hot water running out is perhaps alien to Japan. Japanese has a separate word for hot water "o-yu" rather than "mizu", which it is tempting to argue is due to the abundant natural availability of hot water in the country. In many places it simply flows out of the ground. Hot spas spring up in the middle of cities, and clusters of hotels burst out around them in the countryside, in the mountains or by the sea.

Although this is the first house I've lived in with plumbed hot water, every house I've lived in has had running hot water, and copious amounts of hot water available in the bath. The first house I lived in had no running water in the bathroom, but you could fill the bath with water, and then heat and reaheat that. You could heat the bath a little, then you'd get some hot water at the top which you could scoop out for a shower. When she was a kid, my wife used to have to build a wood fire under the bath at her house. So there was a very visible body of water there. 

All the kitchens where I've lived have had a gas geyser that will produce hot water into the sink on demand. Instant hot water that only runs out if the gas is not connected, or if the battery goes in the geyser and the sparks stop working. 

Meanwhile, at around the same time my wife was loading wood to fire her bath a quarter of a century ago in the mid 1980s, I remember on my first stay in Tokyo seeing somebody going to a pay phone and dialling in some numbers without saying anything. He was setting his bath to come on so that it would be ready when he got home. His bath was electronically controlled to supply and heat the water, and the controller was connected to his answer phone, which could take remote instructions.