Saturday, July 26, 2008

Taking the Next Step

It's that time of year in Tokyo again. When it's been hot for a month or so and it rarely gets lower than the mid 70's (mid 20's if you're talking Celsius) at night and the water never cools down. By late July, even the "cold" water from the tap is running warm. In fact, when I soak salad greens in the spinner, the water heats them up so much that I either have to throw ice in there or pre-wash and bag them to re-cool my now somewhat wilted greens in the refrigerator.

Taking showers becomes especially difficult around this point in summer. Even at the lowest heat setting, the water comes out incredibly hot, but cold water is not warm enough in which to comfortably shower though, honestly, in past years both my CH and I have opted for the feeling of taking a frigid camp shower over cooking ourselves. Getting overheated in a hot shower then stepping out into a hot room is not only bad for the spirit, but also the body.

This year, we're choosing a new path because of environmental concerns. I always do my best to reduce energy consumption to save money. I'm the person who turns off a light every time she leaves a room and suffers the heat sometimes to the point of feeling heat exhausted in order to "save the planet". Mind you, I doubt I'm contributing much as I'm sure for every person like me, there are hundreds who don't give a toss and figure that mankind will either soil its nest to the point of extinction or science will save us. However, I think it's important to live your life as much as possible thinking that the world would be better off if everyone did what you did rather than focusing on the fact that everyone isn't going to do what you do. Otherwise, you're just talking yourself into living by your convenience rather than your ethics.

The next step lately in trying to be more environmentally conscious has been to reduce shower water use and heating time by turning off the shower while I soap up or shampoo and to turn it on for rinsing. It's a good method, though feels quite troublesome at first. After you get used to it though, it doesn't feel like much of a sacrifice. If you're opting for this method to save energy (and it will reduce your gas or electricity bill and save you money if nothing else), I recommend filling a basin of water in the shower for re-wetting your soap or washcloth so you don't have to turn the water back on while you lather up. In fact, I recommend you don't use a washcloth but invest in a good quality synthetic mesh bath puff. They last forever (and can easily be tossed in the washing machine) and they can hold a lot more lather and soap than other implements. To give you some idea of how long a good puff will last, I got one free a long time ago with some body soap I bought and I've used it now for 12 years without any visible wear or staining. It's still snowy white and in perfect condition.

This method is actually relatively old-fashioned in Japan. People used to use buckets of water to rinse themselves after a soaping up outside the bath in public baths. As more homes got private baths and hot water in every room, things have changed to a more wasteful method. However, I've read that a lot of Japanese people are trying to turn off the water as much as possible in the shower and I'm hoping more Western folks do as well. Ironically, the Western style of bathing by soaking in "dirty water" essentially accomplishes similar water saving. If you wash in the tub, then rinse off with the shower afterward, it's almost certainly just as good with no worse a result.

Unfortunately, while this is all great in the summer, it's going to be very hard to do in the winter in a poorly insulated apartment with no heating in the bath or even in the room adjacent to it. I'll try to tough it out, but there may be a return to full on showers in the winter.

1 comment:

Dateline Osaka said...

Good tips! The shower water isn't that bad here yet. It's comfortably warm to where we don't turn on the water heater lately, but it's not gotten too hot, thank goodness. I suppose that's one of the joys August and September will bring to an already broiling summer season? ;) I hear my husband shut off the water during a shower, so I'm guessing it might be force of habit from a childhood of doing the basin thing, since we don't really have the room in our tiny bathroom to really do anything without standing in the tub!

You are BRAVE for trying to sweat it out during the heat these days. I try to do it for as long as I can most afternoons (or just get out of the house to try to give the electricity a break for awhile), but by the time dinner time comes around, the kitchen gets so hot, I have to turn the AC back on, or at least the fan. Ick.