How Cold Is an Old Japanese House in Winter?

I’m currently staying at the in-laws, and the grandmother’s house is old. Coming from Canada, I was used to central heating and good insulation. Well, take a look at this.

That’s right, only 5 degrees Celsius! We slept through that. We could see our breath. Even my much newer apartment gets pretty cold inside. The houses here are built so you can open the windows in summer and get a breeze going through the house. This was before the widespread use of air conditioners. It gets very hot and humid here in summer. Construction techniques have improved, but still has a long way to go together to western standards for keeping comfortable temperatures. The houses are built well for earthquakes, though.

Have you ever stayed in a very cold house before? Leave your experiences in the comments below. I’d love to read about them.


18 thoughts on “How Cold Is an Old Japanese House in Winter?”

  1. Reminds me of one of my student houses in Portsmouth! I used to get up and get dressed as quickly as possible, then get back into bed to eat my porridge as I watched my breath. Brr!!

    1. When I lived in a Leo Palace, I heated my clothes under the air conditioner before I changed. But in university, I lived in the basement of a house where upstairs was nicely heated, but my apartment was cold in the morning. The heater was nice, so I sat in front of it for a bit every morning.

  2. I can understand why the earthquake-proofing came first. But, I’m ignorant as to whether houses lack adequate insulation and heating due simply to the need to prioritise, or whether the Japanese people don’t notice the cold as much as westerners. Do they simply accept it as normal, or are they eagerly awaiting improvemnnts to do the rounds? In the meantime, you’d best keep your woolly vest and socks on!

    1. Newer houses are better, but there’s the thought that Japan’s humid climate would cause a lot of mould in the insulation, so they don’t do it. I don’t buy that idea at all, as humid places in North America use it with no problems. Colder areas do use it, though. It’s warmer areas where they think it’s a bother, and it’ll increase the costs of construction. There’s no concern about the resale value of houses, since people tend to tear down their house when they move out. And I also think it has a lot to do with tradition and habit.

      1. That is really interesting, especially your views on mould in the insulation in humid climates! I’m sure you’re right. Cost usually comes into the equation somewhere and tradition in Japan is obviously another side of it.I can’t help laughing at the idea of tearing down a house on moving out – although I know many old ones there are very ‘flimsy’ things. Thank you so much for the explanation. It’s appreciated.

        1. The houses here aren’t built to last a long time. They’re kind of like fashion. The Japanese tend to get new things all the time. A new car every 5 years, new clothes every year, never wearing them for more than a year, and everything must be in season. They only wear winter clothes in winter, spring clothes in spring, etc. Even if it’s hot in spring, they’ll still wear jackets. I’ve seen people wearing heavy jackets, scarves, and woolen hats on a warm 20 degree Celsius day in March. I dress for weather, not the season, and I’m asked why. Common sense!

  3. One of the most exciting moments in my family was when we managed to buy five acres of raw land. No electricity, no water, no sewage, and no house. We lived in a tent, the back of the station wagon and under a tree for a long while, then finally managed to cobble together a shanty. Unfortunately, nobody in my family was a carpenter, electrician, or plumber. But we were happy to have walls around us, a floor under us, and a roof over us, no matter how drafty it was. We managed to get a pot bellied wood stove in place before a brutal winter set in. How brutal? We set the logs we planned to burn on top of the stove to thaw them before putting them in the stove. Trust me, it was necessary. It wasn’t the first time for us, either. I’ve hung clothes scrubbed on a rubboard on a line outside and had them freeze solid before I pinned them up. Today we really, really appreciate central heating and air conditioning, and insulation.

    1. Sounds like a difficult time. My grandmother described traveling across country in winter in a car with no heat. It took a week to drive on unpacked roads the same distance it takes to drive 2 days on paved roads today. And definitely no central heating. They also raised/grew much of their food.

    1. In my hometown, that would actually be declared unlivable by law. All homes must have central heating to prevent loss of life. I’ve seen a house condemned because it had no central heating. It was quite old and only squatters lived there, anyway.

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