kerosene tea (灯油茶) — it’s winter in Osaka


Winter has hit Osaka with flurries of small snow storms and frost on the neighborhood roofs in the morning.  Because Japanese houses are famously cold in the winter — a phenomenon that’s been extensively commented on by people a lot more clever than myself — all kinds of strategies have been developed to keep warm, an endeavor that Thoreau identified as the fundamental necessity of life:

The grand necessity, then, for our bodies, is to keep warm, to keep the vital heat in us. What pains we accordingly take, not only with our Food, and Clothing, and Shelter, but with our beds, which are our night-clothes, robbing the nests and breasts of birds to prepare this shelter within a shelter, as the mole has its bed of grass and leaves at the end of its burrow!

In my own burrow I have a warm wool blanket and a throw, as well as plenty of slippers and wool socks, which I slither into as soon as I get home.  When it gets particularly cold I tend to camp out in a small, easily-heated spare room that I have stocked with a fine CD player, headphones and a headphone amp, and a wall of music.  And an electric heater.

The heater that I love the most, however, is an old-fashioned kerosene stove — an Aladdin blue-flame heater.  In Japan this type of heater is referred to as a “Daruma stove” (ダルマストーブ), a name derived from the old, squat cast-iron wood stoves that, presumably, resemble Daruma dolls.  While kerosene, first registered as a trademark in 1854, was one of the products that helped to usher in the age of processed fossil fuel consumption, in one way it is a surprisingly ecological fuel: kerosene was an early replacement for whale oil, which was the primary fuel for oil lamps until the late 1800s.

Kerosene heaters are still ubiquitous in Japan.  So much so that in my neighborhood there are two competing kerosene delivery trucks.  They circle the neighborhood at set times during the week, signalling their presence with repeated playings of a nostalgic Japanese children’s song about snow.   My basic kerosene resupply routine consists of listening for the truck to come by, throwing down whatever I’m doing when it does, and running out into the street with my empty blue plastic kerosene jugs, waving my arms to catch the eye of the truck driver.

I really love my kerosene heater.  The smell of it reminds me of camping, and I like to watch the blue flame through the round glass window — like a porthole that looks into an exotic world of warmth — while I prop my slippered feet up somewhere nearby.  If you place a tea kettle on top, you have an instant humidifier.

As much as I love the version of the song that’s played by the kerosene truck, I much prefer the rendition that Ua did for Doーreーmi Television (ドレミノテレビ), the NHK children’s show that she appeared on from 2003 to 2006.  Since Ua is local, I like to think that maybe her version of this song was inspired by the very same trucks that circle my neighborhood, blaring the looped signature of industrialized nostalgia.


2 Responses to “kerosene tea (灯油茶) — it’s winter in Osaka”

  1. It’s exactly the same as here.

    Wonderful post. It sums up the Japanese winter brilliantly. I presume a kouhaku post is on its way.

  2. Oh, and Ua is, as always, fantastic.

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