Here are some numbers for how much energy we spend for making ourselves warm or cool in the changing weather. National Geographic says 47% of the world’s energy is spent on heating, way more than transportation at 27%. If you consider just your home, the number goes up to 60%, says HRAI Canada. Are we supposed to get rid of this energy use completely?—that sounds a bit too drastic for me who cuddles in front of the heater every day these winter days. Still, a lifestyle without any heating or air conditioning existed much closer to home than I thought.
This story takes place in a tea ceremony house in Kyoto, Japan. For those who are not so familiar with it, Japanese tea ceremony in the most basic sense involves a host inviting a guest and serving them a bowl of green matcha tea.
I have been a student of tea ceremony for some years, and I am awed that even the preparation of just a single bowl of tea is an art: the utensils and room décor are picked out carefully to match the guest and reflect the seasons, so you feel cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Then these utensils are elegantly placed in each step of preparing, serving, and tidying up. Whether you are the host or the guest, the calm movements when handling the utensils almost bring you into a state of meditation.
Its long history makes tea ceremony not only an art form, but a way of life. The 26th Generation Grand Master of the “Urasenke” school of tea ceremony houses many apprentices in his headquarters to pass on this tradition.
I was very fortunate to have been able to visit this place. From a steaming hot summer day in Kyoto, I stepped into a tranquil scenery surrounded by a green garden with stone statues, and a beautiful wooden house. I did not notice until an apprentice told me, that there are no air conditioners or heaters in the whole building. They change out the windows between seasons – screens in the summer let the breeze through and opens us up to the green and running water outside, while the winter blinds keep the cold air out and warm air in.
The apprentice offering the tour explained that at first he suffered the hot days in summer and cold days in winter, but after living in this environment for a while, he started to find the artificially cooled or heated buildings in the city uncomfortable. He even got ill from the drastic changes in temperature between the heat outside and the air conditioning inside buildings.
I get impatient with an air conditioner set to a few degrees higher in the baking hot summer, and I don’t hesitate to turn on the heater in the cold winter days. However, today, I’m remembering the apprentice I met in that tea ceremony house in Kyoto, and give myself a bit of courage to say: why not get cozy in an extra layer of blankets instead, and make myself a cup of tea, letting the boiling pot of water warm up the room?
Read more on:
National Geographic: Quiz yourself on heating
Natural Resources Canada: Zoned Heating Can Reduce Energy Use
Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada: Consumers Guide to Heating Options
(This article was published in March 2013 on At this time the news magazine and Community of Accounting and Business Professionals blog)