Archive for November, 2008

A peek inside our mansion

A few people have been asking to see our house – and today I finally got around to taking a few shots.

The view from the front door.

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Our flat is basically comprised of two rooms: a kitchen / dining room, and a living / bedroom. There’s also a tiny bathroom, and a separate loo, oh, and a balcony. The two rooms are divided by glass-panelled sliding doors, which we’ve only now started to close at night to keep the heat in the bedroom.

The table is an IKEA job, heroically carted back by my sister’s-in-law’s partner, Morris, when they they lived here. It’s also a wedding gift, for which we are very grateful!

The kitchen is basically everything along the left-hand side of the room.

The kitchen in all it’s glory.

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I spent quite a long time re-organising all this. Improvements include the removal of heavy / lethal plates from the cupboards above the sink, which *Twinkle* had to stand on a chair in order to reach! It’s now home to things like dish cloths, stores of spaghetti, and granny’s best china.

On the left is the gas stove, which we only use when our main hotplate (the induction range, to the right of the sink) is otherwise engaged. The induction range also serves as rice cooker, kettle, and oven (in conjunction with a saucepan of course!) and costs far less to run than regular hotplates (I took some meter readings last year). Why they are not more common I don’t know, such a fantastic technology. There’s a couple of companies that make them – ours is Sharp, distributed by Amway.

I’m particularly happy with the rack to the left of the sink, which in this action shot is stacked with stuff. This is our third attempt at getting the draining board sorted, having experimented with non-purpose built metal racks we had around the place. The purchase of this £10 basket thing from our local supermarket dramatically changed my emotional relationship with the kitchen.

The gas heater above the sink is unfortunately common in Japan. With no proper flu outlet the sticker on it instructs you to always have the fan on when using it – people have been known to die from carbon monoxide poisoning from these things. Because of this, we never use it for hot water, and have turned off the gas supply. Instead it’s just used for washing up with cold water (which for some reason doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Now, using hot water for washing up strikes me as being a bit wasteful!).

To the right of the induction range is the food mixer and water filter, and below them six plastic baskets which serve as our pantry. Each one has a theme: Baking, liquids, packs of mysterious Japanese ingredients I don’t understand, pasta etc, jams and hot drink supplies. To the right of that we have our sexy fridge, inherited from *Twinkle*s family. It now sports an Apple Sticker to help convince people it is cool.

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The latest and final bit of furniture I purchased from the local department store was this wooden shelving unit. I’d realised that the space in front of the glass door was ‘dead space’, something I don’t feel we can afford in this tiny place. This unit has turned out to be ideal. It’s nice to have the fruit on display, and to have the saucepans ready to hand – encourages me to cook!

One thing I find frustrating is not being able to put things into the wall. Like screws to attach racks and so forth. I try and make do though – here’s my homemade utensil rack.

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Looking back towards the entrance you can see the door to the loo (pictured below), which just about allows me to sit down without having to cut my legs off. The sticky-out-bit on the left is the bathroom.

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It’s a typical Japanese toilet in that when you flush it the water to fill the cistern first comes out of a pipe on top into a mini-sink (lid of the cistern) – a great way to save water as you can wash your hands with water destined for the loo.

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Typical Japanese bathrooms of this size are sealed units – one big piece of moulded plastic. Our water heater is traditional too. You have to turn the handle to get it started (to light the pilot), then wait forever for it to fill the narrow but deep tub (ours takes about half an hour to reach the half-full mark). The bath has two holes in the side: when full, the water is continuously drawn back into the boiler, reheated, and pumped back into the tub, to maintain a constant temperature. In Japan one washes outside of the bath using the shower, and then just uses the tub for soaking and warming (hhm, that phrase sounds a bit familiar… it’s one of the answers on the tests that my English students take) – the whole family take it in turns, thus it makes sense to keep it warm.

The big round thing with the pipes coming out the top is our bathroom water filter – our non-filtered tap water is quite heavily chlorinated, and tends to leave me feeling like I need a shower after I’ve had a shower, not to mention gives me real bad dandruff (and smells!). When I first heard that such a filter existed I thought it was utterly ridiculous and a complete waste of money, but now wonder how we managed without. (disclaimer: that too is distributed by Amway, in which we have a stake :-)

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The ugliness of the space below the sink beside the door left me feeling pretty negative towards that whole part of the house. I resolved to fix it by hiding the sealed up-air vent and waste pipe by buying some white cotton and double sided fabric tape – hey presto, a lovely little curtain!

The other area I set out to improve was the rubbish bins, located to the right of the door.

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I bought a new bin for raw-rubbish, and then divided the bin to the right into two (one for plastics, the other for non-burnables). Note that below the bin on the left is a little space – this is actually another mini-bin on its side which I use for putting in recyclables like cans and glass jars. Recyclable paper is kept in the bag on the right.

I’m a bit shocked by how much pleasure sorting out the bins gave me.

The other side of the kitchen / living room is *Twinkle*s office. When working there she uses an IKEA chair as a desk, and sits on a cushion on the floor. Having said that, recently she has been using my Mac more and more, so often uses my desk in the next room instead.

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The bookshelf is from IKEA. The curtains are all handmade by *Twinkle*s sister, a designer by trade.

Welcome to my office

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This then is where it all happens. My office / our bedroom.

The table is from IKEA again, only about 2500 yen. The additional LCD (a generous gift from my other sister-in-law and her husband) is used for looking sexy, watching movies and when I’m attempting to multitask.

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It looks a bit of mess from this angle, but usually I don’t notice the cables. The printer is kept out of site below the table – possible due to it being front-feed. This was left to me by dear John John. There’s also a flatbed scanner there, but it’s only used now and then so doesn’t warrant a permanent position on top of anything.

To the left are my six little stationary drawers, bought from the local supermarket. They just happen to fit perfectly in the wooden bookshelf that is on it’s side.

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Our second IKEA bookshelf is used for all my documents / household records etc. The files were only 250 yen for a pack of five from IKEA.

The opposite side of the room is taken up with traditional built-in cupboards.

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This is where the futons live during the day. I’ve also bought a load of plastic drawers, each one labelled with what’s in it so *Twinkle* can find stuff after I tidy up. Whilst most have (homemade) purple inserts, I’ve given a couple of them different colours to help *Twinkle* find what she’s looking for quickly :-) (the ‘Temp Capsule’ is for those clothes which have been worn once, but are not dirty enough for washing, but not brand-spanking clean either. Separate from the laundry basket, it’s kind of temporary storage, gets sorted through when I do the laundry).

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Our hanging space is limited – just that in the top-left cupboard, but that’s OK as my suit a few shirts are the only things that can’t be left in a drawer.

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The shoe-rack, which was by the front door, is now in the cupboard. Whilst this may seem like a waste of space, it’s actually helped a lot as we can now use all the space above it (up to the ceiling) and behind it to store things like my rucksack and extra bedding for guests – space that would otherwise go unused.

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Finally, meet our washing machine (also a gift from Y & M). As is often the case in small apartments, it’s outside, on the balcony. It doesn’t seem to mind. It’s cold-water only, and works a treat. After living in Japan the first time, I was left wondering why we waste all that electricity back home by using hot water to wash clothes.

And that’s it.

Guests always welcome. Bring clothing suitable for expedition to north pole.

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Don’t unchi

Recent breakthroughs in Brainy Animal Research Kommunications technology (or BARK for short) has enabled residents in Tokyo’s Meguro-ward to enroll their dogs in new reading and writing classes. The move is part of an effort to educate the canine community in street manners – notably those connected with unchi (poos).

Here we see one of the new signs now being introduced for the educated class of wanwans along kerb stones telling them not to do do-do’s in inappropriate locations.

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Please do it at a pub

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What I want to know if why has the salary man replaced his eye balls with golf balls?

(This is one in a series of posters on the Tokyo Subway encouraging good manners. See the whole series here)

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Faulty Nuts

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It’s worth complaining in Japan.

Last week, we bought some butter peanuts. They were very nice …apart from two of them which seemed to be kind of burnt in the middle.

I didn’t really think much of it, but *Twinkle* insisted that we send the remaining few peanuts back to the manufacturer.

So we did.

Fast forward three days and I have completely forgotten about said peanuts. I return to an empty home and find a letter on the table (pictured). I pick it up and read it.

I am very confused. I scan the letter and see multiple references to peanuts, and then profuse apologies. Who on earth is sending us hand-written apologies, and why on earth are they talking about peanuts?

It was only once I’d eaten the whole (new) pack of deep-fried soya beans that were lying on the table next to a new pack of peanuts that it clicked – these were the replacements for the two faulty peanuts!

I turned the letter over, and there were two stamps attached with a paperclip – the refund of our postage. I re-read the letter in its entirety – it now made sense.

So, the lesson is, when you find yourself with a pair of dodgy nuts, it will probably pay to write a letter of complaint.

So there you go.

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How to regain inches lost to shrinkage – no chemicals required

Last week, I put my Dry Clean Only trousers in the washing machine. I didn’t think anything of it – labels are there to be ignored, right? Surely, being washed in a washing machine is one of the funnest times in a pair of trousers’ life. Who am I to deny them that pleasure.

I didn’t realise that they’d shrunk that much until a few days later, when, walking down the corridor in the office, I heard laughter behind me, and then one of my female colleagues giggling, (in Japanese) “Joseph, you look really silly. Your trousers are much too short!”.

She was right. They were.

It was time to resurrect the Ultimate Clothes Stretching System, patented by myself back in January 2005 following a cotton trouser shrinkage incident, and developed further in November 2005 to save my favourite blue jacket from a life of being too short.

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How to Stretch Your Dry Clean Only Trousers that you Put in the Washing Machine.

1) get them wet again. I decided to just handwash them again in the sink.

2) Get three coathangers, a few bits of string, two tuppas, water, and a pack of stationary clips.

3) Fill the tuppas with water until they are suitably heavy

4) Attach a tuppa to the bottom of each trouser leg with string. This is done by clipping the strings attached to them to the legs using stationary clips.

5) Attach the third hanger to the top of the trousers. I recommend using all of the belt clips so as to avoid putting too much strain on any one part of the trousers.

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6) Hang up over the bath. Leave overnight.

The results are amazing! Mine regained at least 4 inches, without the use of any man-made chemicals (…as would have been used at the dry cleaners).

I urge you to try this technique should you have similar shrinkage problems.

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