Making Meguro Home

Himonya Pond

I’ve been feeling a lot of gratitude for our home this week. I briefly mentioned this at the beginning of my last post, but since then time and time again I’ve found myself stopping, looking out of the window at the park and saying, “Wow. We are so lucky.”

The signing of the new two year contract last week got me thinking that now we officially live here, we should make an effort to connect with the local community. I think in a city like Tokyo it is only too easy to live totally disconnected from one’s surroundings, and to a certain extent that’s how it’s been for us since last September. I’ve not made the effort to get to know others or to make myself known. I’ve been an anonymous customer in the supermarket, just another person rushing through the park on their way to work.

Himonya park, with its large pond and temple on an island, little petting zoo, horse stables and baseball ground, is very much the centre of our community. It’s a place where festivals are held. Where people gather at 7am and exercise together. Where teenagers hang out in the evenings.

himonya-park_9436(Our apartment is just behind the trees to the left of the fountain!)

It’s always immaculately clean, thanks to the team of volunteers who sweep it every morning. I didn’t know who they were. They just did it for us. I also didn’t know who it was who managed the compost area just below our balcony. I didn’t know who was responsible for monitoring the water quality either.

It struck me that we should find these things out, and contribute to the upkeep of the park ourselves. After all, we benefit from the birds, from the wind in the trees, from the dappled sunlight on the wall, from the sound of running water, from the smell of blossom (not car fumes), from the luxury of being able to look out of a huge window and not see another building. I’ve lived in many houses in Tokyo, and until now I have never had a view that wasn’t that of other buildings (ranging from between 30cm and 10 metres away) .

Shrine(The shrine on the island in the middle of the pond)

Thus, when we received a notice through the door that the Himonya Park meeting was going to be held in the local gym, I jumped at the chance. Two nights ago, I hot-footed it from work, and, arriving 45 minutes late, slipped into the back of the 3rd floor Meeting Room.

There were about 20 there, about three quarters of whom were over 60. At the front behind a trestle table sat three men, representing the various authorities responsible for the maintenance of the area.

To the side was a fourth man in a suit. He seemed a bit out of place. I soon gathered that he was from the water company which was responsible for the community emergency toilet facility that would be set up in the case of an earthquake. I’d missed the beginning of his section so wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, but clearly the local people were angry with him, and he was doing his best to be humbly apologetic.

New Year

(Burning New Year decorations)

Many of those attending took part. The manager of the petting zoo helpfully reminded us that horses are not humans and can bite. A young woman complained about the growth of weeds in the flower bed near her home, and was encouraged to join the park club which meets on a regular basis to tend to the flowerbeds. There was also a good deal of discussion as to what to do regarding the recent spate of thefts of plants – the consensus was that not much could be done but remain vigilant – or plant cacti!

Someone else wanted to know what had happened to all of the turtles,  “There used to be hundreds of them!”. He was placated by the news that they hibernate.

Futon airing

The meeting wound down after an hour or so, and as people got up to leave so I approached the chap who had asked for park club volunteers. I explained who I was and where we lived; he was delighted that I was interested in helping. Making a note of my contact details he promised to be in touch. The next big event they need help with is the cherry blossom festival in a few weeks from now.

Since that evening, my relationship with our neighbourhood has changed: just making a little effort to connect with the place has made me feel more at home than I did before. Walking the streets I feel I now have an interest in looking after them, in saying hello to people, in supporting the local shops. I feel welcome, a valuable part of the community – and all I’ve done so far is attend one meeting!

I’m looking forward to opportunities in the spring and summer to really help out and get to know people. If we’re going to live here for at least another two years, it only makes sense to connect. Tokyo can be a pretty anonymous place, but this week I’ve learnt that that doesn’t have to be the case.

(all of the photos in this entry have been posted in previous Mumbles. My apologies for the repetition, but I thought they illustrate my thoughts quite well!)

Volunteering, earthquakes and my dream house

purple flowers_0101As I mentioned on Twitter, *Twinkle’s* come down with a nasty itchy rash covering her whole body. It’s pretty spectacular. What’s equally spectacular is how quickly it appeared, and how much it’s faded following a night of rest. She’s still not 100% though, so is taking the day off, and is as snug as an itchy bug in a rug on the futon behind me.

We’re pretty sure its due to tiredness (last week’s conference saw her doing crazy hours) – so rest is what she needs. Incidentally, I used the NHS (National Health Service) Self-help guide – highly recommended.

I spent a couple of hours at Meguro ward city hall this morning, discussing how I might be of assistance to the Meguro International Friendship Association (MIFA). My motivation for volunteering was the frustration I’ve felt at not putting myself in situations where I have to use Japanese, which has resulted in a slip in my language abilities. This seems ideal. My main role is to give advice and feedback on their services, from the gaijin perspective. I’ll also be helping them get their website up to date (spent quite a while trying to explain RSS today!), and figuring out new ways of reaching foreigners in the area who are unaware of the services they provide.

I also did some translation and proof-reading. I’m glad I did that as it made me realise that *Twinkle’s* not emptying the bath after using it was not laziness, but is actually something that everyone is recommended to do in case of earthquake.

It’s also prompted me to decided to get provisions in for when the earthquake does strike. We’ll be getting a few sacks of no-wash rice later today (to be used in rotation), and a variety of other food for emergency use, oh, and a cardboard-box toilet.

The dangerous (tall and heavy) items we do have are already secured to the walls, so that’s cool.

Whilst of course there’s no way of telling whether the big quake will strike in our lifetimes, I think it’s worth taking precautions just in case.

Yesterday was a pretty interesting day. Following a run from Shinjuku to Roppongi via the Imperial Palace, I taught English for an hour in a Shibuya cafe, then headed out to visit someone who owns an Amway business, and had built a pretty stunning house on a hilltop next to a large ‘wild’ park.

It was a really funky place. To reach the entrance you climb a short flight of stairs and then cross some stepping-stones across a big (shallow) pond, which is actually the roof of their garage (which houses a very sexy talking Mercedes). Passing by the lift (for when they get old and are unable to use the stairs), you enter tatami-floored reception room. Going upstairs you’re greeted by a huge glass-walled living room, featuring one of the longest tables I’ve seen outside of a film, and a grand piano (that had to be lifted in by crane through the window).

Photos were not allowed – the home security company complained that they could not do their job with so many photos of the place floating around online.

We laughed when we were shown the wife’s bedroom closet – it was almost big enough to fit our entire flat in!

Dinner was the freshest seafood (caught by their fisherman friend), washed down with some rather nice champagne.

Personally, nice though it was, I wouldn’t choose to live in such a house.

My dream house is entirely self-sufficient in terms of energy generation / use, and has a vegee garden that keeps us going in fresh produce for much of the year. It has every energy-saving gadget installed you could imagine – the toilet even does a self-assement of its contents before flushing, and adjusts the flush accordingly. We have a garden on the roof too. Flowers, deckchairs, and a special light funnel channelling natural warmth and light to the rooms below, including the branch office of our charitable organisation.

The house systems are fully controllable from my iPhone, wherever I am in the world.

It’s mounted on large ball bearings so as to prevent earthquake damage [demo].

There is ample room for guests in the annex, which has its own kitchen and bathroom, and an open-door policy. Both short and long stays are possible for those either on holiday in Japan, or in trouble.

The whole house is networked with a main server acting as a central entertainment repository whilst also maintaining the house systems. It runs Mac OS (XI?).

There is a car in the garage. It is an Audi that runs on compressed air. Zero emissions.

The point of having such a house is not just to be happy with the home we live in. We hold frequent open days to demonstrate the steps people can take to reduce their impact on the environment, and offer a consultancy service to those interested in reducing their own home carbon footprints.

We have a log-cabin retreat in the woods too, comfortably housing up to 30 people at a time, where various holistic sessions are run year round.

Is this just a dream? At the moment, yes of course, but it’s a dream I believe will come true.

Best get to work then.