I’ve lived in a lot of houses in Tokyo, and I must say, most of them have been absolute dumps. They’ve been a combination of small, smelly, dingy, and totally lacking in a view. I still remember the classic view I had from my bedroom window in Asagaya – it was of the next building, 30cm away.
As regular readers will know, this time around we really did strike it lucky, being able to take over the contract from *Twinkle*s sister and her English partner (the two of whom are now living in Scotland). There was no key money, just 40,000 yen fire insurance and processing fee (and the deposit for my inlaws). The rent is treasonable (approx 100,000), and with it only being a few minutes from Gakugeidaigaku station in Meguro the location is great.
Now that Spring is here I can hardly believe how fortunate we are to live here. The glass-walled east-facing side is a wall of green leaves blinking in the sunshine, through which we can see the fountain on the pond beyond.
The south-facing side (that’s the one above, featuring my new homemade window-ledge garden and bird feeders, which are proving to be immensely popular with the sparrows) was going to be home to a new mansion, but the plans were put on hold, providing us instead with a beautiful poppy-strewn garden.
Looking at these surroundings, I can hardly believe how fortunate we are, and how different this is from that cell in Asagaya, or the dungeon in Hokkaido located underground next to the sewage tank.
Oh! And another dream of mine has come true – I have a new baby – a pineapple baby! I’ve only ever seen them growing once before, when I went to the semi-tropical islands of Okinawa in 2003 – before that I thought that they grew on trees!
Following on from my last post: having packed my rucksack with Macbook, clothes and shoes for work, water and stuff for my Japanese lesson, I realised it would be daft to try and run like that. Carrying so much weight would not be easy, and would probably leave me with mightily sore shoulders.
So, instead, I decided to run across the south of Tokyo to the bay area, or more specifically, to Rainbow Bridge, from which I thought I might be able to get a mighty fine view of the area.
I left home at 6.30am, and arrived an hour later – only to find that the bridge opened to pedestrians at 9am! It took me another hour to get home, but I made it in time for a shower / change and then off to the office for a 10am start.
I really enjoyed the challenge. But you know, I’m struck by how small Tokyo really is. Shinagawa is, in my mind, miles away, somewhere that is somehow in a different realm, access to which is only granted by train or subway. But my jog gave me a concrete sense of the relationship between our home and Tokyo Bay. It makes me feel that I have somehow tamed that section of the city, that it can’t overwhelm me, as I’ve seen it for what it really is – and it’s not scary.
I shot a number of videos whilst jogging which were live-streamed to http://www.qik.com/tamegoeswild. One thing I discovered is that the iPhone Mic is susceptible to wind noise, and that’s something I’ll need to get sorted for the race next week. I bought a jogging hat today and will try and modify my iPhone arm-band so as to accommodate it and the extra battery, and attach to my new hat.
Today I’m taking the day off the day job to work on other stuff. I find it difficult to work in untidy surroundings, so utilised productive procrastination to tidy the whole flat, do a load of washing up and wash all the bedding.
A couple of days back I bought a couple of plastic bird feeders – but they were a bit pants really as they had to hang on the edge of the 40cm-high railings outside the window, not giving the birds anywhere to stand as they ate. However, this morning at about 7am I heard a few birds pecking away at the ultra-small window sill – they’d been throwing the food out of the bowls onto that.
This inspired me to think about creating a proper windowsill …and that’s what I did. I picked up some cheap wooden racks at the local department store, sawed them in half and then nailed them together, and slotted them into place between the existing mini-windowsill and the metal guard.
And this is the result.
All part of the ongoing (yet already successful) effort to make home home. Mum and dad have an incredible number of birds at their feeders in Orcop – the photo at the top of this post was taken from their conservatory – and I’d like to continue what I think of as an English tradition. It also only strikes me as fair. We’ve destroyed so much of the natural habitat of birds that I think it’s right that we try and make their current lives as pleasant as possible!
Good timing too, what with the approach of Spring!
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.
(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) .
(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.
(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.
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!)
Today is a day to be remembered. *Twinkle* and I have a whole day off together. It’s a rare thing.
We stayed up pretty late last night (about 3am), planning and working on our goals in our cosy little bedroom – with the heated carpet warming our tootsies (had a little switch-on ceremony). This morning we woke up at 9am, had muesli for breakfast, and then set about continuing on our projects, *Twinkle* on her Apple-branded Toshiba, me on my Mac. Listening to the beautiful Kate Rusby.
It’s a beautiful day. The sun is streaming in on our ‘office’ through the park.
We were thinking of going to a cafe to work this afternoon to avoid distraction, but then unbeknownst to me, *Twinkle* decided to create her own cafe. I heard her pottering around the other side of the sliding doors that divide our two rooms, but didn’t peek in. Then, just after two I was invited to dine at the Cafe de Twinkle, where freshly dutch-oven baked (homemade) raisin-and-walnut bread, potato and seaweed salad were served, accompanied by chai tea.
I’m grateful for today not just for the immediate happiness we’re feeling relaxing together in our home, but also for the memory it will provide us with, which can be used as a powerful tool to encourage us in the future.
Today is representative of one of our dreams: to be working from home together, free to choose the hours that suit us. Pursuing our passions as opposed to working for the sake of creating an income.
We’ve decided to stay in this apartment come March, as despite the cost of renewing the contract, the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter, we are unlikely to find another place in such a nice location for so little. The sounds of birdsong and running water are not something you find comes with a lot of apartments in Tokyo. It seems a shame to turn our backs on such a gift.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
The bookshelf is from IKEA. The curtains are all handmade by *Twinkle*s sister, a designer by trade.
Welcome to my office
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.