The Daily Mumble January 2003 Archive
Hello. It's me again. I'm Back.
2003, I embrace you. You are my friend, and should you ever need my help over the next twelve months you are but to ask. In return I expect you to treat me a lot better than your younger brother (2002) did. OK? Good, I'm glad we've got that sorted.
Now, on with life.
New Year was just what I'd hoped it would be - relaxing.
The week was spent with my girlfriend at her parent's house in Aichi-ken, about 5 hours west of Tokyo. 5 hours that is if you take the normal train, which I usually would do as the ticket is 50% cheaper than the alternative - the Shinkansen (Bullet Train). Still, I figured that once in a while I deserve a treat, and so it was that we completed the journey in little over 90 minutes, enjoying the smoothest ride this side of a Boeing 747 (in a cloudless sky). Smooth, but a little noisy as the guy on my left was snoring like a mongoose, and the children on my right were singing songs about fish all the way.
We didn't leave the house once in five days. If ever you've been to Japan and had the opportunity to sit under a Kotatsu (heated table) you'll understand why. We ate. We watched TV. We ate a bit more. We slept. Watched more TV. Ate more... well, I guess you get the picture. That was a REAL holiday! Oh, and I didn't have a drop of alcohol either, just in case December's Daily Mumble had left you with the impression that I'm permanently rat-arsed.
The only distraction was Hamchan.
Hamchan usually lives at the school where my girlfriend's mother works, but, being New Year he too needed a break from the classroom. He's very cute, but has a strange addiction to sinking his teeth into your skin and not letting go...
Yesterday I returned to my broom cupboard, which whilst I was I away seems to have made a resolution to not let the air within it rise above -20°C no matter how hard the heater tries. Also, someone's stolen the light in the toilet again, that's the second time in 6 weeks. I had wanted to take some photos of the toilet-roll holder to engage you in a debate on which side the paper should hang down from (I was brought up with it hanging down from the back of the roll and not the front as most people seem to be used to).
It's now 5pm and I haven't had breakfast yet. Admittedly though, on waking at midday I did finish off the whiskey-filled chocolates that I got as an early birthday present yesterday (January 13th, hint hint).
Kae and I are now trying to find a place to live for the next year or so. This morning, having contacted a few estate agents, she phoned me with her report on the situation. On hearing that she was looking for a place for two people, the agents enquired who her friend was. Their questions included the following:
Now correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that blatant racism?! And what business is it of his if we're married or not?
I really couldn't believe that this chap actually asked what colour my skin was!! He went on to explain that the owner was afraid of the rising level of crime, which naturally was all due to the foreigners in Japan who make up about 2% of the entire population.
I guess I should count myself lucky, as in some countries people experience racism like this on a daily basis, but, well, it was my first time and I was shocked and angry.
I guess I'm not in the West now...
Right, I'm off to town to have my breakfast/lunch/dinner. Where's my paper bag with the holes cut out for eyes?
Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse..
So today I got a phone call telling me that it won't be possible for my girlfriend of two years and I to rent a place together after all. Nothing to do with the incident described above, but more due to the fact that, well, this is Japan and things are done differently here. Issues connected with our dependence on one another and family etc.
Having lived here for a while I totally understand why we're being advised not to live together again (as we did last year for 6 months), and looking at the situation from a Japanese point of view I totally agree, it's just not right. But then, I think of it from a British prospective and feel... Why Not? A decision to live together would affect nobody but ourselves, and it is, after all, what we both want.
It's those classic conventions of society again, those unspoken rules that I have fought so hard against for the past 9 years. However, in this case it's a bit different, as the conventions are not those of my society, but rather those of a foreign society that I have voluntarily chosen to submerge myself in. This leads me to think, "Do I have any right to object to this pressure? It was entirely my own choice to come here, entirely my own actions that led to these rules being applied to me. Shouldn't I just accept it as The Japanese Way? If I don't like it, I should leave. Just quit complaining."
I'm playing wait-and-see now.
The placement of obstacles in my path seems to be never-ending, but what's surprising me is how little it all hurts; in fact, I feel no pain, not even a hint of frustration. The entire story that has been unfolding since last April has now reached such a bizarre stage that I no longer feel that these things are happening to me. Instead, my life has become a film that I'm watching with considerable interest - and disbelief. It's a kind of Truman Show thing. I'm just waiting for the next dramatic scene. What form will it take? A phone call out of the blue? An accident with a bicycle? A chance encounter with the Emperor of Japan in Starbucks Coffee?
Only yesterday my sister said to me, "You know Joseph, I'm always fascinated to see what you're going to do next." Well believe me Emma, there's no-one more intrigued than me!
For you regular Mumblers out there - just to let you know that Crazy Screaming Girl is at it again.
A nice conclusion to the day - I dislocated my right shoulder whilst buttoning up my coat! Boy was it painful! First time that's ever happened to me - I managed to pop it back in a after a few seconds, but boy-oh-boy the pain!
Lets hope tomorrow's a better day!
After two days of careful coat buttoning-up my right shoulder is feeling much better thank you.
I really must break out of this habit that I have of going to bed at a ridiculous hour and waking up the following afternoon. Last night it was 4.00am/1.30pm. I don't know why. I dreamt about writing a letter to Bill Gates, and when debating where to send it I decided that email@example.com was bound to be the best option. Do you think he gets emails from the manufacturers of Wonder Pro Weight loss Shakes containing photos of Britney Spears on the loo? I doubt it somehow. Junk mail really is a nightmare. I made the mistake a few months back of publishing my phone's email address on this web site, and since then have been woken up at ridiculously early hours (e.g. 11am) by offers of amazing deals on the latest CableTV Descrambler. It's only time before Britney Spears gets a hold of it...
I was up at 8am today, studying the Kanji alphabet... until 9am when I fell asleep again until 1.30pm! The Broom Cupboard is really excelling itself in terms of coldness now; last night not only did I sleep in my underwear, jeans, tea shirt and jumper, but also my long stripy scarf was called in for reinforcement.
I got my photos back from Yodobashi the other day, and, although I took them in December, I'd just like to share one of my favourites with you here in January's Daily Mumble. It's called "There's a Squid on the line for you dear".
It was taken in Shimoda on Christmas day (click here for the album).
In between moaning, this week I've spent a lot of time abusing my laptop with a whole host of new software, namely Photoshop 7, Dreamweaver MX, Partition Magic 8 and various Windows™ updates.
But, the thing that has worried me more than the numerous crashes my Toshiba has had has been the CRACK IN THE SCREEN! Top right-hand corner, where the 'X' to close the window is. About 7mm long running in from the edge. A laptop with a knackered screen is about as useful as a ten pound note in a Japanese vending machine that only accepts coins that have been regurgitated by a tiger on drugs (i.e. not very useful).
Anyhow, yesterday, after ten days of wondering whether Scotch™ tape would do the trick, I discovered that the crack had suddenly got a lot longer! Not only that, but it had actually moved to the left a little! A pair of tweezers soon revealed the crack to be a hair that had recently started a new venture called "Hire a Crack" - it's first big client had been Toshiba who were looking to increase sales by persuading people that their current models were on the way out. Needless to say, despite my recent turning-25-am-I-going-bald? worries, I threw Mr. Hair in the bin, and reported "Hire a Crack Ltd" to the local Trading Standards Association. You can imagine how difficult it was to explain all that to the Japanese chap who had the misfortune to be on duty at the time.
Oh Joseph, did you take your drugs today?
Well well well, there's been so much excitement lately I barely know where to begin. At the weekend there was the adventure that was Struggling To Find A Place To Live; Monday saw me turn 25-years-old (that's a quarter-century by the way), which was celebrated in the hot-spring resort of Hakone (a couple of hours west of Tokyo); Yesterday found me jumping for joy having located and signed the contract for my Room With A View (which shall be replacing the Broom Cupboard as my home from next week on), and today, well, I've only just got up so who knows what might happen?
Sunday afternoon saw my girlfriend and I house-hunting. The idea for the past 6 months or so has been that when she returned from her 7 months in Italy, we would get a place together in Tokyo and live happily ever after. However, a combination of problems regarding my status in Japan and those outlined above have led us to change our minds: we'll both get our own places to live and visit one another on a regular basis (i.e. I'll stay at her place 80% of the time!). Although initially I was pretty upset by this idea (my emotions were a victim of the classic Living For Tomorrow way of thinking), within a few hours I'd adjusted my mind set and had come to the conclusion that in fact this option is absolutely the best. Personal space is a precious thing.
That decision having been made, off to the Estate Agent's it was. There, we encountered enormous resistance to our request to have a look at a spacious apartment that we'd seen advertised in the window. Despite our assurances that I, the foreigner, have my own home and would not be moving in with my girlfriend illegally, the agent spent about 15 minutes swiveling around in his black leather chair whilst muttering, "Hhmm, I see". Just when I began to think about leaving, he started to talk.
He explained to us how in some areas of Tokyo (such as Shinjuku or Roppongi), foreigners have no problems getting a place to live - the locals are used to it. However, here in Koenji, it's a different story. It's an old town. 99% of the population are over the age of 104. You'll find very few chain stores - there's not even a Starbucks (and with Tokyo boasting over 330 branches of the Seattle-based coffee company, that's quite something). It's for these very reasons that I particularly like Koenji. I feel that it's one of the most Japanese parts of this crazy capital that in some parts feels more American than Asian. So you see, the estate agent said, to find an apartment in Koenji where the owner is happy to have a tenant who often has a foreigner visiting (just visiting, not staying), well, it's very difficult.
My girlfriend was being told that it would be very hard to find an apartment, just because her foreign friend would be VISITING (not staying) now and then!
Anyhow, whilst he was explaining this I was enthusiastically agreeing, trying to use my bad Japanese as much as possible to break down the barrier that he had automatically placed between himself and I the moment we'd walked in. After about thirty minutes, he began to warm to me, and offered to show Kae the apartment we'd seen advertised in the window - "but it's just for one person, OK?"
The apartment was perfect. It's spacious (bear in mind that this is Japan and any room that is big enough to swing an earwig by its tail in can be classed as "Spacious"), has a balcony to grow tomatoes on, and is only a couple of minutes walk from Koenji station and the local video rental store. The size and location dictate that it should be pretty expensive, but its age and lack of mod-cons such as heating or air conditioning mean that it only costs about £450 a month. Not bad for Tokyo. Kae moves out of the broom cupboard and into her new place tomorrow.
With Kae having got her housing sorted, and my Broom Cupboard contract coming to an end next week, it was then time for me to do a bit of house-hunting for myself. I didn't bother go to any of the traditional estate agents, but instead contacted a few who specialise in places for foreigners. The company who deal with the guesthouse I'm in now charge absolutely ludicrous rates (in Hereford I rented an entire house for the price of the walk-in freezer I currently live in!), and, it seems they rarely clean the common spaces. After two weeks the toilet light bulb still hasn't been replaced, and if I wanted to use the filthy shared kitchen, first I'd have to go out and buy all my own pots and pans as there is nothing for common use. Not even a single teaspoon! Anyhow, you get the picture - I haven't really settled down here.
First stop was classifieds.japantoday.com, where I soon came across an ad placed by Apple House, a company based in Higashi Koganei (about 20 minutes west on the JR Chuo line from Shinjuku). Ok, so the location is not ideal - they call it "countryside" out there due to the fact that there's less than 3000 people per square metre as in the city centre! Anyhow, that really is an unusual place. I won't go into details now as I need a few photos to back up what I tell you - just to say that in one of their mad houses I have found my Room With A View and I am VERY happy with it! The moment I stepped into that warm golden carpeted expanse I knew that I had found Home - until March at least as that's when my contract expires. The 4.5m x 4.5m room comes complete with a new fridge, television, video, futon set, 24-hour free ADSL internet connection, and best of all, a BIG window! But - check this out - unlike most windows in Japan which have a view of the neighbouring building, this one has a view right over the rooves (SP?) of Western Tokyo across to the horizon that plays host to the winter setting sun.
(Just to emphasize how unusual this is, here's a photo of the view out of my current window.)
Also, the house in which my Room With a View is situated is cleaned on a daily basis, rather than fortnightly as is the case here in Broom Cupboard Mansions. The kitchen is spick and span, with plenty of pots and pans available for common use. Parties are banned: that rule suits me down to the ground as I'll be spending all my time there relaxing, studying, sleeping and watching TV! I've always got really stressed by the sound of background voices - people in corridors or neighbouring rooms. I just need My Space - and that's exactly what I'll get in Apple House 21.
I move in next Tuesday. :-)
Crikey. 25-years-old. Scary stuff. That's a quarter of a century. Shouldn't I start becoming responsible or something?
Monday morning, Kae and I took a train to Hakone, a hot-spring resort that lies a couple of hours west of Tokyo. Once there, we checked into a lovely little ryokan (traditional Japanese-style guesthouse complete with it's own onsen full of volcanically-heated sulphuric water), and began to unwind. When staying at a Ryokan, the procedure is always the same:
- check in
Well, that's what we did anyway. On the Tuesday we hiked towards Moto Hakone, otherwise known as Fuji Viewpoint, for the following reason:
I know that the contrast isn't great on this digital shot - but you can just about make out Mount Fuji above my head. Anyhow, apart from this photo opportunity and a convenience store there wasn't much there to distract us, so we took a bus to the areas largest onsen resort, Tenzan, which was absolutely fantastic. They had absolutely loads of piping hot outdoor pools, and a sauna that resembled a very large traditional pizza oven with its low curved ceiling and clay walls. However, what caught my eye was the walk-in body-dryer in the changing room!
Unfortunately, due to the number of willies waggling around the place I was unable to take a photo of this fantastic contraption. However, thanks to my amazing skill with a computer mouse I can bring you this great diagram.
Yes, must get one when I build that house of mine. I guess it could be built into the shower unit. Hmm, now there's an idea... I wonder of anyone's patented the idea already...?
After all that fun it was back to Tokyo, where preparations have been underway for next week's Escape From The Broom Cupboard. It's all SO EXCITING!!! I guess I'd better finish packing, after all, there's only 72 hours to go!
Crikey, a whole week gone just like that! My excuse for not writing for the past seven days is that I've just been SO busy with the house move.
I'm out of the Broom Cupboard! I survived the ordeal that was two months living in a cell the size of an egg carton with nothing but a view of a concrete wall for company. My new home is just fantastic. In Japan rooms are not measured in metres or feet, but rather, in Tatami mats. So, for those of you who are clued up on the size of a regular Tatami mat, my room is 7 (the largest room I've had to myself since I lived in Stanhope Street, Hereford - and that was 9 years ago!). Here's a few photos.
Anyhow, being in this new space has done wonders for my spirit. Despite the disappointment of learning today that I didn't get the job that I really really wanted, I really feel a lot better than I have done for the past two months. Here I feel that I have room to think and room to breathe. I can organise myself and get on with doing the 101 things that I've been wanting to do since my return to Japan last November, but haven't been able to face due to the freezing temperatures and general atmosphere of that Broom Cupboard.
Having a free internet connection in my room is also VERY handy - makes life a lot easier. Although it's allegedly 100mbps, in practice it's a lot slower due to the number of people in this guest house sharing the same cable. Mushn't grumble.
My girlfriend has also moved out of the Broom Cupboard and into her lovely new home in Koenji. It's a really nice apartment, and I feel privileged to be able to treat it as a second home - especially considering the company that comes with it.
Anyhow, I must get on as I still have 101 thing to do today. Ah, the life of a celebrity-in-the-making heah?!
A couple of hours ago I was waiting for a train at my local station. Suddenly, the elderly lady to my left dropped to the ground, before rolling off the platform and onto the rails below.
Following incidents like this I always wish that I'd reacted quicker. Anyhow, after a few seconds of staring blankly at the body on the tracks, I ran over to the edge of the platform, as one of the station staff hit the emergency alarm, stopping the approaching trains on all 4 tracks. It was with some difficulty that myself and three others lifted the lady back onto the platform. She was bleeding badly from a cut in her head, but other than that, and of course the shock of it all, she seemed ok. It wasn't long before she was stretchered away and the trains started again.
What struck me most about the whole thing was the number of people who did absolutely nothing to help. Other than the turning of heads to see what was going on, there was very little reaction by anyone. It's not the first time that I've experienced this kind of thing in Tokyo. Last year, I witnessed two motorcycle accidents. In both cases I was the first one to approach the victim to see how I could help, whilst the native population simply stopped to watch. What's with this "it's none of my business" attitude? Are people so conditioned by society's rules that even when human lives are at stake no-one will step out of line to help?
My advice is when coming to Tokyo, make sure you rent or buy a mobile phone. Chances are that if you are the victim of a serious accident, you'll be the one who'll have to call the ambulance!
Yesterday Tom and I felt in need of a bit of guidance, and so naturally headed straight for our local kitchen shop. There, some saucepans graciously shared their wisdom:
Oh, then there was the new fast-food restaurant in Kabukicho, cunningly called Really Fried Chicken!
Or how about this, my local video store. What on Earth was the owner thinking when he came up with this name?
Have you seen the latest concept car from Nissan?
This poster can be found on the wall above the rubbish bins outside my room. It explains what gurbage goes in which bin. Aparantly, burnable rubbish includes paper craps...
On finding that my milk had gone off, I checked the label to see when it's Best Before date was. It was only then that I noticed that it will evoke memories of an old fashioned flavour - "Old" maybe, I don't know about old fashioned though!
Now I hope you understand why I can't stop smiling whilst living in Japan.
It's been one of those days today.
starters, it's rained heavily non-stop.
Because of that experience I'd given up on pursuing the Cultural Activities option - until last night. I was in the kitchen at my new place cooking up a delicious meal that consisted of plain rice accompanied by plain rice, when a very genki Indian lady joined me. She told me how easy it had been for her to sort out her visa status - yes it was a Cultural Activities visa and yes she had been granted permission to work with it. That led to my return to the immigration department today, where once again I was told "Yes" and then moments later, "No". Who knows?
Following that my spirits slumped. It was a good few hours before I climbed out of that hole, having been given a kick up the backside by my girlfriend who knows far too well when that's called for!
My situation is the same as it has been for the last couple of months, that is, I'm in Japan, heavily in debt, unable to work due to visa restrictions yet unable to change my visa for one that does allow me to work due to ludicrous bureaucratic rules and regulations. At the same time I am unwilling to leave; I'd rather go further into debt whilst trying to work my way through the maze of vague possible remedies for the situation. Most of the time I feel really quite happy. "Burying my head in the sand" might be one way of describing what I'm doing, although I prefer to think of it as "Stress Management".
This afternoon I started to feel that one thing causing me grief is my feeling of having too many choices. Some might say that in my situation I really have only one option: to return to the UK and get a job in order to pay back the thousands of pounds that I owe various credit card companies. A few years back that's what I would have told myself. But these days I'm only too aware of how many options I do have.
Last week I was considering buying a three month return ticket for Malaysia, the idea being that I could live very cheaply for a few months on a deserted beach, in order to pass the time until July when I can get a Japanese student visa. I even went so far as to call a few travel agents for quotes. And of course I could Wwoof again, do some organic duck rice farming as they call it over here. That way I could continue my study of Japanese... then again, I still get nightmare-ish flashbacks to last summer (spent in a dungeon located beside a septic tank). If the worst comes to the worst I might have to declare bankruptcy in the UK, and simplpy not return there for a while - although that really is a last resort. But there are other possibilities - most of them are legal too!
I may winge on about my situation, but, as the hours tick by (it's now 1.24am!), I can't deny that my heart is beginning to once again feel full of gas - that is, light, happy and giggly. It's all this excitement, the excitement of being in a totally unpredictable situation in a mad country, a mad country that I love far too much.