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Friday, September 08, 2006

Welcome to The Cell

As gaijin cells go, it's not actually that bad. I can stand with my back to one wall, stretch my arms out in front of me, and not actually be able to touch the opposite wall. The view out of the window is pretty impressive too - there's a whole 3 metres between this buiding and the next lump of concrete, an improvment of about 2.8 metres over the last gaijin house I had the misfortune to stay in.

My 2nd-floor room is essentially square, about 14 square metres in size, with two large cupoards set back into the walls. I have a very narrow bed (shortly to be replaced by a futon), a little desk, a chair and a clothes rail. There appear to be 4 wireless broadband networks floating around, one of which is unprotected, and has an actual performance rate of 540kbps - not bad. I've not heard a peep from the 4 other folks on this floor, although the silence that I would otherwise enjoy is somewhat compromised by the existence of a huge trunk road just the other side of the building, a road upon which, incidentally, I was once stuck in a traffic jam for a good hour or so, watching fish swim by a window in the huge tanker in the next lane.

There's a diagram of the place here. N.B. The only recommendation I give with regards to this company is that you don't use them.

I think the most worrying thing about this place is the fact that the floor has a distinct slope to it. Whether this is the result of movement in last week's earthquake, or a cunning device to aid the removal of dribble / spilt green tea, I'm not quite sure. Another downside is the fact that the kitchen and showers are on the floor below me, which is only accessable by going outside and coming back in again. I get the impression that I won't be doing much cooking here, and will become an expert on the local noodle bars.

The company that runs this place is called 'TGK REALTY', owned by the chain-smoking "Haggy" who seems to think that customer service means doing as little as possible, and at a time that is not suitable for you, the customer. Prior to our arrival in Japan, we informed him of our intention to pick up the keys on Wednesday morning at 10am. Wednesday morning 10am comes around, we arrive at the entrance to agent's office building (with over 35 kg of luggage), only to find that the elevator doesn't respond when we press the button for their floor. Our confusion was soon clear up when worker from a company on another floor told us that in recent months the people on floor ten rarely appeared, and thus the elevator would't stop on their floor.

Great!

We phone him:
"Oh, there won't be anyone in until 3pm today..."


Fan bloomin'tastic! Feeling mightily peed off we trudge back to the station, decide to stick my stuff in a coin locker, and attend to other business elsewhere in town.

5 hours later we're back, and thankfully, Haggy is in. What followed came as quite a shock to me - the usually ever-so-polite *Twinkle*, now on her own territory, released a torrent of abuse upon the unsuspecting chap who attempted to do a matrix-style dodging of bullets, but ultimately failed. I was mightily impressed.

When told that I had to give one month's notice if I wanted to move out, I replied, "Ok, I'm giving my notice". That felt good.

The location is excellent - 2 minutes from Ogikubo station, which is situated in Suginami-ku, the ward that I have almost always lived in when in Tokyo. This is both a good and bad thing: on the plus side, I know where everything is bla di bla, on the minus side, everything is so familiar that I am no longer able to appreciate it as I once did. I was talking to a graduate of Sheffield last night who is now living a few stops down the line about this very thing. She agreed that it would be nice to be able to go back in time and see things as we saw them several years back. I feel quite envious of those who are coming here for the first time - if their experience is anything like my first taste of the country they should have a fantastic time.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not dissapointed. This is no anti-climax: it's exactly as I expected. The fact that the engineering works being carried out at Shinjuku station are EXACTLY as they were 2 years ago helps. The SEAS graduate I mentioned above joked last night that they've been banging the same metal pole into the ground on the construction site opposite her flat for the past 18 months.

Which reminds me, I was delighted to see that the immigration department at Narita Aiport is still employing the same man as it was in 2002 to carry out the entirely pointless task of directing arrivals towards the mini-queues in front of each counter, much like the LED displays do at Post Offices. It really is extraordainary how inventive the Japanese are when it comes to dealing with the need for jobs for the aging population. No matter where you go, you are never far from some old man standing with a glowing red baton directing pedestrians around an obstacle such as, say, a piece of chewing gum on the pavement. Ok, so a slight exaggeration, but seriously, sometimes you have to laugh. Yesterday, when on our way to the agent, we passed by a group of workers checking for something in the suspended ceiling of the station. A stepladder, and a man with a torch was all that was really required - but that would not have been enough to satisfy the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Thus, they had a ring of cones surrounding the stepladder, and surrounding them, 2 workers looking on, offering tips on how to turn the torch on, and a further 4 men with red batons, protecting the public from the danger that the cones posed. I'm surprised they didn't have a further ring of men protecting the public from the 1st ring of men!

I still think the classic was that man in Hokkaido whose job it was to stand by a traffic light and wave a green flag when the lights went green, and a red flag when they turned red!

Anyway, must go. So much more to tell you, but I need to get my chainsaw helmut and steel toe-capped boots on as I'm off to the supermarket in a bit.

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