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Monday, November 10, 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.

himonya house tour_0598

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).

himonya house tour_0602

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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Thursday, November 06, 2008

People Change Politics

[Apologies for the reposting. Trying out some new blogging software on my iPhone]

There are some cynics who believe that we are powerless to bring about massive change. I would strongly disagree with that. would Friends of the Earth UK.

Message to supporters:
Together we've done it!

A huge thank you to everyone who has supported us on our Big Ask campaign. Together we have finally got a strong Climate Change Law.

Parliament voted on 28 October for the world-beating legislation after a 3 and a half year campaign by Friends of the Earth. The first of its kind in the world, the Law is a huge step in the fight against climate change.

The Law commits the Government to 80 per cent cuts in the UK's emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, including emissions from aviation and shipping, and with annual targets along the way to keep us on track.

This really is an astonishing achievement. And you helped make this happen - thank you!

And there's more great news for the planet: Obama got elected! This is fantastic, what we've needed for so long.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008


It's early Saturday evening, and I've just finished work. It's been a productive day. In between today's phone calls from students located all over Japan (the majority of whom were training as maritime navigational officers) I've been plodding on with the Access database - it's coming along nicely, and makes for satisfying work. Hopefully I can start testing it by the end of next week.

I've been feeling a little homesick recently. It was sparked by a photo of the valley in which I grew up appearing as my 15-min desktop background. Having been so involved in getting set up here in Japan I'd not focused my attention on England for some time. But the picture brought it all back. I think it was especially poignant as the photo included the wedding venue, that being the wedding which saw many of my most precious friends and relatives gather to share in our marriage ceremony, and demonstrate their faith in us as a couple.

And now they're all elsewhere.

It wasn't just the people though, it was the landscape. I knew that the lack of rolling hills in Tokyo would be perhaps the hardest thing to come to terms with, so I'm not all that surprised that I feel like this. In fact, expecting to feel like this no doubt only served to ensure that I would feel like this!

Still, I've been actively trying to combat this in what ways I can by visiting as many green spaces as possible. As I blogged the other day, there's a beautiful park just down the road from the office. When I mentioned to my colleagues that I'd been there, a lot of them were amazed I'd gone so far: it's a 6 minute walk from the office (I timed it!).

I've yet to explore the whole park as it's so big, but what I have seen of it, I've loved. Looking at it on Google Maps, I can see that in the spring it's a very popular spot for cherry blossom parties - if you zoom in you can see everyone on their blue tarpaulins! (The park is just to the south of the red marker).

Click here for a bigger version

Here's a few photos I've taken over the past couple of days. Not all that remarkable ...but they were taken in central Tokyo.

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The park is home to thousands of spiders - here's one I very nearly walked into!

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This poor dog was having quite a job keeping up with the little girl on roller blades!

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So yes, these little outings into nature do help, as does the fact that we actually live right next to a park ourselves, where the main sound we hear is running water and birdsong.

Anyhow, although I've got a lot to talk about, I'd best be off. My sister-in-law's birthday today.

Our Internet is being reconnected on Monday after a three week break so I should be able to get back in to blogging then. The ISP said they couldn't just switch it back on their end when the contract was renewed as we needed a different type of modem, which arrived yesterday, and is identical to the one we already have!

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Cloud tales

The main line that heads out due West from London towards Swansea provides great views of the English countryside.The tracks are often raised on big beds of gravel, providing us with superb views across the surrounding fields. The first cut of this season’s hay has just been made, leaving doogle bales dotting the landscape. Moo cows, meahs and neigh-neighs also feature prominently - I wonder why we need so many horses?

But it’s the sky that really grabs the attention. Sunny, with rainy patches, it’s essentially blue, but with two distinct layers of periodic cloud. High-up there’s the seemingly motionless candy-floss cumulous grand-daddies, and below them, a few hundred metres from the ground, wispy floaty teenage clouds. The speed of the train and relative distance of the two types creates a dramatic sense of the different attitudes towards life these two types take. The teenagers are playing games with their shadows, their favourite being “How many cows can you make sit down?” The Grand-daddies meanwhile have long since said goodbye to those days of racing across the landscape. They’re happy to sit in their armchairs, smoking their pipes and sending great puffs up into to sky above them. Looking down, they share stories of the time that they were young whippersnappers, mischievously relieving themselves on the shoppers in Chippenham and Bath. They see the train I’m on speeding to the West; “remember in the old days the trains would send up those great clouds of smoke! Used to make me cough they did. Never did get any compensation from the environment agency”.

That’s the kind of thing clouds talk about. That and the group on the social networking site Cloudbook that has secretly formed to organise a mass protest against pollution over the Beijing Olympics. They’ve heard that the humans are planning to use rockets loaded with chemical warheads against them, but the leaders of the movement are steadfast in their resolve. They will not disperse.

Ho hum. Here’s Bristol. Looks like rain.

Image: Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton on Flickr

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