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Friday, January 02, 2009

Cafe de Twinkle



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.

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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.

himonya house tour_0587

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.

himonya house tour_0576

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.

himonya house tour_0580

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.

himonya house tour_0577
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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.

himonya house tour_0584

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.

himonya house tour_0583

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 :-)

himonya house tour_0585

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.

himonya house_0610

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.

himonya house tour_0582

The bookshelf is from IKEA. The curtains are all handmade by *Twinkle*s sister, a designer by trade.

Welcome to my office

himonya house tour_0593

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.

himonya house tour_0591

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.

himonya house tour_0600

himonya house tour_0601

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.

himonya house tour_0604

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.

himonya house tour_0595

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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