Saturday, 21 December 2013

Suburban Tokyo

When I posted a picture on facebook of a grey and rainy day, one friend commented on how crowded the buildings were. Here's the picture:
It hadn't really occured to me how close together the buildings were since actually in this shot there's quite a lot of space compared to the rest of Tokyo. I did think about it though when we recently moved into our new flat. There are three patio door type windows - two in the main room and one in the bedroom, all of which lead out onto a balcony. One of the main room ones looks out onto a wall which is perhaps 2m away from the edge of the balcony. The other main room balcony has this view:
And the bedroom has this view:
So you can see how close the other houses and flats are in this area. There is basically no empty space at all. It makes me smile a bit because in the UK the planning regs insist you can't overlook other people's properties and people are entitled to privacy and so on. That is clearly not part of the planning laws here!

The big windows and balconies are going to be lovely in the other three seasons but aren't so handy in the winter. All are single glazed and drafty. This is clearly not a problem only I have noticed as I was able to buy this draft excluder tape in an attractive pattern which I've now used to make the bedroom considerably less windswept at night.
I'm not quite there with going around corners yet but it's not too bad.

While I've been typing we've just had another earthquake - my third since we arrived. This was just a magnitude 5.2 so the christmas tree and the rest of the flat just wobbled a bit but we had a 5.3 during the night which was a little bit stronger and I guess more noticeable when lying down.
This was my first daytime one though and the app on my phone gave me 13 seconds warning which was quite strange! Pooch tells me two close together is often a sign of building up to something bigger so I must get our emergency kit together. It largely consists of being able to use a bucket as a toilet from what I've read, in case the water mains are damaged. Having lived with Pooch for 9 years now that is a scenario I often worry about, so if that's the worst of it I'm sure we'll be fine.

I'll be taking more pictures of the neighbourhood and the flat in the next few days as it has stopped raining and is all sunny again. I hope everyone's christmas preparations are going well!

Friday, 20 December 2013


I am fairly sure my English vocabulary is shrinking day by day. I rocked my world two days ago by using the word "malignant" in conversation with Noriko who then asked me to define it. Erm. Somehow "like an ominous drain" didn't clarify anything for her.
To date my only Japanese vocabulary is thank you, thank you very much, one, two (although these are often wrong - how you count things depends on what they are so the numbers for people are different to, say, vegetables), good morning, please excuse me, hot chocolate, hot cocoa (important difference) and cat. I've really got to improve on that but I have been honestly kept busy sorting out the flat. Pooch leaves before 8am and gets back about 7pm so it's been just me shopping and, recently, assembling flat pack furniture. This has included the very same dining table and chairs set we had in the first flat we shared in Stratford. "Ikea" is clearly another Japanese word that I've managed to learn. I've also made more curtains than is sensible and am about to commence cushion and pillow covers.
The build up for Christmas continues, kind of. As far as I can tell it is just about decorating for most Tokyoans. I don't think presents come into it although I have made it clear to Pooch that if he wants turkey with the trimmings that also includes stockings (the patchwork ones I made in the autumn have come with us) bulging with the chocolate equivalent of oranges and teddy bears. I have decorated our tree using 100 yen shop ornaments plus one that came free with a bottle of coke. Pooch has tracked down the only shop in Tokyo that sells fresh turkey and is heading there at the weekend. I am just hoping he doesn't manage to find any spouts. Nasty little things.
I think that makes my feelings clear. 

Sunday, 15 December 2013

From Our Own Correspondent

A few of my most recent observations from the most distant outpost of the SkipNorth community.

First up, the japanese like to nap in places that might seem odd to your average england-dweller.
Sleeping Girls on Metro
Pooch tells me there is a Tumblr dedicated to people asleep on the Tokyo Metro and I can believe it. You can also see people napping on the benches in the stations, in cafes and on the waiting benches in department stores. I can only guess it is down to long working hours. Or it could possibly be altitude sickness, caused by no one ever finding themselves on the ground floor.
Elevator Buttons
In all of Japanese society, there is no such thing as the ground floor or floor zero. The ground floor is the first floor. God knows they don't need to pretend their buildings are taller than they really are - Pooch's office has 12 floors - but there you go. Our new flat is on the third floor, except it's really the second. I try not to worry about it though. 

Next observation concerns language. I believe I have previously mentioned that anything French is considered extremely chic and cool. As well as smattering french throughout their shop names, there is extensive use of english. 
Book - She Knows Muffin
Although not always in a strictly correct way. 
lame pen case
I don't get this. The japanese have three alphabets, none of which is the english one, and so it makes no sense to use a fourth in their lives. In england you don't get adverts punctuated with bits of arabic in order to seem trendy, but there you are. I am not complaining as it is often the only way I know whether I've chosen a hot chocolate or a deep fried trotter. 

My penultimate observation concerns gambling - from the mild to the severe. On the mild side, you get whole floors full of these machines:
Arcades in Tokyo
We used to have them in the Herne Bay arcades when I was growing up and we weren't supposed to "waste our money" on them because they'd pick something up and then as the claw got to the top it would open slightly and drop it again. Goddamnit. However, here there are legions of them. Perhaps not strictly gambling but then you have the Pachinko Parlours which are brightly lit cacophanies with line after line of garish machines with little silver balls falling through them. I have yet to go into a proper one because I am frankly scared I'll never come out - they are portrayed by Pooch as addictive as crystal meth - and he's watched the whole of Breaking Bad. Here is some other brave soul's picture:
Playing Pachinko
It seems weird to me that such a controlled society would take such risks but then I suppose these are safe risks, except for the whole losing all your money thing. The area where the japanese least like to take risks, which happens to be my final observation for this post as well as the thing i find MOST annoying about Tokyo, is crossing the road. 
Japan Road Crossing
You see how the road between these masses of people is completely clear? Empty? Contains no cars? Yet you notice how the people all wait, patiently, for the red man to change to green? GAHHHHHHHH! It drives me mad. I have started using the waiting time to calculate how much more profitable the japanese economy would be if this time were put to other uses rather than standing idly either side of an EMPTY road waiting for the lights to change. 

Why don't I cross? What? Not conform? Stand out from the crowd? Why, you clearly have very little understanding of how we, here in japan, roll. 

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