On the way into Shinjuku from the airport, I was given a quick and effective illustration of how many people live in this country: apartment buildings. Some up to thirty or forty stories high, the majority containing literally thousands of apartment dwellings, these massive, ugly structures dominated the landscape all the way in. In some parts, there were six or seven all in one neighbourhood. For a moment I wondered how people could live like that, before realising that I myself could be doing just the same…
Once at Shinjuku, in the busiest train station in the world (over 2 million people though it every day), I eventually met up with the housing agent after waiting in the wrong place for half an hour. Shinjuku station has something like six exits, and I had been told to wait at the Starbucks near the east exit, so that’s what I did; unfortunately, they really meant the central east exit, which has another, different Starbucks despite being just two minutes’ walk away.
Aki, who was in fact American-born and raised (yet spoke decent Japanese), led me down to buy a train ticket to Chigasaki and on to the platform to wait. When our train arrived, it thankfully wasn’t at all full, so I could enjoy the journey in relative comfort. At this point I was so exhausted I could hardly take anything in – I remember talking about football, about cellphones, and a few structures viewed out the window, but little else.
So, to Chigasaki, and my new home. The taxi driver didn’t know where my building was, but after a call to the depot we kind of stumbled upon it. To my relief, it wasn’t another enormous eyesore designed to cram in as many people as possible; rather, it was a modest two-storey building with only (I think) four apartments. I have to agree with my flatmates: my room kind of sucks, but it’s certainly no worse than what I had back in Christchurch.
Last night I decided to go down to the local conbini and buy dinner. The roads are so narrow, man – wide enough for a car and a bicycle side-by-side, but not two cars. And at a T-junction, there were some flashing lights embedded in the road that I couldn’t be bothered figuring out the meaning of. Then there’s the housing, virtually none of which is actual houses – it’s all small apartment buildings like the one I’m in. And with the streets so narrow, they can squeeze more of them into a neighbourhood.
I bought ready-made spaghetti bolognese, sushi and kare-pan for dinner. All of it was good, and cheap. This, and much more, is available at any convenience store in Japan – a colleague back in NZ told me to go along and check it out, because I might be pleasantly surprised. The array of ready-to-eat, cheap meals available is just unimaginable in NZ, even in a supermarket. I was very surprised, so thanks, Kuro-san.
Incidentally, the weather is nice, and not too hot or humid. Yet. And I’m just so happy to finally be here.