Tag Archives: chigasaki

PUT THE SPEAKERS IN THE WINDOW

Personal living space matters differently to different people. I think its importance to an individual depends on how much time they spend in it – if you prefer to be out of the house, you tend not to mind coming home to a little box with a bed and a chest of drawers, while if you spend a lot of time in your home, you value having a space that you’re happy to occupy. I belong in the second camp, given as I am to reading on the interwebs, watching films and TV series, and playing the odd game. My legs are slowly turning to jelly through lack of exercise, but I’m enjoying myself, and I’m going to start running the day after tomorrow so screw you.

For the vast majority of my life, my living space has been perfectly acceptable. Except maybe that year without a door on my room, or the first two years at school in a dormitory with 14 other boys. Even my last flat in Christchurch, a particularly small place by NZ standards, was acceptable – while my room was tiny, it had a separate lounge and kitchen, so I could waste time in them without feeling hemmed in.

When it came to light that I was going to move to Japan, I had this picture in my head of me in a traditional Japanese room with tatami mats, sliding doors, and a futon that I pack away each morning. That wasn’t what I got. Instead, I was given a room that, subtracting the bed, desk, clothes rack and chest of drawers from the equation, only had about 1.5 square metres of floor space. Not only that, but there was no real lounge to speak of, just an austere kitchen/dining area. I was happy to be in Japan, of course, but it kind of sucked coming home each night to such an unwelcoming space. Students told me it was small even by Japanese standards. And as for bringing other people round, fuggedaboudit.

My relentlessly pragmatic brain didn’t get upset, though. It just said ‘right, we must find a new space where we can make rays of sunshine and pink unicorn’s tails’ – to wit, a new, better place. Rather than putting any sort of plan into action, however, I half-heartedly performed online searches and sent off a sum total of 0 inquiries. Then, a little over two weeks ago, a gentleman brought an advertisement for his small guest house to one of the schools I teach at. It told of a place in beautiful Kamakura with a big, traditional room in a decent location. I fired off an email and went to check it out.

Of course it was just like the picture I had in my head. Why wouldn’t it be? I was lucky in getting my job, lucky in meeting certain people here, now exceedingly lucky to have something like my dream living space fall into my lap. I took it, and moved in last Friday. Now I live in one of my favourite places I’ve visited, in a space I adore, with wonderful people for landlords and a month-to-month contract (should something else miraculously turn up). You never appreciate things until they’re gone, and now that I’ve gone a few months of preferring not to go home to my tiny cupboard of a room, by golly, I’m appreciative of this.

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HOLD YOUR HEAD UP HIGH ON THE OTHER SIDE

QUESTION from Marty: How long does the train ride from Chigasaki to Shinjuku take? – Well, if I take the Rapid service (which I usually do), it’s 52 minutes. Yes, train times are that exact. In physical measurement, it’s just over 60 kilometres. Including walking times, my daily commute is about 70 minutes each way. Bear in mind that the whole way, the conurbation never stops – it’s buildings from beginning to end with no parks, forests or hilly domains. Thanks for the question, Marty – keep ’em coming, people!

This morning I slept through my alarm. That’s to say, it went off, I grabbed it and pressed ‘Stop’, then settled back into bed – all without actually waking up. I opened my eyes to find the sun higher in the sky than it should be and my phone/alarm clock nowhere in sight. Panicking, I threw my bedsheets around trying to find it. What if I only had 5 minutes to get to the train station? What if training had already started? Very soon I found my phone, and it said 8 o’clock. Training started at 10:30. Not the nightmare I was preparing for, but still quite pressing.

I made it, though. No problem. And I remembered my pen today, which I’m sure you’ll agree was sensible.

After training I found myself in Shibuya, so I met up with the gentleman who writes (or used to write) this website. He’s a Kiwi who’s been over here for a year now. Pretty crazy, hanging out with someone I’ve only previously talked to on the internet. I must say, it was very nice to hear a familiar accent again, even though I’ve been here less than a week. We had a good yarn over a couple of beers; he introduced me to some new terms, like ‘friendsick’ and ‘familysick’ in place of ‘homesick’, as they are very much distinct from each other.

Generally, talking to this guy was massively reassuring – like, now I feel like I’m really here and it’s exciting and my horizons can be expanded, because until now I’ve been wary of exploring too far, or challenging myself too much. His words made me think about why I’m here, and how I’m here, which made me eager to get into things a bit more instead of sitting back, saying as little as possible and keeping to the streets I need. The easing-in period can finish; the grabbing life anew period can begin (as ridiculous as that sounds).

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PEOPLE WON’T BE PEOPLE

I made my way to Shinjuku this morning for the first day of training. As is customary, I missed the turnoff and walked about three times as far as I should have, before realising my mistake and turning back. I found the building, sweaty and harried, with 5 minutes to spare. Wahey.

(By the way, the weather is different between Chigasaki and Shinjuku. In Shinjuku, it is sticky and energy-sapping. I think it’s all the tall buildings reflecting heat into the street, or something. Down here in Chigasaki, it is comfortable – warm but not too hot, not humid, occasionally with a pleasant breeze. But you didn’t come here to talk about the weather, and anyway, it’s all going to change very soon – the Rainy Season is almost upon us…)

Once inside the training room, with four fellow trainees (all Australians), I realised I hadn’t brought a pen. Good start. Our trainer looked and spoke a bit like Simon Amstell, so when he noticed me looking around uncomfortably at form-filling-in time, he graciously offered me his pen for the session… and took the piss out of me at the same time. What he couldn’t possibly have expected was that I would BREAK HIS PEN just five minutes later! What a ridiculous thing to do! I felt like a prize idiot, but he didn’t mind too much… he just took the piss out of me again.

The second trainer who took over at about 4 was a Yorkshireman who was into, among other things, avant garde hardcore and noisescapes such as the music of John Zorn. So far, not too challenging.

After the training finished, I went for a wander around Shinjuku, just to look at all the blinking lights and swiftly moving people. It was illuminating, to say the least. So many shops, bars, restaurants… all with staff outside shoving menus in your face and loudly chorusing for you to come inside. I didn’t buy anything – somehow. I also counted about four noisy buses circling the neighbourhood, obnoxiously but delightfully advertising various wares. Then I caught the train home, and the mass of people on the train network illustrated again how vast Japan’s (and especially Tokyo’s) population. People just don’t stop coming.

Now I’m back here, writing this, and thanks to Google I know that there’s a guy who did exactly the same. Here‘s his webpage, which I discovered some time ago, but only read through in the past couple of days. A lot of it is rather familiar. That’s my house! That’s my room! That’s my local bar! His writing is (I think) a lot more earnest than mine, but it’s pretty good, and worth a look. It makes me wonder whether I shouldn’t lighten up once in a while and just be stunned by my life at the moment, similar to how he was… but that wouldn’t be me, would it? I come at everything – even a completely new environment, with the hundreds of challenges that poses – with ruthless pragmatism and even a healthy dose of cynicism. It’s just the way it is. How would you react in my situation? Or how did you react? Am I doing it wrong?

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COUSIN NORMAN HAD A REAL FINE TIME LAST YEAR

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.

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ONE KIND WORD MEANT MORE TO ME

Less than a week left now, and almost everything is in place. I know I will be living in Chigasaki, a city of about 220 000 people on the coast south of Yokohama. I know I will be training for the first two weeks in Shinjuku, and heading into the busiest train station in the world each of those days. I have a work visa and Certificate of Eligibility respectively stickered and stapled into my passport, ready to get me into the country without any problems (hopefully).

What I didn’t anticipate is that the last couple of weeks would be so difficult. In a good way, mind. Somewhere in amongst the haze of ongoing dinners, lunches, parties and drinking sessions I suddenly got a sense of what I’m doing, what I’m leaving behind. Warning: the following may not make sense, and reads more like a drunken leaning-on-the-shoulder , ‘I fuckin’ love you, man’ speech.

There’s my life here, with all its material comforts, which I’m cutting off to restart somewhere else. It’s another clear break in my life, like going to boarding school, or moving to Christchurch: a point of definition at which one section of my life ends and another begins. As such, it is very easy to wrap my head around. This will stop, and that will start. Simple. Short paragraph.

The same cannot be said of the many relationships I have built up with people. There’s everyone in my immediate family (who I am lucky enough to have all seen in recent weeks), then there are colleagues at my job of more than 2 years, then there are good friends – some from school, some from uni, and one from hometown. With each of these people, I have a unique relationship that has grown over the years, with particular idiosyncracies and patterns of conversation that don’t exist with anyone else. As a result, I struggle to even begin comprehending all the change that is happening on that front. In my brain, in their brains, in our lives.

I mean, there’s always email, and telephones, and webcam exchanges, but none of those afford the intimacy of actually talking to someone in the same room as you. I’m not trying to make myself seem more important than I am (despite the fact that I am the centre of the universe), but to me, it’s a bigger deal than anything else involved with this move. I wonder why I have these people around me – why not way shittier people, y’know? They’ve (you’ve) all taken the time to hang out with me and say goodbye and say other very nice things, and I just feel extremely fortunate… and sad to be going.

Enough of that. I need to go and watch Kubrick and Altman movies on a loop to purge all this sentimentality out of my system…

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