July 10, 2016: Our Shared House in the Middle of the Street

I forgot to mention in the last post that I learned that I was the first person they interviewed for the program while chatting with the bosses at the drinking party. I applied relatively early, I guess. I was the standard that everyone else was held to in future interviews. It’s kind of flattering. I know they mean to say that I was so great, and they compared everyone to me, but does that also mean everyone they got had to be better than me? They were so excited to finally meet me because they all remembered my interview when we talked about the Torah. I even showed one of them my movie blog. And there were about 5 people interviewing me; others later didn’t get the whole team.

But on to the shared house. We left the Bunka Hostel on Sunday and went our separate ways. I took the train with Kavita, who is kind of in the same direction, but she goes a little further on the same line and then takes another train even further. But she at least lives with another person in the program.

I got off at Omori Station and then tried to navigate to my shared house. Except when the streets don’t have names, navigation is super difficult. I had a printout of a map with a map outlined but it’s kind of hard to follow. Naturally, I took a wrong turn and then the map became useless. I had to walk through a labyrinth of houses in a residential neighborhood. There are some shops and restaurants near the station, but they quickly disappear. I had one 50 pound luggage with me. Thank God I didn’t have the other one with me. Because I was sweating profusely in the heat and humidity while rolling this luggage up hills and down stairs and toward dead ends before I finally found the house by the grace of Google Maps. I was literally sweating onto my glasses. I was not ready to meet new people in this condition. The blocks are not all square. A wrong turn in this neighborhood can put you on a street at a different level, and then to get to where you want to go you have to take a set of stairs. Other streets just end. And the streets are narrow and sidewalk-less, so you have to stand off to the side for cars.

So what is this shared house? The way it was described, they said the company does not specialize in real estate, rather in building communities. Most of the people living in shared housing are here long term professionally for business and they come from all over the world. Except in my shared house, they all come from Japan and are all over 30 (save for one American college student that apparently no one has seen).  Whereas in the US, I think the goal is to live on your own, they seem to be tapping into some desire (that may or may not actually exist) to live with strangers.

There were lots of shoes in the well when I got there for the five other people that live in the house. The front door doesn’t have a knob but rather this handle that pulls a latch. This house has 3 floors. Of course, my room is on the top floor where all the heat rises to. The staircase is super narrow and I had to drag my luggage up the stairs. My other luggage had already arrived and I guess someone accepted it cause it was sitting on the first floor.

I ran into a man who tried to pass me on the stairs who was running out to get some drinks. And I asked him where he got it. He didn’t understand me and said “my basket.” Little did he know, he actually did understand me and I didn’t understand him. I later found out that My Basket is the name of a store. Anywho, he is friends with my housemate Eri. She lives in the room next to mine. She had some friends over eating, drinking and hanging out. She is a nutritionist from Kanagawa who owns or runs or works for (either primarily or on the side) a non-profit that helps malnourished Indians. She has been to India upwards of 20 times and speaks some Hindi. Her English was pretty good too, but the rest of the Japanese people in my house do not really speak English. Neither did her friends. She was very nice and friendly to me. She invited me to hang out with them and share their homemade curry and naan and spring rolls. She even offered to show me Kanagawa. I tried to converse with her friends, but we quickly ran out of things to talk about as I exhausted my knowledge about Japanese culture. And we didn’t really speak sentences so much, more like words. One guy was wearing a Marvel shirt and he likes Ironman, but I mentioned Deadpool and they didn’t know what that was. I guess it hasn’t made it to Japan yet. He and his wife have a 4 month old baby girl named Anna. She is precious. They were the first people in this friend group of 7 to have a baby. One kind of cultural thing is that they are obsessed with ages here. Not only did they ask me my age, but I had to guess their ages. They all looked like young college students, but I was way off: 32! Another guy named Takashi moved in the same day as me and he looked no older than me and he was also 32.

My favorite thing is that apparently Ariana Grande is a big deal in Japan. She is popular in the US too, but mainly with younger people. But Japan loves cutesy things and Ariana Grande is by definition cutesy. And even the older 32 year old men like Ariana Grande. They were listening to American music from the 80s on youtube. They also wear American clothing with English words on them, yet they insist they don’t speak English. I wonder if they know what their clothing says. That goes for many people I see on the train and on the street.

And when new people came, they brought more drinks and snacks. I appreciate that they were all so nice to me. But at times I kind of felt like the awkward guy at the party that isn’t talking, except not only was I not talking but I also didn’t understand the conversation going on around me. I was heavily reliant on Eri’s translations. They had me try all these Japanese snacks. All the food was very good. There was a heavy red bean type cake from Hiroshima. There was a catfish cracker that was too sweet to actually be fish…I think something got lost in translation there. I had chicken yakitori. And there are lots of nut based snacks. Some of them are similar to the Chinese snacks I’m used to. They had lots of beer; she gave me a tall can of Suntory.

They drink a lot here. But because they’re all Asian too, my Asian flush doesn’t stand. It’s relatively normal to see people red in the face just about everywhere. I don’t feel quite as self conscious about it here. And speaking of drinking, there are no water fountains in Japan. There are lots of vending machines for drinks but no water fountains, even in buildings.

Nor are there garbage cans on the street. I guess everyone just holds their garbage until they get home? Cause the streets are very clean considering there’s no place to throw garbage. Or maybe that’s why they’re so clean…Garbage here works a little differently. They separate plastics from cans from combustibles. And each day of the week they pick up a different garbage group. You put the garbage outside of the house underneath a net. I saw a garbage truck this morning, and it looks so neat and organized. The garbage people actually go through the trash and sort it.

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So my room is enormous but I don’t have any furniture so it’s really just wasted space. I’ve never sat on the floor so much in my life. I have nowhere to put things but the floor. I have two closets with two slabs that I put my clothes on, but I don’t have any hangers to hang them on the rods. So I have two mostly empty rods. I use my luggage as a raised surface. I have two skylights that I can’t figure out how to open. And honestly, I think they just make the room hotter. There are blinds on them that I can’t lower either. They’re too high for me to reach. The light switch in my room is on the wrong side of the door and the light outside my room is broken. So at night, I have to fumble with my key to get my door open. There is a window in my room that does open. It is at an awkwardly low level and there is this wall a few feet off the ground that probably serves a structural purpose but just requires me to bend down to get to the window. It is an odd setup.

I was supposed to meet with Kento at 5 to get a tour of the house and so he could explain things to me. Takashi and Eri came on the tour too; Eri had never even met Kento despite having lived there for a while. And no one gave her a tour before. It seems like the people in this house don’t really interact or bond or form the desired community. I still haven’t met anyone from the first floor. Anyways, Kento was 30 minutes late. Oh, and also he doesn’t speak English. So the tour was kind of useless. He also didn’t really know what he was supposed to tell me. He just lives in the house. And it seems like there isn’t really much of a system. It is actually pretty clean considering they don’t have a system. I think we have Eri to thank for that. The cleaning board even has someone’s name who doesn’t live here anymore. Dixon apparently left some stuff behind including a computer. I tried to log into the wifi but the password on the board was wrong. Kento showed me right one in all caps. I struggled for a long time without internet. My phone is supposed to have unlimited 3G in Japan but T-Mobile has really dropped the ball. The service is spotty. Sometimes I get nothing for hours. We have three refrigerators, all of them are kind of small but I think its normal sized for Japan. There is a rod in front of the house for drying clothes, but seems to be missing hooks? I don’t have access to the balconies.

The bathroom is in parts. There are two toilets, one Japanese and one western. I can’t read the Japanese one. The western one is on the second floor while the Japanese one is on the first floor and each of them has their own room. In a separate room on the first floor is a laundry room with a washer and sink. That is the only sink other than the kitchen. There is a curtain for privacy around the area in front of the sink for changing. Attached to this room is the shower and bath in its own room. Japanese people wash off and then sit in the bath for pleasure. The shower control is kind of weird. There is a nozzle at ground level that looks like it’s for cleaning your feet (or maybe for filling buckets) and you turn the faucet one way for that. You turn it the other way for the shower head. And you have this knob for pressure and a separate one for temperature. There was also a crotch level mirror in the shower. I learned later that Japanese people sit on a stool and wash themselves typically, though there is no stool to be found in the shower.  There is a basket outside the shower. There was also one at the hostel, and I can’t figure out if it’s for your towel or clean clothes or dirty clothes or what. Cause there are no hooks anywhere.

Walking to the train station, I found a much shorter way that involves a long set of stairs. I guess it’s technically a shortcut. But I still can’t navigate between the house and the station without the aid of Google Maps. There’s too many places to make wrong turns. For dinner, I met up with Cat and Meg in Shimbashi. Cat also lives alone so she was lonely too. Shimbashi Station is next to SL Square where there is an old train and it serves as a meeting place. Meg says there are a lot of drunk people there and the news camera s go here to film the drunk people. We had dinner at an izakaya, which Meg wasn’t sure how to translate. Wikipedia says a gastropub, a casual place for after-work drinking. Meg did say it can get rowdy. We were showed to our own room with the sunken floor. You take off your shoes before even entering the restaurant. They specialize in fish here. They bring you a case of dead fish with prices labeled on them and you can pick one and they’ll grill it for you. We didn’t do that, but we had dipping noodles and unagi and pork. The portions are kind of smaller in Japan than we’re used to in the US.  Perhaps that accounts for the cheaper priced food in restaurants? The food is cheaper than I was expecting. Even though our reimbursement seems low, it corresponds to the price of a modest meal. You can eat well. Oh, and I love the buttons they have at each table to call the waiter. It is so smart. We should bring that to America.

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My walk home was super scary. It is really dark, and the streets are narrow like alleyways, and it is kind of deserted. There are other people walking but that kind of makes it worse. The long staircase was especially dark. And I still had to keep my phone out to look at the map. The area is actually pretty upscale. The houses are large and some of them are California-style houses. There are some expensive cars in the driveways. I know Japan is relatively safe, it’s just a scary walk at night.

When I got home, Takashi was watching TV. The senate elections occurred that day and I had no idea. He was watching the results. We had a Google translated conversation about the election. I think he said he doesn’t like Shinzo Abe, but he couldn’t really explain why to me. Or maybe we misunderstood each other. That could be it too. His English isn’t so good but wants to improve and Skype with Americans.

Lastly…sleep. I’ve never slept on a futon quite like this before. I think the Japanese idea of a futon is different than what we think of as a futon in America. This is more like a thick blanket than a pad. And then I also have a thick blanket; it’s way too thick for this weather so I didn’t use it. I wasn’t sure which was which at first. But I laid out my futon and actually found that it’s good for my back. I woke up quite comfortable. As a back sleeper, maybe the floor is actually better for me than a mattress.

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