Happy World Poetry Day!

I usually don’t post my poems here, but I want to celebrate the World Poetry Day on March 21. For me, poetry is like having a huge crush on a bad boy: it gives me the thrills. The ooh-aah. Even goosebumps. Not only from reading them but also from crafting them.  To people without interest, poetry always look somewhat easy (just put rhymes at the ends) or cheesy (always lovey-dovey monkey letters). But poetry is a demanding form of art that involves building many blocks –voice, form, rhythm, sound, symbol, to name a few- carefully on top of each other with intense gentrification while owing a lot to lexicography to achieve its purpose.

You know how it is: if it looks effortless, then it’s effortful. Yes, after a huge effort I may stop and end up keeping the poems to myself without sharing it to my bad boy crush. Nonetheless, I love the feeling from discovering what a poet is saying or finding the perfect word with the exactly needed amount of syllable!

So here’s one. It’s not a great one, but fits to welcome the end of cold days.

Do you like poetry? Tell me. Happy World Poetry Day! 🙂

 

Last Days of Frost

As white angels return to the sky

Lay I,

with humming trees—in dormancy

tittering birds—imaginary,

half awake in thick aged leather,

with no desire:

I’m frozen, say I, until her arrival

Oh pale sun, when will you stop playing?

Wind slapping slippery streets, when are you leaving?

I’m dying, cry I, until I’m born again.

Continue reading Happy World Poetry Day!

2016

“It went by too fast!” – says myself at the end of every year. Then I’d try to recollect what I’ve done in the past 364 days. Then finally, I’d whimper silently at the undeniable fact that I will age one year older. It doesn’t help much to have a birthday in February, you’ll feel you’re aging faster than everybody else.

Year 2016 was an extraordinary one for the world. It was also an important one for me, a tiny insignificant woman of no particular role, and for my personal growth. A year of emotional jazz and blues, empowerment, and eventually self-respect.

I made good decisions. One was moving to Tokyo. Others were smaller decisions I made in the daily life.

I spent my time for positive things: sports, skills, sorority.

I bought a road bike and started a cycling craze. I never thought that I’m capable of going long distance, but I am! I went diving again (should’ve taken advanced course) and it felt excellent to be underwater. I got to know sivananda yoga. I became quite a good student of a great teacher, in a class I joined after moving to Tokyo. 🙂 Through regular practice I discovered an inner strength: I gradually feel my body becoming stronger and more flexible while getting a peace of mind and soul, in and outside class.

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Sivananda Yoga class
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Faithful companion

I started to learn new things. A musician friend inspired me to learn a musical instrument again, after I told her that “I wish I played an instrument, I tried piano when I was a child but I failed miserably.” She encouraged me by simply saying ‘Just try again, you can do it. Practice makes perfect.’ I’m sold. I’m taking on ukulele, and I’m happy with my progress so far!

I’ve done some, but not enough, in my poetry and prose writing. I didn’t finish any of my short story draft in 2016 (shame on me!), and failed on my Reading Challenge (13/15 – double shame!), but I finished a few poems that I feel good about. I enrolled in an online Poetry Workshop from California Arts, one that I learned a LOT from. I went to a literary festival where I met talented people, watched inspiring shows, and joined a workshop on essay writing. I started a “Book and Movie” club and organized a quite successful meetup, but I need to organize more next year. I haven’t learned more Japanese as much as I want to, but I’m channeling the language to my inner poet by starting to learn shodo or calligraphy.

I learned that people open up when I open up. I tried to nurture close relationships with a number of people. At some point in the year I limited my time to meet new people in large groups and meet more frequently with friends I already know. Maintaining relationships is not easy, just like managing expectations, but I tried to do what feels right. Sometimes it takes time, and sometimes it fails, but I learned that it’s worth the try. I also learned that people are kind, and people want you to be in their lives.

The year, though, wasn’t all-smiles. There were tough times. And at these times it wasn’t easy to find the way to a joyful heart. I had to make a long way to the west to visit Hiroshima and the A-Bomb museum, learn more about the bombing and the silent, lifelong sufferings it brought to the people of the city to gain a new perspective on life. I read stories of the victims, lone rangers, and support groups. Their losses and the memories that will never fade away. I eventually read about the fights against atomic bombs which continued to fights against Japan’s currently-changing stance on pacifism.

The people of Hiroshima and Kenzaburo Oe taught me lessons on courage and survival. They taught me to be thankful, grateful, and to make the most of this life. An important person in my life also made himself present throughout the year and helped me get through difficult times, that were sometimes created by myself. I learned to make peace with myself. Or rather, I started to learn.

I try to carry with me everyday the spirit of the lotus – the symbol of purity, devotion, and birth from the darkness into the light – and “santosha” – contentment, satisfaction, accepting yourself for what you are. I believe the key to peace is, in principle, very simple: accepting that each one of us is not perfect. And our imperfection, our differences, are the wealth of humanity.

We were born to see our differences and embrace them, make sense of them, respect them. Not every disagreement has to be vented and not every different opinion has to be attacked. The answer to every question is inside every one’s self, ask and your conscience will answer, think before judging and speaking out loud. Learn more, read more, talk in person more, get further away from the virtual society full of fakes and anonymities.

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Hiroshima cranes – symbol of peace

This year, 2017, I will be an agent of peace and love. I will firstly continue to take care of myself: do my bicycle rounds, eat healthily, and put on my night creams. Then I will take care of my surroundings. I will paint lots of kanji on love and understanding. I will read about humans and peace. I will write about love, about peace, about working for what you believe in. I will make art that represent compassion. I will do my best at work. I don’t know what I, what we, can do for world peace, but I will try to find out and do something about it.

I will continue to love. I learned enough about unrequited (romantic) love to know that it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to keep loving no matter what, because I know how good it feels to feel love.

Year 2016 went by in a blink of an eye for me. But oh, how I realized it was one rich in valuable lessons and growth. I’m hoping for a world that’s kinder to humanity, one that will teach each person to respect one another. One that’s filled with less hatred and bad political acts. The year 2017 will be the year to fight for what’s right and important. Not only for me, but for you, too.

Living Japan #5: Tokyo “City Girl”

Last July I celebrated a year of living in Japan. Work contract has been extended, so I’ll hopefully be celebrating a second year anniversary next year. As I enter my second year, I made a decision to move to Tokyo.

I moved from the suburbs of Yokohama, where most residents were grandmothers and high-school students and residents’ festivals were held frequently. There’s nothing wrong with life over there. The festivals were absolutely nice and my evening runs along the riverbank behind my building were relaxing. In the spring time I could run while enjoying sakura trees. But I felt I was missing out on so many things. It may sound ignorant, but the things I’m interested in: arts, music, performances, artistic experience, world culture, English-speaking global community and classes, are out of reach from this area. I sometimes go to Tokyo for work, too. So although moving is a huge hassle, as I wrote before, I needed to do it.

I visited sharehouses, then convinced myself that they’re not for me anymore. I saw vacant apartments in Yokohama’s Kannai area (affordable area near my favorite area of the city), then decided against it after getting ‘weird looks’ from middle-aged men playing some kind of board game at the park. After a while, I focused my search in Tokyo and saw many apartments. With invaluable help from my friend, I finally found an apartment in the south-western side of Tokyo that ‘felt just right’.

I moved to Setagaya City (Tokyo is a prefecture) in the middle of summer. It’s a very common 1-room apartment (1K in Japanese ‘language’: living and bedroom is separated from kitchen, bathroom, and toilet). It’s in a relatively new building and my neighbors are mostly young people and students. To tell you how crazy Tokyo’s rent is: I’m paying the same amount as for my previous apartment, for half its size. Around my previous home, silence was solid and surprises rare. There were only one or two restaurant, one coffee shop, and the library didn’t have English books, but it was peaceful. My new home is at an intersection of two busy roads, with a window facing an unforgivably huge “NISSAN” billboard for half of the view and the city for the other half, and located far from the main office where I usually work.

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This is the “city view” part – should I bother you with the billboard?

It does sound like an unreasonable decision. I learned that many of my colleagues agree on this, questioning this decision both in blatant and discreet, failing to understand why I moved to a smaller, more expensive, more crowded place 45 minutes further from work.

But the truth is, I feel more ‘at home’ in this tiny apartment. I’m good with the sounds of cars and the happy voices I sometimes hear from drunk people walking on the sidewalk. I do miss the sound of schoolchildren playing baseball and being greeted by school guards when I’m running, but I’ve kind of ‘made friends’ with some friendly people in this new neighborhood. Tokyo people are definitely colder than people in the suburbs of Yokohama, but I appreciate some distance and enjoy observing people.

I now have a good balance between working in a quiet village and living in a big city. I do love the beach and the sea, but if there’s not too much around the beach, it becomes more of an escape destination (I think I’ll love San Francisco or Sydney, or of course somewhere on Bali where beautiful beaches are close to the lively city).

The #1 response I got from (especially Japanese) people whenever I told them I’ve moved to Tokyo is that I’m a “city girl”. The positive-thinker in me affirmed in the beginning. But then I sensed a bit of mockery in it: the best explanation I’ve got is that it implies being a “material girl”. But those who know me know that I don’t dig stuffs and I think trend and pop culture are fascinating social fraud. It’s just that I grew up in a big city, I’m used to it. And I have to admit: I love cities. Of course I still can live in smaller cities or even villages, and I did in Italy and Malawi, but for now living in Tokyo is doable and worth the experience.

I told a friend that I get inspired by people. I’m already getting the good vibes: Tokyo brings out a fresh spirit in me to learn new things and establish new connections. I can frequent state-of-the-art exhibitions. Typical cinemas can be super crowded, but there are pleasant smaller cinemas to choose. I’m becoming a regular at a local eatery owned by cool young guys. I drown in Tokyo’s lights and purple twilight by the window. I’m happy with that. That’s what’s important in the end, isn’t it?

Living Japan #4: Hygiene and yes, the toilets

You’ve seen videos of Japanese school kids cleaning up their classes together or the Japanese supporters tidying up their sections at a World Cup 2014. So “Japanese”, aren’t they? The habit of keeping personal hygiene starts since childhood.

Many Japanese adults still brush their teeth after meal. Although the dental medics society have been continuously debating on the merits of brushing teeth before meal or after meal, I’ve never seen it done by friends from other countries. It’s also a habit to wash hair every day, no matter the season, something that may come in the way when a Japanese dates a person from another country who are used to showering once a day (give or take). I once heard this issue becoming a hot topic in a radio interview with a Japanese guy-European girl couple: he had a problem with her washing her hair “only” every two days. To her defense, she was preventing it from becoming oily (a common misconception about hair washing actually).

The Japanese also have a custom of major house and shops cleaning on December 31, before having soba dinner and osechi breakfast the day after. Windows are especially cleaned, symbolizing a clean, clear opening to the new year.

Taking care of the surrounding environment is as important as taking care of one’s own. The custom of taking off footwear and wearing house slippers in Japanese houses (and some restaurants) is world-famous, but you may not know that the Japanese schoolkids wear different types of shoes for indoor and outdoor activities. Schools educate kids on manners, discipline, and life habits to prepare for their grown-up lives in the ‘outside world’ where each person looks after themselves (not going to mention anything about cultural diversity, tolerance and other topics now). Even in the grown-up world, some restaurants and public places still provide rubber slippers in their toilets for hygienic convenience.

The Japanese are also trained to always leave the space they used as it was. In restaurants, you may find small towels on the tables, which you can use to wipe your table after eating (in addition to oshibori – towels given to you for wiping/refreshing your hands). These are not ‘exceptional manners’; these are common practice. Don’t expect to get your “I thought so” moment by seeing high school students or middle-aged men leaving their seats cluttered – you’ll be disappointed. It’s a habit so well-bred that everyone does it without thinking. Of course this applies to normal circumstances in normal places. Nor have I seen piles of dirty plates in someone’s sink—but I’ve never made a surprise visit :p

Like the Japan supporters at the World Cup, people left the space they used as clean as it was before. They bring trash bags to picnic spots and don’t leave a small piece of napkin. At fast food and coffee shops joints, empty plates and cups are brought to the counter or to the special kiosk located near the cashier.

At those special kiosk, you’ll see properly differentiated garbage bins. Trash management plays a major portion of daily life in Japan. Yes, people are asked to sort their garbage at homes and dispose them according to city schedule. But it goes beyond that. Milk cartons should be cut and laid open to dry before tied up a pile and thrown into the ‘recyclable garbage’. Wrap that fragile little light bulb with newspaper and label them ‘dangerous’ before throwing them on a ‘noncombustible’ Tuesday. If you mix up Monday with a Tuesday, that huge bag of yours may be left behind by the garbage trucks to shame you until you decide to pretend you’re taking care of someone else’s mistake. Diligent people will stop to think twice whether a tube of toothpaste or that box of orange juice is a ‘recyclable’ or ‘combustible’ (the tube is combustible and if aluminium foil coats the inside of that juice box, it’s combustible too – it’s recyclable otherwise). An NHK program “Tokyo Eye 2020” once showed how tricky this sorting game is.

In some areas, papers are recycled into products such as toilet papers. I once came home to find two toilet rolls hung on my door, proudly made from our recycled paper. In reality, though, I’ve met people who are not too careful about sorting their garbage. So I wasn’t that much surprised to see Japan’s recycle rate is not among the top in the world (only 19-20% compared to 65% at #1). But the culture of avoiding waste generation (‘don’t waste’) and selling unused items to secondhand shops may have a role in generating less recyclable garbage in the first place.

While garbage management seems like a hassle, ‘the back business’ is good business. The ‘Japanese toilets’, or washlet, deserve an applause. They are equipped with control panels of buttons, each crafted for your utmost bladder bliss: at least one button to clean your bottom, one to clean your lady part, and one to play a ‘flushing sound’. Yes, you can ask the toilet to cover the sounds of your pooing. You can also blow-dry your bottom and deodorize the toilet to cover your tracks. Shower water pressure and flushing water volume are adjustable for comfort and energy efficiency. When winter comes, there’s no better way to love this blessing of a technology, than to sit on its heated seat. You’ll wish you can spend more time!

There are plenty more features that you can find and there are highly-equipped toilets with more buttons than usual. Whenever I come across ones with twenty buttons, I still need time to select the one that provides an Apple Breeze rather than Serene Spring perfume (gotcha! No toilets have perfume options. Add that to your $10,000 toilets, TOTO – you’re welcome). Another thing about toilets in Japan is that wherever you go, you’ll find clean public toilets. Well, I haven’t been to all corners where the sun rises. But all toilets that I’ve found at train stations and even the parks are clean.

People’s habits and the systems that work up a stainless society is admirable. I know this is definitely going to be one of the objects of your adoration if you come to visit. For me, getting used to this kind of luxury is one of the “dangerous” parts of living in Japan. Good thing I sometimes get to be in more “human” places where there are some loopholes in the loos. Starting a clean slate somewhere less mysophobic, when the time comes, shouldn’t be too much of a problem. But I’ll miss those heated seats!

Amy: Jewel Faded Too Soon

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Amy was a diamond. Shining bright in her powerful voice. She evolved from a raw talent who jams cheesy line yet catchy melody to an uncanny lyricist with characteristic jazz.

But Amy was clearly fighting depression. Nothing was well planned, she was a vulnerable young girl who went deep without needed protection system.

Amy wanted to get better. She got out of drugs, but alcohol was her only saviour. She wasn’t a recreational alcoholic or junkie. She wasn’t “being a rock star”. She fell in love. That could’ve saved her if it wasn’t with the wrong person. She needed psychological help. That’s what her system didn’t see.

Your voice still reverbrate today, Amy. I adore your talent. I’m grateful for this movie. It brought me to tears. It shows that you’re not that rebellious ungrateful pop star which some people might think you were. You’re a jewel gone too soon.

This film showed me how the industry turned a blind eye on her as a person. It should also remind us not to turn away from people who said they need you. Don’t turn your back even if they seem to be drifting away. That’s when they need you, more than you know.

Book Review: “All the Light We Cannot See”

It’s been a while since I last read a book as touching as this one. Anthony Doerr masterfully tells the story in short chapters – no longer than five pages each – flowing with detail. I found myself too emotional to flip a page at times, but I always did to answer my urgent question, “Then what happens?” The short fractions did not fail to catch attention and deliver overall suspense.

Characters are deeply described it’s difficult to pick a favourite. To Marie-Laure I can relate the questions I’ve always had about blindness: How does it feel to be in constant darkness? How do blind people see colours? Instead of melancholy, Anthony Doerr offers sensory: Marie-Laure senses the colour of each person at every moment. She hears the whispers of the sea. She sees the world in different layers, in much more light than our healthy eyes will ever see. In Werner I see ingenuity and wit. A boy with adorable quirky questions, intelligence wasted for militancy. A real man for his love and protectiveness of his sister. If only he had better choices.

True, this is fiction. But this novel troubles me by reminding me there are real wars happening in the real world at this very second. Wars that are made to look natural while actually crafted and supported. In those wars live thousands of real-life Marie-Laures, real Werners, real detained fathers, treacherous neighbours, raped and silenced teenage girls, brain-damaged war victims. We see Werners every day in the videos shared on the internet, the poor orphan boys ready to give their lives to what they thought were true, because they didn’t know any better. Or even have a better option. Human lives are being stopped and values are being stomped.

What is the difference between the current wars and the Second World War that happened 70 years ago – that we all condemn? It was for chauvinism and for xenophobia in the light of fascism. Now it is for greed and world domination and believe it or not, it is causing xenophobia. But what is the difference? There is no difference in the injustice and the damage they bring to the lives of people from all sides of the war. Not only to those whose eyes are hurt but also to those whose hands are used. War is war. Judgement should only be fair to be rightfully considered.

“All the Lights We Cannot See” deserves all the praises it is getting and more, it deserves to be a must-read for all the Generation Y’s and millennials. Seventy years ago the changes might be brought through underground radio broadcasts, codes wrapped in bread loaves. It is now being carried up through social media, mass media and open, collective actions. The forms change but the spirit never does. It is our voices, our words, our faith in humanity, of doing good, in time, that is going to change how the world works.

On Goodreads

Living Japan #3: Mission Apartment

If you’re considering a move to Japan, be ready to get on board the major first mission. I didn’t have to do too much moving into Italy and Malawi, having found good places to live before arriving. But moving to Japan was different case because my company let us live in the dormitory while finding a place according to our taste. So here’s my advice on how to do it based on my experience. Not saying these are the only options, though. 🙂

First, start with finding an agency that speaks English. It was tempting for me to contact the numbers on the vacancy adverts on exquisite buildings, but most of those “common” real estate agencies only provide services in Japanese. So if you speak sukoshi Japanese or none at all (like me when I arrived), choosing English-speaking agency is wise. I found UR Whitestone, UR Sumai, and LeoPalace21. There are many other agencies in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka (easy to google them), but they usually manage upscale apartments. If you’re on a solo mission, it’s not really worth your time and energy to contact non-English speaking agents. Trying to understand is tiring and risky, and you wouldn’t want to depend on someone’s help for all the conversation.

Say you got that anglophone buddy. Start off in the following order:

1. Decide where you want to live. Of course the city and area nearest to your work/study place is the best. But in my case, I work in a small town where only rich senior people live. Not really my crowd. The closest (slightly) bigger town is a beach town packed in summer, but with nothing to do the rest of the year. So I looked at other areas. I finally chose an area about 45 minutes from work (but that includes 30 minutes bus ride from the train station to office).

Worry not about long commute. (One of) the best thing(s) about Japan is its well-connected, reliable, stress-free comfortable transport system. Well the stories about packed subways and trains in Tokyo and the “pusher” (train company officers pushing people to fit into crowded cars) are no hoax, but that’s Tokyo. :p In the capital might be better to live as close as possible to office/school. In my case, in Kanagawa, transferring between train lines is easy and even the buses are crazily on time. Coming from Jakarta, where I used to commute 4-hours traffic-jammed round trips every day (it was my choice to live in the suburbs, though), easy commute between neighboring cities in Kanagawa is more than I could ask for.

Identify the train lines and stations that connects you to your daily destination and decide how far from the home station you want to live. Usually agencies define their apartment location based on ‘minutes’ to take to the nearest transport hub (“5 minutes (分) to the X train station”, “1 minute to bus stop which takes 8 minutes to Y train station”, etc.) Also consider how your host supports your commuting cost. Japanese companies usually pay for it.

 

2. Choose accommodation type. Generally, there are three types of housing for single young people: regular apartment, UR apartment, short-term apartment, and share-house.

I’m gonna tell you the most important thing about apartments: no matter which agency, most apartments come unfurnished. Most of them have no more than toilet, kitchen cabinet, and wardrobe. Sometimes you can get a set of stove and/or air conditioner. So you’ll need initial cost and time to find refrigerator, sofa, bed, tables, etc.

Regular apartments are rented out by landlord/owners through real estate agencies. It’s very common to see advertisements on the street, especially near train stations. Some big agencies website: www.able.co.jp , www.minimini.jp, www.chintai.net. Like I mentioned, however, expect to spend extra energy in communicating.

Plus side: wide range of apartments to choose from, nice building and interior design. Most are small as some people prefer. It’s easy to get car parking space if you need it (although expensive, it goes between JPY 12,000-35,000/month in Greater Tokyo, depends on the area).

Downside: most agencies and landlords ask for ridiculous amount of initial cost. There’s “key money” (it’s widely known as “money for thanking the landlord to allow your living in his/her property” :p, amount varies, you won’t get it back), “agency fee” (agency management fee, amount varies, of course you won’t get it back), “deposit” (amounts to 2-3 months rent, some of it will be returned when you leave the apartment, after some deduction for cleaning and repair fee). Lastly, “contract renewal fee”. Say, you have a one-year contract. After one year, if you want to stay longer, you have to pay for staying longer (amount varies, you won’t get it back either).

All in all, you can easily be asked to give up to 4, or even 6-months worth of rent. Although if you have time and patience, some agents don’t ask that much for some apartments. But I didn’t consider it further.

 ableA sample of apartment details from a regular agency. Too much kanji for a day.

 

And then there’s UR (Urban Renaissance) apartment (jyuutaku, じゅうたく, 住宅)
government-owned property marketed by several partnering agencies. You can look for the apartments first (based on location, train station, etc.) through their website ur-housing.com (Whitestone, I used their service), sumai.ur-net.go.jp, email them to ask availability. These agencies thankfully speak English.

Plus side: the initial cost for UR apartments is only a 2-3 months deposit (most of it will be returned when you leave apartment, after some deduction for cleaning and small repairs) and the rent for the amount of days in the month you are moving in. You can easily move in and out, with a 2-weeks notice.

Downside: many buildings are old and mostly high-rise (some people don’t prefer them). Some people might think it’s “cheap” and for “the cheap” for its affordability. But it’s getting more popular because the management has been renovating and maintaining the buildings well. There are even gorgeous apartments designed in collaboration with MUJI or IKEA. It’s difficult to get a furnished (stove and air conditioning-equipped) apartment in a good location. But you can use that money to buy furniture and appliances instead of paying administrative cost.

 

Share-house is for you who wants instant new friends and to immerse in a multicultural atmosphere and doesn’t mind less privacy. In Japan, share-houses mean huge buildings with 20-50 inhabitants with small rooms rented out for 1-2 persons each. In some cases you can find a smaller house, where 10-15 people live, and in rare cases, only 5-6 people. Tokyo Sharehouse and Hituji are good websites to find these houses.

Plus side: Meet people and make friends overnight. People from different backgrounds and characters. Dinner and welcome parties are held occasionally. In-house laundry, internet service, sometimes bicycle. Some houses provide cleaning service for your rooms, aside from cleaning the common areas. Kitchens and common areas are big and well-equipped. Really less hassle.

Downside: No privacy. People come and go, not only residents but also their friends so it will get noisy. Less sense of propriety including in the kitchen. The rooms are small (can go down to 6 m2), usually comes with bed and wardrobe. Some are dormitory type rooms. The amount of bathroom (and whether you’ll need to queue every morning) depends on your luck. Not all people are clean or tidy. Most houses don’t allow sleepovers (or ask you to ask permission to the manager first, and Japanese rules are not made to be broken).

I saw a small 4-room share-house in Zushi and I liked it, the other girls living there were calligraphist, yoga student, and waitress. But I decided not to choose share-house, choosing privacy and my own space over making friends overnight. So old school? :p A colleague assured me that I’ll meet and make friends through other ways. Also, I want to be able to host dinners, gatherings, friends, family, or Couchsurfers at home. I do feel, sometimes, that it would be nice to live with people. But people who are sharing houses are telling me they are planning to move to their own places, more than those who says otherwise.

 

Short-term furnished apartments is a category I made. I was informed about Leopalace21 agency before coming to Japan, and I was interested because they have furnished apartments. They offer monthly and even daily contracts for people who often visit Japan for short trips. You can save money on hotels and have a private space with equipped kitchens and television.

Plus side: no need to buy kitchen appliances because they provide stove, refrigerator, and microwave. They help installing services like TV and internet (at above apartments you need to set up your own). If you’re in Japan for a short-term, like a few months, but need a private space, I think this is for you.

Downside: initial cost is quite expensive, although not as expensive as regular apartments. A lot of people are staying for a short-term, so some can be quite careless. I heard and read some reviews about many of its buildings being a bit poor in soundproofing.

3. Say you decide to get an apartment. You’d have to choose layout and size. The Japanese system is based on the number of bedrooms and room functions. For example:

2 DK : 2 bedrooms, with 1 other room big enough for dining room (D) and kitchen (K).
1 LDK : 1 bedroom, with 1 other room big enough for living room (L), dining room (D), and kitchen (K).
1 K : 1 bedroom with 1 other room only for kitchen (this means your bedroom will also be used as living and dining). This is the most common layout for single people especially in crowded cities like Tokyo. Most Leopalace21 apartments are 1K.
1 R : 1 room (everything done here). This is small “studio” type apartment.

The size of apartments are in square meter or sometimes in “tatami size”. Tatami is the grass mats which comes in panels of about 6 m2. Don’t be surprised to see tiny-sized apartments. Regular apartments in Tokyo, especially, can go as small as 10 m2. Land is luxury in To-ki-o.

So I first tried LeoPalace. Their agent spoke excellent English and I saw two nice places in Totsuka and Ofuna but they were too far of walk from the station, plus the initial cost was a bit high.

DSC_0146LeoPalace21 apartment in Ofuna

DSC_0143Living room of LeoPalace21 apartment in Totsuka

DSC_0139Furnished kitchen

I also was in a short contact with able (アベル)、who didn’t speak or write English. We didn’t last very long. :p Finally I settled with UR Whitestone, and after three attempts, settled in an apartment near Kamakura (but technically still in Yokohama :p), on the top floor of a high-rise building just 5 minutes walk from the station. A gorgeous newly renovated wood-floored 1LDK unit in gray and white palette. In autumn and special occasions like New Year, the municipality organize fairs and festivals. Quite a perfect place really. 🙂

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DSC_0383That’s my apartment in the background of autumn dance festival!

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After choosing, I had to go with my agent to the UR office to sign contracts and pay the initial amount (only 2 months deposit and the rent for the first days – this is by far the best I heard you can get). I spent almost 2 months to look for home. It wasn’t easy. I felt like accomplishing one big mission when I finally moved in. I slowly furnished my apartment from refrigerator to sofa, which was another process of careful considerations and calculations. :p I’ll save that for later.

How was your experience in finding apartments in Japan? Or other countries? Please tell me!

Book Review: “Kitchen” (and “Moonlight Shadow”), Banana Yoshimoto

Just finished a book by another Japanese writer, this one with young people set in the more recent years. I was actually reading another book of speeches, but it was left behind when I moved so I can’t finish it yet.

Banana Yoshimoto’s style is contemplative and fresh. If you like Murakami, most likely you’ll like her.

Here’s My thoughts on “Kitchen” : Goodreads.

Kitchen

Next review: “Go Set a Watchman”.

Another post on Eating with Chopsticks is coming, of course!

Living in Japan: Eating with Chopsticks #2 – Non-Alien Registration

Today after lunch, a department staff kindly took me to the Hayama Town Hall to register myself as a resident. The building was familiar; I remembered seeing its image when googling about the town. There, I was comforted by the system and people’s efficiency. Registering as a new long-term resident is convenient. Let me explain from the start.

Weeks before my arrival, I was asked to fill in a form to create an “eligibility certificate” at the Ministry of Justice. I proceed to the Embassy of Japan with the certificate (which I received quickly) and after four days, my visa was ready. At the airport, I just had to show both the certificate and visa at immigration desk, registered my fingerprints, and waited five minutes for the card. Today, my colleague helped me fill a registration form and my address was printed on the back of that card in five minutes. This card and the registration proof will be required for opening bank account, subscribing to phones, and signing housing contract. I know it sounds a little tedious, but the service to support this system is efficient. Staffs were eager to help and instructions were clear, even if English was not the first language. Even English instructions are getting more common.

I can’t help comparing this to previous experience in Pavia (Italy, in the G7, OECD, so-called developed countries group with Japan), where I had to make three trips to the Town Hall, each with one hour queue and observing people rant to obtain my residence card. In addition to that, the card could only last one year even though we were registered to a master program that needed more than a year to graduate from. However, Italy’s phone subscription only needed a copy of passport (and you can easily put new sim card in your phone, unlike in Japan). Banks are the same.

In Indonesia, I queued at district office without number and the officer eventually lost my new citizen identity card. In Malawi, short-term visa just required a stamp on the passport (no other document was produced, this was in 2012) and waiting some days when it needs renewal. But the instant visa-on-arrival process in the latter country wins over the usually long queue at the Jakarta airport. Well Malawi’s maybe a little alarmingly too instant.

Coming back to Japan, its visa process still wins over Schengen’s – big time. Not even mentioning free visa policy for some countries, provided an “electronic passport” is used. Japan is obviously in bigger need of people than Europe (its society older than Europe – another interesting topic). This registration system I’m lucky enough to go through was newly established in 2012. In fact they abolished the term “alien registration system” and replaced it with “residency management system”. Japan is opening up to the foreign world – it needs to. And everything possible is being done to do so.

So which one wins? I’d say it’s one for Japan!

Hayama Town Hall (Wikipedia)
Hayama Town Hall (Wikipedia)

 

In Hayama Town Hall
In Hayama Town Hall

Living in Japan: Eating with Chopsticks

A few months ago I got an offer to work at an international research-based NGO based in Hayama, Japan. Yesterday night, I landed safely at Tokyo Narita airport, took a 2,5 hours regular train ride to Zushi (the nearest town from Hayama), and officially started my new adventure in the sushi homeland.

A dinner was prepared for me in my temporary room. Starving, I automatically reached for the chopsticks instead of the spoon and fork. It was probably a sort of ‘automatic prompt adaptation’ (couldn’t find any term that defines this instance on google. Might be an interesting research topic!) that I found quite amazing!

So here comes to mind, a subtitle for my future blog posts on this topic: “Living in Japan: Eating with Chopsticks”. How does that sound?