Where to begin.
We landed in Japan five days ago, I think. Dates and time still escape me.
When we left Philly it was Wednesday. When we arrived in Tokyo, it was Thursday. Today is Tuesday (kayoubi).
The move was as uneventful as an international emigration can be. My advice: hire movers to do it for you.
They came and loaded all of the boxes for us and shipped them off. We filled two items of luggage a piece and mailed one box of leftover necessities.
We then contacted a local charity to come and pick up all of our furniture that we couldn’t sell. As a side note, I will never use Craiglist to sell furniture ever again.
With our apartment in Philly empty, we stayed at the Rittenhouse boutique hotel, which upgraded us to the suite. This was a bit of overkill since we were only staying there for five hours, but the thought was nice. For a nightcap we went to Monk’s for one last burger and beer.
Early the next morning, (5:45 am to be exact) we were up and at em and took a taxi to the airport. They took all of our luggage after Lisa had to skim down one of her bags by 7 pounds, and we were on the flight to Chicago – no delays. With a two hour layover at O’Hare, the next thing we knew we were on the flight to Tokyo. We flew Japan Airlines, which as fantastic. Comfy seats with a headrest, plenty of leg room, individual video screens and a free beer. And we were flying economy!
After 12 and a half hours and three in-flight movies (highly recommend ‘We Bought a Zoo’) we landed in Narita Airport. All of our luggage made it with us. Then we hopped aboard the Narita Express, which was an hour and a half train ride to Shinjuku station. We dragged our luggage for 15 minutes through the terminal and found our next hotel – Shinjuku Washington Hotel. Our business suite was tiny, but did the trick.
This was Thursday night. We found a nearby ramen restaurant and crashed shortly after dinner.
I was wide awake at 2:30 am (1:30 pm back in Iowa time). I tried my best to not wake Lisa, who actually had to go into work that day (Friday). I read my book (‘The Art of Fielding,’ which I also recommend) for four hours until she woke up. After she got ready for work, I walked with her to Starbucks where we had coffee and breakfast sandwiches.
After she left for her first day on the new job, I stopped by a pastry shop called Hokuo to pick up snacks for the day and a light lunch for later.
Then I went back to bed. I essentially stayed in bed until Lisa returned from work, watching ‘How I Met Your Mother’ DVDs and American baseball on the Japanese TV (most of the television news in Japan revolves around Yu Darvish of the Texan Rangers. Even Hideki Matsui, who is playing in the minors, gets coverage.)
We had dinner at a seafood restaurant (red snapper) and once again went back to bed. Saturday morning I slept in until 4:30 a.m.
Saturday was moving day. An exhausting day.
First we went to the electronics store Yodobashi to get iPhones and internet service. However, it took a lot longer than we anticipated. Plus, since I don’t have my alien registration I.D. yet, we had to purchase my cell phone under Lisa’s name, which really confused the manager and apparently required several phone calls to god only knows, possibly aliens.
So Lisa filled out the paperwork and we left without cell phones, intending to pick them up later. We had an appointment with the apartment manager at 11 am to pick up our key, and we didn’t want to be late.
Technically, we live in Setagaya, what you would call a suburb of Tokyo. However, our apartment is only a 5 minute walk from the Sasazuka train station, which is only a five minute train ride from Shinjuku station, one of the entertainment and shopping hubs of Tokyo.
So our location is pretty prime. Though when we arrived at the apartment building, I was a bit concerned with the condition. See we live an apartment subsidized by the Bank of Japan, an arrangement called shataku. Technically we pay rent, but it is only approximately $200 a month for a 3-bedroom apartment that would normally go for about $2,000 a month.
But since the government owns the building and lets its employees live here, they make it a point not to make the apartments too nice so the taxpayers don’t get angry. Our building is a drab gray and nothing to report home about, while the surrounding buildings are nouveau and high class. Several of the neighbors drive BMWs and Mercedes.
Our apartment itself is very traditional Japanese. It is plain, but also very efficient and accommodating. The living room and kitchen floors are tile, and easy to clean. In fact, the entire apartment is easy to clean, including the off-white vinyl kitchen and bath cabinets.
The bedroom floors are traditional green tatami, which are made of straw. Our tatami is brand new, and when I entered the apartment for the first time, I thought I had entered the barn. Luckily it didn’t take long to get used to the smell (there is still a little Iowan in me). The walls are also newly coated.
The doors between the two master bedrooms and the living room are traditional sliding panels, so you can open them up to create one large space, or keep them closed to make three separate rooms. Since we don’t have curtains on the windows yet, we keep them closed so the neighbors aren’t exposed to a giant red American changing his knickers.
The apartment did require some deep cleaning, especially to the kitchen cabinets, toilet and windows. We did the best we could on our first day, but Lisa made the wise decision to hire a cleaning crew to do a thorough cleaning. They came over on Sunday for an initial inspection, then came back with the full crew on Tuesday and took care of business.
But back to Saturday. After our initial investigation of the apartment and a quick scrub down, Lisa went to pick up her security card for work and other effects from her parents’ house. She had a pleasant meeting with her mother, and then we stopped by a couple of stores in Lisa’s hometown of Nakano to pick up some other necessities. After a quick dinner, we returned to Yodobashi where we were able to pick up our new iPhones. However, they once again took a long time, and we had to leave before we could get our internet router because we had to be back to meet the neighbors.
One of the traditions of the shataku is that newbies are supposed to go around to every apartment in the complex, introduce themselves and deliver a gift. We were supposed to do this at 7 pm, but we didn’t get back until 8:30. Lisa, bless her heart, did a wonderful job and was very gracious introducing us to the neighbors. I just stood there and said ‘konbonwa’ (‘good evening’), ‘hajimemashite’ (‘nice to meet you’) and ‘yoroshiku onegaishimasu (another version of ‘nice to meet you’).
With this task completed, it was time to take a shower and go to bed.
Unfortunately, we had no hot water.
So dirty and grimy, we climbed into Lisa’s single bed and crashed as soon as our heads hit her stuffed seal (we hadn’t bought pillows yet).
That catches us up through Saturday. Stay tuned for in my next post I will you regale you with an exciting encounter with the gas lady and I will ramble on and on about the amount of seafood we have eaten. Somebody please send steaks soon.