Flying Time & House Hunting

July 1, 2009

I’ve been in Japan for about three weeks and counting now, and I’ve really obtained a new respect for “culture shock.” I’ve been meaning to fill this journal with entries, however I’m just so mentally exhausted from all the activity I hardly know where to begin. (I also apologize for typos, as this laptop cannot keep up with my typing speed and often omits or weirdly inputs stuff…)

We’re still in a transition period where we’re still lodged in a bare-basics hotel (although our honeymoon week in Tokyo is over) and it’s been a relatively slow and steady adjustment period. Tokyo was great, and I’ll do a back entry about it soon, but right now it’s down to brass tacks. Our current goal (or “imperative” as the lady at the Navy housing center so oddly put it) is to secure a roof over our heads. Last Friday (that’s Thursday for North America) we had an orientation about housing. Since we’ve begun looking at places, I’ve learned some very interesting idiosyncrasies between Japanese and American homes. I’ll detail them for you here.

Bath tubs — Japan is famous for deep, narrow “soaking tubs,” but what I never knew was that they come in two types. The newer bath tubs are often made of enameled fiberglass (like we typically have in the U.S.) and have a built-in heating system. The older type are usually made of stainless steel and have a separate heating source, called a circulation heater. It’s important to note that these older heating systems don’t work well with bath oils or bubbles, as they can fool with the circulation pipes. You can spot these by the two circulation holes in the side of the tub.

Flooring — Tatami is another famous feature of Japanese homes; most homes have one “tatami room.” However, as we found, some homes have tatami in many more rooms. Why would this be an issue? Firstly, we found that realtors don’t like the idea of pets running around on tatami, and secondly heavy furniture cannot be placed on it, because it will permanently dent the mats. According to one real estate agent, replacing a single mat only costs around $60-$80 bucks, which isn’t awful (and the smell is new mats is supposedly very nice) but a room of 6 or 8 mats quickly adds up to a several hundred dollar investment. Cats like to scratch it, too. (Sadly, the home we’re signing for had the tatami room replaced by hardwood, because the previous tenant had two dogs. I’d like to replace it if I can.)

Stoves — In Japan, most homes have a stove with a small built-in grill I like to call a “fish drawer,” which is a broiler compartment no bigger than a small silverware drawer right beneath the stove top. I’d been somewhat desirious of a “fish drawer” myself. However, these stoves do not have an oven compartment. Often, they have a small counter top convection oven instead, but these are only able to handle very small amounts of baking. In our case, our apartment doesn’t have a fish grill stove, but instead we’ll be allocated an American-style oven stove from the Navy. I’ll be buying a counter-top fish grill, so it’s sort of the opposite. In all honestly, I think that’s a better arrangement.

Kitchen floor pantries — Every single house we saw had two mysterious square doors about a foot away from the sink and counter space. These doors had handles that lay flat, and when opened looked similar to the inside of a mini fridge. White plastic with little wire racks, and an air-tight seal around the edges. However, they’re not coolers, but rather small storage spaces for things like potatoes or canned foods. I have a slight feeling of unease with putting food beneath my feet, but I can’t image a better container to keep food sealed away from insects and humidity. Of every thing so far, this rates as a “totally new and cool!” in my crusade to learn new things about daily life.

I wish I could upload photos, but it won’t be until the 14th that we’re moving into our new place and I’ll have access to my Mac again. I’ll write more about our specific house next time.

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