A Zen exercise environment…lovely stone stairs to run up and stretch on and lion statues to stretch my shoulders out!
Being here in Tokyo, staying in a house that is not mine without a garden, husband or dog, has given me a fair amount of free time. I’m here to help Karis stay organized and on top of things…mostly by making sure she’s fed and her laundry is done. This isn’t always easy here. You need to food shop almost every day as there is no storage space and we are sharing with other people. Also, I’m pretty sure if I left it up to her she’d be eating a lot of Ichiban (which means ‘number one’) noodles and salad which isn’t a nutritional wonderland. The older girls (17+) are a bit more cognizant of what they’re eating whilst the 15-year olds on their own tend to eat out, make pasta or have noodles and toast…mostly because they can because they’re 15! Laundry, as you’ve heard in previous posts, is slightly more complex as it has to be air-dried and there can be a lot of sudden rainstorms. Running errands and getting money can take time. The only bank machines that take foreign ATM cards are the ones at the Post office…which are only open when the post office is open. It took me a day to buy a pillow…one that didn’t cost $75. Printing and mailing an electronic document also took the better part of a day though I know how to do it now. However, seeing as I am experienced in doing the household stuff and relatively able to figure out other things, it doesn’t take up that much of my time. So I’ve got some free time where I’m on my own.
I’ve been exercising every day. I tried running but it hurts my knee too much. Probably need new runners and the pavement can be a bit uneven. It’s also a bit unnerving as there is a constant stream of people and bikes coming at you which makes me really anxious. Anyway, I decided to run up and down the stairs at the sumo park around the corner. It’s been fabulous. Quiet. Somewhat shaded if I go early enough and doesn’t hurt my knee. I considered joining a gym or doing a class but it’s quite expensive here (over $30/class) and I’d have to walk or take the train. I’m so very lazy that any sort of extra work will end up being a great excuse for me not to go. So since the park is literally about a hundred yards away, it works for me. I also do other exercises from Karis’s trainer Caroline Walton which are helping my core and keeping my back from getting sore 😉
I also write. This blog is part of my writing commitment as are various other projects I’m working on while I’m here. I write and read every day. Being here has made me really think about how I spend my time…and how I waste my time. I watch a lot of TV at home. Much more than I actually thought. We have a TV here but it’s in a cupboard and I don’t even know if it works. Haven’t cared enough to try. Karis watches movies on Netflix and sometimes we’ll watch one together. I read the newspaper about twice a week. I’ll be instituting a few changes when I get home.
I also help Karis if she needs to take the subway anywhere as she’s not yet confident on her own. She’s pretty good and is picking up the finer points–the agency does give them maps but it’s still VERY confusing. Basically, I manage to amuse myself all day, every day. The department stores here are amazing…6-9 floors of cultural anthropology. The cosmetic stores are amazing…they have products we haven’t even heard of. Stay tuned…. I still hate cooking and find it hard to figure out what to cook. Ingredients you take for granted are sometimes hard to find though I have to say, it’s a lot different than it was in the 90s…I got anchovies and capers at the store today to make Salad Nicoise!
My working area in the kitchen; the weird toaster/broiler worked well to roast peppers; the finished product: Salad Nicoise with prosciutto and melon and roasted peppers on Italian buns!
Laundry is a little more old-style here. Not that I’m down by the river pounding it on a rock or anything…which wouldn’t work because the river is black, but it’s a lot more labour intensive. For starters, I can’t really understand the washing machine. I can wash a load in cold water and spin it dry. There are few dryers here as electricity is very costly. They have those fancy-dancy two-in-one models that apparently wash AND dry but we use the time-honoured air dry method. Which is fine if it’s sunny out but a bit more time-consuming if it rains. Also, we only have one bath towel each and one set of sheets so you need to make sure you have lots of time to dry everything. When I lived here 23 years ago and we dried laundry on the deck, white clothing rapidly turned grey from the pollution. I think I’m in a nicer neighbourhood now, in that there are no factories or trains in my backyard, (though we do have a garbage incinerator though it apparently only runs at night for a variety of reasons), but I think it’s also less polluted in some ways. You aren’t actually ALLOWED to smoke in the streets. They have these smoke pits in various spots–for sure outside the train stations–and, for the most part people actually use them. That being said, you can still smoke in a lot of the restaurants here.
Anyway, back to laundry. Long term cold water washing doesn’t seem to get stuff CLEAN, but I can’t read the machine and have no idea how to change it. Better call in the Japanese friends. Cold water wash does give me limited opportunities to ruin stuff though. To dry laundry they have all kinds of cool little clip hangers and poles, but what I really want is a stand up rack. They’re not so popular here for some reason, maybe because they blow over in the wind? Most people have bars that hang from their deck that they hook their handy-dandy clip hanger laundry things to (see photo on title page). People also do laundry here pretty much every day. Probably because it’s so frickin’ hot and their clothes get dirty fast. I air-dried a thick towel today on my deck in under an hour. Seriously. It was ridiculously hot. I’m feeling quite noble and environmentally friendly, though I think the fact that they burn my trash at night kind of cancels that out.
Please note that this article was in tribute to my good friend, Susan–the most environmentally friendly person I know who always air dries her laundry;-)
In the photo, the image on the far left is my house–the one with the expansive deck with the sliding doors is our room. This little park filled with Zen and bamboo and carved stones (maybe gravestones, not really sure) and a sumo ring is literally in my backyard. It’s an actual covered sumo ring with curtains and tassels, though you aren’t allowed to use it without permission, as well as kiddie playground stuff, contemplative paths and a public toilet.
I forgot how small everything is here. No storage. They sell eggs in packs of four. No oven. Sharing with six other people. One shelf, one storage basket and one shelf in the fridge. Two burners, one microwave, one toaster/grill/potentially explosive device. No rice cooker and the blender is broken. It seems that a lot of people (Japanese people not just the idiot foreigners) eat at 7-11 (the ‘conbini’= convenience store) and there’s no shame in that here. I’ve found Greek yogurt, green tea and English muffins as well as chopped pineapple and affordable grapefruit. Though last night we did got to 7-11…ramen noodles, seaweed chips and carrot ice cream. Going to get more organized today seeing as they do keep track of the girls’ measurements–the clothes are a lot smaller here. Most of the girls eat pretty well especially the older more experienced models; the young ones tend to choose pasta and toast in a pinch. Can’t say that I blame them…easy, cheap and recognizable comfort food. You can get awesome sushi at the supermarket though for about $4… Just takes a little organization. And the toaster/grill thing scares me. It is gas and doesn’t always light quickly… Anyone who knows me knows that I can’t even light the barbecue because I harbour a deep distrust of propane. So you can imagine me making toast…
The Japanese are master toilet makers. Ranging from the squatting version on the left to the high-tech Toto in the middle to the standard household model, they’ve got it all covered. The squat toilet was in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and was one traditional toilet amid a sea of Western ones. It’s actually fairly hygienic as you don’t actually touch it with your body anywhere…. The high-end Toto version was in the Loft department store in Shibuya and has a build in bidet function, a dryer (some still regard the use of toilet paper as incredibly dirty) and can play music or a fake flushing sound should you be making an embarrassing sound yourself that needs covering up. Sadly most of the instructions are in Japanese which makes it a little tricky. The toilet in our house is pretty standard for middle-class homes with the built-in tap on the top to wash your hands with the water that is FILLING the tank. Cold but better than nothing and also a good way to conserve water…. Personally I prefer the Totos with the heated seats that play music 😉
This is our hacienda in all its glory. Top left is the kitchen ‘storage’ and I use that term lightly. Daily grocery shopping is my life. Next is the view of the eating area from the front foyer. Top right is our bedroom…that’s my bed by the deck. Notice the laundry drying on the curtain rod. Electricity is expensive = air drying. Middle left is the bath/shower room–shared by 7 people. The idea is to clean yourself first then soak in the tub. Seeing as we’re not Japanese that doesn’t happen. Middle right photo is the living area and eating area also shared by seven people though most of the girls hang out in their rooms. Note the couches. This is a big deal. Many apartments don’t have such large spaces and definitely no couches. When I was here in 1990-91 I lived without a couch the whole time. Too old now for that sitting on the floor stuff. I make sure to sit on the couch at least once a day to express my gratitude. Bottom left is the washing machine which is immediately adjacent to the shower room. Next is me at the top of the stairs just by our bedroom door. Next is the entry hall with shoe storage (no shoes in the house) and finally, last but not least is one of our two toilet rooms. We’re in Shibuya which is a decent area and this apartment (flower shop on the bottom floor) is probably worth about $2 million dollars….
Perhaps not a stairway to heaven but we do have air conditioning and our own room…along with five (yes FIVE) roommates! The girls are all really nice and it’s not as chaotic as you might think…sort of like camping but in a house with a bed. There are two toilets and one shower but luckily not everyone has to leave the house at the same time. Minimal kitchen utensils but that’s ok because it’s kind of like cooking in a dollhouse. No oven either. Karis isn’t usually home for dinner.
We do have a washer and dryer all-in-one which doesn’t work that well. You have to air dry everything which is pretty standard in Japan as electricity is quite costly.
Apparently there’s no housekeeper but they do supply cleaning products (perhaps as some sort of hint?) and toilet paper. The girls told me that the bookers came over and cleaned and bought some new dishes and towels because a ‘mother’ was coming 😉