Saturday, June 20, 2009

in the eye of the flea

i'm going home for a visit in exactly a month (yaHOO!), but before that i have to move! i can't believe it! my contract is finally coming to an end (that three years evaporated fast), and i've felt the growing urge to leave small-town japan for a big city (where i can wear my wacky clothes and lolita dresses!) my future home is called ichinomiya, a mere ten minutes from nagoya by train. ichinomiya is an interesting city in its own right: a hub of textile-making and home to the noro yarn factory, but i'm equally thrilled to be in such close proximity to nagoya. i like nagoya partly because it's underrated. while tokyo, kyoto, and osaka are constantly entertaining strangers, nagoya gets on with living. it feels normal there. don't get me wrong, i still adore osaka, but i think as far as places to live go, nagoya is much more my speed.
not only will i be changing towns, i'll be trading mie prefecture's hang-ten hand for aichi, which is more, well, flea-shaped!

last weekend i got to do something i've been dying to do since i started thinking about moving: apartment hunting! i love seeing inside empty houses and imagining my life in each one, and it's even more interesting in japan. i scoured the online listings for hours, scrutinizing every floor plan, decoding what the abbreviations meant, determining where they were located. i found a good sampling within my estimated price range, and finally i got to visit the real estate office.
i had tiptoed around actually contacting them for months. it's totally legal here to discriminate against foreigners for housing, and especially if your japanese is poor (like mine), some people are flat-out refused. i was quaking in my boots that this would happen. while my employer has some housing available, it shares a kitchen and a bathroom, and people, i am 30 years old. i want my own space! i have had so many undesirable situations where i was the only person cleaning the bathrooms or kitchen, and i'm so over that.
i decided the best course of action would be to email minimini (the real estate company) the online form for the places i liked. i was able to communicate through email for a bit, hopefully laying down a foundation for our business relationship. i convinced my friend sam to go with me to help with communication, as his japanese is hot stuff. i was sweating bullets over all the details: how much money would i need to move in? (a lot, i was sure), when could i move in?, what kind of guarantor would i need? etc. i was totally blessed, therefore, when the secretary of my new employer offered to go with me to look at apartments. she's japanese. she knows about all those details. pheeww.
she and i met for the first time and headed straight to minimini to look for some good apartments. the agent was helpful and pulled a bunch of apartments with my specifications. most important: a nice kitchen! who knew i would turn into someone who loves cooking so much? i don't want to be cooking in the hallway just inside the front door, a typical layout. i also don't want a single burner stove and no counters. i wanted a good size kitchen with some natural light.

so typical. :) an apartment i considered, but decided against. you walk in the front door and there's a bathroom sink, followed by a kitchen sink and small stove (see the floor plan). no hallway cookin' for me!

this even smaller place is purely unacceptable unless you have kitchen phobia.

then we headed out to see some places. i thought we'd be visiting at least, you know, six places, but we only went to three! the first one was do you say?...a dump. dinky windows on the first floor and facing a rusted brown corrugated wall (possibly artistic, but not good for reflecting light); i was not thrilled. the space was ok, three tiny rooms and a window in the kitchen, but i knew i couldn't live there.
the second place was like paradise after the first: new, gorgeous, and with many perks! we all ambled around in wonder. it had a great stove already, an air conditioner (most places don't and they're Expensive), beautiful storage, nice fixtures! the drawbacks were important, though. again it was on the first floor, not good for single women living alone. i want to be able to leave my windows open when i sleep, but the only other "windows" besides the tiny one in the kitchen was the two very nice, huge sliding glass doors--not a good way to keep prowlers out. that means i would always have to sleep with the windows closed. hmm. also, the sliding glass doors face cedar bushes. it may be private, but it's boring. if there's one thing i know about myself, it's that i need a view. i need to be able to see other people or cars or something. it helps me feel connected. there were no windows in the laundry room, bathroom, or toilet either...a tiny bit depressing. lastly, the first floor is the bug floor. i've had my fill of huge, ugly bugs. i'm ready to go up a level.
Apartment Two:
fancy toilet, and a mirror so you can look at yourself while sitting on the fancy toilet?

the face washing sink (this seems to be an important feature in Japanese apartments), and a place for the washing machine.

ooh, nice stove. i've never seen a place with a "real" oven. my convection oven is wonderful, though.

seriously great storage, a huge plus.

the view of the cedar bushes.

the last place we looked at was the one i had picked as my online favorite. when i had seen it, i had a "that's the one" moment. i didn't think it was going to be possible since it was near my upper price limit and i thought i'd have to pay extra for parking, but the parking is included.
inside the top floor corner apartment, it was a festival of sunlight. the view was marvelous; windows in all the rooms, away from the bugs and street noise and peeping eyes. an aerie. granted, it didn't have the appliances the other place had, but it felt so much more like me. we exclaimed over the view; i exclaimed over the spotless stainless steel under the kitchen sink (you could eat off it), and i snapped pictures helter-skelter. we returned to the office utterly exhausted. i wanted to get on with drawing up the contract for Door Number 3, but i guess they have to formally ask the landlord and do all sorts of credit checks, so i headed home to wait it out.

Door Number 3:
the plan.

inside the front door. nice cabinet for shoes.

the first left is the face washing/laundry room, which leads into the bathing room. a window in each!

a close-up of the face washing station.

the 2nd left is the toilet. it's not a "washlet," but i do think the toilet seat is heated, which is pretty much the ultimate luxury.

standing in the kitchen looking back at the front door.

the kitchen! so clean, so pretty!

the other side of the kitchen where the balcony is.

in the room adjacent to the kitchen (the corner room), there is a glass window so you can see onto your balcony without going out on it. handy?

a wider view of that room with the front window.

and finally, the corner window and closet.

other benefits of this building include an air conditioned elevator, hey! and its close proximity to mos burger, baskin robbins, and at least 3 conbinis.

the funny part was that after we had all parted ways, i didn't feel the incredible relief i expected to feel after finding a possible home; i felt terrified! if i was sweating bullets before, i was sweating cannonballs now. for three days i was under the most choking, sweating, persecutin' fear. what if i couldn't afford that place with my new job? what if i didn't get the apartment? what if i did? how on earth was i going to pay for all the appliances? an air conditioner alone is over 500 bucks here! how was i going to live on the money i have left from this job for the next two months until i get my next real paycheck? finally after going to bed exhausted (and sometimes waking up in worry) every night, i finally had a breakthrough. i remembered what i learned from Biggest Loser: fear is a doorway. i'm so close to getting something i've wanted to experience for at least 5 years--city living in japan--and i'm ready to turn away at the opportunity because it's hard and scary. i can either go towards fear and through it, or i can keep retreating and never get past it. it takes being uncomfortable to grow, and i want to grow!
i still don't have any answers, but i know God's going to provide for me. it doesn't mean it's going to be perfect but that i'm not alone in dealing with it. those are odds i think i can live with. so unless things take another turn, i will be moving into this lovely apartment in the high heat and humidity of summer with no air conditioning! i wil probably lose five pounds of sweat! i think i see a silver lining?


  1. AnonymousJune 22, 2009

    Get a fan.

  2. I love the pictures. The new place looks perfect!