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Jul 13 2011

third week

Here comes the mouse!

 

Die Maus

Die Maus

Friday. My host Celine has no internet access at home which is why she is taking me to her university, Dokkyo university. There she hands me her wireless password and heads off for her lectures. It’s simply great. This is how I even get to know Japanese student live. Even though I can’t make out any major differences to western universities. As you’d expect from a university there are many lecturing halls, a huge library and of course the canteen. The food there is good. What puts me in a good mood is that the Dokkyo university uses “Die Maus” from the German children’s edutainment TV show “Sendung mit der Maus” as its mascot.

A Maus fan

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley. Well, but I don't want to prevent him from his plan to study.

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Schoolgirls visiting

Schoolgirls visiting

 

 

Presented in Surround

I’m moving once again. This time to Bryan, an American host who had lived in Germany for some years and is – how else could it be – an English teacher. Since it is weekend once again it is my good fortune to get treated once again to a weekend trip to the mountains.

Mountains close to Tokyo

Mountains close to Tokyo

Together with Bryan’s friends I’m treated not only to delicious Japanese food once again, but also the best Japanese alcohol later that evening at a married couple with whom Brian is friends. But they are also equipped with a good range of western style alcoholics and I mix them some drinks. Well, I once worked at a disco…

Cozy Cocktails

Cozy Cocktails

Suddenly some kind of mobile phone sound breaks the chilled atmosphere. I’m asking myself if I’m this drunk already or if this is a damn good surround sound cell phone. I could swear I’m hearing the sound from at least three spots in the room. “Oh man, does it have to interrupt our nice conversation!?” two of Brandon’s friends are complaining and get their cell phones out of their pockets.
“What is it?” I’m asking.
“That’s the earthquake warning system”
“Everybody is quiet for ten seconds.
“Here it comes!” says Denise.
“And the room starts to tremble for about five seconds.

Never isolated!

It’s Monday evening I’m waiting at Kitaurawa to be picked up by my new host Andy. The Advent of couchsurfing to the Japanese population seems seems still to be in progress since I am mainly hosted by foreigners. And so this time. Andy gives me a warm welcome in a beautiful British accent. We are on our move to his house as we talk about hospitality and and how he ended up in Japan. Andy 45, a journalist specialising in the Japanese metal industry, comes from Portugal but grew up bilingual. He writes for a British magazine he tells me.

Poster wall of Andy's 16 year old daughter.

Poster wall of Andy's 16 year old daughter.

It is a nice 3 stories house. Minimum twice as big as the one I’ve stayed in at my host in Shibuya. Andy is married and has a 16 year old daughter. Even though the week has just started and there are no holidays, wife and daughter are not around: “My wife lives at the other side of Tokyo together with our daughter. She attends a kind of elite high school there. It would simply be too long of a commute every day, so my wife and me decided to rent a flat for both there. It is not common to live on your own in Japan when you are 16. It’s actually normal to live with your parents when you study at university. Sounds weird hm? No rioting.”

“Rioting?” I’m asking.

“Well, I mean a lot of things are so preordained. Few chances do develop your own life. I think this is what Japan misses a bit. A lot of things are overly organised. Which, in my opinion, leads to the fact that only a few people – too few -, form their own opinions or are really individual. Or let’s put it this way. Of course they have their own opinions, but they rarely express them and do even less to change certain grievances”

“Hm, this might be a reason why there are almost never demonstrations going on on the street. And if they happen at all they are not really big.” I’m thinking.

Andy is cooking a Moroccan dish for our dinner: “I came to Japan years ago where I found and married my wife. She is a trained biologist and held a well paid position at a company researching cancer back then. After a few years, we had decided to move to Portugal where I had a job which meant she had to give up her job here in Japan. Even if it was difficult for her in Portugal, she did actually very well in finding a job there. But after some years we realized we both didn’t belong there and decided to go back to Japan again.”

“May I ask about your wife’s job?”

“Sure, she’s a housewife. When we came back from Portugal she applied once again for research jobs but could not get any work. Only minor positions like an assistant job or being a secretary.”

“Was the branch in which she researched no longer lucrative, or what was the reason for it?”

His respond comes quickly almost with a little anger: ”No! Her ‘mistake’ was that she gave up her job to leave Japan! The Japanese people consider this to be not reliable. So when she came back nobody wanted to hire her based on this ‘argument’ that she could not longer be considered reliable. It does obviously not count how talented you are! This country has such a pool of wasted talent. You know, this is actually one of the few things that makes me furious about Japan! And after some years she simply couldn’t stand those kinds of jobs any more and this is how she ended up being a housewife.”

I’m bewildered.

Despite the fact that Andy is the only bread earner in the family, he still takes his time to host and cook for me and even for showing me around the next day.

As much as I like his house there is something about it – about Japanese houses in general – that drive me mad/crazy. The missing insulation. No matter how many windows, window shutters, curtains and doors you close you hear the street noise constantly. Of course it leads to the result that a huge amount of energy is being wasted. The walls have a width of maximum ten to 15 cm (6 inch). There’s no glass wool or polystyrene insulation in between preventing the hot air from the outside to funnel into the air-conditioned rooms. And it’s of course right the other way around in the winter time. They rather waste three or four times more energy than they need just because it’s not common at all to insulate houses here. Also the windows aren’t double-glazed. Neither the ones in the air-conditioned trains nor those in houses. My last host Ryan told me he heats his flat with a movable kerosene heater. All this in one of the richest countries of the world? How does this fit together?

To save energy the government recently tried once again to introduce the “Super cool business” including a casual dress code that aims to save energy by not having to use the air-condition to cool all the guys in their stuffy suits. Not only since 3/11 – but especially since then – Japan’s economy suffers. Like in most economic crises of the modern times, people don’t spend more money than necessary which leads into an economic vicious circle. To combat this Japan’s government introduced subsidies for household devices. Andy’s family made use of it. However, the fridge came from a Japanese company but was produced in China. So it did not really help the domestic economy. Instead of such measures, Japan would be well advised to facilitate the local construction industry – a branch which does not really export and is thus totally reliant on domestic demand. With this Japan could kill two birds with one stone. They could save a decuman amount of energy so that they wouldn’t need as many nuclear power plants as they have today. And it would be a blast for those sector of Japan’s economy that cannot rely on exporting their way out of trouble.

tombstone

tombstone

 

The next day Andy shows me around in Omiya. Since he has a well equipped family household he provides me with a bicycle and we both cycle to Omiya’s main temple. We are on our way to it as Andy stops to show me a Buddhist churchyard. Beautiful, so far I haven’t had the chance to enter one and see the graves close up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the cemetery

At the cemetery

Once again on our way to the temple. Only a few minutes later he is interrupting our trip once again to show me the newly built Saitama Shintoshin station and its city centre with it’s new built stadium. Yoko Ono’s John Lenon museum used to be in there as well. Well, this is Japan’s attempt of beautiful modern architecture. All those buildings are pretty new.

Omiya Metro station

Omiya Metro station

Omiya's stadium

Omiya's stadium

As Japan suffered a plethora of bomb attacks during the second world war this temple is unfortunately not as old as I was hoping for. But it’s nice anyway. In addition to that, I haven’t been to a place in my life where I’ve seen so many turtles at once in one pond!

Omiya's Tempel

Omiya's Tempel

turning turtles

turning turtles

 

Omiya's temple

Omiya's temple

Even on our way back we can’t make it in one go and have to stop off to do our dinner shopping. But I’m grateful for it because Andy is the first host who shows me that there are actually greengrocers that have bargain prices.

At some time in the morning the bell is ringing. A man in a blue overall wearing a building-site helmet is passing Andy a little, plastic packed towel as a present to apologize in advance for eventually occurring inconveniences which might happen within the next days as they are just about to begin to paint the neighbours’ house.

Hm, maybe I should try something like this when I’m back in Germany before having a party which might get a little louder and could also lead to disturbing the neighbours. Should some drunk people roar too loud, the neighbours would even have something to plug into their ears as tiny as this towel is. Hm… but on the other hand such a small towel fits quite well into the mouth of a roaring drunk. Hm… one shouldn’t give up on every new idea too quickly but on this idea, it’s maybe better to throw in the towel!

On Wednesday evening I’m moving once again. On my way to my next hosts I’m facing a new problem. All I can say about it is: “Don’t use Tokyo’s metro during the rush hour with two backpacks!”

Once again an American-Japanese couple. Dylan, 30 recently married his wife, 29. They both are preparing for leaving Japan and want to gain foothold in the U.S.A.

Oh, well …

Oh, did I forget to tell? This Thursday is my first working day at the day care. Yes, I took the job! But it does not mean that the job search is over yet, as this job is unfortunately not a full time position and I need to find at least two further jobs in order to finance my living here. Well, since one should not really measure its value based on just one day, I’ll wait a little until I think a little deeper about it. So I’m asking for some patience please….

Special thanks to: Hubertus Neidhart from Webspace Provider Network for excellent web page hosting services, my hosts and especially Andy for the text revision.

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