We are delighted to include a post by Guest Blogger/our friend Shelley, who moved to Japan a few months ago. We asked her to write this post as we were intrigued to learn how they were getting on.
Shelley is a very talented photographer, and she and her husband Jonathan helped us a great deal a few years ago when they were staying in Douglas’s Barn and John was wondering what camera he should get.
We spent a delightful evening with them as we drank wine and they let John try their cameras and talked him through the pros and cons of various models. Their advice has proved invaluable.
Shelley’s website is http://www.www.shelleybray.com. Do have a look. She tells me she hasn’t had much time on it recently, as they have been rather preoccupied with getting to grips with all that is new for them since their move to Japan.
After an amazing 3 years in Hong Kong our Japanese visas finally came through.
We could pack up and make our move to Nagoya, Japan’s 3rd largest city, our new home for the next 3 years.This was a day to celebrate, getting to this point had taken the best part of 7 months, at times it had been hard to believe we would ever get approval to be resident in Japan, but the months of paperwork and hurdles we’d had to jump were now passed and at last we were in our new home reunited with our belongings.
It was mid July, our house was waiting for us and we eagerly ticked off every one of the 160 boxes of our belongings, efficiently brought in by the courteous Japanese removal crew.
Shoes are never worn past the threshold in Japanese homes, our rental contract even has a clause stating that shoes are prohibited.
I was intrigued as to how a team of removal men were going to bring back and forth a lorry load of furniture from outside to in. Of course they had done this a million times before and the ease with which every one of them slipped their shoes on and off, time and again, whilst carrying boxes was amazing.
Every day in the first month or so brought a new challenge to some lesser or greater degree like the day I discovered my mail wasn’t being delivered because post office HQ did not have my maiden name on their files, only my married name. If HQ doesn’t have the full exactly matching name then you don’t get your post.
But everything is surmountable and the key is to remain patient and realise that logic often plays no part in achieving your goal.
Summer in Nagoya was stifling, the high humidity and temperatures were on a par with Hong Kong.
However we now had clear blue skies with a big sun beating down on us, this had been rare in Hong Kong due to the vast difference in air quality. Menacing mosquitoes seemed to lie patiently in wait for us every time we stepped outside. Big, mean, stripy specimens who would have the audacity to just stare back at us whilst they clung on enjoying the last gulps of their meal. My grand plans for a summer of al fresco dining were dashed, the only creatures eating outside were the mozzies.
Japan seems such a place of contrasts
Modern, high-tech, futuristic, it is all these things, but then you discover for example, that they don’t have central heating, cash-point machines are usually closed outside of banking hours and smoking is still allowed in bars and restaurants.
A Japanese friend (playing devil’s advocate) asked me recently what I hated about Japan, hate is a strong word and so far I love Japan and the Japanese, but if I had to pull up one thing I do not like, then smoking in restaurants would be it. By comparison my friend then asked what I loved, that is an easy one – the safety, the civility, courtesy, and respect that everyone has for each other.
I doubt I will ever tire of the train conductor in his pristine uniform with white gloves and hat turning to bow each time he leaves the carriage, or the hot (or cold depending on season) towels presented in every restaurant and bar for you to wipe your hands before you eat. Every service assistant in whichever establishment, be it restaurant, bank or shop, never fails to treat us with the utmost courtesy and attention, everyone takes immense pride in their job, their position, their uniform.
Tipping does not exist…
…not in taxis, restaurants, hair salons, nowhere. To tip is actually considered insulting, the service you’ve asked for is covered by the price and that is that. For someone like me who is utterly useless at maths, its a dream come true to not have to figure out how much to tip!
Then of course there are the lavatories, or “Washlets” as they are called here.
Amazing all-singing, all-dancing toilets, well not quite dancing, but they do have buttons for optional music or “flushing sound” so your neighbours are spared hearing any indelicate noises emanating from your cubicle(!) The seats are heated to a temperature of your choosing, the lid automatically lifts to welcome you as you enter the room and then closes as you leave. They automatically flush as you rise and warm water jets emerge to wash every area you wish. As an American friend of mine said “You feel like a King!” The top of the range loos even blow you dry with warm air. Once you’ve lived with a Washlet you are spoilt forever!
We had started to try to learn the language before we arrived and weekly lessons are very slowly moving us along, but when our own Washlet decided to stop auto flushing it meant the maintenance men had to come by. My miming skills have come on leaps and bounds since arriving here (eat your heart out Marcel Marceau) so it was with a “Konnichiwa!” and lots of miming that I directed the men to the broken Washlet.
Not being able to speak a word I then hid myself away in the lounge, but 10 minutes later they called me to join them in the smallest room, they then proceeded to jabber away to me in Japanese. In desperation I grabbed my phone and resorted to Google translate, I gestured for them to speak into the phone, the translation that came back was not quite what I expected: I read “We are waiting for the Lord to come”, Lord with a capital L.
I managed to stifle a giggle and then for a second time the man spoke and presented me again with “we wait now for our Lord to come…” I was at a loss and inwardly thinking that although our toilet was important I didn’t dream it required divine intervention!
It became clear that our precious Washlet could not be fixed there and then, so the men left and appeared to loiter outside the house, I left them to it and 15 minutes later the door rang, lo and behold the Lord had arrived! Their Lord (supervisor) was all smiles holding his phone with an English speaker on the other end and our precious Washlet was back in full working order the very next day.
In our first few weeks one of my most consuming tasks was getting to grips with the recycling system.
We were given an A3 sheet detailing what went in which bin, on which day, in which coloured bag and whereabouts it had to be put to be collected.
Throwing things away is very hard, there are no general litter bins and there is no municipal refuse tip. Rumour even has it that there are recycling monitors, local residents who patrol and will name and shame any residents not sticking to the rules!
We have 6 different bins – burnable waste (which according to the A3 instruction sheet is shoes, buckets, food and cds?!) PET bottles, plastic packaging, glass, cans and paper packaging.
Red bags are needed for burnable waste, green bags are for non-burnable things which according to the guide are items such as irons and kettles(!) blue bags are needed for the rest and glass has to be taken and put in a municipal crate. Burnable waste goes out on Monday and sits outside the house, plastics go out Tuesday, the rest goes Thursday and has to go down the road to a common collection point. I could go on, but I think you get the idea! I confess that when I made a visit to the UK in August it momentarily crossed my mind to take a stack of cardboard back with me in my suitcase because I had no idea how to dispose of it here!
Yet despite the krypton factor recycling system and lack of bins Japan is beautifully clean.
Littering just does not happen. I expected to see fly-tipping, shadowy figures in the dead of night piling up rubbish in remote corners out of sheer desperation. But no, there is no littering and this also goes high up on my list of “Things I love about Japan”.
If the most mundane things in life such as toilets and rubbish can become an experience worth writing about then who knows what else Japan has in store for us. It is very early days and our adventure here has only just begun, but we are hugely excited about the time ahead and the experiences yet to come.