No Pets, No Pianos, No Foreigners
- A Potential Landlord
One of the first big events of the year was a ski trip. This was organised by Ronan as a means, mainly, of getting together with some language teachers, one of whom he fancied. We rented two cars
for two days, with Nicole, one of the English teachers, and Tim doing the driving. The one Ronan fancied was a French girl called Gigi, whom he met at the local station. The others taught English
in a private high school nearby, and came into Kawagoe for some nightlife because there wasn't any around the mansion they lived in. (When I say "mansion", I mean the Japanese type, i.e. a Ferro
concrete apartment block.) We had gotten to know the English teachers through meeting in a local bar called "Abbey Road", which was to become a regular haunt of mine as it was closest to the coin
laundry (Laundromat) I used. They were all English literature graduates from a prestigious university in the States, and were a bit surprised to find themselves teaching high school English. In
future years the school reverted to a less qualified class of teacher, because most of them jumped ship as soon as their contracts would allow.
We left early on the Saturday morning of a three day weekend. A while after we set off, Ronan, who was acting as navigator, commented that we should have come upon the expressway by then, and when he said the name of it I told him that we had passed it some ten minutes before. We turned around and found it, and apart from some trouble with snow chains on the girls' car, we made it to Naeba Ski resort by the afternoon. We did a bit of skiing on the first day, with the less experienced of us taking a lesson first, where the instructor told us in broken English that this was the "Japanese ski way" and was much better than European skiing. The lesson lasted two hours regardless of the number of pupils, their ability, or the improvement they made in that time, and I was already cold and wet from falling over a lot by the time it finished. I was able to ski after a fashion, but it was the details like turning and stopping that had me boggled. After the lesson we joined the others, and somehow made it up the ski lift, where I fell again when getting off. An American girl, Kathy, who had apparently been skiing since the age of three, told me I should lean forward more on my skis and suddenly, I was like a cripple freed of his crutches. I could control my speed, turn left and right, and stop without the aid of a tree. I could ski! I later learned, and to this day still feel, that the greatest pleasure in skiing is removing rented ski boots that do not fit well and getting into a hot bath.
Towards the end of February I started looking for an apartment. The dormitory was cheap, but seeing other peoples pubic hair floating in the bath makes you want to wash again after you get out. It was also inconvenient that in order to arrive at work on time, I had to leave the dormitory before they officially started serving breakfast, which meant that the young couple who managed the place had to start earlier for just the two of us, and we always had to eat in a rush. The company had insisted that we spend six months there "to adjust to Japanese life", but by the time that came around we were all eager to get out.
At first I asked my junior leader, Komata, to go with me, since I had been made well aware of the cold reception many estate agents give to foreigners. Several places refused to even deal with me, and the first room I picked, after having seen about three places that were all very old, eventually told us they didn't want a foreigner. This turned out to be providential because it was an "apaato" not a "mansion", which meant it was made of wood, and looking back now I don't think I would have liked living there. The company would give us up to 70,000Yen of a rent allowance, so I had asked him to show me rooms in or around that figure, but I found out later that Komata had been asking the estate agents for places under 70,000. In the end I went with Ronan to the estate agent he had used, and they showed me a room in their own building, which was 73,000Yen but was only one year old and closer to the station than other places I had seen. (This is apparently the major deciding factor in rented apartments, since the majority of people living around Tokyo commute by train.) I decided to take it in the middle of March, and was told I could move in four weeks later, as it was now being cleaned.
It turned out that Tim had also found a place in Kawagoe, fairly near the factory, and he arranged to move out on the same day as me, and when I heard that Kathy, one of the Americans from the ski trip, would be returning home soon after, I arranged to buy a lot of her furniture, much of which I still had when I moved out of there.
On the day it came to move, Kamiya, a friend from work, agreed to help with the driving since the car rental company would only lease to someone with a Japanese driving license. The guy was tiny, but he did his best. We got my stuff first, and brought it all to my place, then we got Tim's to his. He had arranged to get an unused desk from work, so we got that and then we went to Kathy's place to get the stuff she had sold me. We were all done in about six hours. I spent the rest of the day unpacking and arranging things, only to realise at about 11PM that I had forgotten to buy a bed, and had to sleep on the sofa, which consisted of four unconnected parts which moved around with you when you tried to roll over in your sleep.
Two weeks later I was given a second hand fridge and washing machine by someone at the company. I agreed to accept these because I had heard that Japanese people often considered appliances unusably old after only 2-3 years, so I presumed I would be getting stuff in reasonably good condition. Unfortunately both were over ten years old, and had been left out of doors for several months. The fridge, in particular, had been turned off without being cleaned, so the stench when I opened it took several bottles of cleanser to remove. Cleaning it was a thoroughly disgusting affair that took half a day, mainly because I had to keep taking breaks to avoid the overwhelming smell. The washing machine worked, but it was an old twin-tub type, and the dryer portion let out an awful screech when it was spinning. I soon stopped using it.
Two weeks later I threw a housewarming party. I invited about ten people, mostly from Kawagoe, but Eamon also said he would come out from Chiba. Since I didn't have a phone yet, I told him I would meet him at the local train station, "KAWAGOE SHI". Unfortunately, Eamon got off at "KAWAGOE", the station before this, instead. He lived in Matsudo in Chiba, which was apparently known locally by both the "MATSUDO" and "MATSUDO SHI" names, so he assumed he was in the right place. When he didn't show up at the appointed time, I waited for a while but eventually assumed he couldn't make it and went home. He showed up about thirty minutes later.
When I asked him how he found the place, he said that when I didn't show up, he went to the police box and showed them my business card, and asked if they knew where I lived. They rang the factory, who gave them the number of the dormitory, who gave them the address I had left as a forwarding address, and they drew him a map of how to get there. This whole process took more than thirty minutes. What was more amazing was that a while later, Jim showed up! We were all watching a video, and didn't notice him ringing the bell (I had told him about the party but assumed he would not be coming due to the distance), so he let himself in and turned off the main power breaker to announce his arrival. We were all surprised to be suddenly thrown into darkness, and even more so when we saw the reason. I asked him how he found the place, and he said matter-of-factly, "I asked at the police box, and as soon as I said your name, they gave me a map!"
One of the people who came to my house warming party was an American called Brian, who worked for an American car manufacturer. Niall had met him on the street and invited him along. He was here from their Ohio plant for six weeks. When he left he introduced me to Susan, his replacement, who would be staying for a couple of months after that, and asked me to show her around and keep her company. Susan was a very interesting and beautiful girl, with a gorgeous southern drawl of an accent and shining blond hair. She was also married. She and I hit it off quite well, and spent a lot of time together.
One Sunday, the first day we spent together, I took her to Harajuku, which was then a "pedestrian's paradise", with the road between Yoyogi Park and the Olympic stadium closed to traffic on Sunday afternoons and packed solid with unknown rock bands plying their trade while their legion (in most cases six to eight people) of fans bopped up and down before them and punched the air in trancelike unison.
Among the rockabilly dancers and purple Mohican haired punk bands, there was a group of roller skaters who were performing stunts to please the crowd, and when we were watching them they called for volunteers to lie down and be jumped over. I thought it would be a good tourist experience for Susan, so I pointed her out to the group and she was invited forward to lie down on the road. The roller skaters then proceeded to take turns jumping over her and a few other volunteers. We then walked down to Shibuya and got a pizza. We spent the whole day like a couple on a date, and as we made our way home, she said several things on the train that gave me the impression she was interested in taking things a step further. We went back to her hotel and she invited me up to her room. We started playing cards and talking, and she kept hinting that she liked me. I was unsure how to proceed because if I was reading the signals wrong I did not want to offend her. She asked me at one point what I was thinking, so I told her I was thinking that I was alone in a hotel room with a young, beautiful but married woman and was unsure of how to read the signals I was picking up. She then said that she was thinking what it would be like to nibble on my ear. I told her my ear had no objections, and she leaned over and started to caress and kiss it. We spent the next hour or so cuddling each other and kissing and talking. She told me that she did love her husband, but she was a very friendly person and didn't like being alone on long trips like this, and that she liked my company. She also made it clear that hugging and kissing would be as far as this was going to go.
For the two months she was here, we spent several weekends together, and joined up for beers after work on weeknights. She became a very good friend, who could tell me anything and who could listen just as well. I would drop into her hotel on weeknights after my Japanese lessons at head office, and she would come out to my apartment on weekends and hang out. She warned me not to fall in love with her, making it clear that she was intent on nothing more than friendship, but I think I did anyway. After she left in July, I suddenly found myself very lonely on the weekends. She came back a year later with her husband to stay for about a year, and we met up a couple of times, but once she returned to the States again I lost contact with her.
While all that was going on, the rest of the world was watching the soccer World Cup. Ireland was competing for the first time, and the entire country was suddenly thrust into the new religion of football, but Japan was still without a professional soccer league, so coverage was scant, with most matches being shown only on Satellite TV. After Ireland beat England, my father rang Ronan at about six o' clock in the morning to give him the result, since I had given him that number as an emergency contact because I didn't have a phone line connected yet. Ronan was not pleased. One match was being played in the middle of the night Japan time, meaning that it would not be shown on any TV station in Japan. But a group of resourceful Irish decided to book a pub for an all night party anyway. When kickoff time approached, they phoned someone's home back in Ireland and got them to put the phone next to the radio. They then listened to the Irish radio commentary of the match through the phone and over the P.A. system in the bar. The price of the phone call, around 40,000Yen, was included in the cover charge, and worked out to be only a few hundred yen each when split between the 100+ people attending. That little stunt made the national news the following evening.
The Irish team fared well, qualifying from their group to reach the second round. Their first match in the second round was against Romania, and it took place during the morning Japan time. I, Ronan and Niall surreptitiously watched as much of the match as we could on the large screen TV in the lobby at work, hoping to see the end at lunchtime. However the match went to extra time, and we reluctantly returned to our desks for the afternoon meeting while the teams played on. There was obviously no way we could concentrate on work with that going on, so we soon found ourselves back in front of the big screen TV, not caring who saw us as the match turned into a penalty shootout. As the Irish keeper saved the fourth penalty, Ronan let out a shout that got the attention of the entire General Affairs department who were working in the area beside the lobby. Rumour has it that the Irish television commentator dropped his microphone at that point. As the fifth penalty decided victory for Ireland, we congratulated each other and returned to our desks, but I for one didn't do a toss of work for the rest of the day.
I was told in July that I would be going to Europe for a business trip which would start just after the summer holiday, I asked if I could fly out early and go home for the summer holiday, and the company said yes. In order to leave Japan without surrendering your visa, it is necessary to get a Re-Entry Permit. I had to go to the Tokyo City Air Terminal to do this, which necessitated a day off work. Days later, I realised my Alien registration card was missing from my wallet. The only time I had ever taken it out of my wallet was when I got the Re-Entry permit, and I remembered immediately that even though I handed it in with my passport and the application, I only got my passport back. I asked Komata to ring them and find out if they still had it. He was told yes, but I remember thinking at the time that it was weird that they would say they have my card even though Komata never told them my name over the phone. My suspicion was confirmed when I got to TCAT and they proffered me someone else's card. It was the only one they had that was lost, so mine was nowhere to be seen. Jim told me later that when he got a re-entry permit he was given back the wrong registration card and actually got an argument from the clerk when he pointed this out. (What do you mean it's not yours? It must be!) So I was stuck without a registration card only three weeks away from the start of my trip!
In order to get a new card I had to first of all report the old one missing to the police, to prove that it had been lost, so Komata took me down to the local police station to fill out the forms. I spent the next two weeks breaking the law, because I did not carry the card at all times, as the law requires. My crime spree went unnoticed. I got the new card one week before departure, and also got my first credit card, since the company decided advancing me the cash for the hotel bills for my entire stay would be a security risk. While it was normally notoriously difficult for foreigners to get credit cards in Japan at that time, I got mine through the company union with no problems. I also finally got a phone line installed, just before I left.
If you dropped in by accident, the story starts here;
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