There is a Smell ….


… it smells like something decomposing in my sink. A garbage disposal would be nice.

(warning – random grousing to follow)

… so would more than one burner on my stove. I would also like a full-sized bed fit for an adult. Add to that about ten more square feet of space to accommodate said bed. How about another outlet? Walls not made of cardboard that actually block out sound?

Last week, I celebrated my 4-month anniversary in Japan; 5 months since I agreed to live in this teeny tiny apartment in Osaka. Some years ago I lived in what everyone I knew considered to be an atrocity of an apartment in New York City’s East Village – I worked 4 jobs to pay about 1300 a month for a space that was perhaps 14 by 14 (with a 4 by 10 kitchenette shooting off of it). My family thought I was nuts, my friends thought I was nuts; a sleepover with 3 people resulted in arms and elbows tucked into wall corners. And just forget about dinner parties. Yet, in that tiny apartment – which I made over from a festering school bus yellow eyesore into a soothing mint green hideout – I felt proud; proud that I could work hard enough to afford a 1300 dollar rent and proud that I had converted it into something quite pretty. I felt cozy, too – 14 by 14 feet of space will do that for you. When my school offered me a choice between a shared house and a private – if extremely tiny – apartment, I hemmed and hawed but ultimately went to the private apartment. Not only do I relish my private space but I imagined, too, another place as cozy and sweet as my former mint green palace. I was a New Yorker – I knew from tiny places!

Now, in mid-May, I have gone through a series of phases with my apartment. The first – excitement. The second – disappointed disgust as I began to crash into everything and undertook the challenge of cooking dinner with one burner on my stove. The third – grudging acceptance. And now, finally, the fourth – pride. Pride that I have managed to get by in a space that must be about 8 by 10 feet. When I finally got internet, I rearranged the furniture so the new set up is actually much more convenient. I have since learned how to cook several course dinners using my one burner, microwave and the beloved toasted oven I picked up at Muji for 3000 yen.

Nonetheless, it can still be something of a like-hate relationship (see my grousing above). My apartment here in Japan is technically Western-style (i.e., with a bed and a toilet) but with plenty of Japanese touches. Some of the touches are cool; many of my fellow teachers who live in larger apartments have what they call “Fish grillers” in their kitchen; my toilet has two kanji symbols on the flusher – one for “big” and one for “little”; when we enter our apartments we find a kutsu bako – a square impression in the floor to leave one’s shoes before entering. Other touches, however, are far less appealing. My landlord warned me ahead of time that walls in Japan are much thinner than walls back home but I was unprepared for the reality of his words. At any time, I can hear my neighbors talking. Granted, their words are muffled – like adults in Charlie Brown cartoons – but nonetheless I hear them and I am sure they hear me while warbling along to the cast of DreamGirls in the shower or sharing beer with Meir and Sean.

Cardboard walls, two outlets jam-packed with plugs, a twin-sized bed all-too-reminiscent of a college dorm. Cleaned up in 5 minutes; filthy in about the same time. Fear each time I want to sing along to Tenacious D. The ever-ripening smells from trash I’ve forgotten to banish to my 4 x 4 balcony before trash day. The knowledge that I must shut my mouth because were it not for my school, I would have had to find my own apartment and considering how many fees one must pay in Japan to rent and how little Japanese I knew when I got here this would have been a nearly impossible task.

So I am quiet. At least I have my very own washing machine.

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