David Chart's Japan Diary

March 31st 2005

I write this sitting in my new room in Tokyo, surrounded by approximately 75% chaos. (It was complete chaos a couple of days ago, and I've made progress since then.) So far, I like where I'm now living.

Monday, the day I actually came to Tokyo, was a busy day. I had several pieces of admin to do in the morning, because I had to leave my Okazaki bank account open to pay my income taxes, which meant changing my Okazaki address to something they could send to. To do that, I had to change my alien registration card, at City Hall, and then change the address at the bank. At that point, the removals firm phoned me to ask where I was.

Fortunately, I got home soon after that, because Declan was driving me around Okazaki. He's just moved, and so had to do exactly the same bits of admin as me, which was convenient. Declan took some things I don't need away with him, and the rest went into the removal van. That then left me with a couple of hours of dead time before my train to Tokyo, so I was able to have a typed chat with Silver, in California.

My New Home The building I am now living in.

Getting to Tokyo was no trouble at all. My new room still looked as good as it had before, although I decided I really needed curtains to hang from the rail across the middle. In fact, I really needed a whole bunch of things, but there was no time to shop on Monday.

Tuesday was also busy, taken up with administrative things. First, I went to Ohta ward office to change my alien registration address. Banks and such won't accept anything other than your alien registration card as proof of address. On the other hand, the procedure for changing that address is simple: you go to the relevant city/town/ward hall, and tell them your new address. No evidence required. While I was there, I also changed my national health insurance card, to refer to my new address. I'll get a bill for that in the near future, I gather.

Then I went to open a bank account. The Shinsei Bank was recommended to me, because it has ATMs in 7/11 convenience stores that are available 24 hours a day, with no charge to use them at any time. This is revolutionary among Japanese banks. The Japanese banking system seems to be roughly where the British system was fifty years ago: there are a lot of local banks, and very few truly national ones. As a result, I had to get a banker's draft from Okazaki, and pay that in in Tokyo.

Finding the bank was less easy than I had hoped. Basically, I set off in completely the wrong direction from the station, twice. After wandering the area around Meguro station for an hour or so, I finally found the branch, and was able to open an account without too much trouble. There was one slightly odd feature: they couldn't handle cash at the counters. Instead, I had to put the opening balance in at an ATM in the branch. I also gave them the draft, which they said would take several days to get through, as it had to be sent to their Nagoya office. Shinsei would have been happy with a signature, but I opened the account with my inkan anyway; there are some Japanese institutions that can't cope with a signature, and it will probably save confusion if the bank account is the same.

By this time it was getting late, but I decided to go to Akihabara and spend my 15,000 yen. Getting the actual coupon was fairly easy. I then went to buy a printer, since I have been feeling the lack of one quite keenly. I don't need it often, but it's really inconvenient not to have one on the few occasions when I do. However, on the printer floor, the shop assistant sucked his teeth and said,

"Ooh, a printer. Won't work with an English computer, you know. Japanese operating system only. Terribly sorry about that." Well, roughly, and in Japanese. Now, I thought this was probably a load of rubbish. There's very little difference between English and Japanese operating systems on the Macintosh, although it may be greater for Windows. So, I decided to take the risk and get the printer.

It works perfectly. The software even installed in English.

The printer was only 10,000 yen, so I got one of those USB memory stick things as well, which will be useful for moving files between computers. Not a bad little bonus for getting a free optical fibre internet connection. (Well, I hope. They still haven't confirmed that they can get it to this address.)

I got back a little bit before the removals people came with my stuff. I'd asked them to come later, so that I could get the admin done first, and that plan worked perfectly. Unloading took less than five minutes, but then I had piles of boxes in the room.

And faced a problem. There was (and still is) nowhere to put the contents of most of the boxes. I need a wardrobe and bookshelves. As a result, I did all the unpacking I could, and spent another night at Yuriko's.

Yesterday I went shopping. I've spent a lot of money in the last couple of days. I had a couple of recommendations on places to get furnishings from Yuriko, but first I went to a discount shop on the main shopping street in Kugahara. There, I got some plastic drawers for my clothes, and a set of metal shelves for my desk; the printer is currently on the top shelf.

While I was at the shop, Okazaki tax office called me. The bank in Okazaki had rejected my payment mandate, saying that the inkan was different. I guess that they didn't add inkan authorisation to my account when I asked them to, after all. The tax office are sending me a new mandate, which I will point at the Shinsei account. So, after buying my things, I went to 7/11, withdrew 210,000 yen from Okazaki and deposited 190,000 yen in Shinsei. That will cover my taxes for last year. (The limit on how much you can withdraw from a Japanese cash machine in one day is much, much, much higher than in the UK. If I remember rightly, it's 1,000,000 yen for most accounts, or about $10,000.)

The next stop was a shop called Ito Yokado, in Oimachi, which is a fairly short train journey away. There, I found some curtains that were almost perfect. 240cm long, they are a bit short of the floor, but 250cm curtains had to be made to order and were thus almost twice the price. I hung them, and they're great. The colour is perfect, and they are really, really good at keeping the light out. I had less luck with all the other things I was looking for, although I did find a couple of big storage drawers to go under my desk at Muji. (Or mujirushi, which is what Yuriko, and probably most Japanese people, call it, as that's the reading of the first two kanji of its name.) They'll be delivered tomorrow.

On the way back, I bought a Tokyo map in a small, portable book, and a cookbook. The cookbook is '基本の和食レシピ', or 'Basic Japanese Recipes'. It really is, too, because it's aimed at Japanese people who want to learn to cook because they've just got married and now, instead of their mother cooking everything for them, they have a husband who expects them to cook everything. One sign that it's the genuine article is the fact that the first recipe is for hamburgers. Books of Japanese cookery aimed at the Western market would not start with such a recipe, for fear of being thought unauthentic. Of course, a major sign of authenticity is the fact that it's all in Japanese...

Last night, then, I cooked for Yuriko. Shopping for ingredients involved a little consultation with the shop staff, because I had no idea what a couple of the things on the ingredients list were. I did manage to get everything, and then Yuriko came to help me cook. I did most of the work, and the food was actually very tasty. The kitchen here is as good as it looked at first sight, and it seems that the other people who live here don't use it much. We ate at a counter, looking out over the police box and road junction. Not terribly romantic, as Yuriko said, but it is still quite nice to have a view while eating.

Today, of course, was shopping again, but first I headed to Yuriko's to pick up and send email. The weather has been glorious, so I decided to make use of my map and walk over. It's a fairly easy walk; about twenty minutes, or about the same as the distance from Residence U to Yamasa. That's also about as long as it takes when I take the train. And walking is free. So, at least when the weather's nice, I think I'll be walking over there quite a lot.

In among my email was a surprise: an email from Yamasa saying that the notification postcard from Immigration had come. It seems that my visa has been approved, and I just need to go in to the office to pick it up. (Of course, that requires going to Nagoya, but I knew that.) This counts as 'mind-bogglingly fast'. There were no public holidays this weekend in Japan, but still, we submitted the application fairly late on Friday, and it was approved by Wednesday at the latest. Less than a week. I'll go to pick it up next week, probably on a day trip to Nagoya.

I'm still not sure I believe it, but the postcard said to bring my passport and the visa fee, so that must be what it means. Thus, I'll be legally overstaying extremely briefly.

I have now sorted out advertising my services as a teacher of English, since I'll have the visa and everything will be fully legal before I actually give any lessons. I'm still slightly in shock and just how quickly this got sorted out.

After that, I went shopping again, to the second place Yuriko recommended, a shop called Olympic, in Nagahara. This was a resounding success, as I found a wardrobe, bookshelves, and a towel rack for the bathroom. Oh, and a shaving mirror. After I got back, I went shopping for today's dinner; I'm getting used to the supermarket down the end of the street.

Kugahara is an interesting place. It feels a lot like a small town, despite being part of Tokyo. The streets are mostly quiet, with little traffic, and the railway station is a small place, served by a narrow gauge railway. Of course, the trains run every ten minutes, which gives the game away a bit. The main shopping street is much as I imagine older people in England would like to imagine high streets there used to be. There are one or two chain stores (combinis, in particular, and the supermarkets are part of a chain), but most of the shops are local small businesses, and cover the range from bakers to real-estate agents. I think I'll be doing quite a bit of shopping there, as it's cheaper than going into central Tokyo (no train fare), and the atmosphere is nicer. There are friendly shopkeepers.

The wardrobe and bookshelves will arrive on Sunday, so I'll be stuck with living in chaos until then. Next week, after I get my visa and thus can work, I had better get started on actually working again. Right now, though, I've been too busy to do anything more than keep on top of email.

Still, Tokyo is good so far.