David Chart's Japan Diary

July 7th 2005

Today I have slightly more to report than I had last week. Today I bought a flat. I've actually bought it, handed over the money, got the keys, and I'm now just waiting for the notaries to finish changing the official records. But it's mine now, and I could go and live there if I wanted. Well, apart from the complete lack of furniture and the fairly serious need of redecoration. Those are, of course, the next couple of projects.

Our flat Our flat, from the small park just behind the building. The bit you can see properly is the outside of our flat, and our balcony.

The actual purchase took place in a meeting room at a bank. There were six people present: me, the seller, our respective estate agents, the notary, and a guy whose role I don't completely understand. My estate agent, Mr Watanabe, explained it to me a bit afterwards; essentially, he was an independent third party making sure that everything was above board. I have the feeling that since the property bubble of the early nineties Japan has tightened up a lot of regulations.

Anyway, the purchase took time, but wasn't too complicated. I had to seal a whole bunch of papers, for things like transferring the official registration, paying the ground rent, and withdrawing the money from my bank account. Yes, technically I paid in literal cash. The money for the flat never actually came into the room, and it may never have been taken out of any drawers, but technically I withdrew it from my bank account and then handed it over to the seller. The stamp duty equivalent (ouch) was paid in cash, however. There was a fair bit of waiting around while the bank finished dealing with things, and then both I and the seller sealed the piece of paper saying "Yes, he sold it, I bought it, it all went off OK". He handed over the keys and told me the combination for my postbox, and we were done.

The seller gave me the original brochures from when the flats were sold new, and they're still almost pristine. I suspect we have certain aspects of character in common... It was quite interesting to see the initial advertising material. He'd also cleared the flat very thoroughly. The only things left were the things he'd said he was leaving, and the lightbulbs.

Our flat The small park, from our balcony.

After we'd finished, the estate agent called the decorator associated with his company, and he came to drive us over to the flat and give me an estimate for redecoration. Of course, this doesn't commit me to using them, but the opportunity to get an estimate that quickly was too good to pass up. In the course of the conversation between Mr Watanabe and Mr Kadota (the decorator), praise of my Japanese hit new heights of absurdity. "Better than a Japanese person." Ah, no. Still, the content of that bit of conversation was a compliment guaranteed to be genuine: Mr Watanabe was assuring Mr Kadota that it was fine to carry out all communication in Japanese, because I'd understand. I suspect there may be a standard pattern behind this: "Mr Foreigner's Japanese is really good. Let's communicate in English." This time, it was "No, Mr Foreigner's Japanese really is good. It's perfectly all right if you use Japanese." (Incidentally, "Mr Foreigner" is a literal translation of an expression I do hear from time to time, but not one they were actually using this time.)

When they'd gone, I had another look around the flat, taking lots of photographs to satisfy the demands of my family. The weather was nice, so I stood on our balcony (we have a reasonable size balcony) and phoned Yuriko to let her know that everything had happened smoothly. Which leads to...


Today is Tanabata. In classical Japan, odd numbers were sacred and lucky, so the first day of the first month, third day of the third, fifth of the fifth, seventh of the seventh, and ninth of the ninth were all festivals. Tanabata is the festival that happens on the seventh of the seventh, so now, in most of Japan, it happens on the seventh of July. (In some areas it is still celebrated according to the old calendar, which means it happens some time in August. In the Kanto region (here), however, it's today.)

The story behind Tanabata is that the Weaver Star and the Herdsman Star were in love, and spent all their time together, er, writing poetry to each other. (It's a Japanese legend, so it's entirely possible that's exactly what they were doing.) The other gods noticed that they were running short on clothes and milk, and so they decreed that the two would be separated by the River of Heaven (the Milky Way), so that they might actually get some work done. Once each year, on Tanabata, they are allowed to meet. Strictly speaking, I believe that they are allowed to meet only if the weather is clear. The change to the western calendar moved Tanabata to the end of the rainy season, so I feel that's a little harsh.

Over time, Tanabata has developed into a festival where you write down your hopes and wishes for the next year, and tie them onto a bamboo branch.

As an appropriate day to buy the flat where I will live with my wife, it could hardly be bettered.

This evening, we're going to put up a (plastic) bamboo branch, decorate it, and write out wishes to hang on it.

Origins Award

Just in case people missed the announcement on my home page, Ars Magica Fifth Edition won the Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Game of 2004. The Origins Award is the longest-established award for roleplaying games, so winning it is quite a honour.