Within a few hours of arriving in Okazaki, I was shopping in the 100-yen shop. A visit to the Daiso superstore, like an English pound shop but considerably cheaper even by today's exchange rates, must be a rite-of-passage for any gajin arriving here. I've returned there a few times since, as the under-equipped state of my accommodation has gradually revealed itself, and am acclimatising slowly to the Chinese water torture that initially is its muzak. (This is interspersed with occasional Roxette-tailored-for-Japan-style ballads, with English lyics that mercifully few shoppers are condemned to comprehend, as well as woeful bossa nova lite, commonly played in supermarkets too). It feels a little 1991-ish, moving out of halls of residence, touring the bucket shops, buying the household necessities I'll no doubt be chucking out in a few months. Yes, I feel like a student again, and I suppose that's what I am.
Fortunately I was allowed to move out of my initial 'studio', in a block called Villa 4, within a day of my arrival. It felt like I was living in an hollow-walled hallway and, at night, as the fridge exploded into life and the aircon pump heater revved up, I could hear every movement of a newly arrived English-speaker next door. This didn't quite match the 'one room mansion' description on the Yamasa site and contradicted the additional blurb that "the main feature of Japanese refrigerators is that they are very quiet - because refrigerators are often in close proximity to sleeping areas" (http://www.yamasa.org/acjs/english/resu_photos9.html). The (cheap) fridge in my studio must have been intended for altogether more spacious accommodation.
Coincidentally, I also learnt from Yamasa's very own website that "in Japanese 4 is pronounced as 'shi', which is the same word as death. In many hotels and apartment blocks the number is simply not used." So, perhaps Villa 4 is an in-joke played out on clueless arrivals. Or maybe I was predestined to take this room? My birthday is, after all, the 24th, and the same article informed me that "in hospitals you are also unlikely to see rooms numbered 9, 24, 42 or 420. As the number 9 is pronounced as 'ku' which rhymes with a different word meaning pain or worry. 24 is pronouned ni-shi meaning double death." (In which case the half-full jug surely dictates that I get two lives too.)
Anyway, I am now housed in a different block called Villa U and am unaware of any associated superstitious connotations. It will be a longer but simple bike ride to classes and is in an even quieter residential area close to a few ponds, a row of shops and, charmingly, a barber's called 'Que Sera Sera'. Notwithstanding a few manifest inadequacies (notably kitchen facilities and insulation - it's cold!), I think I can live here for a few months and it should feel like home. I'll have to wait and see.
And, really, my most exciting news: I am the proud new owner of a second-hand microwave. At around £13, it was a case of 'the cheaper, the better', as there's a simpler dial timer and no complicated kanji programming to puzzle me (a trying experience I have already had with the aircon / heater control). Next purchase - and an even more thrilling post - might be a second-hand bike?
Now, having served my time in a legalistic setting - by which I don't but maybe should mean teaching and its OTT risk assessments - and having sub-let my flat, I am aware that we are living in an increasingly litigious world of ambulance-chasers and garden fence boundary disputes where you can never be cautious enough. But none of that prepares you for Japan. From that first moment you push your overloaded trolley onto Narita's escalators, there's someone every 100m to check you're ok and warn you of any dangers, in case you (e.g.) cut your fingers on a napkin or impale yourself on your chopsticks. So, back from Daiso, having been shopping in the 'なに' state, I apparently have a range of potentially life-threatening utensils and products to fall back on and hospitalise myself.
There's the intriguing...
- my 'dessert spoon': 'This product is a tool to cut fruit. Do not use for the use except this'. (What - I can't use it to eat ice cream instead?)
- my head-torch: 'Be sure to roll a piece of towel on head before you use this product'. (But would I have time in the event of an earthquake?)
The unhelpful or consumer-unfriendly...
- my new 'handy slipper': 'It is popular in an airplane, hostel or hotel'. (But crap for the home?)
- my tea towels: 'good hygroscopicity': hey, on second thoughts after a Google search, Daiso is actually teaching me new English vocabulary.
- my 'rotate can opener': '*using this can opener may be difficult, depending on the materials and size of the can'. (Caveat emptor, indeed. Money back, please.)
And just in case you have an imaginative negligence claim in mind...
- for my coat hangers, I'm warned: 'Please stop to use it at the place which is full of radiation'. (Better take them out of the microwave, quick.)
- for my spatula, 'please do not use for purposes other than cooking'. (Am I naively unaware of a common alternative application? Anyone posting: please remember this site has a Parental Guidance certificate.)
- for my Hard Cleaner for Toilet, 'Do not apply this product on human body or food'. (Are they warning me based on experience? Now that's a law report I'd like to read...)
Of course, one day I'd like to be able to read the Japanese label but, for now, I feel I'd be missing out if I were a monolingual non-anglophone.
It's time for lunch (after my 'placement test' yesterday, classes begin next week, with 'orientation' tomorrow), and naturally I'll be putting on my flak jacket, gloves and protective helmet before entering the kitchen. Wish me luck, I'm going in....