Oct 312006

Being back in Kyoto is awesome. No more sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, wasting time and breathing poisonous exhaust fumes while at the same time pumping money into the oil-billionaires’ pockets. Instead, day after day of pleasant bike rides, fresh air, and exercise. Because I’d done so much riding during my last stay, this time I decided to slap an odometer on my bike – just for the sake of curiosity. I’ve only had it on there for a week and have already ridden over a hundred miles.

During that week I’ve also run into nearly a dozen familiar faces – some near the Ritsumeikan campus, some downtown, some at Starbuck’s, and even one up in the mountain town of Kurama. I’ve attended a Rits Halloween party and gone bar-hopping on Kiyamachi. I’ve reunited with Dylan, Stuart, and Shivana of YHM (焼肉食べ放題!); Jason from the Kokusaika; Hitomi, Bobby, JJ, Marcus, and even met Carla, a previous Rits student whom I knew only through the countless stories I heard during my first semester in the dorms.

I’ve got a slick new cellphone, which although a “freebie” still manages to put anything I saw in back home ridiculously to shame (2-megapixel camera, GPS, radio, TV, web browser, MicroSD slot, and English-Japanese dictionary are all standard of course, but my favorite new feature is the “camera dictionary:” point the camera at a Japanese character and it looks it up for you!)

I’ve once again grown used to the cute waitresses bowing to me when I enter Mc Donald’s (rather than fat Mexican women wiping their boogers on the counter before asking “WADDAYA WANT?”) and to the bathrooms sporting spotless, heated toilet seats and soothing air-freshener smells.

I’ve stopped on the street to ask a lone Otaku (socially inept Japanese Anime nerd) for directions to an out-of-the-way area. He was so excited at the opportunity to play with his GPS unit in front of a foreigner that I could barely get away from him even after my questions had been answered.

I’ve gone down to the Kamo riverfront and reminded myself of that lively, fun, free-for-all outdoors hangout. The air is electric, with people partying and laughing everywhere. I then walked one block to the east and arrived at Ponto-cho where I’ve already seen geisha on three separate occasions.

I’ve started re-acclimating my body to heavy lifting at Gold’s; I know I talked about this already, but I’m just loving it there – it’s shockingly good, especially for Japan, with dumbbells up to a ridiculous 200lbs and so spotless that it’s almost annoying (you can NEVER leave ANYTHING out of place). It’s also so under-utilized that I’ve yet to wait for any machine I’ve wanted to use. And of course, you can’t forget the staff composed of nothing but more hot Japanese girls.

So yeah, it’s been pretty cool so far.

Yet, I’m well aware that I’m still living the fantasy “student life” where I’m free to go wherever I want whenever I want without any responsibility to “business hours.” I officially start work tomorrow, and am getting more and more nervous with each passing moment. Plus a number of issues with the hunt for a new apartment have worked quite nicely towards increasing my stress level.

Actually, let me talk about that in a bit more detail. Although I’ve been enjoying the simple “feel” of being back in Kyoto, the reality is that nearly every day of the last two weeks has been consumed by searching for apartments. Day and night I’ve been driving around town with real estate agents, to the point where I’ve become very well known in their little community. Whenever we stop by somewhere to pick up a key, the building owner almost always has some sort of recognition; “Oh, this is the American programmer who’s been looking at apartments all over town for the last two weeks!?”

Why has it been so hard to find a place, you ask? Well, basically because I have a number of “requirements” which, coming from life in America I consider to be perfectly reasonable, yet here they seem quite hard to satisfy. For example, for some reason 99% of Japanese apartments have these ridiculous “unit bathrooms,” which are basically single pre-fab plastic rooms with built-in bathtub/shower, sink, and toilet. The problem is that the entire room gets soaked when you shower, which means that if you want to use the sink or mirror afterwards you’re going to be tracking water all over your apartment. I would like a bathroom with a separate sink, toilet, and shower so that in the cold winter months I can gel my hair while wearing socks. Cross off 95% of the places on the market.

In addition to this I’d like a kitchen with enough space to cook (most are only big enough to allow a single pot or pan on the counter), a room bright enough to forgo the need for electric lights during the day (generally meaning 5th floor or over to avoid the shade from the closely-packed neighboring buildings), and a close proximity to work. And it has to be within my budget, of course.

Can you see my options shrinking here?

Actually, I was lucky enough to find two absolutely perfect candidates. But the real estate market moves SO quickly that by the time I got back to the agent’s office from looking at the places, someone else had already committed to rent them. D’oh!

Then there was another time when I was told that I wouldn’t be allowed to rent “because I’m American.” It’s pretty crappy being on the receiving end of racial discrimination, although I can’t say that I don’t at least somewhat understand where these property owners coming from. Even in the short year that I’ve spent here I’ve heard stories of countless people who just left Japan without paying to cancel their cellphones, without paying their last month of health insurance, or without giving fair warning before vacating an apartment. Still, I’m pretty pissed that I missed out on a great apartment for something that I’ve certainly never done myself.

But like my parents have always said, look at things from the bright side. Um, so what’s the bright side of two weeks of unsuccessful apartment-hunting? My Japanese! I can honestly say that in the last two weeks my conversational ability has grown noticeably. This is probably because I’ve simply been recalling what I’d previously learned and forgotten while living in America, but it’s still cool to undergo such rapid improvement during such a short period of time. Plus I’ve learned lots of “industry-specific” words which shock each new realtor whose office I walk into (I’ve gone through probably nine different realty companies by now).

So yeah, that’s pretty much been my life in getting set back up over here; looking for places to live, a little bit of programming, a little bit of exercising, a little bit of partying, etc.

I guess I’ll close this post here, but first I’d like to mention that I’ve been thinking a bit lately about how to continue this blog once my life starts getting busy(er) due to full-time work. I really don’t want this to turn into one of those one-update-per-year blogs that seem to be filling up the web these days, so I’ve decided that I’m going to cut down on the prep time (which is significant) by including text-only posts as well. I hope this doesn’t deter too many readers, but hey, better text-only than nothing at all, right? 🙂

  9 Responses to “Getting Settled”

  1. OH GOD WORKING IN JAPAN! The humanity of it all. The humanity.

  2. LOL I was going to post something about Obsessive Compulsives (and all personality disorders) requiring the individual to experience a good deal of personal or social stress so it’s not you. Then I read the post about apartment hunting and thought, “never mind!” 😉

    What’s C.2? I didn’t get that.

  3. That camera character lookup thing on your cell phone is AWESOME. I wish I had that!!!

    Good luck apartment hunting. Worst case you can always get an apartment with a crap bathroom and remodel it for next to nothing……oh wait, you don’t live in China. Nevermind 🙂


  4. Anything you post will be appreciated.

  5. Your kanji-reading cellphone is tri-band? If it could operate in Europe, too, I’d reall, really have to get one of those…

  6. Nope, Japanese cellphones are pretty much Japan-specific…but in any case, to be honest the kanji lookup isn’t all that perfect. I’d still go for a touchscreen denshi jisho in a second 🙂

  7. Well, my only requirement is that the unit bathroom allow someone that is 189cm to actually perform the necessary functions without having your knees touch the plastic walls with more than 78kg of pressure per knww. Well, just for comparison, I was in small hotel in Cannes on the French Riviera 4 weeks ago, and I had top perform sideways in this non-unit toilet. The walls are not a narrow in those pre-fab jobs than they are on French Rivera in a supposed classical hotel….So just go with flow..Now, after being in France, i understand why a bathroom is called a house of Toil with an et….You will have ample time to dry your socks since you can not were shoes inside…hope you find a good place

  8. Hola yo estuve en Kyoto hace 4 años y me encanto.
    I was there in Kyoto 4 years ago and I really love it!! good blog my friend!!

  9. Settled yet?

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