Time continues to fly and I’ve been in Japan for a month and a half now!
A share house
Before I can talk about Shizuoka, I need to talk about where I’m living. Japan doesn’t really have flats in the same way as New Zealand - the idea of sharing a standard house with a few friends, let alone a few strangers, is a very foreign concept. However, they do have the not-dissimilar concept of share houses, where between 10 and 40 people live in the same building with shared kitchens and bathrooms but have individual locked-off bedrooms in the style of a hostel. Someone told me they’ve become popular in recent years purely because of a Friends-style TV show about people living together in one. Go figure.
There are naturally a huge variety of places under this umbrella. One place I looked at was set up very similarly to the studio apartment I was in during my exchange, except that the bathroom and kitchen were shared by two rooms instead of one. Another place was clearly like a bigger version of an old and well-established flat, with a bunch of rooms around a lounge containing too many random pieces of furniture, bean bags, game consoles, a large pile of guitars, a few pieces of clothing from that one flatmate who just leaves things everywhere, more game consoles, DVDs, and assorted other bits and pieces.
The one I finally settled on is Arden Kamata, an old business hotel on the southwest side of the city. It’s just 25 minutes from work (unbelievably close for Tokyo) and relatively affordable (again, for Tokyo). I went for it mainly because the rooms and facilities are the nicest I saw (I have a room I could actually swing a cat in, if I was allowed a cat), but it turns out to be in a great location with three supermarkets within 5 minutes walk, a train station with access to central Tokyo within 2 minutes walk, and a bunch of awesome people who often hang out in the lounge and are always keen go and do things together.
Now that I’ve set the scene, you won’t be surprised to hear that as soon as I met some of the more social people here, we decided to go off on a weekend trip to Shizuoka prefecture, a few hours drive from Tokyo. It turns out there’s a famous bridge there called “Yume-no-tsurihashi”, the Suspension Bridge of Dreams, which is in an absolutely beautiful area of the mountains.
We planned to make it a day trip, but by the time we got to the bridge (after a four hour car journey, a twenty minute walk to the bridge, and an hour waiting in line to actually cross it) it was getting dark, so we decided to stay the night and race back early the next morning in time to drop off the rental car. We found a mountain lodge run by a stereotypically lovely old Japanese couple, where we paid about NZ$40 each for a shared Japanese-style room (which seemed really spacious, although everything does after Tokyo) and communal hot spring baths (my first time in one of those since my exchange).
The best thing about all this is that the people I went with spoke little or no English, so it was a couple of days full immersion in Japanese (surprisingly rare given how many people at home and work do speak English). A great way to be reminded of a bunch of words I’d forgotten, and to get more practice holding proper long conversations.
A few other things of note
- I’ve been along to a few Aikido classes now. I suspect you find the same thing with Kung Fu in China or Taekwondo in Korea, but training here makes it incredibly obvious why so many martial arts come from Japan. Trying to understand the Japanese teachers is still hard, but their focus, discipline and relaxed (“yawarakai”) power is just on another level
- So much technology here is a strange mixture of incredibly well-designed and bafflingly clunky. Take banks, for example. You might imagine that Japanese banks would have some of the best computer systems in the world. You would be wrong. My one thankfully has full online banking, with a smooth and intuitive setup and confirmation process, but once you actually log in it feels like the site hasn’t been updated since the early 2000s: most of the buttons are actually images of buttons so you can’t translate them and half the useful links are hidden behind a menu button that doesn’t even look clickable. And yet, when I went to make a rent payment, the form was well designed and it even shows you the name of the company that owns the account you’re about to put money into (best feature ever). I’ve found the same thing on a bunch of other Japanese websites too; it feels like some years ago Japanese developers said “well, we have the best websites now - what’s next? Oh yes, AI and robotics” and never came back to iterate and improve on their designs