decision making spoiled my appetite

After I saw the outside of the buildings, I met a real estate agent who showed me the available room in each apartment.

For a room in the apartment which was under refurbishment, she offered a 20 percent discount because the carpet and the wallpaper in the room was damaged. As the room had been my first choice anyway before I came here and I have a weakness for a discount, my mind was almost set on that place. The thing was, as I wrote here once, the available rooms of that building were concentrated on the fourth floor in the east side and this room was among them. Even after I saw the building and the room with my own eyes, I couldn’t find out what was wrong with the fourth floor.

I checked in a hotel and went to have dinner at a restaurant in the hotel as the stay included dinner. Since it was a budget travel package, I didn’t expect the food at all. But the dinner was probably the most gorgeous feast I had ever had. It included all-you-can-eat crabs, tempura, steak and shrimps. Ironically, fatigue and tension for decision making spoiled my appetite and I was able to eat only little.

At night, I couldn’t sleep either from a sense of claustrophobia because the mountains and the woods closed down the area. I asked myself if I could really move in this area, let alone on the enigmatic fourth floor…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods

photograph showed things much better

I transferred the bullet train to the local train to the area where all three apartments of my choice were located. There were no passengers but me on the train although it was a weekday morning. The station was an unmanned small shack. I walked along shabby houses, used-to-be shops and rice fields and found one of the apartments among them.

My first impression was that a photograph showed things much better than they actually were. The building had looked a lot more gorgeous in the photos on a website. I walked on and soon found the other two apartments. One was under refurbishment and I couldn’t see it from the outside. The other stood nearby and I saw a half-naked old man sitting idly on a balcony, who was a kind of person I didn’t like to have as one of my neighbors.

I took a rest on a bench, wondering if this trip had already become a fool’s errand…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods

budget travel package

My apartment hunting has come to a climax. Last weekend, I went to see the places of my choice in the countryside where I had never visited before. I had found a budget travel package online that paying only for train tickets made a hotel stay, dinner and breakfast all free.

It was a 90-minute bullet train ride and to take the bullet train, I got to the downtown train terminal. I hadn’t been downtown for years and was shocked by its filthiness. Years ago, my English friend once said that she was amazed at how clean it was when she first came to Japan. Now, time has changed that and litter was everywhere on the streets.

But once the train left the terminal, I was supposed to enjoy a beautiful countryside view from the train window after a while. Since it was a super discount travel package, the trains and the seats were specified beforehand. The bullet train was a double-decker. My seat was on the first floor from which I could only see people’s feet on the platform from the train window. Although I expected the countryside would come into view after departure, low soundproof walls standing along the railroad track blocked scenery all the way…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods

the secret of the fourth floor

Since I decided to move out, I’ve realized the power of the Internet again. Without going anywhere physically, I’ve been able to look for a place to live at home, gathering a lot of information on prices, floor plans and the neighborhood. People’s blogs are useful, too.

For the past eight months, I’ve been looking around the Internet, collecting and comparing the details, and have narrowed down the choice to three apartments. They are all located in the same area, which is surrounded by mountains, cold and snowy in winter. The area has a small population with a constant decline. That has led to a remarkably low price for an apartment there. I chose the area because the prices were low enough to fit my tight budget. But its small population was the main appeal to me, who feel uncomfortable to be with people.

All three places I’ve picked for my new home are more than 20 years old and one of them is on the fourth floor. So far, that one is my first choice. There seem no particular flaws in the room, but the building’s available rooms are mostly on the fourth floor. Is it just a coincidence, or is there anything wrong? Even the mighty Internet doesn’t tell about it. I wonder what’s the secret of the fourth floor…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods

I met him in person

Jacques Villeneuve is my favorite racing driver alive. I saw him racing for the first time on my first ever visit to a circuit in Suzuka, Japan. Before the Formula One race, there was a Formula Three race as a pre-race event. Jacques was racing in it. I hadn’t known him until then, but when I saw his driving, I predicted that he would be a Formula One driver someday. After that, he went on racing in North America, and won Indy 500. Four years after I first saw his race, he came to Formula One just as I had predicted. Because he realized my prediction, I became a big fan of his and cheered him ardently every race. He eventually became the world champion.

Seven years ago today, I met him in person. I was in Montreal and happened to drop by a restaurant for lunch while running an errand. He was there. What are the odds that you bump into someone whom you have wished to meet so badly for a long time? It was a pure miracle to me. I knew he wouldn’t like to be bothered his private time but I couldn’t help approaching him. He listened to me kindly, patiently, smiling, while I was spouting about how much I admired him. We shook hands. I usually wear nice clothes to eat out but on that particular day, I didn’t expect to go into a restaurant. At the happiest moment of my life, of all the clothes, I met him in a $5 jacket, a $7 skirt and with a necklace I had picked up on the street…

Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods

made an origami crane with a tiny sheet of paper

My relative’s home where I mistook my grandmother’s uncle for a kidnapper was the place that my grandmother had lived in mostly until she got married. Her mother was a geisha and died right after her birth. As she didn’t have a father, her mother’s parents took her in and raised her at their home. When I visited there as a child, her mother’s brother had succeeded the family. Her mother’s brother, or my grandmother’s uncle, who is the one that took me to the secret place, was a medal-awarded artist for Japanese lacquer. He had a studio beside the house and his young son invited me in. There, his son made an origami crane with a tiny sheet of paper merely half an inch square and gave it to me. I felt like I watched magic. His older son was an architect. So, the lineage of my grandmother on my mother’s side is abundant in artistic people. When I left home to pursue a career as a musician, my grandfather approved and let me go despite of my parents’ opposition. But a few years later, he realized that I had been determined and wouldn’t come home to succeed the family. He began to blame my mother. He thought I became a musician because of part of my blood, which came from my mother’s side that had a geisha in the lineage…

He said he would show us something wonderful

The small town I newly moved in reminds me of the one where my relative’s house is located. They both are in the mountains, far from the city. Only, my relative’s is in the western part of Japan and mine is in the eastern part. I once visited there with my cousin’s family when I was little. At that time, my grandmother’s uncle lived there with his family. When I was playing with my cousin outside, an old man came up and told us to follow him. He said he would show us something wonderful. Since I didn’t see him inside the house, he was a total stranger to me. And judging from what he’d just said, he was quite plainly a kidnapper. Nevertheless, my older cousin easily accepted his offer and began to set off. I stopped her but she was sure it was all right and eager to go with me. I reluctantly followed the old man and my cousin. We got into the bushes that were spread out before the front yard of the house. The bushes became thicker as we walked on. While we were moving by pushing back big leaves, I had become certain I couldn’t come back alive. The bush had been too thick to find a way back. I deeply regretted that I had trusted my cousin. Then, out of nowhere, we reached open space and a beautiful river lay in front of my eyes. The sight was breathtaking even to a small child like me. But soon, the fear I was being kidnapped returned to me. I imagined my cousin and I would be killed here. When I was preparing for the worst, the man started to go back. We followed him and safely came back to the relative’s house. He was my grandmother’s uncle. If I had known earlier, I shouldn’t have been that scared and could have enjoyed the trip so much…

Frantic Washing hr628

I am a germphobic. I never go out without packs of wet wipes and always carry a small spray bottle of sanitizer. Whenever I touch anything that shares contact with others, I wipe my hand right away. It’s especially cumbersome when I go on a trip. My routine after check-in is to spray sanitizer to tissues with which I wipe the door knobs, switches, handles of the wardrobe and the refrigerator, hangers, remote controls, faucets, toilet seat, toilet cover, flush handle. If the hotel doesn’t have a duvet style bed for its rooms, I bring clothespins and wrap the cover with the sheet by fastening them together so that any part of my body doesn’t touch the cover that isn’t washed each time. Then I place two pairs of slippers that I bring from home, one for pre-shower and one for post-shower. As you can imagine, it’s so much fuss for me to stay at a hotel. I just can’t help it.
I took a short trip the other day to a neighboring prefecture. For this trip, I was extra nervous because of that Corona virus turmoil. The local train I got on was near empty and most of the sparse passengers were wearing a medical mask. A 2-hour somewhat tense train ride later, I arrived at the hotel. A big spray bottle of sanitizer was put at the entrance and all the hotel staff at the front desk were wearing a mask. I went out for lunch at a family restaurant and it was also empty despite lunchtime. The shopping mall I visited afterwards had only few shoppers around. Since I hate crowds and a jam, all places turned in my favor. It seemed I bought comfort with nervousness. Back in the hotel room, I worked through my room-cleaning routine and had dinner with my partner in the room with deli foods I had gotten at the supermarket, not because I was worried about Corona virus at a restaurant but because I am cheap.
Next morning, I used the elevator to have a free breakfast at a small eat-in space inside the hotel. I was off guard and didn’t wear a mask although the small elevator was unexpectedly packed with guests. Nobody was talking and I unconsciously held my breath. After an awkward silence, I was released to the designated floor. The breakfast was a buffet style. I took food with tongs that many guests used, out of plates that they slowly walked by and looked into. Everyone pushed buttons on the dispenser of coffee and juice. Wet wipes didn’t give me usual assurance for this particular trip. I went back to my room and washed my hands frantically.
I have once read an article that says excessive hygiene is counterproductive. It means that being exposed usually to germs builds resistance and thus makes people hard to get sick. If so, my germphobia is not only self-complacent unction but also simply a bad habit. That may be true, but I can’t, just can’t stop for the life of me.

I had never been in such heavy snow in my life.

After a quarter of my furniture arrived at my new apartment, I returned to my old place. It snowed very heavily on the day of my departure. When I was about to leave the apartment, it stopped snowing once, and I walked to the nearest train station instead of calling a cab. The moment I got to the station, it started snowing again, even more heavily. I was waiting for the local train at the platform, seeing an unreal view. Everything was entirely covered with snow and it seemed as if there was nothing but mountains. Only a vast white ground spread out between the mountains and me. I felt like I was in the movie ‘ Fargo’. The train didn’t come after the arrival time had passed. The station was unmanned as it was too remote, and no announcement was available. I thought it was delayed by heavy snow. Time went on. I began to feel uneasy because I had a bullet train to catch at the terminal station. There was a man who was also waiting for the train, and he used the station’s emergency phone to call the terminal. He kindly came back to me and let me know that the local train service was suspended due to snow. I called a cab with my cell phone, got to the terminal and barely caught the bullet train for which I had the reserved ticket. I had never been in such heavy snow in my life. Can I really move in and live in the place where it snows hard enough to stop the train…?