My Apartment in Japan

From August 2007 until August 2009, I lived in Nagahama, Shiga Prefecture, Japan as a participant in the JET Program. I had my own apartment while I was there. Allow me to show you around!

This is my front door. It's not the prettiest entryway ever, but fortunately the inside is a bit nicer. Please come in!

This is the genkan, or entryway. This is where you're supposed to take off your shoes. Above my shoe rack, I hung some calligraphy on the wall. It says, "道 - 自分で選んでやっていることは苦労ではない" or in English, "The Path: The thing you yourself chose to do isn't a hardship." This is a great motto for me about both being here in Japan and about writing my novel.

I've also got my world map on the wall, and, just in case you weren't sure of your hostess' political views, my "I ♥ OBAMA" banner that I got from Obama, Japan, where banners like these line the streets. On the door is a cute cat-shaped chalkboard that I got for Christmas in 2008. I use it to remind myself not to forget things.

As you're facing here, the spare room is to your right, my bedroom is behind you, and the kitchen is immediately to the left, but for this tour, I'm going to magically teleport you through the kitchen into the living room to start.

Here we are looking into the living room. I inherited the turquoise couch from my predecessor, which I love, and bought the blue carpet. With the photos of the Great Lakes, the map of Shiga Prefecture and Lake Biwa, and the photo of the Great Barrier Reef I got in Australia, I've got a whole water theme going on. The map of the United States was a gift from our Embassy. (JETs from other countries got taken out to dinner, I might add. But hey, as you can see, I like maps, so I'll take it!)

I've also decorated the room with drawings to inspire me, since this is where I work on my creative projects. Two Defying Gravity drawings are (appropriately) next to the Reef photo; on the next wall is a poster I won in a trivia contest for Ivy's comic, Negative One; closest to the foreground is a pencil drawing of the Carlson Septuplets.

Turning counterclockwise, here is my kotatsu and TV. A kotatsu is a table with a heater underneath. In the winter, you drape a blanket between the legs and the top (which comes off) and then you sit underneath it to stay warm. This is useful because the apartment, like most Japanese apartments, has no insulation or central heating.

On the table are pictures of my cat Puffy and my friends from college, and a nifty clear-panel digital clock. On the walls are postcards from the Expo, a map of Japan where I with pins showing all the places I've been, and an Exploring Mars 2009 calendar.

On the sliding door, you can see the awesome picture Ivy drew for me for Christmas '08! There's more about it on my politics page.

This is what the table looks like most of the time! (This isn't a staged picture, but I did take it because it struck me that this was such a great and representative pile of projects.)

Here's the other side of the living room. The curtains came with the apartment, but they're exactly like something I might have picked out: they're covered with glow in the dark stars! They also go nicely with the print above the window, which has kangaroos turned into constellations. I got that at an Aboriginal gift shop in Queensland.

On the left, you can see my computer desk, with a shelf of knick-knacks above it, as well as my Copic markers and drawing model. On the wall behind that are a poster of the Northern Lights and two pictures from Twilight Star.

On the right, there's my bookshelf, and on the chair in front of it is a pillow featuring the Hikone Castle mascot Hikonyan. He's everywhere in Shiga.

This is the view out of the window. I've got a great view of Mt. Ibuki, the tallest mountain in Shiga, in the east. On clear days, it's visible from Nagoya Castle, an hour or so down the Tokaido line to the east. (Unless you take the bullet train; then it's 25 minutes!) To get to my school, bike for 10 minutes north and slightly east. I miss lawns and especially TREES a lot, though.

Now we're in the kitchen, looking back toward the entrance to the living room. There's my tiny fridge, microwave, and toaster oven (which is the only "oven" the apartment has).

Here's the sink and the metal counter and the stove. I hear professional kitchens have metal counters, but I think they're a pain. I'd much rather have formica, or whatever it is they have in most kitchens in the States. Metal's the norm in Japan, though.

Now we've got our back to the stove, facing the table and pseudo-pantry. You can get a sense of the layout of the apartment here, with a glimpse into the living room at right. The sliding doors we're facing lead back out into the genkan (entryway).

Here is a close-up of the pseudo-pantry. Things of note are my rice cooker, my collection of teas, and the clock I bought because it has a thermometer with both Celsius and Fahrenheit on it. Taped beside the calendar is a trash schedule. (More on that later.)

I'm sorry to say the food pictured here is not representative of the pantry's typical contents. When I went home for Christmas, I brought an empty suitcase and filled it with my favorite (packable) American foods, including four types of cereal because Japan has a severe lack of cereal types. (A Japanese teacher once translated my saying "kinds of cereal" as "kinds of Corn Flakes." I stopped class to explain that, actually, Corn Flakes are one of the kinds of cereal. Heh. This is what they pay me for!) Anyway, this shot is more of a memento for me than an accurate depiction for you. Sigh. One of the things I miss most in Japan is eating food I really like. (I must admit I'm not a huge fan of Japanese food. But there are other reasons to visit a country, so long as you can find a few things you like to eat!)

Here's the last corner of my kitchen, where we come back to the subject of trash. In most places in Japan you have to sort your trash into at least two or three types—burnable, unburnable, and usually some kind of plastic. In Nagahama there are 12 types.

Above the trashcan you can see the list of rules for sorting your trash and the calendar where you put different stickers to indicate which kind of trash goes out that day. The little panel you can see on the wall between the two doors is the controls for the water heater. You have to turn this on and set the temperature before you can get hot water anywhere in the apartment.

The door further back is the toilet and the one toward the front is the laundry room and bath. Let's take a peek in those now.

Here we are looking into the laundry room from the kitchen, to give you a sense of perspective before we step further inside.

I guess I didn't really need both this photograph and the previous one, but I went to all that trouble to fold those towels so neatly for this picture, so I'm including it! Anyway, this is the bathroom. Which in this case isn't a euphemism for "toilet." The toilet is in a separate room. While I wouldn't say I prefer this set-up, I suppose it does make sense to have your laundry room connected to your bath/shower.

Here you can see into the shower. There is a big, deep Japanese-style bathtub on the far side of it, but I generally don't use that. The shower is outside of the bathtub, and there are both high and low places to hang the nozzle.

This is inside the shower area. I just wanted to show off my gel stars! They are some of my favorite decorations in the apartment, but hardly anyone but me ever sees them.

And here's the toilet, in the next room. Where by room I really mean "closet." In Europe they call the toilet the "water closet," and I really think that's the most appropriate name for the toilet area in my apartment.

Here we are in my bedroom. I'm never in this room for anything but sleeping, and I can't even sleep in here all year round. That's because in the summer it turns into a sauna and I have to take a futon into the living room if I want to get any sleep at all, and in the winter it gets so cold that it's painful to get out of bed in the morning, so once again I sleep on a futon in the living room (which has a one-room electric heater). This is the only room in the apartment that has tatami floors. My predecessor bought the bed, so I inherited it; it's a little odd to put a bed on a tatami floor (instead of a futon) but oh well, it's here, so I use it.

On the bed, you can see my stuffed cat Cinnamon whom I've had since sometime in the 80s, and on the shelf you can see my larger set of Morizo and Kiccoro plushies. And notice my gel sakura on the window! It was hard to get a picture that showed them well. Those really helped brighten up the room.

This is the room from the other side. I must say, I do not like the colors in here—I wish I could paint those nauseous green walls. They make it feel rather dark and gloomy. At least the glow-in-the-dark star pull on the light is cool. (I got that myself. It's useful as well as fun.)

The door leads back out into the genkan. The sliding door you see through it goes into the kitchen.

This is my spare room. It's to your right as you stand in the genkan facing the door. I don't really need a spare room—these apartments are a lot bigger than most JETs'—but since it's there, I use it as my walk-in closet and laundry-hanging room.

This towel is yet another souvenir of Australia that I'm using to decorate my apartment. Sadly, I didn't actually make it to Uluru (Ayers' Rock), but I hope to visit there someday! The towel really livens up the room, anyway. I also got the starry jacket on that trip, at the parasailing shop on Green Island.

I keep my vacuum, hamper, and laundry hanging things here. It is usually messy, so it is messy in this picture. This is also in the winter, hence the hats and scarves piled up; the previous picture was in the summer.

This concludes my apartment tour! To my friends and family in the States, I'm sorry that you can't come over to see it in person, but I hope that now you can at least picture my daily life a little better.

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