The Other Side

I made it! Friday was stressful, I had to call in my friend’s help earlier than expected, but everything turned out alright. The moving crew took a bit more than 4 hours to get me out of the old place and into the new one, at the end, there were 6 people working – and me giving commands. I quite enjoyed that part!

Yesterday, I took things rather slowly. My house is a mess right now, and I have only unpacked a handful of my more than 70 boxes… Unfortunately, I didn’t clean the kitchen cupboards as well as I thought I had, so there’s that to do before I put anything inside. And when I look at the 30+ boxes of books and documents alone, I shudder – and fo into another room for the time being.

Renovations are proceeding; the contractor even sent me an email this morning to tell me that the workers will come tomorrow at 8:30 in the morning. Good to know that I’ll have to finish my shower before that – the bathroom has a glass door… *blush*

Unfortunately, there have been some problems with the renovations already. Instead of removing a wall so I can have access to the storage behind it from my new office, the workers have added new latticework, which is obviously counterproductive.

And the window that has been stored in the garage is too small. It should have a 70 cm high pane, but instead, the whole window including the frame is that height, leaving only 43 cm to actually look out of…

But the kitchen looks great now, even with all the boxes, and once the mess is cleared, I can start cooking again. The bathroom should be finished soon as well. It now has three coats of paint, and I hope that will be last one. I didn’t expect the concrete to be quite that thirsty, I did use a lot of primer after all.

Anyway, that’s it for today. Sorry, no photos since a) I’m in an internet cafe and forgot the adapter I need for the SD-card, and b) it’s all a veritable mess anyway, no need to show that off.

Thank you for all your good wishes, both in the comments here and per email. To my friend who sent the “test card”, it has arrived yesterday, perfectly on time with my first day at my new house. So yes, things are going well, overall.

Final Views

Well, that’s it. My last morning in my apartment, where I have lived now for more than 6 years. I enjoyed living here, but it’s time to move on…

The movers will come this afternoon, I have the big things packed, the small things can just go into boxes. It’s within a 10 minutes drive, so there is no need for extensive protection (I hope).

I won’t have internet at home for a while, so I might be posting a bit more sporadically in the next 2 weeks or so – but then again, I already did that. When I thought “there’s so much happening, I need to write more often”, it really didn’t cross my mind that there may be too much going on for writing. I’ll do my best. There are indeed exciting things going on!

Bargain Hunting

Sorry for not writing the other day, despite promising… On top of my work, I was at the house every day doing something or other, and I was exhausted. Tomorrow, the office renovations will start, and I need to get my work sorted out before moving on Friday. I hope there will be more news to tell and more time to do so.

Anyway, 10 days ago or so, I started looking for a moving company. Even though the new house is very close, and I don’t feel that I have that many things, I want professional help with this. There’s no way I’m going to schlep all my stuff down from the 5th floor and then most of it into the 2nd floor of my new place all on my own (or even with the help of my friends).

I filled in an online form, and they sent my info to around 10 moving companies operating in Kyoto. Within 10 minutes, I got emails from all of them and phone calls from half. Some were offers based on what I filled in, but some companies wanted to come by and have a look at my things to make a better offer.

The first representative (of a very large moving company) came on Thursday, made a detailed list of everything I wanted to pack, and he gave me a quote of 82,000 for a moving date of Saturday, 27th of November. I said it was a bit expensive and told him that I really wanted to move the Friday before, and that another (much smaller) company would visit on Sunday for a quote.

He immediately said, “If you tell the other company that you already chose us, I’ll give you a price of 70,000 yen flat”.

Wow, I hadn’t expected anything like that. The fact that I got so much interest within 10 minutes after pressing “send” did surprise me, but apparently the moving market is more competitive than I thought. However, since he couldn’t give me the Friday date, I declined and told him I’d wait for the others and get back to him.

Sunday noon arrives, the second representative shows up, runs through all my stuff and gives me a quote of 85,000 for Friday. After telling him about the significantly lower quote I had received, he phones his boss and finally comes back with 75,000 yen for a Friday move, which I accepted on the spot.

Never, ever, have I done this before. I find it embarrassing, and it’s probably embarrassing for the other person as well. And had the first representative not given me a hint that negotiations are possible, I wouldn’t have tried it this time either. But, thanks to him, I get what I want when I want it – and for 10,000 yen cheaper to boot! However, since this is a very small company, I will try to make things as easy and smooth for them as possible. I already received moving boxes which are now stacked in my place, ready to be filled.

And of course, I haven’t packed a single thing yet. I really must start tomorrow, once I finish my work. So far, I only decluttered things that will definitely not come with me. Lots of stuff I’ve kept “just in case” and which I never needed, plenty of paperwork, these sorts of things.

While going through everything, I even found a stack of old “Hey, I’ve moved” postcards from the Netherlands. So, just in case you’ll receive a funny-sounding postcard with my new address on it, it’s all part of my big decluttering plan. Thanks for helping with it. 😉

My New Tatami

Since renovations and other things are moving quite fast at the moment, and I don’t want to bore you with a super long post on Wednesday, I’ll give you two weekly posts instead for the foreseeable future. Aren’t you just thrilled to hear more about my renovations! 😉

This post is all about tatami. For those of you who don’t know, tatami are the mats that are used in traditional Japanese rooms. They are nothing more than rice straw sewn together and covered with woven (soft or common) rush on the top. The edges on the long side are usually covered with fabric, often brocade. Tatami are typically 5-6 cm thick and twice as long as wide. Exact measurements depend on the region.

Traditional tatami like these are quite expensive. You can now get cheaper options with for example a styrofoam core in the middle, with also cuts down on the weight. Still, to this day, tatami are mostly made of natural materials, which makes them quite delicate. The most dangerous enemy of any tatami is water, which can seep through the rushes on top and damage the rice straw directly or cause mould in the long run. I have seen people rush home during a thunderstorm just to close their windows and protect their tatami.

When tatami get old, they turn a warm yellow colour. The longer they are in use, the more the surface gets scuffed and worn, even though nobody in Japan would ever enter a washitsu (traditional Japanese room with tatami) with anything else than socks. As you can see in the image above, the rushes get worn out eventually, often starting at the edges (the light-yellow colour).

Last week, my tatami were measured for replacement. Interestingly, the sizes of tatami differ according to the Japanese region you live in. The Kyoto tatami have the largest size – 0.955 m by 1.91 – they are called kyoma tatami (literally: Kyoto room). The edoma from Tokyo are significantly smaller – 0.88 m by 1.76 m – and the size in Nagoya lies in between.

Interestingly, I have edoma tatami in my house that are not entirely uniform in size. I have only measured a few, but they were all between 0.86 and 0.88 m wide and from 1.76 to 1.79 m long. In any case, they were removed last Friday to expose the underflooring, which looks like this:

Yes, that’s quite normal, it’s a wooden house, remember. Actually, this is a very good underflooring; a friend of mine lives in a house from roughly 100 years ago. There are gaps between the floor boards that are 2-3 cm wide, and that’s on the ground floor, without any insulation against the cold!

In fact, Japanese houses were and still are built as airy and breezy as possible to make the summer heat more bearable. Every little gap where some puff of air can come through helps in this respect. And as I have mentioned before, the Japanese seem to be less concerned about the cold in the winter than about the humid summers…

As you can see, there are still parts of the rush covering lying around, and in fact, I was quite surprised how dirty the room was. I guess there’s a lot of dust and other dirt that can fall through the cracks of the tatami over the years. I’m not sure if there’s a solution for this – other than meticulous regular cleaning, that is.

Anyway, I went to the house today, just in time to see the finishing touches put onto my brand-new tatami. Sadly, I was too late to see what they put underneath them, there was talk about an insect-repellent sheeting or something. As you can see below, the rush is still green, and they do smell so lovely and new! I have ordered blue borders that look good now and will go well later with the mature yellow too, and I’m very pleased with the effect.

The contractor has informed me that the rush surface has been treated with some wax or chemical or something. I will have to wipe this layer off with a dry cloth and repeat this three or four times, otherwise it will come off on my socks when I walk on them.

It’s not really obvious in the image above, but there is indeed some sort of white waxy layer on top; the craftsmen installing them showed me how to clean them (wipe with the grain of the rush covering) and they turned even greener than they are now. The craftsmen also told me to keep the windows open for a while, as long as it can’t rain into the rooms. Well, I’ll be at the house every day this week anyway to get some other things done, so that’s not a problem.

I really love how this simple upgrade has changed the feeling of the rooms upstairs. They look so much cleaner and neater, even though I haven’t done anything else. I don’t have the money to make other, more significant improvements to the rooms upstairs, but as I said, they are mostly in working order. I will replace the paper of the shoji at the windows though, that seems to be an easy DIY-fix even I can attempt – and write about.

Fun fact of the day: There are no light switches on the second floor. Not one. All the ceiling lamps are turned on/off by pulling a cord that hangs down from them. I didn’t even notice this until I tried to get some light for my photos today. It is definitely an interesting choice I have to get used to…

Setting Dates

Today, probably for the last time, I met with the architect and the contractor at my house. The carpenter, who is actually going to do all the work, was there as well. Together, we went over the design one last time and also fixed colors for floors, doors, and windows. There is now also a key box outside so the workers can come and go as needed, whether I’m home or not.

So, we’re ready for liftoff! And Zero Hour will be this Friday already, when the contractor goes to the house to measure the tatami – new ones should arrive by the 20th – and have a closer look at what’s behind the kitchen cabinet I want removed…

The other work in the house will start on the 22nd, and I’ve set my moving date for the 26th. This means, that it’s possible that the kitchen will not be finished; the office will definitely take until some time in December. I just hope that the outside wall will be finished when I move in – I want to remove the two sliding doors in the office and install a window instead. Even though Japan is a very safe country overall, I’d rather not sleep in a house with a gaping hole in the wall – and the only wall facing the street to boot…

Anyway, I’m super excited to get started! I have done some smaller things in the house like removing nails and screws from the walls as well as curtain rails that will be reused elsewhere. I also have plans for the bathroom, which may be a bit weird… we’ll see.

Yesterday I asked on an online site for quotes for the move and I got 5 calls within 15 minutes of pressing “submit”. I have arranged for 2 companies to come by and have a look at the apartment for a quote; the online site listed prices from 16,000 yen to 85,000 yen. Nothing to break the bank for the 4 km of moving, but still worth shopping around a bit more.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress, probably even with actual photos!

My Favourite Painting

I want to express my symphony in the painting by interpreting a musical score in my own way.

This is “Symphony”, a 1961 nihonga painting by Insho Domoto (1891 – 1975), one of the most versatile and prolific painters of Kyoto. In his life, he had essentially three great periods of paintings: The earliest, where he produced traditional nihonga paintings. The middle one, after WWII, is characterized by Western-style paintings, reminiscent of the art produced in Europe at that time. Finally, when already in his 70s, he turned to fully abstract art like the one above. I will talk about him in more detail in another post.

When I first saw this painting – as a postcard-sized reproduction to boot – it touched me deeply. And last Friday, when I went to the Insho Domoto Museum and saw it “for real” for the first time, it moved me to tears.

What you cannot see in this reproduction is that the black ink strokes are textured, like seams of coal that have been excavated from the earth with shovels. The large golden dots to the right of the center stand out of the painting like buttons.

When I stood before it on Friday, I thought that the black figure in the center is a bird; the head the large slanted stroke to the left, connected to the feathery body with a long neck, like a black heron. I find it very hard to describe what I feel when I look at this painting. It overwhelms me, somehow, and I had to step back and go elsewhere three or four times while I was looking at it, almost to calm my nerves. I think this is a masterpiece, but do I think so because of its artistic value or because of the feelings it invokes in me?

Names and Numbers

It was a national holiday today – Culture Day – and I spent it involved in the international DIY culture. In other words: I went to my house seeing if there’s something I can do myself. Since I don’t have experience with wooden houses, there’s not so much I feel capable of doing, actually. Thankfully, there is the internet and I have read a number of DIY manuals and watched youtube videos to get an idea of what I can do.

So far, I have stripped the dirty wallpaper off the doors that lead into the kitchen. Since the doors will be replaced eventually, I will only paint them instead of putting on new wallpaper. The walls in the kitchen are daunting enough; the wallpaper definitely needs replacing there, and I’m not sure if I can just hang a new one over the old one – the current layer seems to have been nailed to the wall at the edges?

To my great dismay, the interesting outlet before my kitchen cabinets turned out to be a connection for a gas heater. I have nothing but the deepest respect for gas, so I don’t really know what to do with this one. Unfortunately, it looks a bit like a wall socket, and it sticks out of the floor a little, so just leaving it as it is might be a tripping hazard. I’ll have to think about this.

More food for thought came with my contractor’s quote. I’m only addressing a single room instead of two, I’ve already sacrificed my double-glazed windows – and yet, we’re already way over budget. Interestingly, there are not so many big ticket items – the new flooring downstairs and the tatami mats upstairs of course – but most things are small, 20,000 yen here, 35,000 there, 4,500 over here… The sheer mass of them does add up, though. I’m now wondering what else I need to sacrifice to get my office in working order, thankfully my architect has made some valuable suggestions for price reduction. He’s really worth everything I’m paying him.

Already last week, my friend deciphered the pink note I got from my mailman. It was a simple “Hi there – are you living here already? Who are you, tell me your name!” form that I filled in and sent off on Friday, and since I already got mail there under my name, I think we’re good to go. He is still ringing my bell, so I am planning to go to the house again tomorrow morning and see if I can catch him and say hello. Always nice to be on good terms with the mailman and the neighbours…

Thousand Cranes

Thousand Cranes
Yasunari Kawabata

Kikuji is on the way to a tea ceremony held by Chikako, who had been his father’s mistress. Over the years, he had received many invitations from her, but since his father’s death, this is the first one he accepts. At the ceremony, he meets Mrs. Ota, who is the total opposite of Chikako, and Kikuji falls for her immediately, just as his father once did. From then on, Kikuji finds himself at the center of Chikako’s intrigues, and although he is not a born fighter, it is not clear yet who will get the upper hand in the end.

I couldn’t help but feel sorry for poor Kikuji who is torn apart by his feelings for no less than four women: meddlesome old crone Chikako who wants to see him married to Miss Inamura, a nice girl and protégé of hers, and the attractive and still young-at-heart Mrs. Ota and her daughter Fumiko, who doesn’t quite know how to deal with her mother’s strange attraction to Kikuji – or her own.

Yasunari Kawabata (1899 – 1972), was born in Osaka into a wealthy family, but was raised by his grandfather after he was orphaned. From a young age, he showed talent – and was interested in – both painting and writing, but he eventually turned to writing and published his first stories when still in high school. After graduating from university, Kawabata quickly became one of the most important modern Japanese writers. After WWII, his fame spread internationally, and in 1968 he became the first Japanese to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

If you’re up for something melancholy and short, try this one – it’s available on amazon.

Moving Forward

Sorry for not posting on Sunday. I had an unexpected visitor from Tokyo, and we met for pizza and sweets and wine. So much wine…

Yesterday, I met with the architect and the general contractor at the house for about 2 hours or so. We talked mainly about the office because this is the most important room for me to get done before my move. Also, we talked about the kitchen where we’ll make space for the washing machine, and we went upstairs to discuss the tatami and a possible refurbishment of the designated bedroom.

At this moment, it seems that the tatami upstairs can be done very quickly, and also the kitchen corner where the washing machine is to go should be done relatively quickly and easily. The office, where there is more to do – I want to replace the two sliding doors to the outside with a window, knock down one wall to access the storage underneath the staircase, and have new walls and flooring installed – will probably take longer. As a starting date we envision “end of November”.

Which is a bit scary, because I have tentatively set my moving date for the last weekend of November…. Everything is working in the house, so I can definitely move in, and the only thing that really needs to be done before I come with all my stuff are the new tatami upstairs. Otherwise, I and my stuff will be in the way of everything and everybody. But the contractor and the architect understand that, so let’s hope for the best.

The house does already provide entertainment. There is a garden door right in front of my entrance that has no keys, just a bolt. People don’t seem to care, they just enter – I know because they don’t bother bolting the gate, therefore it’s open every time I come to the house. All sorts of people coming to the house – the doorbell has a little camera that turns on every time somebody rings.

And I have received a pink slip from the post office with my name on it already, telling me to do something before next Tuesday. I wonder what that will be. I’ll visit a friend of mine tomorrow to decipher the cryptic message.

So yes, things are moving forward. Next step: waiting for the contractor’s quote, getting a quote and a date on the move. Things are moving forward indeed…

Adjustments

This afternoon, I met with the architect who’s going to help me renovating my house. He went through every room and checked the inside/outsides carefully – as much as he could access it. He did confirm that the structure is mostly sound, so that’s one worry less.

We then talked at length about what I am envisioning for the house, for now. After he had listened appreciatively and even made a few suggestions I hadn’t thought of, he dropped the bomb: Given my (very limited) budget, we probably won’t get everything done at this stage of the renovations. And definitely not in the time frame that I wanted…

So yes, plans will have to be adjusted. Sacrifices will have to be made. But I’m still optimistic. What else can I do.

Speaking of adjustments, for now, I will need to adjust to daily noise again. After a break of roughly 5 months, the construction site outside my apartment has opened up again. The work is scheduled to take about a year, and they are estimating to run 10-15 trucks daily in the beginning, ramping up to 40 a day or so at the height of the construction.

I really hope my own remodeling can be sped up – I already know that I can’t handle all that noise again, and they barely started…