Any Japanese house or apartment has a meter for electricity, gas, and water. Different to Europe, where you get the bill once a year and you pay a monthly amount based on your average monthly usage of the last year; here, the meters are read each month and you pay what you have actually used. Personally I prefer this system, it gives you more control I think and it is easier to find out whether there is a leak somewhere, for example.

Each company hameter at ebisu'ss numerous employees that go to each house and read the meters. Usually they just enter the genkan entrance area (Japanese homes are rarely locked during daytime) and loudly announce their presence. They then are allowed inside to read the respective meters, sometimes leave a note with the current reading, and are off again. A few days later the bill will arrive. I am not entirely sure how it is here, but often the bill does not even bear a name, only the address – which makes for one less thing to remember when moving in or out… When nobody is home, a note is left requesting somebody of the household to read the meter and phone the company. I don’t think, however, that anybody in this house has ever done so, I guess in such a case the company simply waits for the next opportunity.

More modern houses than ours may have their meters in more accessible spots outside, so that entering the house is not required anymore. I have seen meters nicely hidden behind little wooden doors or holes made into fences, just large enough for the numbers to be read. Still, not all of the outside meters are placed in a straightforward manner. Our neighbour’s, for example, is mounted on a spot that is about three meters above street level – there is no way to read the numbers from there. When I first realized this, I expected some very ingenious, possibly wireless, transfer of the meter reading going on, after all, this is a highly industrialized nation! Imagine my surprise when last week, I finally caught the woman doing the reading at our neighbour’s – with very small and rather untechnological – binoculars…