That time of the year has arrived where summer is shutting down and you’re slowly getting used to the idea of spending more time at home – and the new IKEA catalog comes with it. Yesterday I spent some time to browse through it, but I must say that I did not get as excited as I used to. I mean, I still love those sofas and armchairs in all their plushy magnificence, and don’t get me started on those PAX wardrobes with the million-and-one interiors and designated space for everything… but in the end I have to admit that there’s simply not enough space for that in my apartment.

High bookshelf in Vienna National LibraryHowever, there are some pieces of furniture I need in any case. Bookshelves for example, although not all of them will be out in the open. My apartment has rather large built-in closets in every room, but their sizes are unpractical: The one in the livingroom is as high as the room, almost one metre deep, with a fixed shelf at about 90 cm height that splits the closet in half horizontally. Those otherwise completely empty spaces are meant as storage for futons and other bedding, and I am glad I finally have enough space for my large suitcase and sewing machine, but for anything else, they are not practical.

Thus, I wanted bookshelves to put at the back of those closets, so I can make use of at least some of that vertical space. Well, as I am a rather stingy person, I don’t see the point in buying new bookshelves that will literally never see the light of day, so I have been browsing the local craigslist ads for a while now to find used furniture. Finally, I got lucky last week and found some in a sayonara sale (good-bye moving sales when people are leaving Japan) not far from where I live.

I went there late this afternoon, and the person selling them turned out to be a lovely young lady from the US who had just spent a year in Kyoto for her studies. Somehow, we hit it off and what was planned to be a short money-for-goods exchange turned into a chat of more than one hour where we mutually compared our experiences in Japan and laughed and complained about the same things. It was great fun.

What surprised me, however, was her disappointment with the university she studied at. For example, although they had an official exchange program with her home university in the US, and all her courses were in English, no provisions were made for her to actually learn Japanese. The classes the university provided were denied her for some reason, and going to a language school was too expensive. She also confirmed the experience of a friend of mine who, although specifically promised an English environment at his university, still received important emails only in Japanese. All in all, she had hoped to get more out of that one year here in Kyoto, and she’s happy to go home again.

I’m sorry that she leaves Japan with a bad taste in her mouth, but my own experiences are similar. Japan is not an easy country to come to; if you expect to be welcomed with open arms you will most likely be disappointed. There are so many things that are done in such a peculiar way – and it’s insisted to do it this way and no other – that it is hard not to be exasperated at all the road blocks coming up in your way. To be happy here, I guess you have to be completely crazy about Japan. Or maybe just crazy…