Life in a Middle Class Residence
We lived with our daughter in her apartment as a Japanese would live - not like in a hotel. We slept on a floor futon (not like in N. America - we were on the floor) on the tatamee mats that serves as a floor in the bedroom area. Another teacher living nearby generously lent the futon we used to us, but it really was only big enough to sleep one. Waking up in the morning with limbs numb from sleeping on the edges was not unusual.
The entire place was about 12 paces by seven paces - basically three rooms, a kitchen, a toilet & bathroom, and a living / tatamee room area. This is considered a very decent-sized place for a family, never mind an individual.
The "rooms" were converted, when necessary, by sliding partitions. One separates the kitchen / bath area from the rest of the home, and the sleeping area can be separated from the living room and / or the katatzu table area, where one eats with a comforter under the table to warm the legs.
There was little insulation and no central heating, so a space heater (toyu) was used to heat the bedroom area in winter. The heater did not stay on all night for safety reasons, and because it was very expensive. It was not unusual to wake up in the morning and see your breath - that took a bit of getting used to.
Jackie had a TV. She had an aerial outside the apartment and got about five channels this way - if you wanted more, you needed a satellite dish. She also had a semi-functioning VCR and a shelf for her pictures. By her bed, she had hung a bamboo sheet with pictures from home.
Jackie was the only one of the teachers living in this apartment building with an actual table. The floors were wood outside of the tatamee rooms, and she had an area carpet. When you entered the apartment, you took off your shoes immediately and left them in a sunken area at the doorway (a genkan). You were then in the kitchen. She was very lucky to have a microwave. She had a toaster, but no oven. Her two elements were operated by gas. Her one and only sink was in the kitchen and was used for everything.
The water was heated by gas. There was a small heater over the kitchen sink, and another in the bathroom for the bath/shower. Japanese homes keep the toilet separate from the bathroom - none of the Japanese can figure out why anyone in their right mind would put a toilet in a the same place you shower. They may have a point there, but I did miss the sink. Fortunately, her bathroom was not a squatter, but was Western style. You have to be in good shape to squat while going.
Japanese showers are a real story. You DO NOT (big da may) clean yourself in the tub (which really is not big enough to sit in anyway), but you sit outside the tub on a stool, turn the shower on (after remembering how to turn on the gas heater), and shower / wash yourself. The water sprays all over the floor and drains in the middle of the room. After you are clean, you can sit in the hot water in the tub, which you would fill for this purpose, to relax. Families fill the tub once, cover it with plastic covers to retain the warmth, and take turns using it after they have cleaned themselves. After all is said and done, you step out into 5 degrees, if you were stupid enough to do this in the morning, because that part of the home is not heated with a space heater.
You shave in the kitchen sink.
The fridges tend to be about half the size we are used to. Much of the food served is uncooked, and needs to be bought fresh almost daily anyway.
Laundry was done in a small washing machine that was on her porch outside her door. Clothes were dried on the balcony.
Garbage is sorted into several categories for recycling, and is only put out in the garbage area the morning of garbage pick up. There are no such things as "garbage cans" that hold the garbage for a week or so. If your garbage isn't done properly, you'll hear from your neighbours.
Getting gas for the space heater can be accomplished by going out and buying it, or waiting for the "toyu man" to come by in his truck. It plays music when it's coming, like an ice cream truck. Actually, everything here seemed to be accompanied by music - even the garbage truck.
©A. Appel, 2002