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Sunday, October 13, 2013

My Japanese Life In A Single Photograph

At long last - thanks to Takako Hall nee Kurita - I have a photograph of my apartment building, Zuiko Haitsu, in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken.

Knowing how stressed out I had become some 20 years after leaving Ohtawara-shi, Takako decided to fly from her home in the US all the way to Japan just to snap this photograph of Zuko Haitsu.

Okay... she was going to Ohtawara-shi with her son Alex to visit her Dad and step-mother... but, I did ask - and she did as I asked - and snapped a photograph of the 7-story apartment building.

Back when I left in 1993 it was the largest building in the city, though I fear some more modern contrivance has probably surpassed it.

My apartment was 307. That's that abutting wing two levels above the closed sake/convenience store on the right of the photograph. You can read about that shop HERE.


Matthew likens (present-tense) my apartment to some sort of Den of Inequity... The Opium Den from Terry & The Pirates (too old?)... okay... a whore house... where I am the whore.

(Having been writing about myself - and Japan for a few years now - over 2,000 blog entries, I have been told how lucky I have been with my placement on the JET Programme... to have such great bosses, teachers, students, apartment, city, fellow citizens, luck with the women, good Japanese friends... I suppose... but sometimes you have to make your own luck.)

When I opened up a Tweet from Takako and saw the photo of my apartment, I actually sucked in air and gasped audibly.

Takako... that photo means the world to me. Thank-you very much. Really. Thank-you. I am on my knees bowing so my head hits the tatami mat and stays there.

There are two or three other interesting things about this photograph of Zuiko Haitsu (Zuiko Heights)... it was also nicknamed "Zuiko Mansion" because it was the most expensive and most luxurious apartment in the city at one time.

At the very left... where the highest antennae are - I believe is the elevator shaft - anyway... you can see written on the outside wall in katakana Japanese: Zuiko Haitsu.

It has seen better days, I am sure... it used to be a brilliant, bright white paint covering a stucco finish. It now looks a tad greyish white... and in need of a good rainstorm to wash away the years...

It was rumored that a Yakuza member was assassinated in one of the apartments... but the yakuza and death of a yakuza is just not something the locals were at ease to want to talk about.

What is interesting, however, is that on the right of the photo - in front of the closed door of the shop, is the garbage disposal area (low walls with a gate)... which was 20 feet below my balcony and maybe 20 north of it.

Here's the amazing thing: Not once in the three years I lived there did I ever smell garbage... there was never a smell of anything emanating from that dump... in fact... I never ever smelled rotting garbage while I was in Japan, which leads me to believe that Japanese garbage simply does not smell.

At least not in Ohtawara. I guess I got lucky, or maybe there's some sort of magic juice that is sprayed to mask the odors... no idea. I also never saw any rodents or insects running around the dump. No cats or bears, either.

Another interesting thing... to the left of the jutting out three-level wing, the building goes up to a seventh floor. Check out that outside balcony on the seventh floor.

Myself and, once or twice, Matthew—we would stand ON the balcony ledge and reach up to the roof above and haul ourselves up to either take photographs of the surrounding area or just to take it all in and wonder how the hell we got so lucky to live and work in a country as alien and fantastic as Japan.

I have no idea how we didn't die. I know I went up there a few times by myself—laden with a heavy film camera and a flash unit and a couple of lenses stashed in a pocket of a leather jacket...

It wasn't such a high roof to get onto once you were on the balcony ledge... so pulling yourself up wasn't too difficult... it was the coming down part that was. Hell... I was always going to come down... the trick was to make sure it was on the proper side of the balcony.

I guess we figured it out.

I wonder what the people on the seventh floor were thinking when they heard for perhaps the first time ever, footsteps on their ceiling?! Or maybe, as they peered out through a crack in the front door, they saw these dangling gaijin legs trying to slide down and find the balcony ledge? I know people were in... I could hear the television sets blaring moderately quietly from below me.

The last interesting point, is something I find more than amusing... because it just seems to be perfect... that it sums up myself and my place in Japan.

Look above the roof... and see the dark rain clouds moving in. Regular readers will know that my well-deserved nickname in Japan was "Ame Otoko" (and sometimes Mister Andoryu or Mister Gaijin)... which means Rain Man. It can also mean 'candy man', thanks to Chinese Kanji letters that sound the same but are written differently. But... I was the Rain Man.

Rain Man... because every single time I traveled in Japan—and I mean every single time—it rained. And not just a spritz and then sunny skies... no... we're talking about day after day of dark clouds and rain... rain hard enough to get you angry for ruining your life.

Granted I do have photos of Japan when it's sunny... but that's because I may not have been traveling, or it had already rained for hours and the clouds were empty, giving myself and my other weary, wet travelers, an hour's respite.

And so... lo and behold... rain clouds over Zuiko Haitsu... an absolutely perfect moment captured by my good friend, Takako.

Andrew Joseph
If you want to see the inside of my typical non-typical Japanese apartment for which I paid an equivalent of $327 a month, here's a LEGO diorama I built. Where the spiders sit... that's the balcony facing Takako in the photo up above.

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