Renting in Tokyo and Japanese residential architecture
Tokyo is the fascinating capital of Japan with over 35 million inhabitants inclusive of its metropolitan area. That is an overwhelming number of people but everything is so excellently planned that despite the crowds daily life flows smoothly.
Tokyo’s infrastructure is very modern, shaped by two sad historic events.
Tokyo was hit by the enormous Kanto earthquake in 1923 which almost completely devastated the city. In 1945 the city suffered massive damage through American fire-bombing which put half of the capital to ashes after Japan had attacked Pearl Harbour. Tokyo had to rebuild itself sort of from scratch and I have not really seen any old buildings so far.
Tokyo’s architecture is very contemporary and planned thoroughly. Residential architecture is functional, mostly two storey high and square shaped, so as to make new building structures earthquake resistant and space efficient.
I am noting down any movements of the house and we have had our first seismic experiences (four already). The quakes are more like minimal shakes that last for a very brief moment. Our rented house is new and I believe it has been constructed with the constant threat of a big earthquake in mind. There are no pictures hanging on the walls for starters.
Japan is a lot about preventing anyone to get hurt and there is an extended awareness to potential hazards.
I was thinking about renaming the post to Japanese damage control.
Pedestrians are urged to stop and make sure they will not collide with passing cyclists or other pedestrians. You will see those street signs at sharp corners. Also, do notice the trash bin next to the vending machine. This sight shall make you very happy in Tokyo. There are very limited opportunities to throw things away when walking around town. Bins are scarce. Streets are spotless nevertheless. That’s Japan.
The street pole is bend so as to leave more room on the sidewalk.
This is our town house in the residential district of Setagaya. We will be renting for three months and have found the flat through Airbnb – you can get 25$ off your first booking, if you do it through us/use the link.
If you like to rent in Japan, you got to be able to convert ‘tatami‘ into m2. The size of a room will commonly be indicated by the number of Japanese ‘tatami mats’.
Setagaya functions as a tiny town (800.000 residents) for middle to upper class folk. It has various shopping streets with all the shops for everyday needs, many restaurants, a huge fitness centre, various sports facilities and the typical Japanese perfectly geometrical infrastructure.
View from the bed room balcony. No block housing – Setagaya is said to be a well off area with single-family houses. There are no gardens which are not common in Tokyo.
The closest station to connect to Tokyo’s vibrant Shinjuku and Shibuja areas from Setagaya in 20 minutes is Kyodo.
View from Kyodo Station at night. We were on a heavy jetlag for the whole first week that’s why all pictures from last week are night shots.
The microscopic red pole on the skyline in the very back is Tokyo tower. That is how far/near we are to the centre (about 8km).
This picture shows the entrance to a shopping street next to Kyodo station. There will always be a pretty framed entrée. A lot of people are wearing masks for various reasons. Some are sick and considerate wearing a mouth-protection to avoid spreading the flu, some do it to protect themselves and I was told that a lot of people suffer from allergies.
Shopping street around the corner of our house.
Our new working environment/kitchen/living room. For Japanese standards that is a spacious kitchen.
Floor damage prevention. The stool wears socks.
The living room comes with a heated floor and an aircon (non smelly – unlike in many other Asian countries). Radiators are not installed in Japanese houses so the aircon also functions as a heater.
We can check on visitors, adjust water temperature, kitchen lights and floor heating. The Do not touch this switch – button is tempting but so far we have managed to refrain from experiments.
The dishwasher can be opened like a drawer. The dishes come out absolutely dry but also very hot – so that you have to wait a while until you are able to take anything out.
In Japan garbage is separated into burnable (left) and unburnable (right) piles. Pretty much all goes into burnable, except glass and cans. There is an attached air-freshener under the lid to reduce smells. This is very popular. Even the toilet-paper-roll holder features that kind of gadget. I wonder if there is a connection to allergic reactions and artificial breeze.
The fridge has a very neat feature that makes life easier and saves time – a Japanese rule to household inventions.
The door opens from each side. There is also a lot of space and many shelves for small things. There are two rows for milk and juice cartons and bottles. There is one container for ice cubes and two separate freezers.
The kitchen sink is comfortably big. There is the super integrated sponge and washing-liquid holder and a very useful sieve for drying and washing fruits. Another easy to clean sieve prevents the drainage from clogging up. The cleaning agents come in tiny bottles, not higher than the faucet and are easy to carry when grocery shopping.
Instead of an oven, the stove has and integrated grill for fish. We have an oven which is tiny and a separate micro-wave like device.
Asami, our fantastic host says that with the comfort of fresh dishes at surrounding restaurants and deliveries, she rarely cooks. This seems to be the prevalent Tokyoite way of life. We went out to have lunch together today in Setagaya and eateries were packed.
If you are curious about our Japanese-European ‘home cooked meals‘, digest this post.
Let me just say that matcha (green tea) milk is delicious. Just as matcha ice-cream and any matcha deserts.
The traditional Japanese sliding door. If you walk through the door and up the slim staircase (another typical town house feature), you end up at the second room, our bedroom.
The bathroom is typical Japanese style and divided into two parts. One with the shower/bathtub and the other constitutes of the toilet and washbasin.
The picture on the left shows part one of a Japanese bathroom: a cabin with the shower section and the bathtub. You enter the bathtub only after you have cleaned yourself, just to relax. In Japanese households the bathtub is filled to the brim with hot water at all times, so that you can enter right after you have washed hair and body. That is something to get used to.
Many safety features to hold on to. Oh, and that little display above the tub will be talking to you under the shower.
The renowned Japanese toilet is what tourists rave about and really your miniature nympheum. Usually equipped with a faucet and sink on top, so that you can rinse your hands after you have finished business and a lot of fountain like functions for various types of rear cleaning.
The most striking feature is the toilet seat temperature – held at a pleasant level of warmth. Once you have gotten rid of the feeling to sit right after someone else, it is super comfy. We are currently searching for that Japanese ninja warming up our seat.
There are many signs and instructions. We are still finding out its meanings (by trial and error mostly).
We also have a washing machine which is nothing like what we know from home. It does not go by temperatures but garment types. It additionally functions as a dryer and has a huge drum. Notice the discreet door holder integrated into the floor. There are instruction signs on everything. For example how to detach the trays or how to avoid hazards with lamps.
More practical feature: all windows in the house are provided with a netted window screen to keep away bugs, flies and insects. (Although so far, I have not come across any of those buggers in Tokyo.)
The glass windows are made of safety glass and have a grid pattern. Most are also not see through, so as to ensure privacy from the closeness of the next door neighbour. There is no chance that windows will be slamming. Wind proof construction throughout the house.
We basically have two rooms. Ground floor has a small entrance hall where you leave your shoes and coat. The rest serves as a garage, sometimes people have shops.
The best gadget for gaijin visting Tokyo is actually this device – provided by our great host – the portable Wifi router. It connects to local internet providers using WiMAX, so that you can use your smartphone all over Tokyo.
As a tourist you cannot get an internet connection without signing a contract, which is solely reserved for Japanese citizens. If you are coming to Japan you should know this about Japanese internet.
Probably the funniest thing in our neighbourhood is this.
Tanuki, the cute raccoon dog creature straight out of Japanese folklore. You might spot the bear like creature with massive testicles dangling between its feet in residential front yards or shops.
Interestingly Tanuki is rehearsed in a popular kid’s rhyme that goes something like this
Tan Tan Tanuki no kintama wa
Kaze mo nai no ni
Bura bura bura
and roughly translates to
The Rac- Rac- Raccoon’s testicles
Despite there being no wind blowing
Are swaying, swaying, swaying
There will be more weirdness from Tokyo. See ya!