Sunday, January 18, 2009

Settling In

We've now spent about 3 months in Tokyo and have had ample time to settle in.  We found a great little 430 square foot apartment in an area of Tokyo called Ningyocho (2 subway stops from Ginza for those of you who know a little Tokyo geography).  The place is in the business district so needless to say,  the neighborhood becomes a total ghost town come weekends, but this is totally okay by us.  There's enough hustle and bustle everywhere else in Tokyo that it's somewhat nice coming home to our own quiet sanctuary.  

One example of the Tokyo madness is my daily subway commute to work.  The Japanese really bring new meaning to the phrase "packed like sardines".  Just when you think the train is too full as it is, the last stragglers will squeeze themselves in, back first, so that they can use all their weight to lean back in order for the doors to close.  If they're lucky, the doors close.  Otherwise, they'll just keep pushing back to force the door to close.  Most of the time this works, but a couple times I've actually seen people get pushed out of the train so that the doors will close.  The funny part about all this is that the train comes every 3 minutes!!   What's the big hurry?  I've come to refer to my train commute as cuddling with 100 people all at once.  There is nothing more unpleasant than my face buried in some stranger's pit all while another's "briefcase" is grazing my rear.  Aside from the commute work has been great.  My team is a worldly mix of Aussies, Koreans, Chinese, Brits, Americans, and of course Japanese.  They love to have a good time so when Dave and I can keep up, we're usually hanging out with this bunch who have quickly become our good friends in Tokyo.  Yes, it's true, we have bona fide friends :)

Outside of work we're learning a lot about the Japanese way of life.  Paying for rent and utilities, for example, has been a great learning experience.  Generally in the US rent is paid for with a check to the landlord.  In Japan, you have several options, all of which are hugely inconvenient or slightly costly.  Option 1) You go to the bank each month and use the ATM to make a bank transfer to your landlord's bank.  Option 1 will cost you about 5 USD each transaction.  Option 2) You fill out complicated paperwork to set up monthly automatic transfer from your bank to your landlord's bank.  Option 2 costs you about 10 USD per month.  What I don't understand is why either option has to cost anything at all.  Under 1, am I not doing all the work to physically go to the ATM to tell it where, how much, and to whom to transfer the money?  Under 2, it's set up automatically so why will this cost me twice as much as 1?  This is really how I think the Japanese banks stay in business...they create unnecessary services and charge outrageously for their usage!  Unbelievable.  As for utilities we receive a monthly bill where the envelope is clearly denoted "Electricity Bill" or "Water Bill" in English.  The complication comes in actually reading the bill which is all in Japanese.  As you would expect, we examine the bill for the parts we can read such as...our name...then we take the bill to a convenience store to pay it.  This would be like taking your utility bill to 7-Eleven or AM/PM which actually both exist in Japan in exorbitant numbers.  You pay your utility bill to the clerk as if you were paying for a Coke.  Then he graciously thanks you and bows excessively as if you have done him a great honor by visiting his 7-Eleven.  This is the highlight of Dave's day.  

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