Tuesday, July 5, 2011

House Hunters, International

Jeff has been in Yokosuka for about 2 weeks now. His employers have arranged for him to stay on Base in the Hotel for 2 months while we look for housing. Of course anyone who knows me well knows that I was on the google machine long before we even signed the final job offer looking into housing options. 

I have spoken before about the wonder that is the Japanese toilet. The same principle applies to the homes in Japan. When we moved into our first home in Misawa back in June of 2008 (has it really been that long?!) we really did not know the options available to us. Jeff found a place that was decent enough while I was still State side cooking Noah. Noah and I arrived in February of 2009 to our new home. 

It really wasn't THAT bad... I lovingly called it the 'Japanese 80's style retreat center' house. You know the look of a retreat center, where all the features seem 'stock' and nothing feels unique or homey (or is that just me?).

A picture is worth a thousand words:

Let me describe what you are looking at here... there is just so much in this picture that embodies living in Japan!

Starting at the top we have a lovely drop ceiling with florescent lighting. Drop ceilings make me think of elementary school buildings. And 'The Breakfast Club'. And florescent lighting is never OK. In the upper right corner you see a little box. This is a fan meant to pull humid/hot air out of the house. It is crap. Misawa is so far north on the main island that AC is not a standard installation, but these fans are. Again, they are crap. And it is humid and hot and hellish in the dead of summer. You see the drying rack in the corner? That is because our Japanese dryer takes about 4 hours to dry a load of 2 towels. This is not an exaggeration. And since the house did not have 'conditioned air' it took 10 times longer to air dry any items. 

I loath that drying rack and it's space sucking ways. Even more so than that, I loath the 'stinky towel smell' that often occurs from the bacteria that can grow on things that do not air dry properly. I battled these two nemeses until the day we moved out. 

Back to the picture. 

It is hard to see, but the wall paper is extra special. It is textured. With specks of pink and silver and gold. Below it is faux wood paneling. We are standing on faux wood flooring as well. It's super shiny... and I can't decide if it makes it a little better or that much worse... 

The above is a great representation of the shine and the paneling. Oh, and look at that cute little Noah! 10 months old... so sweet... 

Back to the crappy house.

The picture of we three was taken with the timer from the kitchen counter. In the world of Japanese homes it is referred to as LDK or living-dining-kitchen. All the rooms in most standard Japanese homes are made to be closed off from one another in an attempt to conserve natural resources (only heat/cool the room you are in and close it off from the rest of the house). So they thought it was a good idea to have all the living space in one room. Only it is tiny. And our big American furniture laughed in the face of the square footage. We had to get creative with furniture placement, since we are big Americans with big furniture. Where a Japanese family would use their LDK as it is intended, with their tiny Japanese furnishings and their tiny Japanese bodies, we used the kitchen as a kitchen and the LD part just as the D. Our table took up the whole space, there was no way we could fit any more seating in that room. So out the door of the LDK and across a little hall there was a tatami room.

This is the best picture I could find, but it gives you an idea of how small it was. First, I have to say that the tatami rooms in a Japanese home are not meant to have furniture in them. There is a large closet for storing rolled up futons (the real deal, Japanese kind, not the bastardized American version) and you are supposed to take these out as needed. There is also a small platform for shrines and what not. We used the closet as a built in desk and the platform for shrines as an area to store Noah's toys. And there was furniture crammed in there, IKEA style. In the picture above I am leaning on our love seat, and the TV is against the wall across from it. Small. 

So after living in this house for about 2 years I decided there MUST be other options in Misawa. With google translate as my guide I found a larger, more modern, SANS WALL PAPER house that was perfect for us. 

Look at that little modern gem, tucked away in the back roads of Misawa. This house is awesome. It has energy efficient everything. There is no AC as we know it, but there is 'air conditioning' meaning the walls are made out of a material that actually wicks the moisture from the air and circulates it outside. Pretty smart. Doing laundry was a breeze in this house. I wish I had more photos of the inside. The floors are light wood and treated, not 'finished'. I loved the floors. The layout was great. It felt like home.

So now we find ourselves in the trenches of house hunting yet again. This time we know there are options out there that are more to our liking than the Japanese 80's retreat center. Jeff has met with realtors from 3 different agencies, all whom were told we want new/modern construction. After the first day of viewings with one of the realtors we weren't sure if it was a communication barrier or just a cruel joke, but wall paper was involved in most of the houses they showed Jeff. Only cartoon animals were donned in place of the pink and silver and gold specks. Which would you prefer? Such a hard choice!

Maybe it is just standard for them to show you the houses that they have had sitting on the market for a long time to see how desperate you are. Maybe that is how we were suckered into the first house in Misawa. All you hear is how hard it is to find housing in Japan so you better sign the lease to the first place you see. But we will not be fooled this time around! 

There are three homes that we currently like and could see ourselves living in. Jeff is going to look at one of them for the first time in person tomorrow. It is my favorite. It is beautiful. The location is great.... but the rent is OUTRAGEOUS. A perk to working for the Department of Navy is that they give you a 'living quarters allowance' to cover your rent and utilities, but this house would put us at the very top of our budget. But oh, how worth it. I will post pictures once Jeff emails a few, really, it is like a house out of Architectural Digest. 

So no hole-in-the-ground house for us. And for the love of god, no wallpaper. 

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