Japan Tokyo

The first 4ish months living in Tokyo: A shorter post, probably, or at least fewer photos

We have officially been in Tokyo for four and a half months now. I wanted to record a bit about how the move went and how things are going on in this still relatively early stage of our life here – last time we moved to Japan I didn’t actually post anything until we were fairly close to leaving and I think it’s possible I missed some of the details from early on.

When we landed in Japan this time around I felt quite a bit different than last. I’ve developed a sort of constant (perceived) life-GPS or “grounded-ness” that made it impossible for me to feel that my life had totally changed when we stepped out of the airport. I still feel like me, just in Japan. That might not make sense but in the not-so-distant past I remember arriving to a new place and having an out-of-body feeling that took a LONG time to go away. This was disorienting but on the plus side, very exciting and in ways intoxicating. That said I felt (and still feel four+ months on) very very happy, you might say “joyful” when we got out of the airport.

Our flight was uneventful. We brought quite a bit of luggage with us, arguably more than we needed, but a lot of the stuff we packed was books and clothing for Lindsay’s job. We also brought some particularly heavy stuff, e.g. silverware because I hate spoons/forks that bend easily. When I think about it now I’m honestly not sure how we had so much stuff.

One of the first photos I have out of the airport
All of our bags. Roughly 300 pounds worth of luggage.

Edit from later me: I’m finishing this post in the main Hong Kong library, we just flew back out of Haneda to HK yesterday and it was strange coming back through the airport the other direction, especially after spending so much time in Tokyo over the last months. Somehow the airport felt “small”, despite being a major international airport.

We decided to be lazy and take an Uber to our temporary AirBnB. It was relatively cheap (maybe USD$40ish?) but taking the train would have been a huge pain with our luggage (almost always we’d deal with the pain to save 30 bucks or whatever, but it was just too much to carry on a packed train).

Out first night we went and got sushi and a conveyor belt sushi place right next door to us, Hama-Sushi. This was sort of cool just because in Koryo we also had a Hama-Sushi that was walking distance from our apartment so it felt nice to go back to one of these places after being gone from Japan for such a long time. In addition to being able to see the Hama-Sushi from our bedroom window, we also had a 7-11 about 30 feet from us. Convenience stores are something we missed a lot about Japan so this was sort of stupidly magical I’d say.

EDIT: I didn’t really mention here super clearly re: moments of joy, but going to this Hama-sushi and sitting at the counter, tired and pretty dazed with jet lag Lindsay and I both had moments when we sort of laughed to ourselves / stupidly grinned at each other because of how thrilled we were to see little things, like the not-even-that-nice-because-Hama-sushi wet napkins you get for washing your hands, or the songs that play as your mediocre-but-amazing-by-many-standards tuna nigiri zipped to us. Just little moments like this that I’m failing to really describe that we felt really really happy. We continue to have quite a few of these as I mention below.

This is the view out of our bedroom window, which also happens to be the living room)

After eating sushi we took the train to see Lindsay’s school.

Here Lindsay is in front of her school on our first night in Tokyo

We rented an AirBnB for two weeks in an area called Kamata, a major station in the Southern part of Tokyo. We actually ended up really liking the area and considered living there, but it was not quite as central as we were hoping.

The AirBnB itself was small, but fine. We ended up staying in two different rooms because we had to extend our stay (twice!) as finding a permanent apartment proved harder than expected (more on that in a bit). A somewhat long and boring tour of the apartment is here – actually it’s both apartments we ended up staying in:

Lindsay decided to go into school on Saturday (we arrived on a Friday), so Saturday was her first big day. I went with her to school on the first day (and on Monday I think). I’ll let Lindsay talk more about her school / work if she wants, but in short her school is great and she is happy to be teaching again.

Apartment searching ended up being pretty long / soul sucking. It wasn’t exactly “stressful” because we knew we were going to survive and eventually find a place, but basically every apartment I looked at had some issue. Even the apartment we ended up with isn’t perfect (it’s expensive and has a sub-optimal layout) but the first 3 or 4 apartments I saw were just not very inspiring (and still expensive!).

We ran into two major issues:

  • We were being picky on account of our Koyro living situation (multiple cockroaches throughout the week, sometimes on the bed when you were sleeping, etc) and wanting to stay in a convinient / desirable part of Tokyo to give us the best shot at being happy and
  • We are foreigners so many apartment rental companies don’t want to rent to us (for good reason – we tend to come and go, break contract with nothing really tying us to the country)

These are just a random, sort of difficult to get much from photos, but sort of gives an idea. The apartment from this photo was in an older building, and the price was still roughly 170k yen (roughly USD$1100 per month)

A weird old air conditioner with tape forming a seal, plus a window that was tinted dark and barely opened
The view out of the main door / balcony of the apartment, an overflow parking area. Not super inspiring.

We had done a TON of research trying to figure out where to live before coming to Tokyo. It’s such a huge city and as mentioned above we wanted to give ourselves the best chance of enjoying our experience here. I think we could be happy anywhere realistically, but also we want to meet friends and go and do things while living in the city we’ll be much more likely to do those things if it doesn’t require an expensive or hour+ commute. So we had originally planned to live in either Juyagaoka or Oimachi while keeping an open mind to other options as well.

While Lindsay was teaching the first week I spent a TON of time (10-15 miles a day) walking around all of the potential neighborhoods trying to get a feel for them. This is not each because with such huge area to cover and so many different side streets and alleyways (etc) I never really felt 100% sure that I “knew” an area. That said I put in quite a bit of effort and at least felt like I could develop opinions.

Juyagaoka is a very nice neighborhood, more upscale, with tons of boutiques and lots of very cute shops. It’s quite popular with families and I’d say the population trends more middle-aged well-off types. I think we could have been happy there BUT the reality is we’re not really the type of people to shop at fancy boutiques or higher end fashion stores and such. It’s fun to walk and look at cute little stores with fancy stuff, but we don’t shop there realistically.

The other area we had been recommended a bunch (keywords being down to earth and convenient in a lot of people’s opinions) was Oi, (long O sound, Ōi technically, or 大井), Shinagawa. This area (or Ward, or City) in Tokyo that is very close to Lindsay’s school and pretty convenient for getting around the city. This is where we ended up finding an apartment and where we now live!

The apartment we ended up in was actually originally recommended against by the real estate agency we were working with (for good reason really) because the layout is “weird.” Layout in an apartment, especially a small apartment (ours is 42 square meters) is really really important. Arguably our apartment feels more like a 30 square meter apartment than 40 based on how we’ve been using it, however there are a few features of it that we really like.

Apartment as of a few months ago. We’ve added a few things since this point but it’s still largely the same at this point, or at least very recognizable!

The video above is a good way to get a pretty good idea of what the apartment is like, but the things we like are:

  • It’s a brand new unit, never lived in, so very modern and clean feeling (with the exception of a smell discussed below)
  • It’s in a VERY convenient location – I say this at least once a day to Lindsay, but we are about 12 minutes walk from both Nishi-Oi and Oimachi stations (西大井駅と大井町駅), which translates to us being able to get to 75% of the city without transferring. E.g. we can go to Shinjuku station or Shibuya without transferring. Or we can go down to Yokohama without transferring. Etc, etc.
  • Lindsay can walk to her school if she wants, it’s about a 25ish minute walk but very doable and reasonably pleasant. Alternatively, when it’s really raining she can take a bus that picks up about 5 minutes from the apartment.
  • Because we’ve opted to stick our bed in the tiny room in the basement (see video), it means we have an entire extra “bedroom” that we can use as a guest bedroom OR use for a bonus-chill space / room or office. It’s not a practical optimization for day-to-day living, but it’s really nice to have the option of having the extra area (e.g. Corie is coming to visit in a bit and she’ll have her own room – with us having to walk through it in the morning to get upstairs, but still, better than having to sleep in the living room I think.
  • The kitchen area while small is actually pretty well setup for cooking. Counter space is plenty, stove is nice enough, sink is great. Overall it’s not a bad space to cook or significantly worse (sadly) than our house in GR because the layout is pretty optimized in Japan, vs a bunch of smaller counter spaces in GR.
  • I didn’t explicitly mention this but part of the reason we wanted new construction was for concrete walls, and so far it seems to have paid off in terms of noise issues. We hear almost nothing from our neighbors, and we hope we aren’t causing any issues for anybody either. So far no noise complaints at least!
  • The actual area is fairly cute, and there is a lot of options within 10 minutes walk in terms of food, grocery shopping, etc.
  • There is a nice little public bath (sento) almost visible from our apartment window. Maybe a 3 minute walk door to door (though here is where I have to admit that I shamefully have not actually been to it yet!)
  • There are a ton of great restaurants, izakayas, etc, within 10-15 minutes. There is a somewhat well known area near Oimachi station with a bunch of tiny little side streets with bunches of tiny little izakaya and restaurant. Four or five nice grocery stores within 15 minutes walking. It’s not that “special” compared to other halfway major stations in Tokyo, but still.

Some bad things..

There are some bad things, specifically:

  • The apartment isn’t cheap. It’s on the top end of our budget when looking for apartments in Tokyo. By US standards it’s reasonable I suppose, but for us currently it’s a significant amount of money
  • The apartment is on the ground floor, which means when we open our windows we often have people looking inside as they walk by. This is something that hasn’t bugged us too much, but it does mean at night we aren’t opening our windows wide looking out over the city, we are closing our blinds. There is a plus side to this, which is it’s very easy to get in / out of our apartment, sometimes walking up a few flights of stairs in the morning or at night after a long day is sort of enough to prevent you from wanting to run outside to get a snack at the store or whatever.
  • When we first moved in there were two bad smells
    • The first smell was a sort of sewage small of some sort, LIKELY caused by a water trap being empty (because the apartment was new). This smell was terrible but went away fairly quickly after we moved
    • A lower grade musty / ammonia / ??? smell possibly (likely?) from new construction has been around for a long time. I’m not honestly sure how much of this is because of the relatively fresh concrete (my dad immediately said “smells like fresh concrete” when he visited, honestly I didn’t even consider that) vs the must of having the basement be below ground vs something else. I will say just recently I’ve noticed the smell is generally better and less noticeable, although in our clothing closet I feel like the smell can “build up” if we don’t leave our closet door open.
  • Dust. We are lucky with the new construction in that we have a TON of big vents for lots of airflow, but on the flip side these seem to let in a TON of dust. I imagine living on the first floor next to a small but fairly regularly trafficked road doesn’t help. I’ve since installed a bunch of “filters” and am hoping this will improve things
  • The area right around our apartment isn’t super exciting. I’m talking within 5 minutes. The sento being there is pretty awesome, and we have a Lawson, but there isn’t like a HYPER LOCAL (next door) bar or anything like that.
  • I would also say the neighborhood feels halfway between a place where people live and a super hip area. Actually that’s not a good way to describe it… it’s just not a casual, sort of down to earth area, but it also isn’t absolutely hopping. I think because it’s a more expensive area there are more people commuting, going to bed early, waking up early, working hard. Hard to describe, but there is another station one stop South called Omori, when you walk around that area it feels a bit more “salt of the earth” or something, more people walking around in Crocs to get cigarettes and beer at the grocery store, more seedy feeling pachinko parlors, etc. I think in ways I wish our area was a bit more like this just because it is the type of place where you feel like you can let your hair down a bit more vs knowing most people you run into are probably very busy running to their stressful job. This is probably not a fair or accurate assessment of reality, but from a non-Japanese speaking person living in Tokyo the past 4 months this is my general feeling.

Getting to some sort of point

The point I originally wanted to make with this post is that coming to Japan this time felt different. I feel like I have more personal “baggage” which keeps me a bit more grounded. I’m not sure that’s ALL bad though, despite how it sounds. At the same time I want to make the point that I’m really happy, and there are a lot of moments of true joy that I feel on an almost daily basis. I’m living a dream in a huge number of ways. Walking through the quiet, calm, peaceful side streets of Tokyo after a night out with Lindsay, knowing there is so much here for us to explore and learn about, I’m incredibly grateful to have this experience and I’ve mainly been successful in fighting down any sadness I feel knowing this won’t be forever.

I think my biggest hope for myself is that out of this time I have to live in Tokyo, I find something to take with me that enriches the remainder of my life. I’m not entirely certain what that means to be honest, I just really hope I can come away from Tokyo with something that in 5 or 10 years when I’m feeling sad, or like life is hard, I can use. I guess maybe a better way to say it is that I hope in a way I can turn my time into an investment in my future, vs just a fun period of time I enjoy.

ALSO, a few more things to note just for the ol’ memory banks to be jogged when I read this in 10 years:

  • I had an amazing trip with some friends (without Lindsay, who had to work!) to Nasu and hiking / climbing some mountains, which culminated in this frankly amazing mountain onsen / lodge that was absolutely incredible (this is just a small video from the walk from the lodge up to the open bath, which was incredible at night under the stars with a cold beer in hand)
  • Lindsay and I are currently as I type this in Hong Kong, and will be here over Xmas 2023.
  • We’ll be going to Macau for a day as well, which will be fun I’m sure (or at least hope – I just booked round trip tickets for 120 bucks for an 8 hour stay, I’m hoping we aren’t ready to go home after an hour or something!)
  • We had an amazing trip to Nikko together for a long weekend which was great. Stayed in this old youth hostel on a river, really amazing time.
  • We feel like we have endless things to explore in Tokyo, it’s almost overwhelming to think about how much we don’t know and haven’t seen (yet it’s becoming a bit more familiar on the whole)
  • We’re starting Japanese classes officially next month, which is huge, because the language barrier and intimidation we feel is perhaps the hardest thing about living here.

OK, what a mess of a blog post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *