Adventures in Tiny Living!
This is the westerly-facing back end of Orine's apartment. And there's Sugoi on the table. Say hi, Sugoi!
Most Japanese homes, especially in Tokyo, do not have a dryer. They pretty much all have built-in racks or hooks for drying clothes. For example, there is one running across the two-foot-wide balcony on the other side of the slider there. In fact, that's all the balcony is for really: drying clothes and housing a slim AC unit (and a metal, roll-down ladder in case of fire).
You can also see two round latches for hooks hanging from the ceiling. Home goods stores here are full of clever contraptions for drying many "clotheses" (as Orine calls them) at one time.
Everything is designed to maximize space, such as the multi-purpose table on the floor. That's pretty much where you do anything, and it's typically cleared and cleaned after every use. And yes, they really do kneel or sit on the floor at home. It's actually a tad unusual (not rare, but unusual) to have a raised bed like that.
It helps that the Japanese do all this squatting and kneeling from a very young age. They build up the tendons for it. (Mine, not so much.) But they still use a pad of some kind -- traditionally a woven straw mat a couple inches thick called a tatami. Most modern homes will have hardwood like this, with a spongy, padded carpet like you see here.
As an aside, since tatami dimensions were set long ago (and haven't changed) you will often see rooms described by the number of tatami mats they accommodate rather than their square footage. Same for apartment listings.
In the foreground of the picture is a bean bag chair. At the back is a seat without legs, where I spend most of my time, including now as I type this. I've found that my biggest reason for going to a cafe these days -- I don't actually have to get out -- is just so I can sit at a table in a normal chair.
Most cafes and restaurants will have regular seating like that, and even many (though not all) traditional places will give people a choice between tatami or Western-style seating. Some even have a recessed floor under the table so that your butt is on tatami but your legs dangle -- like a chair with no back. It's kind of odd, especially since the wait staff have to walk over and kneel.
Above is my morning set-up in the "kitchen" -- ground coffee in a tear-open packet that hangs in a filter over the cup and into which you pour boiling water from the electric tea kettle (which is really, really fast).
The Japanese use light cream rather than half and half, and cafes all have these tiny packets -- just like our liquid creamer containers only smaller (since you need less). It's close enough for me.
No toaster here. Sometimes people have toaster ovens, but there's generally no space for a single-use appliance like a toaster. Plus they don't eat toast often, or bread much at home, although you can get a delicious French-style pastry pretty much anywhere. In fact, they're second only to Europe there.
Bread is sold in bags of 3-5 slices. That's it. But each slice is enormously thick, like Texas toast, and so has a million calories or something. Skippy is pretty much the only peanut butter you can find. It's sold in small jars and from what I understand hardly anyone eats it.
Japanese stores also sell all their produce individually wrapped, including bananas in set bundles of four (or less often three or five), which is actually bad since bananas release a chemical that hastens their own ripening and subsequent spoiling. (If you want your bananas to ripen faster, seal them in a plastic bag.)
There are no shopping carts as we know them. They have handheld baskets like ours and that's what they all use. There are rolling cradles if you want to push yours. Most people do.
Of course, small baskets means they have to go to the grocery store often, but then stores are everywhere and no one has space to stock up anyway. Pretty much you just have a mini fridge in which to fit everything, so milk and orange juice and the like are sold in single-liter paper cartons -- just like ours with the fold-open top, just narrower and with less inside!
Restaurants and convenience stores are every six feet. Okay I exaggerate. Maybe every eight feet. Seriously, there are three convenience stores, seven restaurants, a bakery, a bento shop, a cafe, and a produce stand just in the five blocks from here to the subway station. I counted. It's normal to stop on your way to/from the station to get what you need for the following meal or next day, or just stop and eat at a little noodle shop as Orine is doing tonight on her way home.
It's generally way cheaper to eat out here, I think because there are so many people and everyone does it (cuz it's a hassle to cook in your tiny space at home) and so they have some real economies of scale.
However, I don't think eating out here is cheaper than buying groceries and home-cooking in the states, so in that sense, food is more expensive.
Produce is definitely more expensive, but it actually has flavor, and so you don't mind. I love eating vegetables here, whereas at home it's always always always a chore. And the giant-sized grapes... I've already eaten three or four bunches since I've been here. The oranges are pretty fuckin awesome too.
Mini fridge, microwave, rice cooker, and all the space for storing dry goods, which as you can see ain't much.
Front door with shoe-receptacle area. Yes, you really take your shoes off. Every time. It's rude to leave them on, sort of like intentionally walking over freshly-poured concrete.
Shower. Wash first, then bathe. You don't get into standing water here unless your hair, face, hands, ass, armpits, and everything are already spotless. In the old days, bath water would have been shared. At public baths (and I'm sure in some homes) it still is. You don't want to be dunking your head in someone else's poopy ass water, so don't do it to them. Wash first. Then bathe.
Washing machine is just to the left, along with the "bathroom" sink, all right there by the front door! You better hope someone doesn't come home when you step out of the shower. (Orine will often take a folding mirror and do her makeup on the multipurpose table in the living space.)
Cans, bottles, and glass are recycled, and you get in trouble if you don't do it. (Everything else is burned -- typically no landfills here.) However, they only pick it up every so often, and there's no place to take it, so you end up with little piles... And invariably you miss the day and have to wait until next week, because you also get in trouble for taking your bags down early.
Finally, this is the view from Orine's balcony.
That's a car dealership right in back of us. They have no room, just like everyone else, and so have to spread up instead of out. If you show up in a car, you have to park in a teeny, tiny garage under the building.
Pretty much everything else you see is housing. And that's what Tokyo is: a seemingly endless block puzzle of housing units of every size fit together in the world's greatest game of Tetris. It just goes on and on and on...
I wish I could describe it better, the sense you get as you pass all on this on an elevated train platform and realize that your packed neighborhood, with its multiple convenience stores and billion little restaurants, is repeated over and over and over and over for miles and miles.
And it's all clean. And safe. And well-stocked. And the trains run on time. The taxi drivers are still dicks, though. That seems to be a human universal.