Tomo Life

22Jul06

Of course, since Jess and I had gotten no sleep the night before, we were really exhausted and after an early evening at Akihabara we really had no energy to do anything except go back to Tomo’s place in Sendagi. Tomo’s wife Mariko prepared the most delicious niku-jaga (um, that would be “meat and potatoes” in English), and fresh bamboo shoots as well. And after that we got to soak in the tub.

Tomo’s and Mariko’s new home is technically a condo, but so different in layout from a typical American condo that the language doesn’t really seem to fit. In terms of floor space it’s not giant, but there are three floors, and rooftop space as well, and the vertical transition creates both a sense of openness and a sense of privacy. The bottom floor is taken up by the bathroom, which is a Japanese-style bathroom with a shower area, and then a tub for soaking in once you have cleaned yourself off thoroughly in the shower. The water in the tub is kept at a constant temperature and a cover is put on the tub between uses to keep the heat in. The toilet itself is in a separate room, which is also typical of Japanese-style houses (and older San Francisco apartments). Personally, I’ve always been a disestablishmentarian when it comes to toilets and showers. The second floor consists of a small living area and a kitchen (washing machine included), the third floor contains the bedroom and a large office area with storage, and the fourth floor is the roof level with a small patio and clotheslines to hang out the washing. From the very top of the building you can see Tokyo Tower on a clear day.

Here’s a photo of Tomo pressing the button that raises his Citroën from out of the ground as if it were a sweet potato being uncovered for glorious consumption. Because there is so little parking in Tokyo, it’s necessary to use mechanically operated “stacked” spaces. There are three banks of spaces at Tomo’s place, and each bank contains three vertical slots for cars. By throwing the switch you raise the lift to the appropriate height, and then you drive your car out into the staging area. I’m referring to a “staging area” because, in the case of Tomo’s apartment, you can’t just drive right out of the lot. The space is so tight that the car has to be driven from the lift onto a kind of hydraulic Lazy Susan that then turns until the car is pointed in the proper direction. At this point you can finally drive the thing out. Of course, since Tomo drives a Citroën with hydraulic suspension, there are a couple of more minutes of waiting as the car warms up and the suspension raises itself to the proper height.

This is a shot of Tomo’s in-car navigational system. In the States I pretty much scoff at these things, but in Japan — especially in a major urban area — they’re really useful. While the States has a fairly rational (and often grid-based) system of assigning addresses, Japan’s antiquated chome system can be incredibly frustrating. Many streets in Japan have no names, including the street that I live on and all the streets in my neighborhood. Instead of street signs there are neighborhood maps posted at various junctions that simply list all of the building numbers in a given area. None of the streets in my neighborhood are straight, and the houses tend to look remarkably similar. It’s at times like this that you need a navigation system. Even in major city centers, like Shibuya, the streets aren’t named and directions are mostly given via landmarks (“Leave the station via Exit #4, take a right until you reach the Tsutaya, at the Tsutaya take another right, until you find a small alley with a run-down ramen shop on the right corner. Take a left at the alley until you reach the hair shop with the yellow sign. Enter the door on your right, and the place you’re looking for is on the third floor.”) It’s at times like this that you wish you could have a navi in your mobile. And in fact — now you can.



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