Saturday, January 14, 2006
It's another dreary, rainy day--a good time to look at a house, when sunshine won't make up for deficiencies, and we can see the place at its worst. We got smart and took a cab to the back gate this time, to meet the new real estate agent. The car was a brand new miniature station wagon, and our host was a thin, elegant, mustachioed gentleman in a suit and tie. His English was limited, but certainly better than our Japanese! He bowed solemnly, and drove off smoothly--a far cry from the insanity of the day before! The drive was relatively short this time, about fifteen minutes through narrow city streets. We drove over a bridge stretched across a man-made canal, squeezed into a narrow lane beside a big, industrial warehouse, and there it was...House #2. As we pulled up, the clouds parted and the sun came out. An omen?
The house itself is perched on a sharp little hill, with a small ledge of garden all the way around, dropping away to the street level 10 to 20 feet below. There is a little shed for garden tools in the front, perched over the "garage", which is basically a narrow cave burrowed into the hill. The plantings, though crowded, are camellia, daffodils, azaleas and various other little flowering trees and shrubs, with lichen-covered rocks here and there, a stone lantern, and a lovely, very tiny fish pond.
The view from the front door of the house is of the warehouse and industrial area, but over the warehouse can be seen other houses perched on hills and the sides of ravines, and the misty mountains over everything. Our real estate agent assured us that the workers at the warehouse only made a little noise, and the noise was confined to the 9 to 5 hours. On the other three sides of the house, on different levels of ground, are neighboring houses, and the canal. Though FH thought the canal was for sewage (!) it's actually for rainwater during the rainy season and is very clean. (In the city, structures seem temporary and flimsy and run down--but the Japanese are extremely germ conscious, and although something may look like it's falling down, it's always very clean.)
There is no sidewalk, or a straight residential street the way we think of a neighborhood street...instead, the twisty little alley runs beside the warehouse and between houses almost randomly. The houses don't face the path, but instead seem to face wherever they might fit best on the uneven terrain. One house might show a profile to the street, another its back door and laundry line. I wonder how anyone can find an address, especially delivery people! At the corner of the warehouse, in a direct line with the front door of House #2, is a small shrine with greenery and tangerines in front of the small, rough stone pillar with carved and gilded kanji. Our real estate agent explained it was a shrine to the mountain god. (FH thought he said "mountain goat" at first, and was confused as to why there would be a shrine to a mountain goat in the middle of the city!)
The decorative gate at the street level opens to a steep, short flight of stairs to the front door of the house, and the front gate, the lock and the knob of the door are as ornate as the house is austere. It's a boxy house, and has a flat roof instead of the tile roofs of most of its neighbors, and the sliding glass window/doors everywhere except at the very front. Though it is not as "traditional" as the Dream House, there are still uniquely Japanese elements. The foyer is ceramic tiled, with a large cupboard for guest's shoes, and slippers laid out for guest use. There are stairs to mount from the entry to the rest of the house (anything worthwhile in Japan...) The center room is a big tatami room, and the altar and carved main beam are in this room, along with shoji screens on three sides. The rest of the house is relatively open (again, about 1,700 square feet) and despite some elements I consider sort of shabby (colored translucent contact paper on several glass doors and windows for privacy, instead of curtains or blinds), the house could be filled with color and light and made very comfortable for us both. There is a charming little balcony, and the traditional Japanese bath is very nice, with a deep (though short) tub. The toilet has a heated seat (yippee!!), which seems very common in Japan, and I'm sure it's welcome in these cold houses!
There's a brick fireplace in the living room, which is surprising. I think there must have been a gas line there at one point, but it's been sealed, so now the only choices would be vent-free gas logs (do they even have those in Japan?) or a Flamenco logset. A small satellite dish is already installed, and we are certain we could get decent Internet access (a necessity for us both). There is room for all our needs, from separate computer work spaces to a guestroom (or two!) And the kitchen has plenty of room for the government-provided full-sized fridge, stove, washer and dryer.
Though this house is not as romantic and wonderful as the Dream House, it is large, with a reasonable commute...and it's within walking distance to the bus line. We wouldn't have the views and the mysticism of the mountains and rice paddies, but being IN a neighborhood, with the shops a short walk away, would lead to a much better chance of community involvement as well as making Japanese friends. When we make friends on the base, House #2 is about halfway between Main Base and Hario, and we'd be more likely to have our invitations accepted by other Navy folks than we would if we lived 40 minutes from Main Base and over an hour from Hario. And if I give English classes, I'll be more likely to have students willing to come to my house!
The real estate agent for this house made me feel much more comfortable than the first agent. He took out a pad and a pen, and solemnly followed me from room to room and around the entire outside of the house, making notes as I pointed out questions to him (a grate leading to the crawl space had fallen out, an old, disconnected water heater sat rusting against one wall of the house in the back, etc.) He also let us know that the landlord would mow and weed the whole property once, when we moved in, then it would be our responsibility for the garden upkeep. We were welcome to use the little shed and the gardening tools inside. I love the thought of digging in the soil and planting things while watching the neighborhood around me, smiling and nodding to passersby.
As we left the house, the clouds rolled back in and the rain began again. We had sunshine and blue skies ONLY while we were looking at the house, funny enough! Our gentlemanly real estate agent delivered us to the back gate with a minimum of fuss and a genteel bow. We walked back to the Navy Lodge, discussing the three options we have so far (Main Base townhouse, Dream House and House #2). As much as we both want the romance of Dream House, practicality really sort of puts it out of the running. If only it was closer, or the road not quite so steep! I think Main Base is drab, but can live with it if necessary. FH's not thrilled with House #2--I think because of the warehouse and the unfair comparisons to Dream House. Perhaps if we'd never seen Dream House, we'd both be happy with House #2. Who knows?