Things have been so hectic lately that I’ve had no time at all to concentrate on the internet, let alone blog about anything. I haven’t even had time to get out for a walk or run, to take, pictures, or contact friends and family. First it was the end-of-the-year business of student tests and make up courses, attempted semblances of preparing for the coming classes, and university administration. All the other teachers had already taken off while I sat in the office typing away. In one way it was good, because I was just too busy to think about being the only person in the entire school sitting there at night while a storm blew itself to smithereens outside the window.
The next step was looking for an apartment to move to. For the last two and a half months I’d been staying at the university guesthouse to give myself time to settle into the job, get used to the area, learn about where the best place might be to live, and relieve the enormous expense of continuing to maintain the old apartment where my wife will remain until I’m settled down and she can find a place in Tokyo, while at the same time renting a second apartment. I had to look for the cheapest place possible and think about something that would allow me to get around without a car. This of course limited my options pretty severely. The original area I wanted to move to, called “Toke”, which was actually quite nice and very convenient, ended up not having any apartments available in my price range, so I decided to use a so-called “short-term apartment service” with the nationwide company Leopalace. I found an apartment in a small town called “Naruto”, which, location-wise is not bad, in that it is about a 15 minute bicycle ride from the university, has a direct train connection to Tokyo, is about an hour bicycle ride from the Pacific Ocean, sits right near a big area of hills and forests where I can go for the long walks that I’ve so longed to do, and has the basic amenities needed for daily living, but it certainly is a run-down little place, and the apartment building itself located at the end of a drab and stark end of town. I keep wondering if I’m going to be all right, what with everything changing, not knowing anyone (and because I am a foreigner, very unlikely in making friends with any neighbors), and all that is happening with my wife still raw and uncertain. So far apartment hunting, within the maddening Japanese system (on average you have to pay six months’ rent when starting out, only two of which come back when you leave… and then even that maybe be dipped into by the landlord for “cleaning expenses”), is as always a frustrating and infuriating experience. Japanese renters don’t need guarantors when using Leopalace, but when I sat in front of the agent yesterday before signing the contract I was informed, “You will need a guarantor.” When I asked why, he responded, while wringing his hands and apologizing profusely, “Because you are a foreigner.”
“What difference does that make?” I asked, feeling the bile quickly rise.
“Too many foreigners suddenly disappear without paying rent,” he said.
“Excuse me, Sir, but that is an outright lie. Japanese do the same thing. And I’m certain that if you look at your records you will find nothing to suggest that foreigners are less trustworthy than Japanese.”
He looked appropriately ashamed and then shook his head, “Be that as it may, you need a guarantor. And your guarantor must be Japanese.”
It was useless to argue. This happened everywhere in Japan, legally, and there was nothing a foreigner could do. I wanted then and there to make all the thousands of Japanese living abroad go through the same experience, many of whom have the audacity to come back to Japan and subject foreigners here to such racist policies, with the unending excuse, “This is Japan”, as if that explains anything.
“Oh,” continued the agent, “Even though the advertisement for Leopalace says that it doesn’t matter when you decide to leave the apartment… you can stay as little as two weeks if you like… we do have the stipulation that if you leave before fulfilling the year-long contract you will have to pay a Â¥50,000 ($500.00) penalty.”
I thought I would grab his tie and twist it several turns too tight. “That’s cheating,” I said between gritted teeth. “After looking at all those apartments, reading your advertisements, and you telling me all this time that I could leave any time, now you tell me that I have to pay more if I leave before the year is done? Of all the underhanded…”
He smiled. “It’s still much cheaper than getting a regular apartment.”
And that was the catch. It was true. I couldn’t argue with him on that point. And I had no other choice.
Seething, I signed the contract and handed over the money. Things like this make me hate Japan and the Japanese. Constantly they have foreigners over a barrel and legally there is nothing we can do to fight back. My Japanese friend who was helping me with all this gave me a glance and I could see the anger there… that at least reminded me that not all Japanese are like Leopalace or agree with such practices. Afterwards my friend condemned Leopalace with a few fierce, reluctant tears. “I’m ashamed to be Japanese,” were the words that came out.
For the next week it will be packing boxes, throwing away accumulated junk, stripping the apartment of the last five years of my presence. It is almost like erasing myself. Meanwhile my wife lingers and the memories harangue her. She sent an email the other day talking of having had nightmares. It seems as if every other sentence we say to one another is, “Are you okay?” We both smile and answer, “Yes, don’t worry about me,” in an attempt to alleviate the worry and sadness of the other, but the truth is that we are both not all right. One person even said, I guess in an attempt to be understanding and helpful, “You are not the first to go through a divorce and feel this way.” How do you respond to that? It is almost as if I ought to feel guilty about being sad and broken up, as if I am somehow weak and immature for the devastation that my wife and I feel. Others say, “Make it swift and clean. Get it over with.” That might very well be the answer to how to deal with all this, but I suspect that there is no one in the world who really knows what to do or has the right answer to any of it. Personally I cannot for the life of me understand people who end up hating each other. It seems utterly selfish and immature, a complete unwillingness to accept that the other is a separate person, that things change, that just because something painful happens or someone you love needs to move on, you must therefore resent the other person for their wanting to do what they want to do. I will always love my wife. She will love me. We love one another simply for the other being who they are. And that love extends to each other whether we are together or not.
Gosh, I ended up writing about this personal topic even though I didn’t want to reveal such things on the blog. I guess holding it all inside is just too much. There is no one else to tell it to, so it has come spilling out here. I hope I haven’t stepped on anyone’s sensibilities.
One more day till 2007. I hope all of you have restful and memorable holidays. I’ll be thinking of you.
Hot tea all around!
Peace and Good Medicine.