Posts Tagged ‘Kichijoji’

Shunbun no hi

Posted 18 Mar 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Events, Only in Japan, Photography, Tokyo, Weather

This coming Sunday is shunbun no hi, or Vernal Equinox Day. Traditionally, on this day Japanese people would visit their ancestral graves and hold family reunions. These days, however, they are more likely to visit Starbucks and hold rat-like Chihuahuas.

Shunbun no hi also marks the beginning of spring. It won’t be long before coats are consigned to the wardrobe and t-shirts once again become acceptable outdoor attire. Fantastic.


For all you avid cherry-blossom watchers out there, sakura trees in Tokyo are expected to flower from the 24th March, and should be in full bloom on around the 1st April. Probably the best place for hanami (lit. “flower watching”) in Tokyo is Shinjuku Gyoen, which is pictured above in its late summer guise. It’s a tranquil green oasis in an otherwise concrete-filled desert. Yoyogi and Ueno parks are also good bets, but whatever you do, don’t bother with Inokashira Park in Kichijoji – it’s absolutely rubbish, you’d hate it.

Non-stop noise

Posted 26 Jul 2008 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category News, Personal, Photography, Tokyo

High summer is an awful time to be in Tokyo, when temperatures exceed 30ºC on a daily basis. What makes it even worse this year is the non-stop noise from outside our apartment.

From 8.30am to 5pm we have the demolition crew, who have been clearing the land next to our apartment to make way for a new car showroom. They expect to finish everything by March 2009:

Then from 7pm to 3am we have the roadworks posse, who are laying new gas pipes underneath the main road. They have at least five light-sabre-wielding traffic monitors along a 50-metre stretch of road, one of whom you can see here:

Thankfully I usually don’t get back from work until after 7pm on weekdays so I miss the demolition. However, the $#&%ers insist on working Saturdays: I’m currently struggling to hear myself think over the noise of drills, diggers and crushing concete.

Is Japan Expensive? Part 4: Housing and Accomodation

Posted 19 Jul 2008 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Is Japan Expensive?, Photography, Tokyo, UK

Our final post in the series covers probably the single biggest living expense: accommodation. Tokyo, and London especially have a reputation for being two of the most expensive places in the world in terms of rent, so they will be our “test sites”, as it were, for investigation today.

As in earlier posts I’m going to compare the cost of living in two areas: Southgate in north London and Kichijoji in western Tokyo. Let’s begin by finding two relatively decent-sized flats:

For Southgate, I’ve chosen a nice little place in Haddon Court (N1), 0.4 miles from Oakwood station and 0.7 miles from Southgate station:

Southgate flat - outside

For Kichijoji, I’ve chosen this imposing-looking flat in the Honcho 1-chome area, just 7 minutes walk from Kichijoji station:


For Southgate, we have the added bonus of a nice selection of photos of the inside:

Sadly, the website I’ve used to search for flats in Tokyo (apamanshop.com) doesn’t usually post photographs of interiors. They do, however, always have a floor-plan. People often search for places to live in Tokyo by the overall size of the flat (in square metres) and their proximity to the station. The closer to a train station you get, the more expensive rent becomes.

Let’s look at the floor-plans, starting with the Southgate flat, which is 56 sq m:


And the Kichijoji flat, which is slightly bigger at 56.4 sq m:

As you can see, the layout of both is quite different. The Southgate flat has a proper kitchen, where the Kichijoji flat has a combined kitchen and living room (known as a LDK, or “living dining kitchen” – bit of a mouthful). Personally I prefer the separate kitchen offering, as watching TV while someone else (ie the wife) is doing the cooking in the same room is a pain in the arse.

One important factor to note is that the Southgate flat comes fully-furnished at no extra cost. For those who have no furniture of their own this is a great bonus. Unless you’re coming across to Japan with a company your Tokyo flat is highly unlikely to be furnished. People who have been transferred to Japan do very well in this regard, as they are usually placed in ridiculously expensive serviced flats in Azabu-Juban; for those coming across as English teachers, well, you’re not quite going to have the same level of luxury; and with some English schools you may find yourself sharing accommodation with one or two others.

But how about the cost? In basic terms, this is how much each flat will cost you per month:

  • Southgate: £964 (£225 per week ÷ 7 days = £32.14 per day)
  • Kichijoji: £926 (JPY168,000 for rent, plus JPY3,000 for management fees)

So, that’s pretty even, but! there’s one nasty surprise in store if you want to move into the Kichijoji flat: two-months rent in advance as a security deposit! Actually, this flat is much better than many others, which often require an additional two-months rent as “key money”: a non-refundable “thank  you” to your landlord, leaving you paying out a total of four-months rent before you even have your foot through the door.

With regard to discrimination against foreigners renting flats in Japan, I can’t deny that I have heard of it happening, but most of the (single) people I know who rent flats in Tokyo have managed to do so without too much trouble. Obviously it helps to know Japanese, or have a Japanese-speaking friend help you out, but it’s not impossible to do it without either of these.

That brings the “Is Japan Expensive?” series to a close for the time being. In the future I will look at the taxation system in Japan and how it affects foreign residents, but this is a very complex issue and I simply haven’t got the time to do it at the moment!

Exchange rate used correct as of 19 July 2008 (£1=JPY213.69).

Is Japan Expensive? Part 1: Travel

Posted 11 Jun 2008 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Is Japan Expensive?, Only in Japan, Osaka, Tokyo, Travel, UK

Is the UK more expensive than Japan these days? Over the next few posts I’ll be exploring just how much things cost in both countries. Let’s start with travel:

Travel by car:

First off, we’ll need to buy a car to get around in. I’ve chosen two examples here: the VW Golf R32, which is a beast of a machine; and a Honda Civic, which is your general pootling-about vehicle.

Japanese road tax varies from ¥10-50,000 (approx. £50-250) depending on engine size; in the UK road tax can be anything from £35 to £400. Our sample cars would probably fall into the higher and medium-range tax brackets, respectively:

Golf R32 (Same model in both countries – 3-door MT)

  • UK price: £24,950
  • JP price: £19,610 (¥4,114,286)

Honda Civic (Japan – 1.8G, 5-door MT; UK – Civic 1.4S, 3-door MT. Both were the cheapest possible models I could find)

  • JP price: £9,231 (¥1,937,250)
  • UK price: £13,410

So for a simple purchase, Japan wins on both counts. Of course, Japan’s motorways are tolled, whereas the UK is – with one or two exceptions – free, which is something to take into account when thinking about travelling long distances. And there’s the added cost of a parking space, which would probably cost somewhere in the region of ¥30,000 (approx. £150) per month around west Tokyo.

Fuel prices are easy to compare. I’ve chosen a representative suburb of London and Tokyo from which to work on: Southgate in North London and Kichijoji in west Tokyo. Both are around the same distance from the political and financial centres of their respective cities:

Petrol (regular unleaded, per litre):

  • UK price: £1.13
  • JP price: £0.83 (¥164)

Blimey, that’s quite a huge difference!

Commuting:

First off, I should point out that most (95%+) Japanese companies pay for the cost of their employees’ commute to work, which is usually by train. This may happen with some companies in the UK, but is far less common.

For our sample journey, I’m again going to use Southgate (London) and Kichijoji (Tokyo) as our representative suburbs. I’ve picked Southgate to Westminster and Kichijoji to Ichigaya as our routes. Both take approximately the same length of time and cover the same distance, travelling from the outer suburbs to the centre of their respective cities. Let’s start with a monthly rail pass:

  • UK price: £132.90 – Southgate to Westminster, Zones 1-4
  • JP price £42.01 (¥8,890) – Kichijoji to Ichigaya

The big difference with both of these passes, apart from the huge gulf in price, is that with a pass in London you would be able to travel anywhere within Zones 1-4. With the Tokyo pass you would be able to travel anywhere between Kichijoji and Ichigaya for free, provided you use the same train line (in this case the JR Chuo-Sobu line). That’s good if you want to travel to, say, Shinjuku, but for the other “centres” of Tokyo you’d have to pay a little bit extra each time.

To make it a bit fairer, let’s compare the price of a one-way journey along the same routes:

  • UK price: £2.50 – Southgate to Westminster
  • JP price: £1.38 (¥290) – Kichijoji to Ichigaya

Tokyo still comes out on top, but the price difference isn’t quite as enormous.

Long-distance rail travel:

Japan is famous for their shinkansen (bullet trains), so I couldn’t write a post about travel without mentioning them at some point, could I? I’ve personally never had that much trouble with high-speed trains in the UK, but I’m sure there are millions who have, and who would be more than happy to recount their horror stories.

For high-speed trains, I’ve chosen London-Newcastle (270 miles) for the UK, and Tokyo-Osaka (343 miles) for Japan. Despite the extra 130 miles covered by our Japanese train it still manages to reach its destination more than 20 minutes ahead of its British counterpart (2hrs 36mins for Tokyo-Osaka and 2hrs 59mins for London-Newcastle).

Pricing is a bit different for both countries. In the UK it’s possible to get hugely discounted high-speed train tickets provided you book well in advance; in Japan shinkansen tickets are – in general – the same no matter how far in advance you book. To make it fair, I’ve compared the price for an open-single ticket for both (travel at any time of the day, on any train):

  • UK price: £124.50 – London King’s Cross to Newcastle, standard open single ticket
  • JP price: £66.07 (¥13,850) – Tokyo to Shin Osaka, reserved seat

The shinkansen looks much cheaper here, but bearing in mind the booking-in-advance rule in the UK, it really isn’t: I could get a return ticket from London to Newcastle for £66 provided I sorted it out a week or two in advance.

That’s all for this post. Look out for “Part 2: Household Goods”, where I’ll be comparing the price of TVs, sofas and other assorted gubbins!

(Prices based on 11th June 2008 exchange rates: 1GBP = 209.55JPY)

Home schweet home

Posted 11 Dec 2007 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Photography, Tokyo

Balcony, facing west:

Balcony - west

Balcony, facing east:

Balcony - east

Bedroom:

Bedroom

Spare room:

Spare room

From the spare room, looking towards Ikebukuro:

Towards Ikebukuro, from the spare room

Kitchen:

Kitchen

Living room:

Living room

The brutalist exterior:

Cell Block H

My street:

My street

Typhoon No. 9

Posted 08 Sep 2007 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Engrish, Photography, Tokyo, Weather

Thursday night saw the arrival of Typhoon No. 9 in Tokyo, and it was a big ‘un: Winds reached speeds of 90 kph, at least two people died, and the city’s transportation network was thrown into chaos.

Meanwhile, I slept through the entire event, waking up at 8am to look out of the living room window to remark that it ‘looks a bit windy out’. Things seem to be back to normal now, at least in western Tokyo. The emergency services are well prepared for disasters – when you expect earthquakes to flatten everything at least once a century, dealing with typhoons must be more of a sort of training exercise for the Big Event, which will hopefully happen when I’m not here.

I came across an Engrish of staggering outrageousness today:

A what-burger?

Continuing the phallic theme, I discovered this air freshener in an izakaya last week:

Phallic air freshener

Kaiten-zushi (回転寿司)

Posted 09 Dec 2006 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Food, Only in Japan, Photography, Tokyo

Sushi chefs working it

This week, chilblains, we will be talking about kaiten-zushi, otherwise known as conveyor belt sushi. Kaiten-zushi restaurants have a conveyor belt running around the counter table upon which plates of sushi are placed. You can choose to either shout your order to one of the sushi chefs, or simply take whatever you like from the conveyor belt. The quality and price vary, but last night we visited a first-class establishment called Magurobito (literally meaning tuna-person), which is located underneath Kichijoji station.

As you are no doubt aware, I have a penchant for trying absolutely any kind of food that is shoved under my face. So then, yesterday I had the following:

Sea urchin sushi

This is sea urchin. I had no idea what to expect when I tried this. The outer shell is rock-hard, and the only edible parts are the small orange blobs of… stuff splattered around the inside. It tasted a bit like a liquidised oyster, which is either not bad or absolutely God-awful, depending on your taste. I think this one cost about ¥700 (around GBP3.50), which is quite expensive considering how little you actually get to eat. Hmm… Andy’s verdict – 6/10.

Whale sushi!

Greenpeace members turn away! This is whale-meat. I couldn’t work out if it was raw or cooked, which leads me to believe it probably tastes the same no matter what you do with it. The cat poo-shaped blobs on top are grated ginger. It tasted like very fatty tuna, and the ginger was a bit overwhelming. I’ve heard that few people in Japan eat whale meat these days, and to be honest I’m not surprised when fish tastes much nicer. Makes you wonder why they bother with whaling at all really (the excuse is always “scientific purposes”, but I really don’t see what kind of scientific information they’ll glean from a 10 tonne carcass) Andy’s verdict: 7/10.

Stack 'em!

The price of each item is based on plate colour. Each place has it’s own pricing system so you really need to check before snatching the first thing that passes by on the conveyor. As you can see, we had a fair few plates. The plates have RF chips embedded in them, so when it comes to totalling up the bill the waitress simply has to wave a wand-like device over the plates, rather than counting everything by hand. This means they can get more customers in and out of the door during busy periods. I thought it was a pretty snazzy way of finding a practical use for new technology, rather than all that weird bollocks they would show on the BBC’s “Tomorrow’s World” (“Jet-powered dogs: the future of travel!”).

A Rude Awakening

Posted 11 Sep 2006 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Events, Food, Japanese Language, Only in Japan, Photography, Tokyo, Video, Weather

At around 3am this morning I witnessed the biggest thunderstorm I have ever seen in my life. Without any warning whatsoever the heavens opened, lightning struck surrounding buildings disturbingly frequently, and the thunder was loud enough to violently shake the windows.

And I didn’t get any of this on camera. Bugger.

Giving the god a good hard shake

Kichijoji Matsuri was held this weekend, meaning lots of people walking around in blue pyjamas getting drunk, carrying mikoshi around the local area (portable shrines used to carry gods. God taxis – cool!). Apparently the gods quite enjoy being shaken around a bit to wake them from their slumber, although I’m not sure if anyone has ever actually asked the gods for their opinion on this matter.

There were many different mikoshi, carried by different teams. Some of the more active (i.e. one sake too many) groups can get pretty vocal, like this set of individuals here:

Mmm... crabs

There’s also loads of food stalls to have a wander around (and yes, the ubiqitous kebab trucks are here as well. There’s just no escaping them). I’m especially fond of the fried baby crabs. They’re soft enough to be eaten whole, legs and all, and they’re fantastic. I’m quite aware they look like something out of The Thing, but really, they’re great!

In other news, we attended a residents group meeting for our apartment, which was about as interesting as it sounds. Most of the people living in our place are retired so we were the youngest people there by a good thirty years. Luckily they’re all really nice, and had some particulary amusing ideas on what should be done in case of The Big Earthquake (ten years overdue, apparently). Nakada-san – the group leader and ex-university professor – suggested climbing the stairs to the roof and waiting for a fire service helicopter to pick them up. His wife kindly pointed out that the fire service might have a few more important matters to attend to in a city of 30 million people.

Tokyo's suburban sprawl

One exeptionally good point to come out of the meeting was that we were given the key to the rooftop. Apparently we should have been given it when we moved in last year but Nakada-san forgot. The views from the rooftop are supoib, you can see Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, even Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Tower (yes, I know you can’t see very much in the photo, but trust me, you can see it). We’re also allowed to have parties and stuff up there any time we like which is great during summer. Apparently the old folks are having a full moon party next month, which I absolutely must attend at all costs.

Tokyo skyline (sort of)

I’ve foolisly decided to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test in December, although recently I’ve put in absolutely no effort in when it comes to studying. Methinks I should stop writing this and get some revision done!

Monday mornings

Posted 29 Aug 2006 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Only in Japan, Tokyo, Work

I wake, and turn my head to face the alarm clock on top of the bookshelf. It’s 7.30am.

7.30? Bollocks. My alarm went off twenty minutes ago. I don’t even remember waking up and turning it off.

Faster than a weasel on speed, I throw myself out of bed and blindly pick out a shirt from the wardrobe. Have I even ironed this shirt? Probably not, but it will have to do. The trousers go on, and as for a tie, well I’ll just throw this blue stripey one in my bag and sort it out later. Jump into the bathroom, brush my teeth and wash my face. Now I’m ready to face the world.

Heading out of the door, I slip my shoes on in one fluid movement that can only come from months of waking up late for work. No time to bend down and put my heel in properly, I’ll do it in the lift.

The lift doors open. There’s already someone inside, it’s the small chubby fella, I think he lives on the seventh floor, probably with his parents. Crikey, he looks even worse than me. Strands of his hair reach out in all directions, as if they’re trying desparately to escape from his scalp. His suit has creases in places I’d never thought possible, and his tie is hanging round his collar like a dead snake. Possibly an adder, I’d say.
Then I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror….

Jesus Christ, I have an afro quiff!

The lift doors open again. We’re on the first floor, the afro quiff will have to remain. Snake Tie Boy snaps out of his morning trance and lunges out first. I fall out second, hopping around on one foot, trying to fit my heel inside my shoe with my left hand. I must look like a drunk flamingo. BUT, no time to worry about appearances, I have a train to catch.

Bursting through the front doors of the apartment block entrance, I spy Snake Tie Boy, already a good ten metres ahead of me. I step up a gear and begin speed walking towards the station. Snake Tie Boy gives me the slip by taking a side alley. Coward. The streets are busy, not with cars, but bicycles. As I head up the road waves of cyclists speed by every minute or so, flowing in time to the pattern of the traffic lights – High school boys carry impossibly huge sports bags full of baseball gear on one shoulder. Salarymen, their briefcases wedged into the shopping basket, weave deftly past the uni students, who have decided that cycling is a perfect time to also send text messages on their mobile phones – amazingly, every day this happens, and no-one crashes into each other.

I make it to the station. No, wait, I’m across the street from the station, waiting for the green man to let me cross. I’m surrounded by what seems like half the population of Tokyo. We’re all waiting to cross, like one big happy family of half-asleep, pissed off office workers. Some part time workers are handing out small packs of tissues with a flyer inside to we, the waiting masses. They’re advertising yet another pachinko parlour. Great, that’s all we need. And anyway, I think to myself, why do they bother giving out tissues in the middle of summer? If I try and wipe away the sweat with those, I’ll end up with bits of tissue stuck all over my face.

That particular thought comes to an abrupt end when the green man signal lights up. My happy family and myself swarm across the street and separate out through the various station entrances, like worker ants searching for the best route home. I take the quietest route and stride up two sets of escalators. I check my watch, it’s 8am. Just in time.

The ticket barrier looms before me, I reach into my trouser pocket to take out my wallet and… shit! Where’s my wallet? I stop dead in my tracks just a couple of steps from the barrier, but the mass of people following behind me don’t notice and thump, thump, thump… a human pile up develops in seconds. I franticly fumble through my bag for my wallet, finally finding it wedged inside some awful Franz Kafka book I’ve been forcing myself to read. I pull out my train pass, and stuff it into the ticket barrier. The machine greedily accepts the pass, and spits it out on the other side for me to swipe up and slide back into my wallet.

Two trains are waiting, both bound for Shibuya, the only difference is one leaves in four minutes and the other leaves in… let me check my watch… bloody hell, right now! At the same time, the all-so-familiar “breeeeeeee” sound leaps from the tannoy system, indicating the train doors are about to close. Quicker than a cheetah in spandex I fly towards the nearest door. The train is already full to more than capacity, but this is Tokyo, where no-one’s ever heard of “full to capacity”.

Like a true salaryman, I squeeze my body into the last remaining free square inches left aboard the train. The doors begin to close, everyone holds their breath as yet another person flings himself at the rapidly shrinking opening. Who does he think he his, Indiana Jones? He manages to get his lower half inside, but the top half is still outside, and the doors slam against his shoulders. For a second the doors open again, allowing him to brace his hands on the door frame and push the rest of his body inside, I hear other passengers groan as the air is squashed out of their lungs.

I can’t breathe, I think I’m going to die soon, but the doors finally slam shut, and everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief. Indiana Jones can’t help but display a smug grin at having managed to make it on board. Personally, I’d love to smack him in the face, but am so squashed that I can no longer feel my arms.

Ten minutes and three stations pass by. A few passengers get off and I claim a space near the doorway. There’s a middle-aged executive type stood next to me. Despite it being the middle of summer he continues to wear a heavy looking navy suit, and has to frequently wipe the sweat from his brow using a cute little light blue hankerchief from his top pocket. Of course, this does nothing to alleviate the huge sweat mark covering half his back, but he doesn’t seem too bothered about that. All of the passengers who managed to get a seat are sleeping, or at least pretending to sleep. There’s a teenage boy – probably a university student – who is out like a light, his head lolling back and forth like one of those plastic dog ornaments. The woman next to him is clearly pissed off by this, gives him the occasional elbow to the ribs and quickly closes her eyes and pretends to be asleep.

Twenty minutes after departing we arrive at my stop. After a little bit of pushing, pulling and sumimasens (“excuse me”), I manage to extract myself onto the platform. I walk towards the stairs, going against the tide of people trying to get on board the train I just left. At this point on the train line, they have to employ station attendants with white gloves to push people inside the train, which is such an amusing sight to behold I could spend hours just watching them. But there’s a connecting train to catch, so I continue walking.

My connecting train is delayed. Again. This seems to happen every Monday, and probably means some poor, down-trodden office worker couldn’t take it any longer and decided the best way to end it all was by chucking himself in front of a train. My train turns up ten minutes late, with a couple of bloodied fingers wedged under the windscreen wipers (probably). I step on board and finally manage to sit down for the final ten minutes of my journey. As per usual, I end up sat next to a teenager listening to some God-awful Japanese punk rock band on his iPod. I know he’s listening to this because he’s got the volume turned up so loud that kids in far side of the carriage are nodding their head to the beat. I decide to fight fire with fire and listen to “Run to You” by Bryan Adams at full volume. That’ll teach him.

The battle of the iPods ends when we both get off at the same stop, he catches sight of some of his friends and goes to say “Osu..” (“Hey..”). Everyone getting off here seems to belong to the university I work at, meaning I spend much of my walk to campus either saying “hello!” to various students, or trying my best to avoid the ones I don’t like by pretending not to see them, which is quite hard considering we all follow the same narrow street.

The campus gates are guarded by The Protectors in Blue, a set of mean-looking 60 year-old security guards in uniform, faces carved out of solid granite, bodies carved from rapidly melting ice cream. I greet them with “ohayo gozaimasu”, they reply with “uhyogzamass”, which means they’re double-hard bastards and not to be messed with.

I leg it up four flights of stairs and sign in to work. 8.55am. Phew! So far I’m the only one in the office but I haven’t prepared a damned thing for lessons today, so quickly check today’s lesson schedule. I find the lesson plan, it reads:

“Lesson 25 – Teachers Choice”

Teachers Choice? Oh bollocks, that means I have to knock something together entirely from scratch and I only have… forty minutes left to do it. Aaargh!

Chaos ensues, bits of paper fly everywhere, resource books lie strewn open across desks like they’ve been recently slaughtered in some kind of Zulu War for Books Recreation Society meeting. I don’t even notice the other teacher enter the office until I accidentally stab him in the arm with a pair of scissors while cutting out a photo of Lara Croft (I need it for, erm… teaching purposes. Obviously). He hasn’t prepared anything either, so the panic level moves from amber to red. I furiously try to find the correct CD for a listening activity… I look at the big clock on the wall… five minutes late for class already. I abandon my seach, grab everything I’ve prepared thus far and shoot off down the corridoor in the direction of my classroom.

I open the clasroom door. Only four students, two of whom are sleeping, seem to be present. “How are you?” says I. “Sleepy” they reply. Every day they say this, without fail. If only their parents laced their breakfasts with cocaine, we might get a little bit of variety in the greetings that way… Anyway, the lesson flies by, and I only need to utter the phrase “now, what I want you to do is…” twice. Any time I say this, you can be absolutely sure I have no idea what I want them to do, I’m just making it up on the spot.

The students leave, leaving me with an hour to sort out my lesson. Properly, this time. I go to the bathroom and splash cold water on my face, in a vain attempt to restore some life into my brain.

I look up from the basin and catch sight of myself in the mirror. I forgot to put my tie on, I still have an afro quiff and, best of all, I notice my flies have been un-zipped for the entire morning.