A Trip Downtown

I’ve been a little out of the loop recently, having just gotten a new job and moved all of my shit from northern Japan to the greater Tokyo metropolis area.   Today’s article isn’t only an update on my life, it’s a take on big city life in general.  Some of you out there may live in big cities and know what I’m talking about when I say it’s not all fun and games.  Still, others of you may not believe me—those who live in little Podunk shit towns.  “Whaaaat?  Skelly, you live in a foreign country in one of the biggest cities in the world, and you’re not out shooting pool and doing coke with Ken Watanabe?”

No, I’m not, and I doubt I will be anytime soon.  I’m not rich; the salary they pay me here is significantly lower than that which I made in northern Japan.  Although I still lie above the national poverty line, I’m still not that far above it.  That means I’ll be forced to live as…well, I guess a ho-hum local, won’t I?  A family of four that runs a fruit & vegetable shop on the first floor of the building they live in, people without air conditioning who wear old stained aprons with flies buzzing around them, they’re about just as well off as I am.  This means I could end up doing the same things they do, going out every now and then but usually staying home and cooking dinner and waiting for the Japanese Seinfeld to come on.

Last Sunday I documented a day-in-the-life journey of me from day-up to day-down as a resident of Yokohama, Japan.  You may be surprised at what comes of this.

The day starts at about noon, seeing as that’s the time I usually roll out of bed—ideally, at least, when insomnia season isn’t at hand.  I open my eyes and take a look around a room that looks like this:

That’s a view from out on the balcony.  Here’s the opposite view:

I wanted to make my place seem bigger than it actually is, so I backed way up with my camera for a wider, yet, now I see, a bit more limited view.  The bed is a full-size (they call it a semi-double here) and takes up about half the room.  The ladder leads up to a decent sized loft that you can almost stand straight up in.  The plan in the beginning was to put my bedroom up there and leave the first floor as a cool little lounge area with a café-like table and chairs and couch.  Turns out I can’t even afford a bus ticket at this point; so that’s out.  And not to mention in the summer it gets really hot and all the heat rises up to the loft and gets too hot to sleep in.  It’s October now, the weather’s cooler, and it’s not so stuffy up there anymore, but I just can’t bring myself to get a friend over to help me lift the bed up there.  I think it might be due to the shame of being too poor to do the cool lounge café thing.  Without that bed on the first floor, that white square thing sitting in the middle of the room with its domineering squareness, I would just have floor and walls.  That’s a lonely thought don’t you think?  Just floor and walls…

Now I’m off to the kitchen to make myself breakfast.

Um, yep, not making any lasagnas here.  The refrigerator can hold about as much, or less than, one you’d find in a hotel room.  When I chop vegetables I have to balance the cutting board across the sink.  Sometimes it falls.  That cupboard you see to the upper right…that’s all.

(Time passes)

Mmm, those were some tasty Kraft singles cheese slices and stale crackers.  Time for a shower.

The bath/shower in Japan is usually in a room of it’s own (the toilet is in another separate room), making it like a shower room instead of a bathroom.  Here, it seems they took the shower room and  just sat a toilet off to the right side.  I guess that makes it more convenient in a way.  If I’m drunk—or just being clumsy—and I pee on the wall, I can easily just rinse it down the drain in the center of the floor with the shower hose.

Now that I’m finally out of the house, let’s take a look at the used shop, since I can’t afford to buy anything new.

See anything good?  I think I’ll pass for now.

And next door a conveniently located convenience store called Sunkus (I think that’s supposed to be the Japanese pronunciation for “Thanks.”  That or it’s supposed to be a pirate ship store:  “Sunk Us”.  Ho, ho).  I don’t think that that Kraft cheese and crackers quite hit the spot for 2 in the afternoon, so I’m gonna grab a sandwich and canned coffee.  (People live above the store, you know.  Look at the picture again.  You see the windows?)

Gosh, aren’t there any sidewalks around here?  The streets are so densely packed with houses and shops that there’s no room for anything else.  You see that old man about to get hit by a car?  He’s gonna die soon (quite possibly before that car hits him)!

Check out these people:

Replace them with a herd of grade school students at 7:30 in the morning and you’ll be glad your kids live in a place with huge front lawns with soft grass to tread all over and piss the neighbors off.

Here’s a view of the neighborhood below on my walk to the nearby discount grocery store:

I wonder how you would get a road down there.  What do they all just walk everywhere?

Here we are at Big-A discount foods.  There’s no parking lot here either, as it’s conveniently located on the first floor of a giant apartment complex of like a hundred million residents.

And here’s an old-fashioned fruit & vegetable store right across the walkway.  Those people are gonna be my friends!—we have the same income, remember.  I’ve decided that since the option is available I’m going to start buying local.  Not like Big-A’s a multi-million dollar corporation or anything like that, but, still, I thought this would at least score me some points with the hippy chicks back home.

Those are some nice daikon! The dictionary says daikon means “Japanese radish,” but I think they’re just big white carrots.

What a splendid bunch of leeks!!!

(And to you Kurt Vonnegut fans out there, I’m not talking about mirrors.  Ho, ho. -ed.)

And now I’m off to the bustling and ever more cramped Yokohama station.  Since I can’t afford the two dollars for the bus or subway, I have to walk down this treacherous hill (ahem, mountain) and back up it every day.

Just in case the angle of the photo doesn’t quite capture the steepness of this slope, here’s what it looks like when you’re walking up it:

Which road do I take again?  In America the roads usually run parallel and perpendicular to each other, so it’s easy to navigate.  They even have North, South, East and West written on the street signs if you get confused.  Hell, there are street signs on American streets!  Scroll back up and look at that sign again.  This is how random and zig-zaggy it gets here, and no street names.  Never any street names…

My next stop is the 100 yen Lawson.  This may not be of interest to anyone who doesn’t live in Japan.  However, I would like to keep a steady mix of readers:  those who live here and know what I’m talking about, and those who don’t and could quite care less about J-town and just want to read about what good ol’ Skelly is up to these days.  To satisfy both audiences’ needs in regard to the 100 yen Lawson, I’m going to separate my musings into two paragraphs.

FOR THOSE WHO LIVE IN JAPAN, HAVE LIVED IN JAPAN, OR KNOW WHAT A LAWSON IS: Oh my frickin’ gawd.  A 100 yen store in the shape of a Lawson.  How fucking cool is that?  It’s like a Lawson, except everything’s a hundred yen!*

*Caveats:

– The 100 yen Lawson is nothing like the original Lawson.  It has no fried chicken, no Rirakkuma sticker point card system, and none of those cute white- and blue-striped uniforms with the popcorn chicken box hats.  It actually just looks like a regular grocery store, complete with raw meats, fresh vegetables and fruits.

– Actually not everything is 100 yen—as with most 100 yen stores.  About half of the store is, and the rest is adequately priced.  If you want 5 lbs. of beef you’re gonna get 5 lbs. of beef at the 5 lbs. of beef price.

FOR THOSE WHO DON’T LIVE IN JAPAN OR KNOW WHAT A LAWSON IS: Lawson is a chain of convenience stores in Japan.  Remember that Sunkus just around the corner of my apartment?  That’s another chain of convenience stores.  See, there’s no gas station convenience here like we get in the states.  Japanese gas stations are strictly business.  No doughnuts, 20 oz. soft drinks and all that other bullshit allowed.  It’s just gas, gas, gas:  gas for breakfast, gas for lunch and gas for dinner.  In Japan, when you want chips and fried cheese nuggets (in other words, dinner) you gotta go to a convenience store and get it.  You’d love the convenience stores, though.  You can even get sushi!  Now that I know the Japanese alternative, I can say that the American gas station is definitively shit.

Therefore, what you see in this picture is not only a Lawson’s convenience store, but a Lawson’s 100 yen (think one dollar) store.  Great, isn’t it?  So worth your time.

Okay, I’ve made it.  Night has fallen, the lights are up, and the streets are roving with post-WWII offspring.  You may be thinking I’m headed for a snazzy martini lounge on the second floor of one of those buildings.  Maybe for a night of smooth beats, caviar, a few shaken-not-stirreds, and a female in glittery dress to keep me company in a far off booth.

Or you may be thinking I’m hitting up some chic fashion boutiques like Rive Droite…

…or Ropé…

…or Canade (not to be confused with Canada)…

No, I’m far too humble for such epicurean pursuits.  I’m a local now, remember.  The reason I’ve come all this way is not to have fun, but to run errands.  I need to buy things that I need for daily life.  Like a broom!

…and a dust pan, toilet cleaner, tupperware…

Boring bear-necessity hub-drub.  And not just any boring bear-necessity hub-drub, but the cheapest shit I can find on my modest salary.  I’m on my way to Daiso.

No fox-skin cloaks and gold watches for me.  These are the things I’ve come downtown for:

And after my excursion, I won’t be walking around the nightlife district with a posh Louis Vuitton shopping bag to show off my purchases such as this:

Perhaps on my way back through the nightlife district, weaving in and out of touts, Japanese men and their lion’s mane hairdos, and women with their bleach-blonde hair and fishnet stockings I might find some companions for the night.  Some people who see, “Oh my god, an international.  How cool.  Let’s go over and talk to him and be all international and shit.”

Or perhaps not.  Perhaps they’ll take one look at me and my 5-foot broom and plastic Daiso bag and stick up their noses.

“Meh.  Local.”

Too embarrassed to walk 45 minutes back to my apartment, I decide to spring for the two-dollar bus, which will probably cost me a meal down the road.  I don’t care though.  The supplies are worth it.  Plus it would only be for this one day, the one day I need all of this bullshit.

Or would it only be for this one day?

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