Letters From Japan ~ Vol I ~ First Week


Introduction: I recently began writing letters to send to my friends and family regarding my experiences here in Japan. I've received some encouragement to release the letters net-wide and am doing so in the hopes of providing some entertainment and maybe even some useful information...

The story thus far (condensed version)...

I arrived here Sunday the 20th only a few hours later than scheduled. On the plane I was sitting next to John Sawyer, Asst. Superintendent of Novi Schools and father to Jerrod (?) Sawyer, Michigan's own world class figure skater who was in the olympics and who was in Japan to compete in the World Championships. I'm now of the opinion that Business Class is the only way to fly (if somebody else is paying).

Monday, my first day of work, was a national holiday (first day of spring) so I took the opportunity to check out the area of my new workplace (Otemachi) and take a walk through the Imperial Palace East Garden which is less than 100 yards from my new office. I expect to repeat the experience in a week or two when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.

Sunday night and Monday night I stayed at the Royal Park Hotel. Pretty nice place and it should be at 19,000 yen / night. At work I got pretty much situated during the week and assigned to work in a temporary office on the 21st floor of the KDD Building. From here the view is great. A vast metropolis as far as the eye can see. I can see the Tokyo Dome (baseball stadium which looks kind of like the Silverdome), a portion of the Imperial Palace grounds, and Ikebukoro's 60 story Sunshine Building). I can't see Shinjuku's skyscrapers because a neighboring building blocks the view.

My main non-work project right now is finding a place to live. The company provides with me a real estate agent but I want to decide on the locale before calling him. I was looking at Nishi-Nippori because it's very close but most people recommend against it because the "atmosphere" isn't so nice. Another option is the Yoyogi-Uehara area which seems to be more upscale but it's farther away from here. Fortunately crime is a non-issue here (incredible for a city of this magnitude) so I don't have to worry about picking a "bad neighborhood" in that regard. Currently I'm leaning towards the Yoyogi-Uehara or Kitazawa area. The commute would be about 30- 40 minutes, about the maximum I'm willing to go. But it wouldn't be bad because I think I could sit most of the way since I'd be picking up the train at the first station.

Currently I'm in a temporary apartment ("mansion") provided by the company. It's about the size of a dorm room (9 or 10-jo) and has a mini-mini kitchen (non-walk-in closet, actually) with a dorm-size fridge, one burner stove and a small sink. It's actually an expensive place to live (even for here) because they provide the furniture as well as cleaning, towel and linen services. Kind of like a hotel. They also have a laundry room, pool table, exercise room and sauna. The furnishings consist of a bed, nightstand desk and TV. The apartment is 29 square meters, according to the brochure.

Some things aren't all that expensive -- only twice that of U.S. prices at the current rate -- but other things are outrageous. An average meal in one of the small restaurants costs 650-1000 yen ($6-$10) not really much more than the U.S. but the food is usually much better. Of course, some foreign food restaurants and more upscale restaurants are extremely expensive. Last weekend I went to a sushi restaurant with my former host family (sushi is kind of a celebratory meal, I'm not exactly sure why) and the bill for the three of us was about $150. One liter of milk costs $1.90, the camera I bought in the U.S. for $130 costs over $200. Of course after a while I'll stop thinking in dollars and think in yen instead... rice by the way, is incredibly expensive because of the government-orchestrated "shortage." It's maybe 10 times U.S. cost from what I hear.

Last weekend I visited my homestay family from two years ago and spent the night Friday night. Sunday, I met up with my friend Kyomi and we went shopping and walking around in Shinjuku. We're supposed to get back together in a week or so for ohanami (checking out the cherry blossoms).

Well, that's pretty much it. Yesterday I took a taxi which had a computer display showing exactly where the car was on a close-up map. The driver explained to me that it uses American satellites (at least I think that's what he said!). I haven't been bothering to take a dictionary with me since I don't have a very small one but I've been comfortable without it. Of course I can't discuss very many topics but I can ask/get directions, prices and things like that with little problem.

Well, enough for now...

(C)opyright 1994 Mike Chachich

This material may be freely copied and distributed for non-commercial uses provided this copyright information remains intact. Commercial uses are strictly prohibited without prior written consent. All stated opinions are solely the author's and do not represent those of any other person or organization.

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Created: Mar 30, 1994
Last Updated: Mar 30, 2005