Monday, March 9, 2009


The most recent and most drastic change that has occurred during my time in Japan is moving house. In the beginning of this year, I was finally forced to face the impending equivalent of a $100 rent increase. At my (sob) old guest house, the usual policy is to give new residents a 12-month rent discount. After 12 months, their rent goes "back to the original price."

Here's a sample of the artwork that covered the walls of Big World 21.
My favorite piece.

Although I had become extremely comfortable in my guest house and was hesitant to leave the amazing social atmosphere it had provided me with, I was also not keen to pay an extra $100 every month. The place was not very clean, to put it mildly. It was also super cold in the winter and disgustingly hot in the summer. We had to pay for heat with 100 yen coins (it adds up). We had to walk up a huge, ridiculously steep hill to get to the train station every day. Despite my strong attachment to Big World 21--an attachment which earned me strange looks and inquiries such as, "are you crazy?" from my friends and co-workers--I knew there definitely had to be better places out there. So, I decided I'd better look around. In early February, I moved into a guest house in the Kichijoji area.

Here's a taste of my amazing social life in Big World 21.

I love Kichijoji. It's probably one of my favorite parts of Tokyo, actually. It's only about 10 minutes away by train from my former home-station, Musashi Koganei. While Musashi Koganei is decidedly homely--or one might say empty and bland, Kichijoji is amazing. It has a lot of character and is just as interesting as all those famously over-crowded places in central Tokyo. In fact, I think it's better because it's actually in the nearby suburbs of Tokyo, and therefore not as big, or crowded, or overwhelming. Still, it has tons of restaurants, bars, cafes, department stores, clothing stores, second hand clothing stores, book stores. It has everything I need. If it weren't for work, I'd never need to leave Kichijoji.

There's also beautiful Inokashira Park, with a big lake that's lined by cherry trees. They are absolutely stunning in the Spring. People ride swan-shaped boats, and play guitars, and run, and eat ice cream and do stuff that people do in parks. There's also a zoo which I have yet to visit. I hear they have an elephant and lots of meerkats. The Ghibli Museum, concerning the animation studio that produces famous Japanese animation films such as Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Princess Mononoke, is also located in this park. Again, I have yet to visit.

Inokashira Park, Cherry Blossom Season, April 2008

The hard parts of moving inevitably included the physical moving of my possessions. This took many difficult trips involving dragging my over-sized suitcases many times up and down that blasted hill in Musashi Koganei, and then through the claustrophobia-inducing Tokyo transit system. I enlisted a few friends to assist me, you can be sure of that. After all that was over, I had to go to various important looking buildings to re-register as a foreigner, and re-register my address, and re-register with the phone company, and re-register my eye color, and re-register the number of eggs I eat for breakfast, and re-register the number of freckles on my knees. You get the idea. I did a lot of registering. (There really are a lot of freckles on my knees, though. My dear friend, Anne, used to call me "the spotted freak." What a sweetheart.)

After all that registering, then I had to meet the lovely people in my new guest house. Most of the conversations went like this:

"Hi! I'm Caitlin, nice to meet you."

"Oh.. hi. I'm Yosuke. I'm moving out tomorrow."

And some went kind of like this:

ME: "Oh my! Someone didn't wash this pasta strainer, and then put it back on the shelf! Gross." [I place it in the sink.]

JAPANESE DUDE: "This is not a hotel! ...blah blah blah, your responsibility." (Of course, spoken in a mixture of Japanese and English, the hotel part definitely spoken in English.)

ME: "Um, ok. I was going to wash it... after I strained my pasta."

J.D.: "Whatever."

So, maybe meeting people isn't so easy after all. But I gave it a shot. The other foreigners consist of a bunch of French people, one Canadian who also speaks fluent French, and a Korean girl. There's also a Japanese guy named Shin who lived in New York for 5 years. His English is fairly close to perfect. He likes to come into the kitchen without a shirt on so that I can look at his pectorals. (I refuse.) He enjoys speaking in, what I believe to be a forced, tone of voice that reminds me of an overly-macho Samurai in a cheesy anime cartoon. He also enjoys quoting Star Wars--"Luke, I am your father," in much the same voice. Finally, he loves telling me about his fabulous future as a person working in the fashion industry: he has a fabulous high-paying job, he's really busy, and he's probably going to be promoted any day now. What a winner.

Ok, so the social atmosphere is definitely lacking when compared to my former guest house. I admit that this has produced some acute feelings of homesickness for Musashi Koganei, as well as a bit of "Oh god, what have I done?" But I had lived there for year. It was time to move on, make some changes in my life. What I can say is that this new guest house is definitely cleaner and warmer. It's more expensive, but utilities are included and not paid for by coins. There are endless other little creature comforts provided here that make it feel a bit more like a home. My room is definitely much larger; I have room to breathe in and be organized. Now that I have few people to socialize with over dinner when I return home from work, I get more stuff done. Now that I have lots of cozy cafes to choose from, I am studying Japanese more. I'm also preparing my classes more, trying harder to keep in touch with people back home. I am spending more time writing songs for the band, and trying to draw pictures once in awhile. I have more time for myself. This is true. However, it feels like I am living by myself, which wasn't exactly what I'd expected. But, I'll get used to it. Everyone has to live alone at some point in their life. It builds character.


Dear me, it's been way too long since I've updated this thing. But then, you already know that. You're reading it, aren't you?

In the past several months my life in Japan has slowly changed in the slowly evolving changing sort of way, as well as in the sudden, drastically changing sort of way. Naturally, when living in a foreign country and befriending many other foreigners, people are going to leave. That has, of course, already happened a few times. Most notably, my friend Daniel left in the early fall, causing my band situation to also change. The new band, consisting of myself and three others, finally came up with a name: Das Yukon. Please don't ask for an explanation. It would only be a dull one. I guarantee you. I'll just let you know that Andy and I extremely enjoyed the hard K-sound in the work "Yukon." That's about as interesting as it could possibly get. I don't really care about the possible meanings. In fact, I'm pretty sure we tried to avoid any possible meaning of any sort (other than it meaning "The Yukon). We just like sounds. There you go.

In truth, the new band has had it's ups and downs. Actually, a lot of downs, mostly due to the fact that our drummer has canceled practice one too many times (often with fairly short notice). But then, according to stereotypes, that's to be expected of drummers, right? (Notwithstanding, my brother is an extremely responsible and punctual human being, as well as a drummer)! Of course, one can't be too hard on the poor fellow as one of the incidents involved him finding out he had suddenly developed a bad case of diabetes. I suppose that's pretty high up on the list of forgivable things.

In addition to many missed Sunday practices, I should also mention the high number of un-enjoyable/wasted practices, mainly caused by my faithfully sour disposition that never failed to appear immediately upon entering the studio. I believe this was caused by my being extremely tired. My tiredness was caused by the following things: a.) Sunday was the end of my work week b.) I hadn't had enough sleep c.)I had woken up early both Saturday and Sunday morning d.) I taught a very busy shift on Saturday involving lots of jumping around with children and sweating in my full business attire e.)I'd gone out with friends on Saturday night f.) I also worked Sunday which means I was forced to talk to people I probably didn't want to talk to all day g.) I had rushed home to change clothes, eat dinner and then go to practice h.) I had to carry a heavy backpack to practice that held my laptop, a "lovely glockenspiel" (read: a xylophone), and a pair of castanets, among other essential assorted items. i.) Sitting at the keyboard really hurts my back j.) I have terrible posture anyway.

Don't worry, though, I won't complain.

Anyway, all of the above contributed to me being as negative and cranky as possible during many a Sunday night band practice. Nothing ever sounded "good enough." Nothing was working "quite right." I just wasn't "feeling the song anymore." My awful mood inevitably infected the others, causing them also to be extremely frustrated. Oh, Sweet futility! Yet, we had booked those three hours, and by god were we going to use them.

On those days remaining, practice went great! We now have about 3 songs that are basically finished. We can play them really well, almost every time. I've finally memorized my own lyrics (that I wrote--shouldn't have been so hard). We have recorded them and uploaded the recordings to our page on Myspace. We are working on a few more songs at the moment.

our picture on myspace

As we slowly improve and build up a collection of original Das Yukon songs, our pride and excitement are tempered with apprehension. That unreliable diabetic drummer is leaving Japan in April with his Australian girlfriend. The most talented musician in our band is leaving. This means we will need to replace him, but whom with? The question remains unanswered as we also tackle the problem of whether or not we should attempt to play a show in Tokyo before his departure. That, too, remains unanswered, buut April isn't very far away so please just be patient on that one.

Either way, I'm still excited about the way things are going. I really hope we get a good replacement for Adam and we start playing shows around Tokyo. Andy and Kate are totally up for it. I'm also really enjoying writing lyrics and melodies, and horsing around in the studio (I believe some might prefer to use the horrid term, "jamming;" use what you like--I can't stop you), and of course I am very happy to be singing again on a regular basis.

If you are interested in hearing those 3 basically finished original Das Yukon tracks, you can find them here at: yukon. And please befriend us if you haven't already (I know chances are you probably haven't as I can count on one hand the number of people, that I personally know, who have). Hope you enjoy!