Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Random Memories #77 - the last weeks in Japan - part 9

The, mostly, empty living room. That box is the cable box, which the landlord said he'd look after. I also realized that we left behind not one, but two carpets that we'd installed (layered on top of one another in that room) and that power strip mounted on the wall. Oops, but there were no hard feelings. The landlord has written to us a few times with nothing but positive feelings.

The last two weeks before we left Japan, besides being filled with goodbyes, were filled with whatever it took to get things done. My husband spent no small amount of time filling and rearranging our suitcases with our possessions so that they wouldn't exceed the seventy-five pound weight limit. We didn't have a proper scale for such things, so he'd get on our bathroom scale and weigh himself, then pick up the suitcase and see how much it added. He spent hours doing this to balance things across four cases. Part of the process was packing all that we wanted to take and then removing what wasn't essential when the suitcases were too heavy. 

The chore of packing and repacking was nothing compared to the grief of sorting out mementos, well-meant gifts from friends, and necessary possessions. Throwing out what didn't make the cut was difficult because of the mental energy spent on thinking about things such as how this student who I liked a lot and taught for a long time gave me this, but it's not as useful as that item and it's heavy so it gets left behind. Weight and bulk also was an issue. Anything that was flat or super light made the cut. Fragile items or things which weren't particularly Japanese (like a set of utensils which were pretty generic fork and spoon kits) were far more likely to have a date with a trash bin. All of the things made of fabric (and many of them were beautiful) made the cut.

My memory of the overwhelming generosity of those we knew - a lot of this made it home with us, but not all of it.

The guilt of this sort of culling was with me throughout the entire packing process. It wasn't only materially wasteful, but it made me feel as if I didn't fully appreciate the sentiment behind the gift. Nonetheless, we knew we'd be moving a lot in America and we couldn't be dragging a lot of "stuff" behind us like an anchor. I took pictures of everything both individually and en masse so that I'd remember what was given even if I couldn't keep the item itself with me. It was the best I could do under the circumstances.

I have to say that the student who gave my husband $200 in cash will forever have my gratitude. It's not that the money was useful, though it was, but that it spared any sort of emotional considerations. And, though the money is gone, he is not forgotten for his thoughtfulness. Besides, the money is no more or  less gone than the items I had to toss away (like the goofy eyeglass holder house that the woman who ruined our departure from Narita gave us).

The trash men, tossing out the desks we used for over a decade in our apartment. The was part of a multi-stage abandoning of our furniture. 

The next to last day saw one of my students dragging away my one-year-old washing machine. Her parents needed a new one and I was more than delighted to give them mine. It wasn't only that I didn't want to waste a perfectly functional machine, but also that it was one less enormous piece of furniture that we would have to arrange to have carted away. I tried to give away more of our stuff, but, as I said before, it was hard-going. It was supremely annoying that the old machine crapped out so near our departure time, but we figured it was no more expensive and far more convenient to just buy another machine than to schlep our clothes to one of the not-so-local "coin laundry" shops.

The worst and most difficult item to rid ourselves of was our sofa. I don't know how Japanese delivery people get things in through narrow walkways and doors, but I imagine they must have extensive training in puzzles in which they have to figure out a way to maneuver large and heavy objects through narrow holes without damaging either the orifice or the object. They probably start with trying to get a stick of gum through a keyhole and, if they bend the gum or get any residue on the keyhole, they don't get to move along to the next task.

My husband and I had a horrific time getting that sofa out of our place, and the men who brought it in seemed to do it so smoothly and skillfully that we had no warning that it would be a nightmare. Both of us were in our late 40's when we left and not especially strong (and probably both on the verge of developing stress-related colds). If you've seen the scene in Friends where Ross is trying to get his sofa into his apartment, you have only a small idea of how awful such an experience could be. By the time we'd wrangled our sofa (which you can see hosting all of our gifts earlier in this post) outside, we were hot, exhausted, and fairly close to being at each other's throats due to multiple failed suggestions to figure out a way to get it through the door and pivoting it down the narrow walkway. The fact that it was a sofa bed that would flop open if you held it at certain angles only made it harder.

The last night, we went out for dinner with my brother-in-law and his wife at our favorite yakitori place. In pictures from the dinner, I look as haggard as one might expect someone to look who had been in a state of stress and chaos and who was getting sick. That evening was an oasis of peace before the final morning. We reminisced and talked about what we were going to miss as well as talked about our plans for the future when we got "home".

The state of that wall is the product of 23 years of humidity behind our dresser and other furniture. Also, the closet floor is warped and cracking from the same moisture issues. Oh, and the closet doors fell off along ago, but we didn't bother to have them replaced because, you know, we didn't care - I just hid the doors behind some shelving and covered the front of the closet with a curtain. This was what our bedroom looked like on our last day. You can see the tatami is also worn through (we had it covered with a carpet for years). It never looked so terrible when we lived in it because those decaying bits were always covered with other things. It was monstrous when we peeled everything away.

We were lucky that our landlord agreed to manage getting our queen-size bed out for us so we could sleep in our own apartment up until the end, but also the memory of that sofa struggle made his kindness even more appreciated. If the sofa was that hard to remove, I couldn't imagine how tough it would be getting the enormous mattress and box spring out as well. We left them behind with the proper large trash ("dai gomi") stickers sitting on the shelf in the closet. Buying those stickers allowed us to pay the expense at least. We had to pay, but he or whoever he paid to clean up the place was going to have to fight their way with our bed through the door.

A small selection of items that I was giving to another student - that's an iPod speaker box there (a nice one), a relatively new microwave, and my coffee maker. I think the coffee grinder is in the paper bag on the right. Those post-it notes say that my student will take them after we leave. Of course, this had all been arranged already with the landlord, who graciously put up with all of this nonsense.

Just because the landlord was managing the bed did not mean the last morning was the leisurely affair I'd hoped for. I knew what I wanted to do and that was to buy a couple of croissants at ChocoCro, brew some coffee on the coffee maker we still had, but would be picked up by another student later on (along with the microwave that I was going to use to reheat the croissants), and take one last walk around the neighborhood, particularly the shotengai. I didn't think it would take so long to complete certain activities that last morning. We did take a little stroll around the neighborhood, but it was the calm before a considerable storm of activity.

The refrigerator was going to be picked up by a recycling shop (down the street from us) and those bags contain our sheets, pillows, comforter, and my winter coat which I abandoned at the 11th hour for weight purposes. The wall there is discolored from the toaster oven and years of various items being placed in front of it and, of course, moisture damage from the Tokyo summers and rainy seasons. I realize I also left behind my Apple magnets. :-(

There were things that had to be bagged and thrown away that final morning and I filled up an enormous space in our kitchen with "trash" - our pillows, sheets, and blankets that we'd been sleeping on for many years. It took a lot longer to cram everything in the bags than I'd thought, especially since everything was insanely bulky. If you ever get a job cramming bedding into plastic bags and you're paid by the piece, trust me when I say you'll make a lot less money than you think. It is like herding cats because they're so unwieldy due to being large, puffy, and squishy.

The way in which trash goes out in Japan (certain types of trash only on particular days) made it impossible for us to get rid of our garbage. I also had to abandon a pretty nice carry-on suitcase at the last minute due to weight issues. The bags are labeled by trash type so the landlords could sort it out and put each out on the proper day. That horribly dirty wall was created by the washing machine being in that space for so many years - it was humidity central with very little space between the wall and machine (which breeds mold). We never saw it until the machine was taken away, then it was pretty ugly.

Emptying a space sounds pretty easy in theory, but, in practice, it's the death of a thousand cuts. The time that we had before we needed to hop into a cab and leave for the airport felt ample when we mapped everything out. In the end, despite my best laid plans (and they were very good plans indeed) it was rather rushed and hectic. Our apartment also seemed to be in an enormous mess despite my thinking (hoping) I'd leave it relatively tidy and hollow for the landlords. I looked back for the last time at our dirty, crumbling apartment with no small sense of guilt at what I was leaving for them to manage as well as a great sadness of leaving behind this place I'd settled into for nearly 23 years. Be it ever so crumbled, it had been "home". (to be continued)


  1. Hello! I'm not sure if you've answered this before, but why did you have to throw away the big furniture like the sofa and bed? Couldn't it have been "inherited" by the next tenants instead?

    1. The answer to that question is scattered in various posts so I'll answer here in one place. :-)

      The next tenants would have felt that I was leaving garbage for them to throw away at their expense. I had relatively new items (a refrigerator that was 2.5 years old, a washing machine that was barely a year old, an iPad speaker system which was 3 years old, etc.) and I couldn't give those away. In fact, I only reluctantly got a second-hand shop to take the refrigerator without having to pay them for the pleasure of selling my newish refrigerator. They acted like they were doing me a supreme favor in taking a 4-year-old flat monitor off my hands (a fully functioning, clean one) and not making me pay.

      In Japan, secondhand stuff is not seen as desirable and getting rid of anything large is a trial. Our sofa bed, to be fair, was pretty old and the back was rather bad-looking (as is to be expected given the moisture situation and it being up against a wall). Our bed was ancient - springs were coming out of it in spots. No one would want it. ;-)


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