We are Nomads no more. Well, at least for now. We have just finished nearly a year of ‘nouveau homelessness’. Upon our return to Japan, we were blessed to be allowed to ‘co-habitat’ with our dear friend, JoAnn, while periodically house-sitting for a few other friends. We learned the art of creative bartering and while we are aware that we probably benefitted the most, we hope it was a win-win situation for all.
JoAnn shared her space and things with us, which allowed us time to save our earnings in yen for the huge move-in fees required in Japan. We could have changed our dollars and moved into our own place sooner, but anyone who has exchanged dollars to yen lately, know there is a bit of weeping involved. We were fortunate to be able to give JoAnn periodic breaks by house sitting at friends houses for a couple weeks at a time.
Our first experience was at my co-worker Soness’s home in Chigasaki, which she lovingly calls, ‘chez Soness.’ Our bartering service there, was in the form of cat-sitting for dear Nibbles. Well, maybe I should say, Toshiaki’s service. He is great with animals and has fond childhood memories of raising a stray cat. Soness has a beautiful, old-style, Japanese home, just a short 10-minute bike ride from the beach, which we took full advantage of and enjoyed several days of biking along the coast. Our first day however, we rode to the beach just as a storm was arriving. We quickly made a U-turn back to ‘chez Soness’ until the storm passed.
Our next adventure was at our friend Ana’s home, filled with historical antiques. No pets here, but a lush veranda full of gorgeous plants, where I was able to do some morning writing. The day she left there was a typhoon, which knocked over all her large pots. Luckily, Toshiaki has a ‘green thumb’ and was able to salvage them quickly. In addition to the plant care, part of our bartering for Ana’s place was a cooking lesson before she left. She wanted to share some Japanese dishes with her family on her trip home to Australia. Here again, I guess the service was provided by Toshiaki. JoAnn and I were the grateful guinea pigs who were forced to join in eating the practice food.
When a co-worker, Keiko got word that Toshiaki was a cat lover, she quickly summoned us to to care of Alladin and Jasmine during her winter vacation abroad. Keiko owns a beautiful condominium in the suburbs of Tokyo. It snowed our entire first night and we were snowed-in the first part of the day. By the time I made it home from work that night the snow had thawed and so had the cats trepidation. Toshiaki had become Alladin and Jasmine’s new best friend.
Our experience at JoAnn’s was full of great meals together and lots of laughs. We had the ease of an instant address and a furnished abode in exchange for a humble contribution and some home-cooked meals. Toshiaki tried to help in other ways too, such as answering delivery calls, dealing with annual inspections, fixing things and well breaking a few things too (sorry JoAnn). My bartering took on a different form. We share a unique friendship and the same love for comedies, dramas, books and all things Japanese. JoAnn’s home is like entertainment-central and we still have weekly movie nights together.
In April, we found a place to rent. Do you know the size of an American walk-in closet? Well, you get the picture. Tiny. After owning a five bedroom, three bath house in Vegas, ‘downsizing’ would be the appropriate description. We made some conscious decisions regarding location and price. It is within biking and walking distance from my work and the rent is the lowest we could find. This has cut down on my commuting time, freeing up a few hours a day and has lowered our monthly expenses, in rent and energy costs. Less space to heat and cool.
During this nomad period, we took the opportunity to lighten our load of material possessions and stay as light as possible for as long as possible. This practice is not new to us. We have given away our stuff and received from others many times. Now we found ourselves in need of a few things again. What do we really need? Well, a refrigerator and a TV were at the top of the list (I debated on the TV, as we have access to almost anything on-line, but Toshiaki won out). Japanese TV has been the best part of moving to Japan for him. So, we bought a refurbished refrigerator and television (two less items for the landfill). The rest of the necessities: linens, bedding, dishes, cookware, curtains, cleaning supplies, an iron(don’t laugh family), vacuum, and a washing machine, all arrived in a small truck from Toshiaki’s family in Yamada (kind of ironic). Among three households they had enough ‘extra’ things to completely furnish our humble abode. We are very grateful to them and especially to my sister-in-law, Kazuko, who arranged the shipping.
This down-sizing may not work for everyone, but for us the reduction has lead to additional funds, which, in turn has allowed us two wonderful opportunities this year. One is that Toshiaki has been able to spend a year re-adjusting to his homeland, without the stress of work. I can’t tell which one of us has enjoyed his sabbatical from work more. He is the best house husband a woman could ask for. Hot baths and meals ready after my long weekend events. Now I see why men have enjoyed not having the burden of taking care of household chores while working full time.
The other opportunity that living within our means has allowed, is the extra time and funds to travel together. I admit, I am usually the lone traveler but this year we not only were able to make a short trip home in May for Miki’s graduation and a trip up north to Sendai for our nephew, Takahiro’s wedding, we have plans this week for a work/play trip to Okinawa(Japan’s Paradise), and a trip to Thailand at the end of summer. While there is a typhoon expected the first day we arrive in Okinawa, from our experience, we expect blue skies (and shorelines) shortly after that.