Saturday, 3 September 2011

Living here (couldn't think of any Japuns) :

I am writing to you now from my rooftop kingdom : Room 804, 8th floor, Cambridge House, Chikushino, Fukuoka.

Every day, I am staggered at how hospitable the Japanese are being towards us. I have never been on any trip or organised event that has run so smoothly or been so stress / fuck-up free as this one. I can say decidedly that I have not had a single complaint yet. Even the initial information drought gave no real cause for concern: it was all in hand, and there was no need for me to be told anything!

They’re putting us up in Cambridge House, an enormous dorm owned by the university: the Japan University of Economics, or Nihon Keizai Daigaku. The big boss man is Mori Sensei who, with his lovely staff, keep the peace in the building.
The place is spotlessly clean, which might be attributable to the fact that you’re not allowed to wear your shoes indoors. As it’s the summer holidays still, we’ve been permitted our dalliances and are allowed to shuffle through the downstairs foyer and corridor in our socks to go to our slipper locker. Ordinarily, it is forbidden to walk around in socks or bare feet.
We were provided with slippers with the Cambridge House katakana on them, but unfortunately, as with so many things, they’re too small and make me look like a cross-dresser and so I had to run the gauntlet of going to AEON mall and asking for some. They only had one pair in XXXXL, which are still a bit too small. Oh well.

We Oxbridge lot have the 8th floor to ourselves: it is our private domain, a hallowed, mysterious place where no Japanese student may tread. Unless we invite them. And only then if they’re over twenty (the Japanese drinking age). Ours is the only part of the building where drinking is allowed, and where there are no rules as far as loud music is concerned. We have enormous, apartment style rooms rather than the boxes the rest of them have to put up with. We have huge, flatscreen TVs in our rooms, a little library, a kitchen and sitting about area, several laundry rooms, a “counselling room”, you name it. They must hate us down there. Perhaps this is how Louis XVI felt…

Here are some pictures:

I suppose it’s sort of what it would be like if the Travelodge had a Presidential suite.

There are various cool gadgets, as you’d expect. We have ginormous, vat style kettles which heat the water to 98° and keep it there. We’ve been told that, since Fukushima, most of Japan’s nuclear power stations have been switched off, thereby causing quite serious power shortages. As such, we have to make sure everything is switched off at night. Nothing has been said, however, about us keeping our water superhot all day long, just in case…
We also have a fridge that shouts at you in Japanese if you leave it open for too long (could be a good dieting tactic), and there’s an add-on for the sink by which you can regulate the pH of the water you want (see pictures). Slightly alkaline water is best for tea apparently. The mind boggles.

The building is charming too: grand, with a Greco-Roman pavilion in the central court. It was going to be a swimming pool, but the boss’s missus took a shine to all things European antiquity and so the pool went down the drain. It strikes awe into the most travelled of Gaijin to see the stray winds of a Pacific typhoon, whipping white water and leaves around the face of a false marble Aphrodite, so far from home. We have karaoke rooms too, though saying as alcohol is not allowed anywhere in the building, save the 8th floor, and the dorm rules clearly state “If you are coming home drunk, please be discrete”, I can’t see any way we could use them. As Seb put it, “to prevent any un-Islamic mixing” the karaoke rooms are gender segregated too. We also have a tea-ceremony room and communal baths (more on that later!)

One of my favourite things is that we have a tannoy system that plays a little tune for every hour, the start and end of meal times, get-up time (7:30) and go to bed time (11:30). It plays Westminster chimes when it’s time to get up (a nice touch for the foreigners in the attic) and the New world symphony for bed time (which, apparently, is what they play to tell customers to get out of shops at closing time). Ruthless efficiency at its Japanterous best I’d say. 

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