Seven years ago, I lived in Tokyo. I had been living there for three and a half years, in a small Leo Palace flat on the outskirts of Fuchu, on the west side. My flat was next to a railway track and small crossing. When trains passed, it shook. Fortunately (?) I had warning of the impending quivering from the alarm-like sound of the level crossing barriers closing. This went on until just after midnight, and then resumed at oh-too-early-a.m. I worked in Osaki Head Office for an global English conversation school. My position was Teacher Trainer/Manager, which was later changed to H.R. Manager, which sounds much more like an actual position, but which I expect still translated to “too many random responsibilities to actually write in a c.v.” I was in charge of around 100 schools in west Kanto, and about 150 teachers. It was a hard job. One that it took me a LONG time to get used to. I look back on it mostly fondly, but I remember at the time really despising it. I worked above a team of six substitute teachers (three Japanese and three native English speakers). It was early summer, and due to hiring shortages overseas, and a teacher suffering from depression having to leave the country before it all got too much, we were short-staffed. The only thing for me to do was to take one of the teaching jobs until one of the subs. was free, planning and teaching lessons, downsizing the schedule and taking neverending calls from teachers at the same time. Ugh…
Unfortunately this job was in two schools in Maebashi and Takasaki, Gunma. Oh how I hated Gunma. My only experiences were on school visits to Isezaki and Ota. Both of those times I had been harassed by hostess bar owners at the train station at night. It seemed scary after the relative safety of Tokyo. But seeing no other alternative, I packed my bags, and spent a month (yes! A whole month!) in Gunma, working 11a.m. – 10p.m., then at least another hour or two catching up and doing the bare minimum on my ACTUAL job. It was NOT fun. During these times, I was followed about three times by random men. I am not beautiful or extraordinary looking and at the time I was overweight, so I really have to put it down to my being foreign and wearing a suit…a lot of hostesses in Gunma wear suits. I have seen them running out of their bars to get cigarettes for their customers from time to time. So my impression of Gunma didn’t really get all that much better during this time. I went home to Tokyo at weekends to do laundry, and just to get out of crapville.
During my work at Maebashi school, trying to downsize two teachers into one, I interviewed my husband. Obviously he wasn’t my husband at the time…I also interviewed his mother. In retrospect, I think this was fantastic, as I’d already “met the mother-in-law to be” before Y and I had started seeing each other. When the downsizing was done, I went back to Tokyo, and Y came to visit me most weekends. Eventually, we decided to rent a flat together in Takasaki (I had originally said I would go no further than Kumagaya as a half-way point..gave up on that one..). I told my boss that I either wanted to go back to teaching at a nearby school or I was handing in my notice. I didn’t give him a threatening letter. I was by no means indispensable. I got myself an ALT job lined up just in case, so that I had some income back-up, although I’d taught as an ALT in Germany before and hated it..so it was really only something to fall back on. I wasn’t really prepared to live off my husband at that point, and we weren’t even talking marriage anyway. Turns out they didn’t want to lose me as a teacher, and there was a teacher at the Kumagaya school that was really pretty awful. He didn’t get his contract renewed, so I took his place. It was a forty minute commute paid by the company, which was a BIG difference to the hour and forty minute one including an hour on the bullet train. I actually had a bullet train monthly pass…It cost me 80,000 for one month…The company paid 30,000 of this, and my direct boss was REALLY angry at a member of H.O. staff for taking this money out of the area budget. Um…ok. I felt I was pretty dedicated to be willing to pay 50,000 a month on transport. Anyway, I did that for a few months. I earned plenty anyway, so I didn’t see it as a huge waste, but I didn’t want to do it forever, as my job also included visiting schools in my area, so it was pretty tiring including the morning and evening commute.
I worked a year and a half at Kumagaya school, before I left to have H. I left pretty early on in my pregnancy, because I was just so exhausted in the first trimester. I was falling asleep on my desk between lessons,etc. Had I known that this tiredness would pass, I may have worked for longer. But I was proud of myself, because I managed to double my student number in my time there, although I taught a LOT of childrens classes…so was exhausted most of the time.
A little after I fell pregnant, we decided to move again. Our place was a twenty minute walk from the train station, a 3LDK (three bedrooms plus living/dining/kitchen). We didn’t really need all that space, but it only cost 5000 more than my one bedroomed flat in Tokyo, so I think I was just revelling in all the space! It was also on the third floor (fourth if you think of the ground as being 1F), and being pregnant, it was a bit of a trek all round.
So my third place in Japan was a flat in a block for government employees. We rented for 11,000 yen and it was a 3DK (two bedrooms, living room, largish kitchen). It was old, and the bath was stainless steel, square and needed you to turn a dial over and over to turn on the gas pilot. The floors were all tatami matting and lino, but the storage was fantastic. A long balcony with two outside storage spaces at each end. This place was almost two kilometres from the train station, but was a ten minute walk to the supermarket, chemist and bank. Plus the neighbourhood was decent, and the paediatrician was not only within walking distance, but she also spoke English. It was while I lived in this apartment that I had H, took driving lessons (in Tokyo every weekend), taught at kindergartens for the first time, had L, and taught private students. I had gone from working a busy full-time job in a big city to living in what felt like the middle of nowhere, relatively speaking, with a husband and two children all in the space of three years. I was more than a little stressed. But things worked themselves out, as they tend to do. Had we been allowed to live in this flat for an unlimited amount of time, we probably would have until we could afford our own place. Wow, at 11,000 a month, who wouldn’t?!?! But five months before our three year maximum stay was up, we went to look at a place near my husband’s mother’s house. It was nice, new, and the rent was decent. I suppose we must have been fed up at the old place, I really can’t remember. I DO remember thinking that it would be nice to live in the town while renting before we decided if we wanted to end up buying there or not.
Moving (again!!) to my fourth place in Japan. This was a 2LDK terraced apartment with a LOT less storage than we were used to. I had to do a lot of sorting things out, with a just turned two year old, a four month old baby, and nursing fatigue..the thought of it makes me feel sick. My husband worked late, my MIL and SIL both worked full-time, so it was a tough time for me. My fabulous MIL bought me a car (Y had been cycling to work, but with a 40 minute car commute, he obviously couldn’t do that from the new place), which we have yet to repay her for. That was a HUGE help. I couldn’t have done without, as the supermarket would have been about 50 minutes walk uphill, and the train station a thirty minute DRIVE, with buses every two hours and stopping at 7p.m. Not that I needed to use the station much, but it feels nice to know you are not literally stuck in the countryside. Looking back though, the hardest time for the children and I was when we moved there. H took it hard living on two levels instead of one and even L found it daunting at first. Add to that L was a “high needs baby”, it was a hard time, but again, we managed to work it out.
Just under two years later, after lots of looking at houses, talking to building companies, researching, we stumbled upon a cul-de-sac of ready built houses. They were a five minute walk to the local primary school, only crossing a couple of very quiet roads. In a quiet area, lots of families with young children around. And they had been standing for a year, so the prices were low. On the SAME day that we went to look at these houses, we bought one of them. That sounds really stupid, I will admit, but it was much bigger than most newly built houses, with a small garden, lots of natural light and space, and location to the primary school was unbeatable. And we managed (MIL managed) to barter like a champion, “oh, 8 is my unlucky number, can we make it 7 (insert cute granny giggle)?” and in less than a month, we had a home. OUR home.
I am seven years older, fifteen kilos lighter. My children are now five and three years old. I have been married for almost six years. During the past seven years, so much has happened. If I broke down the previous seven years, I would think the same thing, but in different ways. In relation to life, seven years is just a whisper. I’m grateful for everything, even the hard times, because if everything were rosy all the time, how could I be grateful for anything? I put my children to bed tonight, hugged them tightly and said goodnight. Life is but a moment, if I can do so much in seven years, I can’t wait to see what I can do with the next seven, and the next, and the next, and the next!