5.19.2015

Screw Household Convenience, This is Japan



Here is the entirety of my Japanese kitchen except for the refrigerator. See if you can spot the dishwasher. Oh, you can't because there isn't one.

I live in Japan without the following items: dishwasher, garbage disposal, clothes dryer, oven, insulated walls, central heating, fenced yard, outdoor seating or privacy, and garage. No, I didn't become a Buddhist nun and move to a monastery deep in a bamboo forest, this is just how everyday Japanese people live.

Wait. Japan?? ... Land of fancy cameras, hi-tech gadgets, video games, stereo equipment, televisions, Hello Kitty, and ubiquitous hybrid cars?

Yes. Japan.

Right? Imagine my surprise. Let's start with dishwashers. Except for camping trips, the last time I had no dishwasher was in college when I lived in a cute little converted 1-car garage in Boulder. WTF, Japaaann.

Here are some reasons I've come up with for this gaping hole in daily household life:

The gender problem. Like many other shall we disrespectfully call them less enlightened societies, home care in Japan is built into the duties of women. Traditionally their role is to accept these duties quietly and willingly, which they have historically done. Think 1950s America. Until the last few decades, Japanese women have been given few equal opportunities in the career world. It's still generally accepted that most women will stay in the home and work their asses off there all day, primarily because they lack first world modern conveniences. I call it oppressive but then I'm just an insensitive, lazy westerner.

Lack of space. Lots of city-dwellers in the western world live in cramped spaces and wash dishes by hand too, female or not. In cities it's about lack of space in Japan too, many Japanese apartments don't have kitchens at all, let alone space for anything more than 2 burners and a mini refrigerator. But I live in a house, surrounded by average homes that are in fact big, even by US standards (like 2,000 square feet) so the lack-of-space excuse doesn't fly. Also, when I lived in a small city apartment in Europe we had a smaller kitchen than we do in Japan yet it included an 18" dishwasher. So it's not really about lack of space.

The trade philosophy. I suspect it's also about Japanese isolationism and the government's long-term unwillingness to trade with the rest of the world. Well, they definitely trade OUT (PlayStation anyone? Toyota? Canon?) yet they bring IN very little, theoretically to keep their economy going (until now, that is) by selling few goods domestically that are not Japanese. And they basically don't make dishwashers, or import them. (Samsung and LG are Korean brands, the lucky bastards!) At the Ikea here in Japan I did notice dishwashers on their show floor are all made by the Swedish company Electrolux, and were not available for sale.  In fact, Japan does not allow Ikea to sell any appliances.
A few countertop dishwashers are made here – you know, the kind that hook up to the sink. This Panasonic looks like spawn of a toaster oven and bread maker. It also looks cheap and gadgety and probably doesn't work well if it's anything like my washing machine, which doesn't actually clean unless you run it for two or three cycles. And where does this beast go when it's not in use? Are you supposed to leave it out, taking up precious counter space? Yeah. NO.

Kitchen design. I know we all like to think that everyone in Japan lives in modern minimalistic design heaven, but that simply isn't the case for I'd say about 95% of the population. Japanese houses are built quickly out of cheap materials and are not meant to last. Homes are extremely utilitarian, and they're pretty much all the same inside. The Acme grade kitchen unit (like mine, pictured up above) is one big piece and exists almost identically in most homes.

Obedience. Japanese people don't complain and they're surprisingly nationalistic and trust their big companies and government to keep the country happy. It has served them well and really, why have a dishwasher when you've never needed one before? Fuck innovation and convenience. This is Japan.

I'm clearly still working on acceptance here. To embrace my new role as top dish dog, quite the dubious honor, I have tips for life without a mechanized dishwasher:

+ one pot cooking
+ make lots of sandwiches
+ get take out and dine out often
+ snacks (but avoid too many Funyuns)
+ daytime water glass = evening wine glass
+ never thought I'd say this but use paper plates and eat off paper towels whenever possible
+ wash and dry immediately and put everything away to avoid depression, bugs, and counter-surfing boxer dogs
+ try to remember to use rubber gloves (I almost never do)
+ if you have more than one person in your household, switch daily between washing and drying
+ to avoid further depression and feeling as if feminism was just a figment of your imagination, use good dish soap you really like – believe it or not I actually order Mrs. Meyers through iHerb (they have all kinds of great stuff and ship to Japan for only $4)
+ ditto for dish towels – when I'm stateside I nab plain white flour sack towels at Target 

Desperate times, yo! Okaaay, more like first world problems, Japan-style.

5.12.2015

So There's This Iranian Vampire Skateboarding Around Bakersfield ...

Wut?

Once upon a time I said I'd write about films in these here parts. But then I didn't see anything worthy for a very long time and even stopped watching movies entirely because everything was disappointing and dumb. I WAS watching a shit-ton of television however, which probably had something to do with my lapse.

Oh yeah, then there was last summer during which I lost interest in everything but my air conditioner.

Well pals, no more excuses. I'm finally back on the film circuit and recommend A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night from VICE Films, written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour. If you like black & white, and you like foreign films, and vampires, by all means give it a go. It's even on Netflix, which is funny because their selection is grossly lacking.

Anyway, I'd describe this film as a very sweet, very original little feminist vampire western (is that a genre yet?) and sort of a Lynch-Jarmusch mashup. It's slow and strange and artsy and slightly disturbing but mostly it's just plain fun. My favorite!

(Some random, spoilerless notes: Why it's filmed in Bakersfield, California I do not know. And, yikes, what is UP with that ditch?! I don't like cats but in the last scene, that cat absolutely nails it, which could be why the scene remained in the film. If you like the quirky 1980s soundtrack, look for playlists on Spotify.)

5.08.2015

Taking My Life Back

Call me a rebel but I've never liked social media. Yet somehow it can still draw me in like an opiate for dipshits. Away I go 'down the rabbit hole' as my friend Monika says, clicking blindly on complete strangers' Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Twitter buttons they have so considerately puked all over their blogs. Next thing I know I've flushed three hours of my life down the proverbial toilet. Sucker!


I'm going to kick this stupid habit. There, I said it. And apparently I'm not the only one who feels this way about the sleaze buttons that only make blogs look desperate and cheap. Get your ugly, loathsome buttons off my internets! (Are you listening GOMI?) And while you're at it, shove your hashtags from hell up your hipster backsides. I'm done with your empty online branding and bogus popularity contests. Swallow some Unpretentiousil and shut the fuck up because your 2.4k followers are too busy being insecure to care.

So!

Let's take back our lives. Let's put quality over quantity. Let's simplify. Let's fill our time enjoying real lives with real people and stop ogling poser jerks online. I'm hereby disconnecting the few accounts I do have from here – now you can read my verbal vomit (or not) without distraction or dilution and then get right back to your life. You're welcome.

I even closed my Instagram account today and It. Felt. Awesome. Good riddance. How do you feel about all the social media noise?


5.01.2015

My Denver Bungalow

Let me start by saying I ADORE THIS HOUSE.

Almost four years ago I determined it was time to sell our Denver square (only ten blocks down the road from this house) because it was too big and fussy not really our deal. We'd renovated as much of it as we could afford, and because the neighborhood is stupid-popular now, it sold in three days. Huzzah!

Enter the bungalow.
Hold up, rewind. I live in Japan now and I'm renting out this house for the duration. Ideally I will live in it again someday and pick up where I left off with renovations. The sooner the better.
Anyway. This little bungalow. It just felt right. From the minute I walked in. It's small, about 1200 square feet, and it has character. Nothing mind-blowing, just subtle and comfortable and happy and it didn't stretch the budget. Crazy, right?

Stuff I wanted and got with this house:

+ solid 1920s build
+ small, compact space
+ dated kitchen I could renovate
+ dirtscaped backyard I could landscape
+ two-car garage
+ great hilltop location (with no 24-hour hipster yoga studio in my alley!)
+ major remodel potential – plans below

Stuff I didn't even know I wanted but got with this house:

+ insane rental income
+ a garden shed!
+ new roof (replaced as part of the sale)
+ good neighbors who aren't all up in my face and don't have shouty children

Stuff I wanted but didn't get with this house:

+ an entry of some kind
+ normal sized bedrooms
+ established trees/shade

Still, I had work to do. My husband had taken a job in Beijing but I wasn't about to go live there – are you kidding? I can't even drink the water in China without developing intestinal mayhem. I visited him, that was all the China I could handle. I wanted to fixate on the house anyway and then on the Vail studio loft and it all worked out perfectly. I took a boatload of mostly low quality iPhone photos while I was doing the work and since I can't multitask for shit, I'm going to write about it now just for posterity, and very much after the fact. I hope there's no rule against that in the blogger bible I have no intention of ever reading.
ANYWAY. Off the bat I refinished the original floors from that standard golden oak to a dark grayish-brown. I painted all the interior things white, of course.
Next up we planned a low-maintenance, low-water back yard with a landscape architect friend. The house being so small, I wanted to add serious livable outdoor space back there. It went from all dirt to all this:
Not everything went so well. The house had pathetic water pressure, which turned out to be very costly to repair and required digging up the entire front yard. And half the street. THEN the kickass new water pressure made the old water heater explode and flood the basement.
But I don't want to talk about that.

Eventually I got back to the fun stuff, namely the kitchen overhaul. I overshared about that here.
Someday I'll decide on that backsplash. Maybe.

A note about the spartan state of the house in these photos: These are the shots I use to advertise it as a rental. They work.

Here's the rest of the house. Not much to it!
The small awkward bedroom off the living area with a door to the bathroom.
Tiny Ikea bathroom renovated not-so-well by the previous owner. But it's cute and it works for now. (You're welcome for not taking a photo of the bathroom with the toilet seat up. I hate that! But probably because I'm mental.)
Small bedroom/office off the kitchen at the back of the house, overlooking the back yard. Yes, that's a $40 tanker desk and my ONLY killer craigslist find. Sorry but I'm not one of those bloggers.
A small part of the basement was also refinished by the previous owner. Again, it works for now.

I GOT PLANS! Of course I have plans. Because I need to obsess over stuff constantly.

+ vault ceilings in the living area, add skylights
+ install small, stand-alone Scandinavian woodburning stove
+ partially enclose porch with nano windows to create quasi-entry
+ utilize the back half of the attic for a sleeping loft/bedroom
+ renovate the existing bathroom
+ excavate basement and create a real laundry room, full bathroom, TV area, and bedroom
+ replace fence, update garage, plant more trees

You know, nothing much. And by the time I get all of that done, it'll be time to renovate the kitchen again.

4.20.2015

I Hate You Japan

Your trash situation stinks.

Here's why:

1. Your public trash cans are few and far between. Parks, malls, sidewalks, bus stops, streets, shopping centers — very rarely will there be a bin or dumpster to pitch anything. Needless to say I walk around with my trash in my purse more than I'd like to admit.
2. You obsessively over-package everything. Each piece of fruit has not only its own styrofoam jacket for padding, it might also sit in a waxed paper tray then be wrapped in saran wrap or sit in a clear plastic container. And inside of a box or bag, every cookie or cracker or dried fig or chocolate covered almond is often wrapped in plastic ... individually. WTF!

3. Your residential trash removal system is draconian. I have to buy expensive, special yellow bags in which to put burnables, meaning anything other than recyclables. I have a mere three hours (5am-8am ... really?) in which I must deposit the bag in the small cage down my street, twice a week.

4. You have no donation bins. I asked around and people looked at me like no one wants your gross old clothes and said they just throw theirs away because, duh? doesn't everyone? We're supposed to pitch clothes, shoes and any other cast-offs into the burnable trash. People here really like to buy everything brand new so second-hand and thrift stores are very selective about what they take AND you have to stand in line just to get 15 cents for anything. Not happening. Besides, it's difficult for me to hang around for too long in a store called "Hard Off" thankyouverymuch.
5. Your recycling system is a thing of nightmares. Mostly because I have to do all the work. Milk cartons have to be rinsed, cut, flattened and dropped off at the grocery store in a special bin. Clear plastic (sushi) containers, styrofoam trays, and bottle caps each have their own bins there too. All the bins are always overflowing. Glass bottles are placed in small crates left out on our street the night before pick up, which occurs every other week during another early three hour window of time, but on a different day than the burnable trash. Paper is flattened into no more than 24" square and bound with paper string. Plastic bottles go in an even more expensive special clear plastic bag and are also picked up every other week during yet another short window of time. Same goes for aluminum cans, and if you have old batteries, they go in a smaller special clear plastic bag inside the bag with the cans. Aerosol cans, which must be punctured before recycling, go with the glass. Yes, punctured. Yard waste must be sorted and bound according to thickness and type, then placed in larger special plastic bags; it's only picked up once a month. Pet waste is to be flushed down the toilet. Kitchen organic waste is left draining in the sink until it's dry at which point it's put in another plastic bag and added to burnable trash.

So. If you actually got through all that, imagine how I feel. It's practically a full-time job. To make matters worse, recycling days switch around sometimes based on holidays, sometimes not. I learned all of this the hard way. When I get it wrong, the neighborhood association ladies come round to let me know. It's a good thing they're so polite or I'd bitch slap them.

Unsurprisingly, litter in Japan is a big problem for all the reasons listed above. It seems I'm not the only one who feels the system is utterly retarded. Beaches in particular are literally dumping grounds. So much that I simply do not go there. Don't believe me? Here's a photo of the beach near my house.
This goes for miles in both directions. Imagine my surprise and horror. It's disgusting and sad as fuck. Broken glass is all over the place. So no, I won't be walking my dogs out there. EVER.
Here's some rusted out hi-fi equipment (probably Sony) next to a fire pit. That seems safe. Toxic? Nah!
This is a pachinko slot machine on one of the coastal walking trails. Quaint, no?
I call this "Still Life with Ski Boot"
And this was dumped under the bridge near my house where I DO walk my dogs. It wasn't the first TV I've seen out there.
Took this photo on our walk three days ago.

Yeah ... I used to really care about the environment. Like, a lot. But I no longer give a fuck thanks to Japan.

Now that you're depressed and probably feeling suicidal (sorry!) I promise that my next post will be about the nice side of Japan. Trust me, it does exist.