Bad housemates | A Japanese sharehouse in Tokyo | The Humming Man

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I have lived in shared accommodation in Tokyo since I moved to Japan. It’s in a good location, it’s cheap, and it has been one of the best experiences making my stay in Japan a lot more comfortable than a boarding house would.

I have had a good laugh while I have been here. It’s not like a hostel where multiple people stay in the same room and things can get a bit crowded. You get your own room, your own shoe locker, your own segment in the pantry to store your cutlery, dry foods, non-perishables, plates, oils, stuff like that. We get two bathrooms, four showers, four washing machines, and one hob in the kitchen. Not to mention a cleaner comes around once a week.

Because most of the people are here for ether holiday or work it’s not uncommon to go all day without seeing a single person. The best and worst part of living in shared accommodation at the end of the day is the people. If you end up with clean, quiet, respectful, like-minded people your experience of shared accommodation will be that of a positive one. However, if the opposite happens, “you’re gonna have a bad time”. Unfortunately, in my five months of being here, I have had a few “bad housemates”.

So I thought I’d tell you the stories about the, not so great ones, starting with…

The humming man.

I moved in August 2018. First impressions were great! My room had a fridge, air conditioning unit, desk, and enough outlets to suit me. The whole house was spotless and the three or four people that I had met seemed like great guys. I had just spent sixteen hours in the air and about four hours lumping my suitcase around Tokyo to get to my accommodation. The time was now three in the afternoon and my first day was spent introducing myself and wandering around trying to keep awake so that I can go to bed at a reasonable time and cut the inevitable jetlag recovery time in half.

Finally, the time is now eight in the afternoon. “That’s a reasonable time to go to bed, a little on the early side but I’ll just get up early tomorrow,” I think to myself. So I’m lying in bed, it’s pitch black in my room, and it’s quiet. The only noise I can hear is the low rumble of the fridge and the gentle blowing of cool air from the air-conditioning and I start to drift off.

Then another noise creeps into my focus. To begin with, I thought it was an electric razor or toothbrush from the bathroom down the hall. However, the pitch would change every now and again and I realized it was someone humming next door. Now that’s not abnormal. People hum, that’s not the strange part. The strange part was that he wasn’t humming anything with a tune or rhythm or any of the usual markers that he is mimicking a song. It was just mmmmmmmMMMMMMMMMMmmmmmmmm. And the female voice coming from that room kept clearing her throat. Anyway, as interested as I was in knowing what the hell is going on, I was tired as hell so passed out pretty quickly.

The next day I wake up to the sound of the two highest and softest pitched voices I have ever heard. It was my humming and throat clearing neighbors. Now, I want you to close your eyes and picture this. Michael Jackson and a six-year-old girl with a super high pitched voice saying I love you to each other, over and over and over and over and over and over again. Imagine the most repulsively “in love” couple you can imagine and times it by a thousand. “I love you baby,” “no I love you baby,” “no I love you baby.” By the sound of their undeveloped voices, I thought there were a very feminine man and a very underage girl confessing their love for one another.

Gross! I thought. Forgive me for being a prude but this had gone on for 20 minutes, and that’s just how long I had been awake! God knows how long they had been doing it for. Anyway, I get up, go about my day, do some sightseeing, come home, and there seems to be arguing coming from next door. By arguing I mean her in a stupidly high cutesy, squeaky voice asking him WHY!? And him saying in a voice so high no man could/should ever be able to make “no” “I don’t know” “baby I love you” “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” It was at that point I had made my judgment! My neighbors were a couple of weirdos.

It transpires that earlier in the day she had caught him watching “Chinese porn”. I know this because she started screaming it in a pitch that made me fear for my windows. This was one of the many reasons she argues with him and this went on for weeks. Humming at night, “I love you” in the mornings and some kind of strange arguing sesh in the day. It occurs to me that I haven’t seen either of them in the three weeks I have been here. Never even hear their door open and close. Until that one day.

I was heading back to my room from the kitchen after making some toast and walking down the long corridor to my room (right at the end), and his door opens just to the left of my door. Out walks a small, kind of chubby, fully bearded man, in an open woolly pink bathrobe, rubbing his eyes like he had literally just seen the sun for the first time in forty-nine years. I am stopped in my tracks.

Number one, because I am blown away that a voice that high could come out of a fully grown hairy man-beast. Two, because he is now blocking my door so I can’t get past, and three, his open fluffy bathrobe is leaving nothing to the imagination, nothing! He was wearing nothing but an open bathrobe. Not one for male grooming (and he must have been cold). He stopped rubbing his eyes and squinted at me like he needed glasses. All of a sudden he opened his eyes fully in shock, squealed and jumped back into his room slamming his door. I jumped out of my skin and almost dropped my toast! All I heard after that was, “nothing baby” “nothing” “I love you” “I love you” and then came the humming! All bloody night!

For the next two weeks, I would catch the tails of his bathrobe around corners and disappearing through doors as if he would hear someone coming and run to safety. I assumed that he was an extremely frightened damaged guy and the humming must have been some sort of a coping mechanism. Anyway, They eventually left and I enjoyed utter silence from next door until my next batch of neighbors…

Click here for part two…

MANBOO

The problem with the taxi option is that I have taken three taxis since I have been in Japan and all of them cost me north of 50 quid. The first two where Uber, until I was told Uber in Japan, isn’t the same as it is the UK. Uber in Japan is used by businessmen and CEOs that require a “professional driver” so I was told to use Japan Taxi which to be fair, was a bit cheaper (by about 1000 yen-about seven odd quid), so not much of a change really.

The problem with the second option was that hotels in Tokyo can be on the very, very! VERY! expensive side. I could get a love hotel for six to twelve hours but I was a bit weirded out by it at the time. As for just staying up and partying all night, well, although I am a binge drinking English man, bars typically close at 3am here and the trains don’t start until 6 giving me 3 hours homeless time. And then I discovered ManBoo.

Manboo is an internet cafe with three room options, you have your standard room with internet access, a tv room with a comfy recline-able chair, and a room with both Internet access, A TV and a bed. Now, when I say “room” and “bed” I use the terms very loosely. By room, I mean cubicle much like a typical office style cubicle that reaches a bit further up, say about 6ft with a lockable door, and when I say bed, I mean a bit of a thinner landing mat you would typically see in gym class, or a martial arts school.

The lobby area is more like a library with rows upon rows of every manga you can think of and you can take the books and comics to your room and chill out in private with your favorite manga and help yourself to unlimited free soft drinks, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. Cheap food is also available from vending machines and I don’t mean your typical packets of crisps and chocolate bar type of vending machines, I mean real food vending machines, noodles, pasta, fried chicken, chips, dumplings etc.

I booked for twelve hours in the highest price room, TV, internet, bed, the works. I didn’t need twelve hours but I wanted to experience as much as I could of this strange place and maybe get some sleep. How wrong and naive I was.

Sleep was not a possibility. As you might expect a cubicle within a massive room filled with computer equipment and TVs was about the temperature of your average sized server room. The aircon did very little to help, especially as my cubicle was on the top floor and elevated towards the ceiling meaning that heat could easily get in but not out. The people inside the cubicle next to mine were (and I’m just going off the grunting, knocking, moving and giggling) having a very good time, and just when I thought it was over, it would start up again ten-fifteen minutes later. So either there was a pair of newlyweds with the stamina of Rambo on bull shark steroids or these places are frequented by a particular worker, and it makes sense!

A cheap room that you can pay for by the hour, with a mat, no questions asked, is the perfect place to engage in questionable nighttime activities. This kind of made me wonder, what went on in MY room before I got here… on my easily wiped down crash mat… noticing that the room wasn’t what I would call clean…

Needless to say, I spent the rest of the night chilling by the free drinks bar or bolt upright careful not to touch anything, watching Japanese TV (which is a whole blog post by itself). Needless to say, I will not be staying in an internet cafe again anytime soon.

Internet cafes have a use (for all kinds of people) and I am sure there are lots of people that would just like to book a room where they can play games, read manga, watch TV and have free drinks all night. In my teens I would be happy to say I was one of those people, however, my view of internet cafes in Japan is that they are now more of a sex den than a nerds paradise.

Check out some of my horror story’s of Living in a Japanese share house.

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Being a Vegetarian in Japan

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Fully Loaded Burger from Ain-Soph 

Contrary to the title I am not a vegetarian. However, I am a bit of a health nut and while I was living in the UK I would always opt for the sweet potato pitta at Nandos or the Veggie Burger in Frankie and Benny’s. In fact, the only time I ate meat was if it was put in front of me and not wanting to seem rude by saying “I don’t want this” I would just eat it.

My typical day would be oats with honey in the morning, couscous and beetroot humous salad for lunch with a Nature Valley protein bar, a few bits of fruit here and there and a dinner consisting of some kind of Quorn dish with a Gold Standard Protein shake made with unsweetened almond milk before bed. In fact, if I didn’t eat eggs I would eat vegan.

However, moving to Japan threw my diet out the window, from the 40th floor, on to spikes, made of lava.

The thing is, Japan doesn’t really do vegetarian. In fact, I have come across one too many people that look at me like I’ve lost my goddam mind when I say things like “no meat” “vegetarian” “don’t put Bonito flakes on it!” It’s not that they don’t understand it, vegetarian in Japanese is “Bejitarian” and vegan in Japanese is “bee-gan”. No seriously. Even though there are words for it in Japanese doesn’t mean that they understand it. Every time I say vegetarian I still have to run through the list with them.

Egg? ok.

Milk? ok.

Dashi? (fish stock) not ok.

Chicken? not ok.

Eh? but… Eggs from a chicken are ok?

Its like in the majority of cases they can’t tell the difference between eating an animal and eating what comes from an animal. If you tell them outright you are a Vegan they tend to understand that you want absolutely nothing to do with an animal. However, that checklist will still probably come out. And restaurants are just the tip of the iceberg. Getting food from a Seven Eleven or a Family Mart is a minefield of meat, even the pre-made vegetarian salad has some kind of animal derivative in it for absolutely no reason. Just plain lettuce on its own in a pack has fish flakes in it. Almost all cakes have gelatine or animal Rennet in them. And if you’re a Vegan!? Good luck! Even the bread has milk in it here.

Now, I have succumbed to the fact that I can fight this every single time I eat or just go with the flow. Not wanting to be that typical foreigner with a list of dietary needs that end up slowing a kitchen down because they need to remake everything, I either eat a little meat or simply go to vegan restaurants.

But! Fear not! Vegan restaurants are popping up all the time. It would seem that more and more people are realizing the niche that is veganism in a meat-eating country. Don’t get me wrong they are few and far between but the ever-increasing rate is a good sign that Japan is heading in the right direction. I will link just a few places that I have eaten in and can personally vouch for their deliciousness for vegans, vegetarians, and meat-eaters alike.

It goes without saying, I am a very respectful foreigner and I would never walk into an establishment and throw demands around and kick off when I don’t get my way. I have read up on the culture and how Japan does things. I know that they are a homogenous society with a collective mindset and I am happy to assimilate. However, the vast majority of goers of the Rugby world cup and the 2020 Olympics will not care one bit.

Now, I’m sure if you are reading this and you are not from Japan, you are a very respectful, easy going person that would be more than happy to adjust your lifestyle for the two to three weeks that you stay here. You might even be reading my blog to get a bit of insight into what to do and what not to do. And if you have done a bit of research about the typical foreigner faux pas, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

I fear for Japan. I have lived in other parts of the world prior to moving here and I can honestly say that Japan is not ready for the rest of the world. Smoking in public is illegal here. Well, foreigners won’t care about that. Eating and walking aren’t exactly good manners. Well, foreigners won’t care about that. I once saw a group of old ladies scowl at a man that coughed one too many times on a train and caused a disturbance. Well, get ready for carriages full of people on their phones screaming about god knows what. The one thing that Japan is going to need is to hurry up and get the right dietary requirements catered for. I’m not just talking about meat, fish, and milk. I’m talking about allergies and religious needs as well.

If you are Vegan/Vegetarian I highly recommend trying these places out.

T’s TanTan– my favorite place to eat! the hot and sour ramen is the best in my opinion.
Vegan Ramen
Ain Soph. Ripple -or any of the Ain Soph resturants to be honest but the best is Ripple. Typical American style food. Chilly Cheese Fries, Burgers, Burritos, Salads but all one hundred percent vegan.
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Nataraj Restaurant– for us Brits it’s important to know where the closest Indian restaurant is, its a safety blanket. If you’re not from the UK you wouldn’t understand. Nataraj is the place to go, trust me on this.
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Coco ichibanya– now bear with me on this one. You have to find a vegetarian one because not all establishments are, you also have to tell them you are a vegetarian to be given the secret menu and you have to be ok with certain veggies deep fried in the same oil as meat but, it is the best curry in the world!
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Noodle StandIt isn’t a vegan place but they do have a vegan option on the menu. It’s the Vegan Coconut Miso Ramen. A white Miso soup cooked with coconut oil and Ramen. And it is delicious! Reminds me a lot of Yasai Itame from Wagamamas in the UK.

Okonomiyaki zen– The one place I found that know what a vegetarian is. Okonomiyaki is a type of pancake made with veg and meat. Just tell them you’re a vegetarian or vegan and they will bend over backwards to accommodate and it’s delicious!

Kanro Shichifukujin– A traditional Japanese vegan macrobiotic sweets and bento restaurant. It’s run by the sweetest Japanese lady in the world and there is a cat. What’s not to love.

Please check out the Happy Cow App and the Veggie Map for more restaurants that are vegetarian and vegan-friendly.

I started a multicultural underground theft ring, here’s how I did it.

John Milton

I accidentally started a multicultural underground umbrella theft ring here’s how.

I live in shared accommodation. it’s an amazing way to exchange ideas, language, culture, art, fashion, jokes and make new friends from all over the world, just one problem, when it comes to Japan we are all clueless.

Don’t get me wrong no one wants to upset the Japanese people or insult the culture in any way so we have all done our own research to make sure we don’t offend anyone, sometimes to death! I live with one person that is paranoid about everything she does from coughing in public to what direction she places her chopsticks after a meal but nothing quite prepares you for all the strange things you see and hear along the way.

For me, the strangest thing I see is storefronts, the fact that all the trinkets, wares, items, and products are all just on display and not bolted down or security tagged, is mind-blowing to me. I passed a garage once and outside the front of the shop a good 40 meters away from the building was a wall of rims and tyers, all shapes and sizes Chrome, spinners, gold plated aftermarket stuff I know for a fact are hundreds of thousands of pounds just sitting there and I’m looking around to check if anyone else is seeing this!?

A smaller thing I have noticed is the sheer abundance of umbrellas there are, everyone has one, every shop sells them right next to the door, they hang unaccompanied on walls, railings, signposts, and sometimes just lying there at the side of the street. This is why I thought hmm maybe people just leave them out for others to take instead of binning them or taking them home where they already have a hundred or so, that makes sense, not to mention they are cheap! they start at about 500 Yen about (£2.50-£3.40) and you can buy a fancy one for 1500 yen (about £11). anyway I was on a review page for The Millennials Shibuya trying to find out a bit about it before I stayed there and one of the reviews said that there is a take an umbrella, leave an umbrella, stand, and sure enough when I visited, there was indeed an umbrella stand (that I deposited my umbrella in) and when I went to collect it in the morning it wasn’t there! so I took someone else’s, “of course!” I thought to my self, this must be how it works everywhere!

Fast forward a month later, I sat in the kitchen eating toast with a few of the other guys in the house talking about what we have been doing and what we will do in the coming days. One of my housemates looks out the window and sees it’s raining.

“oh for god sake!” “what?” I ask, he says

“its raining again! I can’t afford all these umbrellas! I keep losing them or putting them down and forgetting them!” so I say “don’t worry about it! just grab one from the umbrella stands out the front of the shops! people just leave them there for you to take. Stunned! REALLY!? I said yea! I read a review about a hotel with a take an umbrella leave an umbrella stand and its the same one that’s outside the front of like every shop. Five other people around the table chimed in, “really!? we didn’t know that!”

About a week later our umbrella stand that sits just inside of the front door which is usually barren was absolutely FULL of boosted umbrellas, the slots to put the umbrellas in were all full and umbrellas were strung up about the place, you couldn’t move for umbrellas, we could have started an umbrella warehouse fit for bulk orders.

Unfortunately it wasn’t to last, the guy I had told about the umbrella stands pulled me to one side and told me he had just had a lengthy telling off for stealing umbrellas and that the man in the shop that he frequents on his way to and from work that he had been robbing umbrellas off this whole time wants his umbrellas back!                                           “I must have made a mistake/misunderstood!” “I had no idea!” “I’m so sorry!” “I didn’t mean to give you the wrong information!” “I’m just going off what someone else had said!” “we need to warn the others” “I feel really bad!” all the things I said to him and more! and I meant it! honestly, I did! but as soon as I got to my room and locked the door I burst out laughing, the thought of him getting caught and told off for stealing umbrellas for a week pushed me over the edge, I laughed for a straight 20 minutes, the state of the front door umbrella area, the fact that I had told six people that stealing umbrellas was totally fine, the look on his face when he told me he got in trouble. I just kept envisioning this Japanese shop owner telling off this guy.

Its fine, we’re still good friends, I laugh at him about it sometimes.

He doesn’t laugh back.