Tag Archive: Yokohama

Apr 15

Week of YTG

It’s been a busy week for YTG. Lots of promising developments, but if I am completely honest, I have to admit that’s all they were: promising. Nothing is in ink yet, and we’ve got a bunch of deadlines on the horizon.

 

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I had my first interview with our third international intern. That went quite well, and I’m really hoping everything works out. However, even if all goes well, the internship will occur during the three hottest months of the year, so I am a bit worried that our northern European friend will melt. If his school agrees, I should be getting the paperwork quite soon, and then we can discuss dates.

 

***

 

On Tuesday, Mayu and I went to see a possible studio space. It was like a massive airplane hanger, but modern, insulated, and really nice. However, it was more geared towards visual artists than it was to Theatre, although the fellow who interviewed us at least seemed interested in what we do. It’s a government building, so we need to be vetted first, before we can even decide if we want the space. There’s also a few things that are unclear: whether or not we can run the Ytheatre School out of there (restrictions on access to the space); if we can have access to a big enough space to rehearse in (we were told we could rent a small space as an HQ and use one or more of the bigger spaces in the building); or if we can continue our tradition of occasional open rehearsals (the access problem again).

 

Also, there’s some questions about electrical outlets and such, but I’m sure those questions will be answered before we have to make our decision. The studio space question has been a monkey on our backs for a while now, so I suspect that if we get through the vetting process and the use of a larger space is included, we’ll probably go for it. Yeah, IF we get through the vetting. We went into that interview having no idea of what they were looking for from applicants, so we’ll see.

 

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Grants! Thanks to Arts Commission Yokohama having TWO COMPLETELY DIFFERENT WEBSITES, we didn’t find the updated grants forms until today (the Japanese version of the site linked from the English one is one year out-of-date). Deadline for the application is FRIDAY. I’m pretty sure that they’re going to require a full project budget as well as a performance date. This is going to be tight. Did I mention that all the forms are in Japanese? Whether this gets done or not is going to depend on the dedication of the Yokohama Theatre Ensemble members. Gambarou, everyone!

 

***

 

We’ve booked space for the final four weeks of the workshop (yay!), but only two of those weeks are currently set in stone (i.e. paperwork completed) (boo!). I was going to push Mayu to get the paperwork done this week (she’s our contact person for the Chojamachi space), but the grant stuff is going to have to take priority. So by the end of next week. Until this paperwork is done, though, I am going to be sweating bullets.

 

***

 

So there you have it. A lot of great things happening, a lot of promise, a bunch of deadlines, and nothing yet confirmed. That’s been my week.

Oct 17

What Happens When the Sun Comes Out

Sunday’s rehearsal started out as a bit of a disappointment. Due to some schedule adjustments to accommodate one member’s participation in another show, this was our last full-day rehearsal of 2011.

 

By the end of the day, two of the ensemble members had called in sick, one got stuck at work, and one showed up, only to run to another rehearsal after just an hour and forty-five minutes.

 

For the entire morning, there were only two of us (Mari and me). We ended up doing some voice work and started moving into some text work before lunch. (I need to remember to borrow some voice training books from YTG Voice for the Actor instructor Graig Russell… or even better, I need to borrow his brain.)

 

After lunch, Hiraku arrived and we moved into some movement work, although not the main exercises I had planned, since I need to save those for the whole group. Takahiko pulled in around 14:00, and then there were four of us. At this point, we finally had enough people to do what I consider the ultimate acting exercise: tag. I should probably write a whole post on tag and why it’s an incredible Theatre exercise someday, but that day is not today. For now, those of you not in the know shall have to scratch your head in puzzlement.

 

Hiruaku booked at 15:00, and I gave the remaining two members a few minutes break so I could sort out what to do with just the two of them.Mari and Takahiko practice their salsa.

 

I still had my list of exercises, and I chose several that didn’t require a large group, and we started again, this time on some physical Theatre exercises suggested to me by Utrecht School of the Arts grad and former YTG intern Jos Avezaat.

 

The last exercise we did was a breathing exercise, and it led to something that made the whole day worthwhile: our first spontaneously created scene since we started working together. I don’t want to say anything more, because I don’t want to ruin the scene’s effect when we eventually showcase it, but I will tell you that it involved Mari spending more than 40 minutes teaching and drilling some basic salsa steps to Takahiko.

 

So despite the rather iffy start to the day, and the difficulty shifting gears with people coming in and out, we accomplished something very important. The process we’re designing together allows for us to grab an idea or a promising tangent and run with it while it’s still hot in our minds, and today’s idea hints that although we’re still just feeling our way in the dark, maybe we’re on the right track.

 

I’m looking forward to having the whole group together again on Tuesday to pursue this new scene.

Sep 27

The River is Wide

So the YTheatre Ensemble has started working on our first project. The first official project will still be Wall of Shame: The Musical, but we’re going to start doing a series of mini-projects to get us in the right headspace.

 

The first project is to expand the world that I and a bunch of high school students created for our 2009 Kanto Plains Drama Festival piece The Tribe of Dirt.

 

At the end of that piece, the tribe is led off by their new shaman to find a new life, and maybe a new element to base their culture on. I’ve given the ensemble the task of expanding on this, so we’ve started exploring the journey of the new shaman as he searches for the tribe’s new home and purpose.

 

Last night, we started working on the element of water, and thus did a lot of rolling around on the floor.

 

I find that I’m still having to do a lot of kickstarting of ideas with the group, since they’re used to being “just actors”. I will continue to work to make them part of the creative process. Last night’s stalling over some points of mythology and the archetypal quest have also convinced me that I may have to create a reading list for them.

 

Finally, here are some photos from last Tuesday’s “Opening Ceremony”, as I called it. After rehearsal, we convened at my house to drink some sake. I gave each of the “First Five”, including myself, a little packet of gold leaf that I’d bought last year in Kanazawa, and we sprinkled it into our cups to symbolize our collective wish for good fortune in our Theatrical pursuit.

 

Sep 11

YT Ensemble, Assemble!

The Ytheatre ensemble after our first rehearsal.

Left to right:
Hiraku Kawakami, Mari Kawamura, Mayu Cho, Takahiko Arai, Andrew Woolner (holding the camera)

The Yokohama Theatre Ensemble met for the first time as a unit this past Friday at the Kanagawa Earth Plaza (or Global Citizens Plaza, or whatever it’s called).

 

In addition to myself, the ensemble includes four brave souls: Hiraku Kawakami, Mari Kawamura, Mayu Cho, and Takahiko Arai. I say brave because we’re doing something different than every single one of us is used to while working on Theatre.

 

Normally when a group of strangers comes together in the name of Theatre here in Japan, we know a few things going in:

  • what show we are going to do
  • what the show will be like (style, content, etc.)
  • what the rehearsal process will be
  • when the show will be going up
  • what part(s) each person is going to play

The YT Ensemble knows none of these things. Well, we do know that our first show will be called Wall of Shame: The Musical, and that we hope to perform it for the first time sometime near the end of this calendar year. I’ve set that as the first show, because, firstly, I believe that it’s an important show to do, and secondly, I think that it’s important to have a first project in the pipe in order to prime our creative processes. In the future, we will be developing the shows together, as a group.

 

But other than the name of the show and the vague theme of journalism and the 3/11 earthquake, we know nothing. Not what the form of the show will be, not what the content will be, not even a running time. And that’s kind of the point.

 

So, that’s kind of scary. We’re creating Theatre without so many of the safety nets that we’re all used to. The worst safety net to work without (at least for me) is that of enforced relationships. With a scripted show, or a devised piece developed with a proper ‘director’, there are excuses to break social taboos. For instance, the script or the director will frequently dictate to you your in-show relationship with another character. If that relationship is intimate or hurtful, certain behaviours on your part are appropriate within the context of the rehearsal room. With people who have worked together for a long time, this becomes less of an issue, of course, but the five ensemble members have never worked with each other before. Moreover, we didn’t even know each other before forming the ensemble. I predict that we’re going to spend a lot of time, if I may switch metaphors, just breaking the walls we’ve all put up around ourselves. More time than usual for a cast.

 

I will post further as things develop, but I think the intimacy of the ensemble will be a recurring theme for the first little while as we try to figure out ways to break down the social walls between us. That in itself might make a good show someday…

Sep 08

The Dream I Stole From Sam

(mumble mumble) years ago, I was sitting in an apartment in Toronto, watching the real actors smoke, including Sam Rosenthal, now Artistic Director and General Manager of the Vaughn City Playhouse. This was a party of some sort (my memory is vague), possibly even the closing night party of The Diary of Anne Frank, my first semi-professional show and my first real show unconnected to an educational institution I was studying in.

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My eyes weren’t blinded: I knew that this show, in a grotty little Theatre called, appropriately enough, The Annex, was not a high budget affair. And though they seemed seasoned and wise to me then, the creative forces behind the show (the aforementioned Sam Rosenthal and his partner-in-crime Eli Lukawitz) were young and just starting out into the world of making Theatre. Don’t get me wrong, I knew this at the time, but I also felt inspired by their energy to create Theatre and so I spent most of my time hanging on their every word. They were really doing it; they were making it happen.

 

Eli and Sam were very influential on me just at the right time, much more than most of my university professors, and I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity they gave me by casting me in that show, and letting me see how a semi-pro company should be run (i.e. as much as possible like a professional company). I’ve held every group I’ve worked with since up to the standards that those two set for me, including my own casts and crews. But beyond that, something that Sam said that night at the party has stayed with me ever since.

 

He talked about how his dream was to run a rep company. Simple as that. Back then, I still pretty much wanted to be “just” an actor, although at that point, I think I’d at least narrowed it down to wanting to be a stage actor (i.e. I’d realized that I found film shoots intensely boring), so I probably nodded sagely, even though he was talking to someone else (Walter Young, I think1).

 

(In case you don’t know what a repertory company is, at its most basic it is a cast and crew that stay together for an entire season (at least) and perform several different plays together. If you want more detail, go look it up.)

 

In any case, at the time, a rep Theatre didn’t sound so great to me. Not bad, mind you, just not particularly special. But for some reason, I carried the idea with me over the years, and by 2001 or so, I’d basically stolen it and made it my dream. However, I ran into the problem that when you’re not paying them, actors don’t want to commit to more than one show at a time. Who’d have thought it? Well, Sam, obviously, which is why he’d been smart enough not to try it.

 

I realize now that part of the problem was that I was trying to do very conventional Theatre. Although my company was emphasizing original works and new interpretations of classical works, my approach to Theatre was still, in many ways, very conservative. With no money on offer, and able to get very little attention from critics, what did I have to offer actors? Basically, my Theatre company was one of the places to go to get something on your resume until a better job came along. Why would anyone commit for the long haul?

 

I closed up my Theatre to move to Japan, and when I started working with the Yokohama Theatre Group, I put the idea of a rep company aside. With the way that expats come and go here, a rep company was unthinkable.

 

And then I made The Tribe of Dirt with a bunch of high school students in about four hours one Saturday afternoon as part of the annual drama festival put on by some of the Kanto-area international schools. If you look that the video on the other side of that link, it’s rough, sure, but there’s something that happened that day that caused the penny to start dropping. Working on that show caused me to want to work on developing something wholly my own, in rehearsal, which led to my show 39, developed over three months of rehearsal with Kimberly Tierney. Doing 39, and the summer Fringe tour to Canada that went with it inspired me further, and by the time I got back, I was eager to develop more… which got me into trouble as I worked that ambition into the Tartuffe project I’d committed to the year before.

 

It’s now been nearly ten months since Tartuffe ended, and after much experimentation and farting about, I hit upon a possible answer to the question of “why would an actor commit to more than one show?”. The answer I hit upon was: an actor won’t.

 

Okay, but why would I? I would because I’ve come a long way since that night at the party, and I no longer think of myself as an actor: I think of myself as a Theatre Maker, as utterly pretentious as that sounds. What it means is that I want to be involved in the whole process of making new Theatre. I’ve known for years now that I want to do more than just interpret a playwright’s words in the way that a director wants me to: I have ideas that are too big to fit only into that niche. Which means I’ve been doing writing and directing. But what I’ve yearned for, and what Sam Rosenthal’s stolen dream has turned into is that I want to work with a group of people who want the same thing. Maybe they will want it in a more limited way than I do, I don’t know, but I want to find out.

 

The reason I’ve always loved Theatre so much is that I love collaborating with other people, and now that I’ve realized that the way I want to do that is much less conservative and more hippy-dippy than I had initially thought (owing more to the 1970s collective Theatre movement than to the rep companies of mid-20th century England), I think I may have found a way, if I’m really lucky and things go my way, to fulfil that dream I swiped from Sam.

 

1 No link there, by the way; he doesn’t come up on Google, and on Google images, searching [“Walter Young” toronto actor] brings up unrelated photos including Pennywise the Clown and Hitler.

May 19

Good Day Becomes Bad Day

I set out yesterday morning to clear a bunch of stuff from my to-do list, related to my upcoming volunteer trip to Oofunato. I had 40,000 Yen in my wallet, thanks to scrupulous scrimping and saving over the last three months, which I planned to use for the volunteer trip.

 

The day started out with a ride to the insurance office to buy volunteer insurance. Score one for my Japanese skills. I took the insurance card and popped it in my wallet.

 

Then I rode back to to my neighbourhood to get my hair chopped into a maintenance-free style since I will likely not be able to shower between May 21 and 28.  I had a dentist and doctor appointment at 14:00, but I didn’t have enough time to run my other big errand (home center to pick up mask, gloves, work shirt, eye protection, etc.), so I rode back out towards Maita and found a little Italian place to eat lunch at.

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I totally scored on the Italian food and had the best margherita pizza I’ve had since moving to Japan. The staff were friendly and chatty. I paid, took the receipt, put it in my wallet, and then shoved my wallet into my vest pocket (I wear a workman’s vest during the summer because I need the extra pockets). I went outside, slung on my backpack (strapping it across the middle) and rode off.

 

I arrived at the doctor’s office about five minutes before my appointment time. The receptionist asked me for my insurance card, and I started hunting through my card holder. Hmm… not there. I must have transferred it to my wallet at some point. Well, I’ll just—wait—no—what?—shit!

 

Wallet gone.

 

I had strapped my bag over top of my vest, and the strap must have put pressure on the lower part of the vest pocket, pushing my wallet up and out.

 

The dentist and doctor both agreed to see me on the promise that I’d return tomorrow with the insurance and the money. The receptionist was kind enough to call the restaurant for me and confirm that I had indeed put my wallet in my pocket before leaving.

 

Right after my appointment, I retraced my exact route. A normally 15-minute ride become 60 minutes as I pissed off other vehicles on the road by riding extremely slowly, looking for that square of light brown. I got all the way back to the restaurant, where the manager helped me search the bushes outside where I’d had my bicycle parked.

 

The bushes that line the side of the road for much of my ride are these super-dense thickets, which began to get me worried that my wallet had perhaps fallen into one of them. So, as I began to retrace my route again, I experimented by dropping my card case into one of them. I was hoping that it would bounce off or stay on top, but it dropped into the middle of the bush and was almost impossible to find even though I knew exactly where it was.

 

I finished retracing my route a second time, which put me back in Motomachi where I thought I would check with the police. The sign in the window of the Koban (police box) said “On Patrol”. Just after I read that, a cop bicycled by, completely ignoring my waving. I waited another 25 minutes or so for him to return, but no luck, so I got back on my bicycled and retraced my route a third time.

 

This time I actually started searching bushes, concentrating around areas where the road was a little bumpy. But there kilometres of these bushes, and it was impossible to search them all. So I bicycled to another nearby Koban to file a report.

 

Koban_Sign

Once again, no cop. This time, I did notice a sign inside.  It was pretty clear that I needed to dial one of the three numbers printed on the sign.

 

Actually, the sign says essentially “pick up the phone and be connected to the police”. Well, picking up the phone only connected me to a dial tone.

 

I snapped a photo of the sign and posted it to Twitter. Within 5 minutes, a friend (@peacefulandjust) had replied with instructions. I was able to summon an officer of the law and make a report. Sadly, no one had turned in my wallet.

 

So, after spending another hour searching bushes (it was dark by now, so I removed the headlight from my bicycle and used that), I headed home empty handed, knowing that on top of having to repeat my errands again the next day (back to the Doctor to show insurance and pay; back to insurance office to see if they will give me another card; no second haircut, thanks…), I would have to report my credit card missing, cancel my bank and Yodobashi point cards… and worse, I would have to tell my wife that I’d just lost the replacement wallet she bought me in December after having lost the last one in Tokyo.

 

Yeah, this is the second time in six months.

 

Here are the possible scenarios, in order of my preference:

 

  1. I’ll find it today while I rerun my errands (highly unlikely)
  2. It was lying in an obvious place and someone picked it up and dropped it in a mailbox (according to @soness, this is a good way of returning wallets) or will turn it into the police today
  3. It was lying in an obvious place in Motomachi, and someone popped it in to a nearby shop; the shopkeeper will turn it into the police this morning.
  4. It was lying in an obvious place, someone picked it up, removed the money, and dumped it in a mailbox.
  5. It fell into the bushes, and it won’t be discovered until fall.
  6. It was lying in an obvious place, and someone stole it.

 

So. Yeah. Bad day. I still feel sick to my stomach thinking about it. But no time to dwell. I need to hit the road before 11 to redo all the errands from yesterday, plus today’s. First step… find a temporary wallet…

Mar 20

WTF Toronto Star

Here is an article filed by Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star:

 

http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/955721–dimanno-no-rest-for-japan-quake-victims

 

The article was brought to my attention by a contributor to the Bad Journalism Wall of Shame that I started Friday night.  I clicked through to read it and was absolutely flabbergasted at it.  I had expected a somewhat ill-informed, badly fact-checked piece like the one I submitted myself to the Wall of Shame as its first entry.  At that time, I thought that Ms. DiManno was just misinformed and not careful enough checking her sources, and the score I gave her reflected that.  However,  this second piece was so awful, and to my mind represented such a brutal distortion of fact (in service of a fairly obvious anti-nuclear agenda*), that I was instantly moved to respond directly by reporting it using the Report an Error button at the bottom of the webpage.  I could have let it go, I suppose, like so many others, but that it was printed by one of my hometown papers.  Given that the Toronto Star editorial staff are unlikely to read, let alone respond to it, I thought I would repost it here.

 

I don’t know where to begin.  I don’t know what alternate reality Ms. DiManno lives in, but it’s certainly not the Tokyo, Yokohama, and their environs that my friends, family, and I live in.

 

There are so many factual errors (including an unsupported assertion that a meltdown could inject "thousands of tonnes" of radioactive dust into the air"; and suggesting snarkily that nuclear winter is a possibility–something that is a theoretical result of a full-scale nuclear war, not a plant meltdown), that to list them all would require an article of my own.

 

The worst is perhaps the off-handed way she insults the workers who are risking their lives to keep the plant cooled, calling them "a selfless skeletal work crew doing whatever it is they do at the Fukushima plant…" which makes it very apparent she can’t be bothered to check facts and find out what it is they actually do.

 

In terms of officials (and scientists) telling us we are safe, Ms DiManno opines that "No one in Japan believes any of this babble." and that everyone able is moving as far away as possible.  This may be true of paranoid foreigners like herself, but I can assure you that myself and all my neighbours here in Yokohama are staying put, despite it being pretty much as easy as it ever was to head for western Japan.  I find her tone and her assertions offensive.

 

Finally, the entire tone of this article adds to the panic of the families of foreigners still living in Canada, some of whom are sick with worry… unnecessary worry caused by such irresponsible reporting.

 

Please recall Ms. DiManno from Japan immediately (if indeed she is actually here).  It is clear that she doesn’t want to be here, and we don’t want her here.

 

Shame on you, Toronto Star.  Shame on you, Rosie DiManno.

 

*I will make no secret that I am pro-nuclear power, but there are plenty of strong anti-nuclear power arguments to be made without resorting to untruths.

 

And now, I will try to calm down by posting a photo I took this afternoon at Kamiooka station as part of my series (really? I don’t know…) Life Goes on in Yokohama.

 

Life Goes on in Yokohama

Mar 17

Why Bad Journalism Has Driven Me To Desperate Ends

In retrospect, I should have had this idea before, but I guess today I just hit critical mass (not sure if it’s appropriate to use a nuclear energy turn of phrase here): one too many pieces of bad journalism.

 

So I decided to start a wiki Bad Journalism Wall of Shame and invite some of the other people who were frustrated with some of the shoddy, alarmist, and shockingly wrong journalism we’ve seen since last Friday’s Tohoku quake.

 

I take everything I read with a grain of salt these days, and have for many years.  When I read an article or see a television report that makes sensational claims, I try to fact check on my own, because I no longer trust most journalists to have done it for me.  There are several major areas that journalists particularly suck at:

 

  • Science reporting.  I have a degree in fine arts, and I could write better science articles than most science writers could.  Any journalist who suggested that Fukushima could be “another Chernobyl” should be made to retake his 9th grade science class and then have his journalist license revoked.   Oh wait…
  • Reporting on Japan.  JAPAN IS SOOO WEIRD!  JAPANESE PEOPLE HAVE NO EMOTION!  If everything you think you know about Japan was learned from the movies Gung Ho and Mr. Baseball, then maybe you’re not qualified to write an article about Japan.  Also, spending a few days, hell, even a month in Japan (probably in a hotel or furnished apartment, or otherwise isolated location) does not make you an expert on the place.  Nor does interviewing someone who has lived here for a few months (or even year, if living in one of the many gaijin bubbles).
  • Disaster reporting.  Two and a half words: Exaggeration and fear-mongering.

 

This is not new information.  Not to me, and probably not to you.  However, in the aftermath of the quake, all three of these elements joined together to create (to use a term journalists are so fond of using themselves) the “perfect storm”.  News piece after news piece full of inaccuracies, misinterpretations, and just plain lies.  (My favourites are the photos, shown out-of-context.  For instance, showing a photo of a girl in a surgical-style mask and implying that she was wearing it due to radiation, while the reality is that we’re in allergy season here and many people wear masks to keep pollen at bay.)

 

The worst offenders are the 24-hour news networks.  A few hours into the quake, I stopped looking at them.  The problem there (as we learned during the 9/11 coverage) is that the anchors feel like they have to keep talking to fill dead air, which means that they inevitably end up saying dumbass things.

 

But no news source gets off scot free.  Some seem to make stuff up, others seem to repeat rumours floating around in the electronic ether, while others interview obvious idiots or crazies and take what they say as gospel truth.  Some, I think, pick information up from another news source, and never bother to check it for accuracy.

 

Journalists are important.  If they weren’t, I wouldn’t be writing this, because I wouldn’t care.  They are as important as doctors, or soldiers, or firemen.  And they often get paid significantly less than all three.  If I was prone to hyperbole, I would say something like “journalists are the shoulders upon which freedom stands”, but I’m not, so I’ll just say good journalists are heroes.

 

Bad journalists, then, like bad doctors (think Doctor Moreau), bad soldiers, and bad firemen (I guess arsonists, then) make the world a worse place to live in.

 

Okay, like what?

 

In the case of this disaster, here is my list:

 

  • Incited a level of panic among people worldwide about Nuclear energy (pro or anti, I don’t care, but let’s talk facts, not histrionics)
  • Incited a level of panic among people worldwide regarding OH MY GOD NU-CLEE-AR WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!
  • Incited panic among foreign residents in Japan
  • Caused significant worry to the families, friends, and loved ones of those of us foreigners living in Japan.  Several people I know have left Japan, not because they were concerned about danger, but because their families were so stricken about the perceived danger they felt they had leave in order to comfort them
  • Probably (hard to measure) have caused economic damage to Japan due to foreign companies pulling out their people and, in some cases, talking about shutting down their Tokyo offices “due to radiation.”
  • Once again mischaracterized the Japanese people to fit their lazy stereotypes

 

 

Okay, so what’s the point of making a Wall of Shame for bad journalism?  Someone on Twitter implied that I was starting a witch-hunt and that we should be contacting journalists and publications directly and pointing out their errors.  Firstly, that is impractical.  There are too many.  Secondly, a witch-hunt implies that I will ruthlessly prosecute people I perceive to be guilty but who are actually innocent.  All the items posted are available for anyone to read and check against the facts.

 

The point of this exercise is simply to provide negative feedback to journalists who are, as we perceive it, not doing their jobs.  (And positive feedback: I’ve also started a Good Journalism wiki page for pieces that really shine.)  This may only end up being of interest to those of us who live here, but I think it’s important.

 

And crap it’s getting really late.  There is so much more I could write, but I really need to sleep.

 

I leave you with this: life goes on as usual in Yokohama.

 

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Mar 16

Japan: I’m A Resident, Not A Tourist

In response to the big Tohoku earthquake, some people are fleeing Tokyo (and Kanto) and some are fleeing Japan.

 

I am staying put in Yokohama.

 

A lot of friends have offered me places to stay throughout the world should I elect to leave.  Many have urged me to leave.  This is heart-warming and touching, and I am really grateful for all the truly great, caring, and generous friends I’ve got.

 

I am staying put in Yokohama.

 

A quick rundown of the reasons below:

 

First and foremost, I am not a tourist.  That is to say, when I go to Canada, I visit Canada, I don’t “go home”.  I stand in the “Visitors to Canada” line at immigration.  When I go “home”, I take the train to 上大岡 station, climb over a large hill, and walk to my flimsy wooden house.  When abroad, I get “homesick” for Japan.

 

I have put down roots.  I have permanent resident status; I own a house; I am married and have an extended family of in-laws here.  How could I leave my mother-in-law and my grandparents-in-law behind?  Grandmother is non-ambulatory and requires around-the-clock care.

 

I don’t like everything about this country, and I am forever an outsider and often am proud to stand apart.  But home is where you hang your hat, as the cliché goes, and I hung my hat here nearly eight years ago.  The hat may come down one day, but not today.  I will not behave like so many expats who leave when the going gets tough; these “captains of industry” who desert what they perceive as a sinking ship like the rats of industry they are.  In fact, if I am still gainfully unemployed when the call for volunteers goes out, I intend to head up north and help with the clean-up effort.

 

I’m not suicidal.  If I perceived a real, immediate threat, I would do my best to get myself and my loved ones out, and encourage as many others as possible to do the same.  But the foreign media has exaggerated the risk, particularly relating to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.  If you’re watching CNN, STOP NOW!  I’ve seen articles on TIME magazine and on The Toronto Star websites that have scientific errors that even a brief check with an expert or (god forbid) Wikipedia would have caught.  The biggest risk we face is another earthquake in this region of the country as the Tohoku quake seems to have triggered other earthquakes on different fault lines (which makes them not aftershocks, but separate quakes, I am told).  However, this is Japan, and earthquakes are part of the package.

 

This country has survived so much in just the last 150 years, and come so far in that time.  We will survive this, too.

 

So thank you all for your concern, and your kind offers, but I need to be here right now.

 

And now, I leave you with this: a picture of the blossoms on the plum tree in my yard that I took this afternoon during the blackout.  As much as the terrifying power of the earthquake and the tsunami is Japan; so is this.

 

IMG_4749

Mar 14

Quake News – Bits and Bobs

Just some miscellanea regarding my quake experience before I continue with my interview thingy.

 

  • My mechanical clock is running 20 minutes slow as of this afternoon; must be the continual bumping. I’m planning to leave it for a few more days to see how slow it will get.  It’s losing about 5 minutes per day.
  • During the 8-hour blackout on day of the quake, I spent 5 hours not flushing the toilet until I realized that the water was, in fact, running.
  • The upstairs toilet flooded. Salient points below:
    • This toilet has a small, random leak on the left side, under which I’ve placed a bucket
    • Japanese toilets frequently have a water-fountainy thing at the top (see picture)
    • We have incense cones sitting on the window sill in case of a particularly monstrous odour
    • I used this toilet only twice during the blackout, at which point it was already dark outside
    • I went back in yesterday morning while vacuuming, and discovered water on the floor
    • Inspection revealed that there was now way the normal leak could have missed the bucket
    • Further inspection revealed that an incense cone had fallen (presumably during the quake) near the hole on the top of the toilet where the water ‘fountain’ drains into the tank
    • The cone is smaller than the hole, so it must have originally fallen sideways
    • The water from my first flush must have pushed the cone towards the hole while simultaneously engorging it
    • Thus, said engorged cone blocked the hole
    • Second flush must have flooded the tank top
    • Interesting?  Probably not.
  • Around 12:30 today, two obaasan (Japanese old ladies) rang the doorbell.  They wanted to present me with an impeccably-written note in English informing me about the power outage from 15:20 – 19:00ish.  Of course, my wife is home from work today (trains too unreliable and crowded from here to Tokyo), so it was completely unnecessary, but they were worried that I was home by myself.  The hilarious part to think about is that, knowing how little old ladies do things here, it probably took them 3 – 4 hours from coming up with the idea to executing it, working solidly the whole time, with many discussions.  It gave me a bit of a smile to think about that and about how much my neighbours care about me.

Mar 13

Quake News – Interview PT I

As you may have heard, the largest earthquake in its 140 years of recorded earthquakes has struck the north eastern part of the main island of Honshu.

 

Since the quake struck at 14:46 yesterday afternoon, I’ve been posting my reactions and any updates I can think of on Twitter and Facebook, which for many hours after the quake, were the only reliable means of communication.

 

You can follow my trains of thought there: http://twitter.com/#!/StageRabbit and http://www.facebook.com/Woolner

 

japan-earthquakeOne of the more dramatic photos from the tsunami that followed the quake. [Not my house]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was a false alarm that I might be interviewed by the cbc, but once I informed them that the most trying part of the experience was going eight hours without a heated toilet seat, they smiled politely and backed away.  So I thought I’d do the interview myself:

 

PART I

 

Q. Where were you and what were you doing when the quake occurred?

A. I was at the kitchen table, eating half of my lunch.  The other half was in the toaster oven.  The house started rocking, and I froze.  Imagine a rabbit raising his head and cocking his ears.  That was me gauging the seriousness of the tremor, as I think all of us here have learned to do.  After about 10 seconds of rocking (the house felt like it was rocking back and forth, south to north), it seemed to be intensifying, so I pushed out my chair and ducked under the table.  My back was to the south wall of the house, which, as the quake went on, I could feel thumping into my back.

I felt like I was on a boat, not in a house, and the shaking seemed to go on forever.  I’d left my laptop sitting on the table, and I tried to make a grab for it, but couldn’t get a good angle.

I heard something fall and smash in the living room.

The shaking subsided, and I grabbed my laptop and went to check the living room.  While doing so, a light shaking started, so I moved on to the genkan, put on my shoes and got out of the house, where I met up with my neighbours.

I had only been wearing a T-shirt when the quake hit, so it was a little cold, but I didn’t take the time to grab my jacket.

Q. Is that what you should do?  Run out into the street?

A. No, probably not.  But after riding the rough seas in my house, my instincts were screaming at me to get out.  However, I was probably more likely to get hurt by falling debris (ceramic roof tiles, etc.) out there than I was to be hurt under my kitchen table.  However, at this time, no one had any idea what was happening, and I didn’t trust my house not to come down around my ears.

Q. What did your neighbours think of the situation?

A. They’re all old Japanese men, so very hard to fluster.  We discovered quickly that power in the whole area was out.  I was actually the news source for the first 15 minutes or so.  I’d tethered my laptop to my phone and was able to check the news while everyone else was still looking for his battery-powered radio.  I felt inordinately proud to be the one to break the news that the quake was in the northeast and measured 8.9 [note: since upgraded to 9.0].

Q. Did you eventually go back into the house?

A. Eventually.  I had to: it was getting insanely windy.  But I rode out the second aftershock (biiiig one) on the steps outside my house, crouched down and chatting with a neighbour.  The aftershocks were reasonably strong and coming so frequently, that every time I went back into the house, I got scared out of it again.

Feb 19

Exterior – Day 13

As we slept in this morning, the workmen came and removed the scaffolding.  While I thought this was a little weird, since we hadn’t been asked if we’d approved it yet, but at least it means that most  of the work is done.

 

The workers will have to come back at least once more since they left brooms, brushes, and a ladder.

Exterior Renovations - Day 13

Exterior Renovations - Day 13

 

 

 

And a BEFORE/AFTER shot:

Exterior Renovations - Day 1  Exterior Renovations - Day 13

Feb 18

Exterior – Day 12

I popped upstairs to check a hunch when I got home today, and low and be-friggin’ hold, the roof was done!

 

BEFORE

Exterior Renovations - Day 10

 

 

AFTER

 Exterior Renovations - Day 12

 

Ooo!  Shiny!

Feb 16

Exterior – Day Ten

Massive snow on the evening of Day Eight, so no one came yesterday.  Today, however, they were back.  Mostly, it seemed, putting finishing touches on the paintwork:

 

Exterior Renovations - Day 10

 

Exterior Renovations - Day 10

Hard to see, but they’ve painted the drainpipe and eaves pipes running down the side of the house with the same brown as the metal deck/fence.

 

 

You can see below that they’ve painted over the fresh wood that was put in by the carpenters on Sunday.  It’s white!

Exterior Renovations - Day 10

 

Not sure if they’re done yet.  If they are, I suppose the next step is the roof.

Feb 14

Exterior – Day 8

I get home later on Mondays, so by the time I snapped these, it was raining and the light wasn’t so good.

 

Exterior Renovations - Day 8

They’ve restained our front door so that the outside doesn’t look faded anymore.  For reference, this is how it looked until today:

 

Kamiooka Tea House

 

 

Exterior Renovations - Day 8 Exterior Renovations - Day 8

 

You can see in this final photo that they’ve added the blue stripe above the window frame, under the mini window cover.  I really hope they do another coat on the red, though; it’s looking pretty thin.

Feb 13

Exterior – Day Seven

Day five and day six were no-gos.  The weather was rainy and snowy, so no work got done.  But on the morning of the the seventh day, I answered the door in my red bathrobe and walked around the building consulting with Tsukide-san about the work.

 

A few hours later, the carpenters arrived to begin their work.

 

Exterior Renovations - Day 7

As you can see, there was more painting done on Friday after I left.  The blue over the window and the metal shutter box have been done.

 

Exterior Renovations - Day 7 

This is a shot looking straight up from right beside the front door.  The carpenters put in that metal cover (and the hole underneath) today.  It’s so our second floor crawlspace can vent properly and prevent rotting from humid air building up there.  Until now, URBAN had suggested to us to open the second floor windows as much as possible in order to accomplish the same thing.

 

Exterior Renovations - Day 7 

The white areas just above the window frames will be redone in blue (although the areas under the window covers will remain white).  Also, you can’t see it very well in any of these photos, but the carpenters replaced several areas of wood that had started to rot really badly.

 

Exterior Renovations - Day 7

Feb 11

Exterior – Day Four

Painting started yesterday in earnest.

 

Exterior Renovations - Day 4 

 

Yay!  Blue!

 

Exterior Renovations - Day 4

 

And red!

 

Exterior Renovations - Day 4

 

 

They did more work after I took these, but by the time I got back home last night it was dark, and today it is snow.  I expect them to be back at work tomorrow, weather permitting.

Feb 09

Exterior – Day Three

Well, the men are hard at work.  Today I came home to a fume-filled house, since they’ve started doing the primer coats on the wall and the wood.

 

 Exterior Renovations - Day 3

You can see that the coating is making the wall panels look really yellow.  They seem to be leaving the metal alone for the time being.

 

Exterior Renovations - Day 3

Apr 21

Tick Tock, Tick Tock

So, we put an offer in on the Kamiooka Tea House last Sunday, and we’re waiting to hear back.  Apparently there are three owners that must all be consulted, so I wonder if our contract-signing date will actually be able to be this Saturday as scheduled, or not…

 

In the meantime, here are some images from other houses we saw.  I’m not going to make entries for these, since I’ve annotated the photos quite nicely, I think. Click any of them to see the whole gallery.

And some photos of the outside of the Skinny Idogaya house (not the Idogaya Sunroom house), which was rejected due to its distance from the station (20 minutes from Idogaya, a non-express station). Again, click any of them to see the whole gallery.

Apr 18

Real Estate Agent Weirdness

We had a meeting with Rehouse today to put an offer in on the house we’ve chosen.  For some weird reason, the seller’s agent wanted craploads of info about me… Workplace, salary, etc.  I made a bit of a stink about this because there is absolutely no legal requirement for this.  The bank has all the necessary info, and why should I give it to a third party?

 

The seller should only care about whether or not the bank will give me money, not about my salary, or workplace or how long I’ve been working there!  Besides, we have to negotiate with this agent, and it’s hardly fair if he knows how much money I make!

 

In any case, Hirasawa-san and my wife talked and agreed not to pass this info on to the other agent… but seriously!

Apr 16

Higashi-Totsuka House

After the Idogaya Sunroom house got nixed, we moved to our next favourite, which we’d seen on the second big house-viewing weekend (the morning of the same day with all the drama surrounding Idogaya).


This was a huge (135 square meters) house in Higashi-Totsuka, about ten minutes from my sister-in-law and brother-in-law’s place.


Higashi-Totsuka_House_web


We visited this house twice, and were deep in negotiations and planning when the plug got pulled.


It was a very strange place. The third floor had all these weird roof angles. Sure, the main bedroom was huge, but about 25% of it was under 5ft tall!


We went and measured, figured out where our furniture would go, and started negotiations to add a large deck out back.


And then I sent the brochure above to the bank. We weren’t about it being overbuilt because the Idogaya place would have been too if the sunroom had been registered, but that is exactly why the bank rejected it.





We were crushed. We’d focused so much emotional energy into this place and we were shocked when the carpet was pulled out from under us. I kicked myself for not sending in the property brochure earlier.


And this is when we went back to the beginning: the Kamiooka Tea House. One more bump in the road first, though. Stay tuned.

Apr 16

IDOGAYA SunRoom House

The third house we saw (on the first day that my wife and I looked together at houses), was this little place in Idogaya (click for full size in new window).

 

Idogaya_4LDK_Sunroom_Web

 

Well, at 100ish square meters, not so small.

 

The best part about this house was the sunroom.  You could see Mt. Fuji from it, and the laundry machine was on the end of it.

 

However, despite a beautiful bathroom, the downstairs was a hodge-podge of unusable space.  Look closely at the floorplan, and you’ll clearly see that neither of the two bedrooms have any place to put a double bed without blocked a balcony door or a closet door!  This place was going to require that a wall (probably that weird closet between the two rooms) be knocked down before we could move in.

 

We communicated this to our agent, along with the fact that this house was at the top of our list, along with the Kamiooka Tea House (which my wife still hadn’t seen at this point).  Unlike a Japanese bank, our bank would lend us the money for this house, providing the Sunroom was registered (the Sunroom was unregistered, and registering would make it about 12% overbuilt; our bank doesn’t care about the building being slightly overbuilt, it seems).  However, the agent for the seller did not communicate this information to the seller, and instead convinced him that we were having financing trouble.

 

The seller, convinced, decided to hire a construction crew to remove the sunroom… the only part of the house that made it stand out for me, sadly.

 

This all came to a head in one evening, while my wife and I were visiting her grandparents nearby the Idogaya house.  We ran over there at 21:00 in the evening, and knocked on the door.  We spoke directly to the owner, who realized that his agent had been dishonest with him, but, in true Japanese fashion, shrugged his shoulders and said something along the lines of: “well, he’s a salesman; that’s his job.”  He suggested we come back at the end of March to see the house without the sunroom.  When my wife explained that the sunroom was what we liked most about the place, he admitted that he too had bought the house twenty years ago for the same reason.  But he still wouldn’t change his mind about removing it.

 

It was partly our fault: we didn’t want to commit until we could check and see if the renovations we wanted on the first floor bedrooms was possible.  Otherwise, we could have made a buy offer right there in front of his house.

 

That was on a Sunday, and the following Tuesday, our agent met with the seller’s agent again to try to convince him to stop the tearing down of the sunroom, but to no avail.

 

So our passionate first pick got away from us…

Apr 16

Kamiooka Tea House

The first house I saw, back in February, was a 5LDK about 20 minutes from Kamiooka station.


Kamiooka_5LDK_Teahouse_Web


My wife wasn’t available that weekend, so I went with my friend Maiko in order to put the non-English speaking real estate agent (Hirasawa-san) at ease.


I fell in love with the place. It’s 111 square meters (or heibei, as we say here) on 148 square meters of land. It’s elevated above the street and has a nice-sized garden, perfect for a friendly BBQ. The first floor was a bunch of tiny rooms, a terrible bathroom and kitchen area, and a lot of windows and doors (I counted 6 doors to the yard, and on a later visit discovered 1 more!). Built in Showa 46 (1971), the downstairs looked like a place someone’s grandparents might live.


The kitchen had gas, but it was obvious that the other rooms were heated via kerosene heaters (yuch!).


The second floor was an addition, built in Showa 61 (1986), and was almost entirely washi (Japanese-style). The two main rooms, 6 jo and 8 jo, were exquisite and made you feel like you’d walked into a room in a Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn). The third room was a small tea room.


I thought it was great.





Then my wife and I started looking at other houses, and we went back to look at this one because she hadn’t seen it.


After having seen some houses that were in better condition, I fell out of love. The first floor was very dingy, and it became apparent that we’d have to do major renovations in at least the kitchen and bathroom in order to move in.


This house dropped off the list.

Mar 10

Two Weeks of WHAT?

Wow, I really did think I’d be updating this house hunting blog more often.  But with finishing a project up for my company, and being balls-deep in rehearsal for my next show, not to mention the house hunting itself, well…

 

Let me quickly bring you up to speed.

 

As I stated in my last post (well, before the foreclosure one), we’d pretty much settled on ReHouse as our agency.  The guy seemed more responsive to our requests, and because they are also the company who manages the rental we live in now, making the transition between houses should be easier.  So yeah, Rehouse.

 

Saturday, Feb 20th: my friend Maiko and I went to see one house.  My wife was unavailable, but since the place looked so good on paper (and the other agencies hadn’t shown us this one), I wanted to get a look at it ASAP.

I really liked this house, though it had a host of problems.  But I will get to that later, when I describe all the interesting properties.

 

On Monday,  Feb 22, we received word from the bank that we’d been conditionally approved for 20 million.  That means that we can buy a property that’s valued up to 25 million (since the bank will loan 80% of the current property value).  I know this might sound like a lot, but in Japan, it’s nothing.  We had told ReHouse that our upper limit was 20 million, and we only got to go see four properties.  He has told us that if we raise our maximum to 25 million, that there are many more he can show us, but we’ve been reluctant to do so because of the resultant increase in the monthly payments (about 30%).

 

On Saturday, Feb 27, ReHouse took us to see four houses.

 

The first one was a place that had not been suggested to us by the other agencies.  It was smaller than we wanted, and more importantly, it FELT smaller.  I don’t think either of us really seriously considered, although it was by far the newest and most renovated property we saw.  Also, like all the houses we visited where someone was currently living, we weren’t allowed to take photographs!

 

The second one was the Idogaya Sunroom house, which had a wonky downstairs but a lovely sunroom with a view on the main (2nd) floor.  About equidistant from both Hodogaya and Idogaya stations (16 – 20 minutes walk)

 

The third was the Gumyoji house, of which we could only see the outside for some damn reason.  Loved the yard, but the house was old, and not being able to see the inside was a put-off.  Also, the price was TOO LOW, if you can believe it.  The lending minimum for the bank is 15 Million, and the place was 14.8 Million Yen.  Didn’t really like the area (11 minutes from Gumyoji station, which is not an incredibly convenient location).  Also depends on being able to negotiate unconditional access rights to the walkway leading in to secure building rights (more on this in another post).

 

The fourth we called The Stone House, a place near Kaminagaya subway station, so named because of its beautiful stone exterior.  Unfortunately, the inside didn’t live up to the outside, even considering it had the best bathroom we saw.  The upstairs had no hallways and the middle two rooms were only accessible from the outer two rooms!

 

More to come…

Feb 23

We Will Have To Move

We’re currently renting a nice little house up on top of a hill near Kamiooka station.  It’s about 85 square meters, has a largish kitchen and living/dining room on the first floor, and two moderately sized bedrooms on the second floor.  There is also a storage room, which was once in good enough repair to be used as a kid’s bedroom, attached to the living room.

 

Check out the photos ::HERE::  (From the first day we visited the house…oh, the nostalgia)

 

We really wanted to buy this house and then save money to renovate it.  I had hoped to rebuild the storage room into a proper room and possible even extend the house upwards, adding another room on the second floor as well, local laws permitting.

 

But that was not to be.  Even for a house that will likely be torn down after we move out of it, our neighbourhood is expensive.  Our bank would give us a maximum of 20M Yen on a purchase price of 25M, and this house, had the owners been willing to sell, would have been about 35 million.  We could have borrowed more money from a Japanese bank (more on that in a later post), but the term of repayment on a house as old as this one (35 years) would have been too short (5 – 10 years), making the payments way too high.

 

Besides, our agent told us that our owners weren’t interested in selling, after all, despite being ambivalent about it when we brought up the subject with them a couple of years ago.

 

Damn it.  The only way we’ll end up staying here is if we fail to buy a house.