I am writing this on the bullet train to see my sister. Knowing it is a Friday night before a long weekend, and also because it was the conclusion of my first week at work, I decided to splurge for a green (first class) car seat. I think I deserve it.
It has been a little bit less than 2 weeks since I landed at Osaka International Airport, having left Europe after 10 years. In total, I had been away from my “home” country for almost exactly 32 years. It was not at all surprising that the arrival didn’t feel quite like home-coming.
My first confirmation that things were not the same was at the arrival passport control. Japanese citizens no longer needed an arrival stamp. Half asleep, I went through the express lane that just scanned my passport, when I realised that I needed the arrival stamp for documents to receive the container shipment. I had to catch a young passport officer coming back from a break, and have him bring a stamping kit outside of the control zone for my stamp. He gently chided me not to make this mistake the next time.
As I continued in my mental fog and descended the stairs to baggage retrieval, a well-dressed Parisienne with two chestnut hair children in tow was explaining to her kids: “When Mommy comes to Japan, she uses her Japanese passport, because it is much less hassle.” – except she was speaking in Kansai-ben, the dialect from Osaka area far different from the “standard” Japanese of my childhood. Her children responded with perfect Kansai-ben, without a trace of a French accent. The cognitive dissonance reminded me of the time I turned around and found an old Asian lady speaking Jamaican Patois on Canal Street, New York City.
It was an early plane, and the airport was not extremely busy. This was also the case, because the most recent typhoon had directly struck Osaka, and one of the bridges was partially blocked for repairs with restrictions on traffic coming in and out of the airport. Starbucks was closed. The airport parking was empty. We hardly passed any vehicles on the limousine bus ride into the city. The sky was gray, the city was gray. The silence and oxidized colors of the industrial zone felt eerily like the opening scene of an apocalyptic film.
The house was empty. Although Family from Kansai was happy to have me back, my father, the only one that would be close enough relations to receive me home in a quiet residential zone, was busy. It would be three days before I would see him. It was a good thing I had forgotten to return his house keys the last time I’d visited. I am not at all familiar with this region except from once a year visits to two or three specific locations. Armed with visual memory, google maps enabled by a rented wifi-hotspot, and Japanese currency, I headed out for groceries.
While there is space enough for two independent adults to live where my father lives, I want to explore this new city I will call home. Instead of the regular things I should have done, like set up the residence registry and other administrative details, I used my jet-lagged hours to search online for apartments near my new work place in the city of Osaka. Having only been a dependent in Japan, I have never looked for a living space. All of this is new, and exciting.
Except I am not sure what I am looking for: apartment in a アパート (apart) = smaller apartment building, or in a マンション(mansion) = a high rise with more “luxe” apartments, a nagaya / machiya, a more traditional Japanese house, or a house). I knew that I want to know my neighbours, and I want to have a “downtown” 下町 feel. I find very few options in the area I am looking. I am nostalgic for my grandma’s old house. It turns out, I am just as guilty of fetishising a certain sepia coloured Japan, as a tourist. My excuse is that my friends from abroad will visit, and would want something more Japanese than a Japanese imitation of western apartment interiors. I am also aware that my nostalgia is making me knowingly ignore that these Japanese homes do not insulate against the heat and the cold of this island country. I probably should know that even if I think I want neighbourly relations, I only want the nice ones, like the last neighbours I had, where it was a pleasure sharing meals and the edible bounty from the garden. I definitely do not want to reproduce a Japanese version of the nosy next door neighbour I used to have who would routinely call the police to rat us out on trivial stuff like the height of the hedge or whatever she found that was not to her idea of proper citizenry. I say I want also to install a creative space with open doors, but do I really want to welcome people in my living quarters, when I am really an introvert, and I just need a cave to hide most of the time?
The real estate agents I have seen so far were either impassive, amused/annoyed and needing to prove that they were ready to work like hell for me, or just plain bored that I had practically no idea how to articulate what I wanted in a rented space. Even abroad, I had never truly used a real-estate agent in the past because due to sheer luck, magically, interesting apartments had fallen into my lap. So I do not even have a basis of comparison. At least one agency felt passive aggressive and patronising, especially because it took me til my second appointment to understand that they are probably not the agents with whom I should trust my search. Is it their fault that a mysterious single-middle-aged-female-foreign-returnee with a need to have multiple rooms, breeds suspicion?
In the meanwhile, another massive typhoon was brewing, engorging rivers and wreaking havoc south west of Osaka. The grocery shop shelves were bare, freshly downloaded alarm apps rang, the local school’s AP system announced us to not leave the house unless absolutely necessary. The air was thick and devoid of sound until rain and wind started howling late-afternoon before my first day at my new workplace.