Friday, 20 June 2008

So we’ve gone and bought an apartment

Once I got my new job at the international school the guru and I sat down and wondered just what in the hell it all meant. The most important thing was that it meant I wasn’t working for the English school anymore, which was, not to put too fine a point on it, doing my head in. But it also meant that we had to reappraise our plans, such as they were, regarding staying or going.

The kind of tentative plan was that we would stay in Japan whilst the youngster was young, probably up to the end of elementary school or Year 6, so about 10 years old, and then head back to Blighty as that way he’d get the benefit of both a Japanese and a British upbringing (and the concomitant language benefits contained therein). But then I got this job at the international school and so now he’ll get a British education but in a Japanese environment, perhaps the best of both worlds (or maybe going to a Japanese school whilst living in the UK would be better, who knows), and, not wanting to blow the school’s trumpet too long or hard, the education he’ll get here will be every bit as good, if not better, than an education he’d get at a state school in the UK (except we don’t have enough space, especially playground and playing fields, but we are an inner city school so you can’t have everything).

So anyway, he’s 3 now and he’ll be able to stay at the international school here until he’s 16 at least (assuming I stay here as well, or else I find another job where I can blag 10 grand’s worth of school fees along with a better salary, which, let’s face it, is unlikely) – by the way I didn’t try to get the job here for this reason, but I must say it’s panned out remarkably well. So that meant that the guru and I took a short, direct think about what was in the offing and decided it was probably a good idea to buy somewhere to live and get out of the rental sector, so we have.

Well, I say we have but what we have actually bought, right now, is a big hole in the ground with a few foundations that will, by March next year, have grown into a 50 apartment mansion block. The good news is that it is new, it shouldn’t fall down in an earthquake, it’s in Tokyo, near where we live now, near the river and a nice park (with a windmill, no less), we can choose options we want, it’s bigger than the place we have now, it’s close to a railway station that’s only 25 minutes to Shibuya so not a bad commute and, probably the most important one, we can afford it. The bad news is that it is quite close to a railway line (the very one the youngster and I will get on to go to school), the mortgage is for 35 years so I will probably be paying this off into my retirement, the land is designated as residential/light industrial so there are a few not so nice bits around the area (zoning laws are great in Japan) and the station area isn’t nearly as well developed as Kawaguchi (so no big library, no city hall, only 1 supermarket, no sports centre etc).

The town itself is a bit like Kawaguchi in that it is going through a strong phase of redevelopment, with lost of apartment blocks being built on the sites of old factories and warehouses. With this, usually, come more amenities like supermarkets and the like as there are more people to use them – this might be wishful thinking on my part, but we have watched Kawaguchi change mightily over the last 6 years so I have high hopes for the new area.

Of course it might still all fall through as we haven’t really got full backing from the bank yet for the mortgage. What we have is a positive pre-judgement for a loan for an apartment in a place called Mizonokuchi, where we nearly bought a place but backed out of at the last minute (I will write the story of that one sometime), the new place is slightly more expensive so we need to go back to the bank to get a new pre-approval. Once we’ve got that the bank then takes its time to decide whether it wants to give us the full approval or not, and actually hand over the cash. If it does, all well and good, if it doesn’t we get our deposit back but have to pay for the apartment options we chose – not so well and good. Bit of a long, drawn out process this, but there you go.

So, we’re up and running, roll on March 2009…

Thursday, 12 June 2008

You can have it as an option…

Goodness two posts in two days, verbal diarrhoea!

So, as I said yesterday the Guru and I are looking to buy a place and at the moment we are looking at a newly built place just over the river – so new in fact that it won’t be built until next March. What got me is this.

Last night, as I said, after writing blog type stuff I filled out all the forms necessary to apply for the place and the associated finance that is part of the deal. No problem there, but because it hasn’t been built yet there is also a whole load of add on options you can choose, and pay for, for the particular apartment you are buying; so, for example, you can choose better/more kitchen appliances and bathroom stuff and, well, lots of other stuff as well. The problem is that, for some reason, even though the place won’t be finished for about 10 months, the deadline for option choosing is this Saturday.

Now, as a foreigner it is much more difficult to obtain the necessary credit to buy property – it is possible but takes time. We submitted all the paperwork today, the decision from the bank won’t be made until next week at the earliest but if we want options on the apartment that isn’t ours yet we have to make them on Saturday. That in itself is silly enough, but get this.

On Saturday we’ll hand over a deposit and make our option choices. The following week the bank will make their decision, if they say yes then all well and good. However if they say no then the apartment people will smile, say sorry and then give the deposit back and then give us an invoice for the cost of the options we have chosen as the ‘contract’ for the mortgage is completely different and separate from the ‘contract’ for the apartment itself…

So, how confident are we that we’ll get the finance? Well, seeing as it took us 4 banks (which in Japan is pretty much all of them) to get a mortgage for the place we didn’t buy before, not very, although the sole mortgage provider for the new place is the bank that approved our loan for the old place (but as they are different branches I am sure it will be, in grand Japanese tradition, ‘case by case’). What to do…?

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

The decline and fall of Japanese civilization, pt.2

So in the last few weeks there have been a couple of instances which have contributed to the notion that Japan is no longer the place that it was. Now I’m not going to talk about the stabbing thing in Akihabara on Sunday as that sort of thing has been going on for ages here, indeed I think I may have written about it on occasion, so some things never change. No, what follows goes far deeper to the core of what it means to be Japanese (and in the process dragged Japan, kicking and screaming, a bit closer to the 21st century).

The first one was a couple of weeks ago. In the past large numbers of women have come/been enticed/forced to come to Japan to work in the ‘water’ industry – I don’t mean as hydroelectric engineers or plumbers, but as hostesses and, at times, more besides. Now, some of these ladies were from the Philippines and had more than casual relations with some married Japanese men folk and got pregnant. On knowing they had got the mistress up the spout the Japanese gents did the decent thing and scarpered sharpish so they didn’t have any embarrassing questions from their good lady wives like “you have another son…?”, only to have a crisis of conscience and acknowledge their contribution after the kids were born. The Filipinas, no doubt tutting their disgust, decided to have the kids anyway and stay here in Japan, but herein lay the problem. Because the mothers were not Japanese and because the fathers, though Japanese, refused to recognize their offspring before their birth, the children were effectively stateless – not officially Japanese even though to all intents and purposes they were, and not really Filipino as they had no real knowledge of the country.

Inevitably a group of these people took their matter to the court and inevitably each and every court in Japan told them “tough, if your Japanese father doesn’t recognize you before you’re born then you ain’t Japanese, sunshine”. Except suddenly the High Court, in full frontal assault on the homogeneity of the Japanese people, suddenly decided that this was unconstitutional and just a little bit silly, seeing as if the fathers had said “yup, that’s my kid” before the birth then there would have been no problem.

This, of course, opens the huge can of worms of parental recognition of offspring. In this country if a father doesn’t recognize a kid as his own then the kid is hugely disadvantaged as the kid will have no residency papers and the like as these things are always done through the male/father and if you have no father (on paper) then you are a non-person. So anyway hopefully this will now come an end, though I won’t be holding my breath.

The second all out assault on the homogeneity of the Japanese people (I rather liked that phrase so I thought I’d use it again, I hope you don’t mind…I also hope you don’t mind about me not writing anything for a month, oh well) came this time from the Diet, or parliament, which makes it even more odd than the High Court telling the govt to sort itself out. This time the Diet unanimously decide that the Ainu People, predominantly of Hokkaido and very north Tohoku are, in fact, indigenous to Japan and not another bunch of bloody foreigners. It is hard to know quite why the govt suddenly decided the acknowledge the Ainu as Japanese (as opposed to forcing them to pretend to be Japanese, as they did after 1871 when they banned the Ainu from doing anything ‘ethnic’ or ‘traditional’) but the fact that the G8 summit will be held in Hokkaido later this year (I think) might have had something to do with it.

An interesting aside on this one is that last September Japan was one of 144 signatories on a UN resolution calling for recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples (though of course the Ainu weren’t indigenous at the time, only indignant). Apparently only 4 countries voted against the resolution, countries with a long history of support, empathy and peaceful coexistence between the white settlers and the indigenous peoples they found on arrival. They are, of course, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (still, at least NZ got a 1/2 decent rugby team out of it).

Housing problems

The last thing for now is that the guru, the little ‘un and yours truly are in the throes of buying a permanent place to live in this country. I have applied for permanent residency, somehow secured a mortgage and nearly bought a flat that would probably have fallen down if a magnitude 5 sneeze had hit it, let alone an earthquake. I promise I will write more on this soon, but tonight I have to go and fill in more forms for a place we saw last Sunday and we like the look of. This time it is a new build, have a look here for more.