Friday, 7 August 2009

Back with a vengeance

OK, apologies, been busy etc, but we’re back now.

As I haven’t put finger to keyboard pretty much this year a lot has gone on, however as it is now August I can’t remember most of it. What I can remember is that 1) we moved and 2) the folks came to visit, so that is what I shall write about (so if you don’t want to know about either of these things, stop reading now).

The moving

Yes, as I type this at the office (it’s summer so it’s quiet…) I know that when I finish I will return home not to the bustling metropolis of Kawaguchi but to the sleepy-except-for-the-trains Ukimafunado. ‘Where on earth is that?’ I’m sure you’re all wondering, well, if you google it you can find it, but it is in Itabashi ward of Tokyo, so I can finally say that I really do live in Tokyo rather than in a bit of Japan right next to Tokyo (not that it ever stopped me). Anyway the new gaff is actually pretty close to the old gaff, over the river and along a bit, so we are still nice and close to the riverbank (good for jogging) and also very close to a jolly nice big park with a pond (but also close to a train line and a fairly big road) and also we’re on a direct line into Shibuya, making the morning commute slightly less stressful for me and the little ‘un (who has now attained the ripe old age of four – about the right age and size for chimney sweeping, which is where I would send him over the summer holiday if only a) the guru would let me and b) anyone in Japan had a chimney… I digress)

So anyway, the first part of the year was mainly taken up with getting this gargantuan move sorted out. As I’m sure you can imagine there were plenty of hassles along the way, mainly involving money and pieces of paper that had to be signed. Luckily the bank and the mortgage neatly involved both of these bothersome requirements and the Guru and I seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time travelling to Mizonokuchi (where we nearly bought before and where the man with the money was) and sitting in the bank’s loan plaza (which was unlike a plaza in almost every way) listening to a man with bad breath talk to us about mortgages. Of course we went through the whole fixed or free floating conundrum and ended with a deal that, to be honest, I don’t really understand, but some of the loan is floating and some of it fixed for 10 years, but the rate on the floating bit has limits so it can’t suddenly go up by 5% overnight. Or something. I don’t know, I just filled in and signed lots of bits of paper. Interesting that whilst the bank savings interest rate is something like 0.000000001% at the moment, the rate on loans and mortgages is, of course, much higher at something like 3.5%. Hmm…

Note on filling in forms – over the last few months and, well I suppose a year now, I have had to fill in a shitload of bits of paper, usually with exactly the same bits of information like names, address, work, family details etc. Now as a non-native writer of Japanese I have had to practice a bit to get to a point where what I write is legible. The Guru, on the other hand, is Japanese so has had a lot of practice. The result of this is that, as a Japanese person, her handwriting is allowed to be nearly illegible and another Japanese person reading it will have no issues; however as a foreigner my writing has to be of almost typeface quality otherwise a Japanese person will refuse to believe it is Japanese. A case in point. There is a katakana character 'イ' which is the phonic equivalent of a short ‘i’, on one of the bank forms an officious banker decided that with my written イ the slanting top bar was too short and therefore illegible, so I had to go back to Mizonokuchi one evening by myself after work and redo all the forms because one or two of these characters didn’t look right. It didn’t matter that there isn’t really another katakana character it could be confused with (see here if you want or that, in context, it couldn’t really have been anything else, to him it didn’t look right so had to be changed. Can you imagine having to fill in the same forms all over again because the bloke at Barclays doesn’t like the way you write the letter ‘e’? What a tosser.

Anyway the important point here was that we got the cash, which made the construction company happy as it meant that we could actually buy the place.

Moving house is a big business in Japan, although I can guess that this may well also be the case in other parts of the world. Moving in April is even bigger business here in Japan as a lot of people do it, so moving companies can, and do, make it more expensive. Interestingly the reason April is so busy is that it is the start of the financial year; ‘so what?’ you may muse. Well, Japanese companies are extremely likely to, at the drop of a hat in March, decide that the company would be better served if Tanaka san from accounts in the Tokyo office would become, on 1st April, Tanaka san from marketing in the Nagoya office. And off Tanaka san will duly toddle, possibly but not necessarily taking family in tow with about 2 week’s notice. This may seem harsh, and it is. The reason, so I am reliably informed by my memory, is a hangover from the feudal samurai period where the samurai were distributed around the country and, importantly away from the wives and families who stayed in Edo (Tokyo), so as a) not to ferment rebellion/assassinate the emperor or shogun in Edo with their mates and b) so wives and family could be held hostage. Nowadays it is corporate salaryman that gets shunted about and usually families are encouraged to go (but if hubby is moved to, say, Utsunomiya would you go…?), but the moves are still there. It seems like a serious waste of time and money to me, but then I’m not Japanese so I couldn’t possibly understand.

Moving into a newly built apartment block can be tricky. If it is a really big block then you can imagine the problem if each and every of the 758 new apartment owners all tried to move in at 9am on Monday morning – so these things have to be organised.

As you can imagine this is a jobsworth’s wet dream.

Our new block is quite small, only 50 or so units, however we also had a partner removal firm appointed by the construction company. It was their job, let’s call them Kitazawa for that indeed was their name, to organise the moving of new owners and, as they are a removal company themselves, basically get as much business for themselves as possible (what, I wonder, was the kickback to the construction company to get the business…?). The equation was quite simple, if you used Kitazawa you could move at any time you wanted, spend as long as you want loading and unloading your gear, block everyone’s access to the building if you wanted and have the them kiss your butt everyday for a month; if you didn’t use Kitazawa then you could move only when Kitazawa said you could, everything had to be unloaded from your removal van in 30 seconds or less, your removal van could not, however, actually stop moving outside the building for more than 4 seconds and parking facilities were available but only in Osaka.

With this in mid we contacted Kitazawa and asked them to give us a quote. For moving all our stuff about 1½ miles and recycling about 13 pieces of old, crap furniture they wanted the princely sum of 500,000 yen that’s over 3 grand in real money. Next! The recycling bit was the bit that got me – in Japan the local council will do this for you, you just call them up, they give you a date and then you buy a recycling sticker from your local convenience store, total cost about 500 yen per piece and the hassle of buying the sticker and putting it outside your apartment on the designated day. So for Kitazawa to quote us 150,000 yen for the recycling was the clincher – well, that and the fact we couldn’t afford half a million yen on the removals.

Luckily the school I work for uses a local mover every summer to cart teachers stuff around, so I gave him a call and asked him to give us a quote and he came back with a removals only price of 100,000, much more like it, though he did blanch a bit when we gave him the ‘rules’ for delivery and unloading.

After that it was mostly plain sailing. We packed up all the stuff, sometimes with the little un’s help but more often with us packing and he unpacking at the same time, sometimes from the same box. The appointed day came quickly, as they always do, but just before it did my folks arrived from the UK for a month’s stay – more of that later.

The moving itself was fine, we stood back and let sweaty men do all of the hard work whilst worrying about the new place and the old place. Although Kitazawa had all these draconian rules and penalties about the unloading of stuff the truth was that the new block was quite small and the arrival of new owners was actually spread out over a number of weeks, if not months, so there was very little in the way of moving in clashes and certainly no removal rage which, apparently, is not uncommon. Also we moved in on a Monday morning so it was never going to be that busy, not like a weekend.

The bigger concern for us was how much, if any, of the deposit on the old place we would get back. The deposit was 100,000yen and we figured if we got 20,000 back we’d be happy. There are horror stories of bastard landlords not only not giving any deposit back but of making demands for huge extra payments for spurious cleaning or repair work. I didn’t think it would come to that, but you never know.

So on the Monday afternoon we went back to the old 7th floor, fine view Kawaguchi flat for the final time to witness the last rites (of our stay anyway). Surprisingly neither the letting agent nor the landlord turned up, just a bloke from a redecorating company who would give his professional opinion. OK, fair enough. So as we sat on the floor of the empty flat he nosed around. The reason we were a tad worried was that over 6 years of wear and tear, including 4 years of small boy, there were bits of the flat in a state of disrepair. The tatami mats in the living room were threadbare in places, the paper on some of the sliding doors was a tad holey (not wholly holey, but enough), there were plenty of nicks in the wallpaper and the kitchen floor had scratches and, worst of all in our opinion, the odd gouge. So we weren’t too hopeful.

So chap did his rounds, then showed me what he’d found, all of which I agreed with. So, how much to put right? He started to fill in his clipboard and take measurements with his tape measure. When he started on the walls and wall paper his comment was – [with sucking of teeth] “and this is where it can get really expensive…” Gulp. And the final tally…45,000yen to you squire.

“Gosh, well, hmm, that seems an interesting number, does that include the tatami?” “Yup, everything in there chief”. OK, hold on…

Of course we were pleasantly surprised and could have said yes right then, but I had an even more cunning plan. One of my team at work is a qualified estate agent (they have to take exams in this country!) and she had said it was ok to call her to discuss what landlords can actually charge for, so I did. I went onto the balcony and left redecorator and the Guru inside. This made redecorator nervous as the Guru told him I was taking legal advice (which was in a sense true), so even whilst I was talking outside the quote came down to about 39,000yen as redecorator had made a ‘mistake’. The advice was that as tenants of 6.5 years and more we were legally only obliged to contribute a maximum of 10% of the cost of a number of items, specifically the wallpaper. Nice work! We told chap this and he said he would pass on to the letting agents – he did and a couple of days later the final bill was agreed at about 25,000yen! Yaay, result! And he never even checked the kitchen floor.

After that it was just trying to work how all the new electronic gizmos in the new place worked (we still don’t know…)

Next, the folks visit…