Sun. 25th Sep. From Shiroyama I could also make out the rough location of the ‘duplex’ were I had lived for 2 years in Ohtsuchi. It had only been one block from the main road but was in the midst of a typical, higgledy piggledy, cramped residential area accessible by a road which was barely wide enough for a single car to pass down. I decided to go down and take a closer look.
However, from street level it was almost impossible to find the exact location as there were no remaining visual markers, only rows of empty building foundations. In the end I walked back along main street to the station and retraced my steps from there, and eventually I spotted the familiar shape of my house’s floorplan with the car park ‘ramp’ to one side. I stood and stared. Then walked around the foundations to take in the view from every angle. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the lack of house that felt most strange, but the sense of distance (or proximity) to the rest of the town – the main road, the railway tracks, the sea… Previously, the residential parts of town had been so densely populated that it was easy to forget that the sea was there at all.
I tried to imagine what the scenery had actually looked like before, but after 17 years my memories had faded to the extent that rather than images, all I can recall are episodes of my time living there.
I can’t really claim to have fond memories of the house itself. Athough it was fairly new by Ohtsuchi standards its walls were paper thin & it had a ‘drop’ toilet with no running sewage.
Luckily, my predecessor had invested in a toilet ‘seat’ – which was exactly that – a seat placed over the cesspit, but at least that meant I didn’t have to ‘squat’. It also meant that the kumitori lorry was called out every three months or so to extract the sewage from all the cesspits in the area. You can imagine that didn’t smell too pleasant, so every time the kumitori truck was due to come around Sasaki-san from across the road would drop by and gesture for me to depart in haste. After the first time, I did not dawdle again!
Perhaps the most unpleasant experience however, was during the terrible typhoons of 1993 (the same ones which ruined the Japanese rice crop and forced the unprecedented move of allowing imports of Thai rice) when we had severe flooding and the cesspits overflowed.
During winter, I also suffered from the cold as there didn’t appear to be any use of insulation in the house. I would sleep under 6 futons and regularly went to bed fully clothed including a bobble hat, whilst watching clouds of my condensed breathe as I tried in vain to get to sleep. When the letter from my predecessor had arrived before my departure, I had scoffed at the advice, “Don’t forget your long-thermal underwear.” However, it didn’t take long to get some sent over.
Throughout the winter the water pipes froze nightly, so last thing before bed I would have to go out behind the house and shut off the mains supply of water. At 6am the next morning, I would shuffle back outside in my pajamas and switch the water back on before I could take a rejuvenating, hot shower. I am undoubtedly a morning person but, there has never been another period in my life where I have found it so difficult to get motivated to get up in the mornings.
In Japanese-speak my house was a 3(D)K, which meant it had three tatami rooms plus a kitchen which was just big enough to accommodate a small dining table. Each room was a standard 6 ‘mat’ size, and in addition there was the dreaded toilet mentioned above as well as a typical ‘unit’ bath on the ground floor. In winter, I hung a heavy blanket over the stairwell and never ventured upstairs, living instead between the one downstairs room and the kitchen. However, when spring arrived (around May) I would move upstairs and create a palatial 12 mat space by removing the sliding shoji doors between the two rooms. This was all well and fine, except that the height of this door opening was only 180cm (and I am 193cm) which meant that I would crack my forehead against it every time I walked from one side of the house to the other. Eventually, I had to hang a curtain across this gap like a restaurant noren to make me naturally duck each time I passed through.