久しぶり！(Long time no see!) I guess it’s harder to come up with material to write about when you fall into a normal work routine! Originally this post was going to be about 森林浴, or forest bathing. But it sat in draft for way too long so I obviously wasn’t motivated to write about it. Perhaps I will post it in the fall when the leaves are changing!
I decided instead to post a tribute to my first Tokyo home, Koganei. I’ll admit that when I found out I was going to be living in Koganei I was rather disappointed. While still technically in Tokyo, it’s pretty far from Tokyo’s happenings, it’s demographic make-up must be around 99% Japanese, and most households are either closing in on 100 years old or young families. As soon as I arrived I began plotting my move elsewhere; however, I learned I’d need to finish out the contract, roughly five months. Fast-forward five incredibly fast months and I’m moving this Sunday! While I am really excited about my new living situation, surprisingly, I’m really going to miss my first official Tokyo home. Thus, here is my ode to Koganei.
It was either my second or third day post-move and I was walking the 13-20 minute long (depending on weather and motivation) uphill stretch to Musashi-Koganei Station when I had my first breakdown. It’s hard to remember exactly what my thoughts were at the time, and I’ll chalk up some of the emotion to jet-lag and culture-shock, but I remember clearly thinking, as old person after old person walking at roughly 90 degree angle postures passed by, where the f*ck am I? Luckily, with the exception of an awkward haircut experience, the Chuo-line commute from hell, and an exceptionally rude Seven-Eleven employee (to be fair, she worked the night shift at Koganei Seven-Eleven, would you be nice to me?), it only got better from there.
Here are just a few of my favorite memories from life in the Wikipedia-labeled “bedroom community” of Koganei:
- When I arrived back from work early evening, walks home through the quiet suburban streets were filled with fragrant smells of dinner (mostly curry, miso soup, and something soy-saucy) and the sounds of piano and karate practice.
- The regular good mornings, hellos, and smiles from the owner of the local laundromat, tofu-ya-san, and ~142 year old lady who constantly walks in snail-paced loops around my block. One time I even crossed paths with the laundromat owner near the station and he waved to me! (I guess I kind of stick out around here).
- The beautiful meticulously groomed front yards.
- How every time I went for a walk I found a new trail with random figurines, temples, and cemeteries.
- Watching kids and their families fishing with nets in the creek next to my house.
- Oh, the creek. Except for the one snake incident I LOVED the creek.
- If my timing was right I crossed paths with some kind of day care bus that went house to house picking up tiny kids with bright yellow hats, and if I was even luckier I passed wagons full of toddlers being pulled along the trail by the creek.
- Lining up with old women at OK Supermarket 15 minutes before opening time (on accident) and filing into the store while the store employees bowed and welcomed us.
- Walking home from the station around 10:20pm (my usual return time) with barely anyone around, enjoying the quiet empty streets, a rare experience in Tokyo, and feeling completely safe (with the exception of the occasional darting cat and one raccoon).
- And lastly, the tune of the Koganei garbage truck and watching the most dedicated garbage men in the world racing from bin to bin collecting the trash.
Perhaps a perfect way to sum up my growth over the past five months is my recent trip to Koganei City Hall. In Tokyo, you have to register your address with your local ward, so I first visited Koganei City Hall back in April after receiving my residence card. After finding the correct building on my third attempt, I found there was no English support, I didn’t fully understand what I needed from them, and they didn’t quite understand what to do with me either. It was a frustrating experience, I felt very much like an outsider, and the little Japanese I thought I knew proved essentially useless.
Just three months later I returned to file a change of address form, and this time I came prepared. I knew what I wanted to do, I knew how to say it in Japanese, I knew how to write my name in Katakana, I was ready. I confidently walked up to the front desk and explained to the very old smiling lady in very slow Japanese that on August 4th I was moving from Koganei to Koto and needed to file a change of address form. She waited patiently for me to finish with an encouraging smile on her face, and when I had finished she replied in English: “Great, I speak English and I can help you with that”. I guess not only did Koganei grow on me, but I think I grew on Koganei. Koganei, ありがとうございます for being such a welcoming, challenging, and encouraging first Japanese home and community to me. I’d like to say I’ll come back to visit but, that would require getting on the Chuo line which I have no intention of doing ever again!