12 - 26 April 2000
I am going to devote most of this letter to a discussion of the accommodations and roommates that I have, or have had, so far. Some of you remember the trials and tribulations that I went through in getting my apartment furnished to meet Peace Corps standards. Well guess what. The Accommodations section of Nova, my Japanese employer, works in a similar manner. They provide a checklist of things that should be in the apartment and during orientation they stress that we should rush to our new homes and verify everything. If we are missing anything at all or things are damaged then we only need contact Accommodations and all will be made right. Right! The difference between the Peace Corps and Accommodations is that the Peace Corps did truly have our health and safety in mind. There would be too much heat brought to bear by outraged parents and their congressmen if the volunteer was subject to a life threatening situation. The Nova Accommodations section has no such overriding motivation. Their motivation is greed driven! The teachers complaints are disregarded, for the most part, until they shut up, go home or resolve the problem themselves by fixing the problem. Many times the teacher will fix the problem by moving out of the Nova apartment.
Generally, this is the way the system works. The Accommodations section will rent an apartment; lets say for 50,000 Yen per month plus 100,000 non-refundable "key money" plus 50,000 pre-paid rent. This would be for a typical two-bed room, living room, kitchen and bath apartment in the area that I live in. They then supply the apartment with a futon, futon mattress, a TV, a vacuum cleaner, kitchen table and chairs and a minimum of kitchen utensils. The first teacher will move in and everything is quite nice, the second teacher is then assigned and everything is still not so bad unless Accommodations decides at this time to display their tendency towards greed and assign a different sex roommate. They will probably do this, but will back down quickly if there is a complaint from either party to the assignment. If no complaint is made they have saved the cost of a second apartment. Then when a third teacher is to be assigned they will put them into the living room of an existing two-bed room apartment rather than rent a new one. This was what they did to the two Australian girls and me in Katsuta during my week training in Mito. It was not all that bad because there were only two of us in the apartment for 5 days of that week but there had been three girls living there until one had moved out. My apartment in Iwaki was the same situation, two Australian guys living in the apartment and then I was assigned. A third guy that had been living there had moved out about a month before I arrived. My rent is 50,000 Yen per month so it is easy to see that Accommodations can turn a two-bed room apartment into a great money maker if they can just cram three people into each one.As luck would have it we had only three men teachers in Iwaki when they assigned one more a couple of weeks ago. They tried to assign him to an apartment with a woman teacher that was living alone and she complained strongly so they backed off and rented a new apartment. This allowed the guy that had been in our living room to move in with the new male teacher and the cramped situation has greatly improved.
The checklist is also a great way for Accommodations to make more money. They simply ignore, the best they can, any complaints of missing or broken items. When I arrived at the girls' apartment in Katsuta I was told that I would have a futon and mattress. There was nothing there so I slept on a borrowed set for 4 days until Accommodations finally responded. It was the same story when I arrived in Iwaki but here it took two weeks of sleeping on a hard floor with repeated complaints to obtain a mattress (they were hoping I would buy one and shut up I am sure). My complaints about damages to a kitchen drawer were answered by a visit from an Accommodations staff person. To announce his visit, he telephoned from the train as he was coming into Iwaki from Tokyo. You would think that they could have arranged an appointment but that does not seem to enter their minds. During the visit, which was only undertaken because he was in town to rent the new apartment, he suggested that we could fix the drawer ourselves with some glue (no money provided of course) and ignored all other damage with the casual comment that the apartment looked pretty good. As it has worked out the guy that moved out was the best beak that I have had since moving into the cramped apartment. He seemed to be a nice enough "bloke" but both roommates would stay out drinking until 2:00-4:00 in the morning. Most nights, they would not be doing this together so I would get awakened twice during the early morning hours as they came banging in. The guy that moved out also used the kitchen, or maybe I should say he abused the kitchen. He would cook a meal and leave all the dirty dishes in the sink, on the stove, or on the one common table that we had in the house. He might come home the next day and wash up, then again it might be 3-4 days, so that he could cook again but NEVER, during the 5-6 weeks, did he wash up after eating. The other guy is no prince to live with, but he is the better of the two. I still have the problem of his waking me almost every night (early morning). He is also incapable of doing his laundry on his days off or in the mornings before going to work. Therefore, I not only get woken up but I get to listen to the washing machine (more about this device some other time) for a half hour or so. But the behavior of the one that moved out this week has led me to conclude that I got the better deal.
He took most of his clothes out of the apartment on the 15th. He then came back on the 16th for some more personal things and his "extra" mattresses. The nature of his character should have been apparent to me early on; he had three mattresses but never offered me one during the time I was sleeping on the floor and complaining to Accommodations. His parents arrived in Japan on the 17th so I was not surprised that he had left a couple of bulky personal items in the apartment while he was entertaining them for the week. During that week I took a four shelved storage unit and a clothes rack that had been left in the apartment by former teachers when they left. I considered the furniture to be apartment property although the guy that moved out had used it. Well, he did not seem to think that way, and still possessing a key, he came into the apartment on the 22nd and took it. He left all my things from the shelves in a pile on the floor but was very considerate by hanging my clothes on my one remaining rack. He also cleaned out the living room; taking some plastic storage boxes, a coffee table, our one "chair" and a mirror. This was not enough it seems, or he could not carry any more, because he came back in the morning of the 23rd and took the telephone. My remaining roommate got into a "discussion" with him about the phone because it is listed in the name of our Head Teacher. During this row, it was determined, by the Head Teacher, that no he could not take the phone but he had it in his bag as they were talking. I had not been a part of this "conversation" but as I was leaving work he gave me the phone. He even went out of his way to tell me that he had to bring it in for the Head Teacher to make some changes to it. His other enduring quality during the time that he was living there was an inability to turn off lights or lock doors. I would come home after work and all the lights in the kitchen, bath, entryway and living room would be on with the front door unlocked. Nothing was different on the 22nd, not only did he come in and clean the place out but he then left the front door open again so everything else was exposed to theft. This is the same guy that cannot seem to lock up a bicycle in this country.
Speaking of bicycles, I managed to get out again today and do a 32 Km ride. I will be telling about that next time!