September 10, 2014
We are slowly settling into our new life in Tokyo. Mark is away on a business trip to London for a week so he will have to go through all the jet lag and climate adjustments just again when he comes back on Sunday.
The children are doing great and I can hear Linus and Leonard speaking English with their friends and teachers. I am using the chariot to take the boys to school or elsewhere and we are THE attraction. I have not seen any other chariot so far (but this was the same in Brussels for the first two years), as people – mostly mothers – have children seats on their bikes. To have one seat in the back and one in the front is quite normal. Apart from the fact that the chariot concept is unknown, they must think that I am completely crazy as I do not ride an electric bike. Almost everybody else does. And I have to admit, living on a hill can be quite a challenge. I have to let the boys walk uphill after school as the outside temperatures of 30 C and more and the humidity do not make me want to test my strength.
Lilo just started walking to school by herself or with her new friend Evelina, a Swedish girl who lives close by. Even if the boys and myself could join her for the walk or bike ride, she prefers to not leave the house with us! She hurries up, kisses goodbye and sneaks quickly out of the door. Same is of course true for the way back home.
Isn’t it amazing that a 3rd grader can walk to school by herself in the biggest city of the world?
Tokyo has about 13 million inhabitants, but together with its surrounding cities, the agglomeration has a population of about 33 millions which makes it the biggest metropolitan area in the world. And yet I am sitting here with the window wide open and I hear the birds sing. Very distant I can here some car noise from time to time. Ok, we are living in a residential area, but still the whole city is incredibly quiet. This might be due to the underground traffic which counts for the majority of public transport. Busses are much smaller as streets are very narrow and there are no trams. Furthermore, people tend not to blow their horns until it is really necessary. Amazing!
Well there is one thing about the noise I almost forgot – there is just one calling out: Japanese Cicadas. Klick here and hear for yourself what lovely little animals we have all over in the neighbourhood. Maybe you understand why I first thought we were living next to a workshop with a circular saw!
Here are some fun facts about Tokyo for you:
- You can walk the whole day in your flip flops and your feet are not dirty in the evening.
- Everything you buy is wrapped in plastic, which is wrapped in plastic which then has to be put into a plastic bag (but people appreciate if you bring your own bag!)
- You cannot bring any food with your household goods into the country because Japanese authorities are afraid of vermin, but they recently begun planting rice in the Fukushima district previously designated as a “no-plant zone” due to radioactive fallout.
- You can use English words like to order, to wait, responsible, to plan, meeting etc. in your Japanese sentences and everyone will understand you – you just have to pronounce them a bit funny!
- If you ask somebody for a direction, they will make sure that you get there even if they don’t know the way. They will ask another person for you.
- Only the big avenues and connecting streets have names, which makes road descriptions very complicated. Smaller streets and city areas have numbers, but they are not always assigned logically. Before they had GPS, a lady told me the other day, it took the people from Tokyo sometimes hours to identify an address on the city map (which is actually a book).
- During and after heavy rain, designated people push the water away on zebra crossings so that pedestrians don’t have to step into the puddles.
- You usually ride your bike on the pavement, not on the street. Until a few years ago it was even prohibited to ride a bike on the street.
- You don’t smoke when you walk (only French people do this here). Even the smallest convenience store has a corner next to the entrance with a soda machine and an ashtray, nicely hidden behind a bamboo curtain.
Daily life – the price shock II
One more on this topic as I turned back to the Japanese supermarket after a visit to Costco to do some basic shopping. Basic shopping meant to stock up on goods you need all year round or food you can freeze etc. Everything at Costco comes in huge quantities. So we now have about 24 rolls of kitchen paper, 10 litres of olive oil, 5 kg of pasta, 2 kg of meat etc, but we also spent about 800 EUR – my biggest grocery shopping ever. It fitted into two – American size – shopping trolleys.
So today back to the Japanese supermarket: 1 basket of grocery – nothing extraordinary: 30 EUR. Honestly – this sounds expensive, but at any “Western” supermarket I would have paid at least 15 EUR more. I do not know how people manage with these prices.
As an update to last week’s comments on the grocery shopping: I can now identify the Japanese signs for Fukushima – so shopping in the Japanese supermarket has one blind spot less.