予測できない, Yosoku dekinai = “quirky” in Japanese
“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” ~Bashō, born Matsuo Kinsaku (1644-1694), then Matsuo Chūemon Munefusa, the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan
“Home is where the heart is.” ~Pliny the Elder
Our home away from home in Okinawa is, shall we say, quirky. Well, it’s a wee-tad more than the standard American idea of quirkiness, so I’ve decided to characterize and name our domicile Kwuirky. Yep, that’s right: Quirky with a Kapital “K.”
It’s hard to easily explain and fully capture the vast gulfs between the ideals of aesthetic design, comfortable outfitting, and tasteful decorating that Americans have honed into high art, contrasted with the cultural paradigm that I believe the Japanese hold of how such aspects of style and layout render across the vast Pacific ocean. In other words, like most other qualities of life in Japan for a Gaijin, there is something “lost in translation” between here and there.
In the case of our condo conundrum, there is a LOT lost in translation!
But in order to even begin to attempt capturing such charming idiosyncrasies and trinkets of traits gone awry, I’ll provide a simple explanation surrounded by imagery. Which, in these cases, speaks volumes more than a quantified thousand-word cliché.
A. Grand View Balcony. Our “front” balcony is what sold this condo about all the other properties that we considered. Even through the hassle of high-rise living, through the rectangular, boxy layout of this particular space, the view provided here is, in a word, stunning. That is, until you exit the condo to stand on the balcony. And close the sliding glass doors behind you. And then you realize there are absolutely no handles or other hardware on the outside that allow for easy or any opening of the sliding glass. Yes, the glass is already covered with fingerprints from our attempts at griping purchase for opening, and will remain so for the next three years. Who designs doors without handles for their most basic manipulation?
B. Light Switches. Light switch placement is critically important. Those of you that have ever designed a home or re-walled or rewired a room know of what I speak. Not only is there concern for logical and easy access given traffic flow and the fixture(s) operated, but there must be consideration for their impact on the space itself. One of the limiting factors in placement is that most switches feed into an electrical box located in the wall that has to be stud-mounted. But, for the love of gawd, the placement of this quad light switch in our condo simply exceeds any and all reason. Put some bookshelves there? No – would block access to the lights. Couch? Maybe, but one would be reaching over those seated…awkward. Picture on the wall? Sure, off-center of course….
C. Lighting. Lighting is much more than pragmatic light. Lighting provides functionality, but more so, creates ambiance. It also must make sense. Most of the overhead fixtures in our home act in a very odd 4-way fashion. Click the rocker switch and the lights come on where the sequence last left off. And that sequence goes a little something like this: all lights on; two lights on; overhead nightlight on; and all off. So, say, for instance, you want to read at night and rock the rocker but only two of the lights illuminate. You have one of two solutions: rock the rocker three more times to get all the lights on, OR, walk over to the light fixture in question and pull the lighting chain…yep, you guessed it, three times. This holds true for all the bedrooms, our office, and our kitchen. I hope the switch mean-time-between-failure ratings are much higher than those in America. Each operation could actually be three.
D. Power. Japan is different. Some say the capital of all things “weird.” But I like different, and am enthralled by weird, so I’m right at home here…in our home. But my toaster is not. You see the 100VAC (50-60hz) used in Japan is just enough different than our standard and highly controlled 110VAC (60hz) to make a tremendous difference to our machine brethren. The toaster takes at least two, if not three cycles to “toast” properly. Our hotpot will boil water, albeit at a slower pace, but seems to not roil enough to kick the darn thing off. Microwave popcorn? Add at least 30% more pop time…. These issues are all solved through the use of heavy, ugly transformers; alas, they are hard to come by from the base housing office, and are expensive to purchase.
E. Power, but this time more grounded. I cannot figure the distribution of grounded versus non-grounded outlets in this condo. Obviously the ones in the kitchen (but not all of them even there are grounded) and the ones in the baths make sense. However, it seems that only one bedroom has a duplex box that offers a standard 3-prong female fitting. Darn the luck; of course the two extension cords we brought – and I knew we would need them – are both grounded. Hopefully the base Exchange sells the 3-to-2 prong adapters…which defeat the whole purpose of grounded power to begin with! I guess I should be happy that our plugs work here without all those obtrusive and funky shaped adapters.
F. Bathroom plumbing. The most essential element of any bathroom, if you stop and think about it, is running water. Water runs a little differently in Japan than it does back home. Still downhill powered by gravity, but otherwise differently. Aside from the toilet having two options for flushing (half and full) – and believe me, a full Japanese flush is already a short American rinse (I had to purchase a plunger as a result), the most interesting aspect of bathroom drains is that the sink and the tub both feed to a single open floor drain. I guess this makes cleaning the floors a bit easier (more on that later), and during construction there is one less drain to worry about. It’s just…quirky.
G. Plastic bathrooms. So about cleaning those bathrooms! The Japanese design bathrooms as literally waterproof rooms. Which is a neat concept. Until you realize that what results is a bathroom by Tupperware, unless one was really to splurge and put in, dare we say, TILE. On the one hand, no worries about water going anywhere; on the other hand, water goes everywhere. There certainly is no luxury in Japanese bathrooms (besides the deep soak tubs), even in the higher-end properties we considered.
H. Wallpaper on the ceiling. ‘Nough said.
I. Liberace’s Ceiling Fan. I don’t know how the owners imported such an American treasure (probably eBay), but yes music and flamboyant-gay-man musical fans, there it is, in all its glory, sitting in an ornate coffer ceiling (of sorts), a thing of immeasurable beauty that we gawk at in bed every night until we literally are mesmerized off into deep, hypnotic slumber. I’m waiting for the plethora of nightmares to begin. We may come home with PTSD from this exposure.
J. Crown molding and baseboards. Okay, they’ve really tried here. But, the road to poorly adorned homes is usually paved with good intentions. The ceiling molding is offset from the ceiling, something like 1/8th inch or so. Just enough to notice, but not enough to do anything with or about. I could see a rope strand of LED lighting perhaps…. Do they have to leave room, you know, for the ceiling-paper seams? The molding is joined, at the ceiling and floor, like how I would imagine about a 10 year old would do the job…without any training or help. The seams are not overcut and adjoined “seamlessly;” rather, there is a drastic 90 degree straight cut with large visible gaps between pieces. At the baseboard, where it meets a door-jam, the baseboard sticks out about 1/8th and shows a wholly unfinished edge. In the final coup de grace of fashion faux pas, the finishing nails are not finishing nails, and neither are they finished.
K. Kitchen cabinets. Our kitchen is the best kitchen we saw, not by a lot, but by enough. Like Japanese bathrooms, they don’t seem to “get it” here when it comes to a well-designed, functionally sound kitchen. For starters, the upper cabinets are for nothing less than giants. This said by an American that is already something like four inches taller than the standard Okinawan. And the cabinet finishing? Well, let’s just say that we pay a little more attention to such details. I’m not sure I want my guests to be able to inventory my canned goods, either.
L. Okinawan Garbage Disposal. It will never break. Well, I guess it could, but it would take an awful lot…. Most trash is burned on Okinawa, and even though many Americans think of a garbage disposal as a “magical” way to get rid of food waste, it really doesn’t – and there is absolutely no magic. It just transfers that trash to the water stream, something already burdened on Okinawa.
M. Powder Room. The condo is advertised as a 4/2.5, which is technically true, but it takes some looking to find that “point-five.” There is a toilet room, opposite the washer/dryer area, and immediately adjacent to one of the full baths. Although I understand that theoretically one person from one of the 4 bedrooms could be in the full bath taking a full bath, and another person from one of the remaining 3 bedrooms could be in the other full bath taking a partial shower, and this half bath could allow for yet another person to use the john, there is still the problem of the 4th person from the 4th bedroom who is stuck using the kitchen sink. No, this space would have been MUCH better suited as a linen closet, something it will become during our tenure here.
N. Awkward Openings. Remember that wall with the misplaced quad light switch plate? Well, it gets worse. There is a door to the utility room/powder room/2nd bathroom which opens outward against this wall. That settles it; either the wall is completely unusable, or the door has to go. The door has gone. We have hung a traditional Japanese indoor curtain in its place, with a famous image of a tsunami. It actually is amazing how well this simple curtain acts as an air conditioning break, and how much ambiance it provides already to our unfurnished, undecorated living room.
O. Outdoor Plumbing. Okay, it’s bad enough that the power in Japan is just different enough to cause a few issues here and there. However, a much more serious issue is the different outdoor plumbing standards used here! How an island that was under US administration until 1972 wound up using a British standard is beyond me. I will tell you this – there is no easy way on the island to bridge this gulf. I might as well be trying to build a moon rocket. So, being Americans from the Florida panhandle, we used a little elbow grease and a lot of brute force, resulting in a Redneck Run of hose so that we have water access to the street (down 60’), and to our side balcony where our scuba gear will be washed (laterally 60’).
P. Office Tiling. I would be proud of the flooring in the condo. If we were hosting government administrative offices here. Yes, it is that exact same kind of office building tile. Now, it is laid well, and there is actually a pattern in most rooms. However, the patterns are neither centered on the rooms themselves, nor or they centered on the coffer ceilings and ceiling fans where applicable. This makes for an odd appearance, one that we decided quickly that could, should, and would be covered up with more appropriate – and comfortable floor options. Believe me, the “amoeba” rugs were not my first choice, but they are “growing” (pun intended) on me with time.
Q. Kitchen Eat-At Bar. It’s really cool, except it’s at table height. So, instead of having really quirky circular swivel bar stools for people to sit at and entertain the chef(s) pretty much eye-to-eye, said chef(s) will be forever talking down to his (or her) guests…seated in regular dining room chairs. We are exploring a few creative solutions to help deal with this bar, hopefully, without bruising our guests knees while making it all…functional.
R. Central A/C: Not. The Japanese have a totally different philosophy when it comes to conditioning the air in their homes: room by room. Each room. Almost every room. So, in our condo, there are five air conditioners. Right now, we are running three: living room, master bedroom, and office, the latter of which is located at the other end of the condominium from the first two units. I have to crank one or two up when we cook (with gas!). And each unit is remote controlled, which are, as you probably guessed it, completely in Japanese. That’s bad enough, but it gets worse; we have three different remote controls…. The cool thing about these units is that they have a “dehumidifier” setting, which allows for massively reduced power consumption when the weather is more pleasant. Also provided in each room is two circulation aids; one in the ceiling which operates 24/7, and an additional wall unit that is user-controlled. These aids pull air from the inside and exhaust it externally, helping to exchange the air inside the condo, rather than having it recirculated over and over again. We were told that the latter is “bad air, no good.” Perhaps there is a lesson there for America??
S. Covered Parking. But with an uncovered building entrance! One of the decision points we used to select this residence was covered parking. It is really nice to have your vehicle’s interior only, say, about 85 degrees, rather than the 120 it would be if exposed to the tropical sun here. Equally important, the driving monsoon-like rains make the to-and-fro from the car a potentially drenching experience. So, we thought, “great!” This place had it all. EXCEPT the building’s entrances – stairwells and elevator lobby – are accessed from the street, not the parking garage, and necessitate a small but importantly uncovered passage. Oh, and did I mention that our assigned parking slots are at the other end of the building next door? It’s not too bad; just on the other side of the central elevator shaft…just quirky.
T. Bedroom Closets. I’m not sure what the Japanese do with their clothes. A key indication is the vast number of portable hanging-closet solutions sold at the local “Make-Man” DIY stores on the island. Jody uses the one in our bedroom; we are sharing the largest one in our designated office. One of the “bedrooms” doesn’t have a closet at all; it will be our store room. Our guest room has two, oddly shaped and not very functional closets. We brought waaaaaay too many clothes….
U. Japanese Dryer. We have a gas dryer, a Japanese model, that is, like the AC remotes, completely in Japanese! The translation I have covers only about half the options, from which I deduce that the other half are not that important. Or just may be Japanese state secrets not privy to gaijin. The dryer’s capacity is tiny, easily half that of our American-provided washing machine, but it actually is pretty “hot” at drying clothes. I will be adding a Japanese clothesline on our side balcony when funds and opportunity permit.
V. Window Privacy. Since this is high-rise living, our windows necessarily overlook a condo unit on one side. We wouldn’t have taken this unit, however, if it wasn’t the end unit of a building. This provides a significant amount of standoff from our neighbors, especially since the two building sit ajar from each other. Still, and even though curtains and drapes are provided on all windows, most are treated with graphic overlay. So much for the view…of another condo unit. Although we didn’t appreciate this treatment at first, it works pretty ding-dang well; our bedroom windows – that ones that count with an ocean view – have clear glass.
W. Reading Lights. The master bedroom has some nice reading lights, placed on the wall where the bed makes the most sense. However, the light is neither centered on the wall, nor centered on how a bed could/would be placed there. So, it’s just a little strange when you examine the aesthetic appeal of this room. Oh, and the CFL bulbs in the fixture cannot be read by, at least not by this aging-reading-glass-wearer.
X. Portholes! Would be great in an aquatically themed space…if they truly were portholes. I’m not sure what to call them. Every room door in our condo, less those to the baths, has an oval “window,” made of some cheesy frosted plastic. And all of them are scratched, probably by previous guests attempting to cover them up (as we will, but more creatively and without damage). This treatment, I’m sorry to report, just makes the door feel and look “cheap,” and certainly does nothing to dampen sound transmission.
Okay, so I can’t talk all this smack without explaining the more charming aspects of living here! All these quirky attributes of Kwuirky is typical of Japanese “mansion” style, a word used here to describe a large building with multiple units. Remember, their culture and cultural philosophy in designing and furnishing a space are vastly different than ours. Couple this with perhaps an aim to appeal to Americans, and what results, I imagine, is exactly something like our condominium: a near-miss across the domestic domicile domain. All these little things mentioned above – and they are indeed little in the bigger scheme of our existence on Okinawa – are easily acknowledged with a shoulder shrug and a coy smile. Most will be creatively incorporated into a very comfortable and inviting home once we are finished furnishing our place how we wish.
Every day is indeed a journey, and the journey itself can be home. To truly understand, you must make your own journey and come see, first-hand. We have a guestroom. Complete with a full-sized bed, oddly shaped and small closets, bizarre lighting, privacy glass, and an odd oval non-transparent window on the door. Come visit, and help us enjoy our home away from home!
- Leving Home for Home (fareastfling.me)