What kind of roommates have you had in Japan?
If a large chain school, government scheme or church facilitated your entry to Japan, chances are you went through an experience you are unlikely to encounter at home.
Chances are the organization plonked you into a 2 or 3-room apartment with strangers you had never met. People from countries you neither been to nor met anyone from. What could go wrong?
I had lived in share houses before, some with long-time friends and others who I had met briefly before being invited into their lives. But I had never just knocked on the door to hear, “Oh, you must be John or Jeff or whatever…yeah, come in I guess”
Being in a strange, new and swelteringly hot country is not that easy. Having good housemates can make the experience enjoyable and less daunting. Ending up with the wrong people can be all the motivation you need to pack everything up and make use of that return ticket.
I was lucky in the sense that my first lot of housemates were easy going, worked and partied (outside of the apartment) a lot, invited me out whenever possible, had girlfriends who were trying to set me up with their friends and were fairly strict on things being neat rather than clean but never ever sloppy. They showed me the local bars, the ward office, the shortcuts around town and the often unlocked shutter on the liquor shop around the corner.
Like so many foreigners in Japan though, soon they moved on and this time it would be me opening the door to the new guy. It wasn’t all bad though, my bedroom had been a terrible, windowless, air-con less 3 tatami coffin. I was happy to move into a room which at least had a window. That way I would know what time of day it was when the door was closed.
The new guy, Brad*, was almost the classic stereotype of a male teacher in Japan. On the run from self-inflicted troubles at home, he was in Japan to get as many girls as possible, avoid any contact with Japanese men, talk at the top of his voice at all hours and educate me on everything that was wrong with my native country. He constantly criticized the company we worked for and would be on the phone to them complaining about the problems with the apartment ranging from pigeon poop on the balcony to the dark, claustrophobic room he had been unfairly lumped with. He assumed the room that became vacant would be his. He was wrong. After tolerating Osaka for about three months, he left for Tokyo where the women were easier, the jobs were way better money and the pigeons weren’t so dirty.
The other guy Robbie was tolerable. He was well spoken, very conservative and didn’t like Brad much. The problem was, he didn’t drink, didn’t like teaching and didn’t really like the Japanese a whole lot. Japan didn’t seem the perfect place for Robbie. An unrequited relationship with an English lass abruptly ended Robbie’s stay and he was going home where the people were friendlier and his job in Westminster was “all but assured.”
I had had a pretty good run up until then. Some of the horror stories my mates were telling me had luckily avoided me. That was until Nathaniel arrived from the family pig farm in remote Canada. He was a big, sweaty boy, spoke in mumbles and his parents had conveniently forgotten to teach him any sort of manners.
He decided he wasn’t sleeping in that little room, the sofa would be perfect for him. The living room would be his new bedroom, the dining table his sock drawer and the fridge door his towel rack. Did he want to know where the ward office was? “Nah, can’t be that hard to find,” he told me. A month later he was complaining that he was going to get fired unless he registered himself. He thought the whole “shoes-off” rule was stupid since we weren’t even Japanese anyway. He worked from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. each day. His routine would be, get home from work at 11:20 p.m., play online games with his buddies from home until 7 a.m., sleep until 2 p.m., ride to work and then do it all over again. And again. And again. He was dirty, showering was a waste of time, lived off the cheapest, nastiest foods he found and barely ever cleaned up. Soon there was a smelly, blobby imprint permanently molded into the sofa. My girlfriend wouldn’t sit there. That was the last straw.
I had been saving for something decent but about two months was all I could take of him. Left the house a week later and never spoke to him again. A new coworker about a month later told us over welcoming beers that he had been lumped with some weird dude who spends all his time playing online games, mumbling over the headphones and eating commercial sized peanut butter out of the jar with a soup spoon. Oh, and that his room was this tiny little hell-hole….
Do you have stories of either harmony or horror with new housemates in Japan?
* All names have been changed to protect the author.