"This is difficult, isn't it?"
How the movers had got my office desk into the elevator was to be a mystery for all time. Later, when the movers went back to the truck to collect more boxes, I sneaked out of my apartment and took a look down the hallway. As far as I could see, the lift was unaltered. Maybe, like the Harry Potter Room of Requirement, such feats could only be achieved in times of dire need. Such as when the alternative was nine flights of outdoor concrete steps in a snow storm.
Now though, the desk was wedged between my doorway and the bathroom as it was inched painstakingly around the two right angle bends into my main room. The walls, floors and fitted cupboards had all been covered with thick protective paper. My online dictionary had informed me that string had just been called for, possibly to reattach the fingers of the mover who had just shouted 'dangerous!'.
I was promptly seized by a strong desire to use the toilet.
Instead, I decided to live blog the entire proceeding on Facebook.
Then, two amazing events occurred. The first was that the desk was in my apartment and no one had died. The second was that it was a perfect fit for the alcove by my window. It could have been made for it... by a different architect to the one who had designed the entrance way. The fit was so snug that it wasn't possible for the person lifting the back of the desk to escape once it was in place. Personally, I would have got the desk near enough and pushed, but this was evidently not the slap-dash solution that was acceptable in Japan. Instead, one of the movers backed into the corner and then climbed out through the window onto the balcony, returning through the patio doors.
... then they realised they hadn't put the metal feet back on the desk.
Back the man climbed, the feet fitted and the desk lifted back into position. I could really only gape in admiration. After this came the bookcases, the desk chair, the dresser and boxes and boxes of books.
"I like books," I told the men cheerfully in Japanese.
If I were honest, I'd say the resulting laughter was rather dry.
I sat on my bed with the list of boxes I had been given in Canada. As each new box came in, one of the movers shouted the number out in English. I repeated it in Japanese and we both ticked it off our lists.
There was something slightly odd about that, but I didn't have time to dwell on it.
Finally, everything was in my apartment apart from the sofabed which seemed to be taking 5 in the hallway. Then the men started opening the boxes.
They were going to unpack. Seriously?!
THIS WAS THE GREATEST THING EVER!
I suppose since the company in Canada had packed, unpacking was part of the service but I was still taken by surprise. Not that I was about to complain; possibly the greatest part of this would be that the movers would take away all the empty boxes. In a place where my trash was already sorted into seven different containers, I did not relish the prospect of dealing with all the cardboard.
One of the men lifted up a collection of small books and studied the covers for a moment. "Japanese," he said in surprise. "Tenisu no Oujisama."
"Echizen Ryoma." Another of the other movers volunteered the progenitor's name in the series.
Oh guys, you have only just touched on my obsession here. Wait until you find the other comics, the CD singles and the fan-made, explicitly drawn, doujinshi manga...
... actually, I should probably find that first. Grabbing a likely looking box, I ripped off the tape.
In another box, my astrophysics texts had been found. One of the men lifted up the copy of "An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics" with two hands and an expression that said he'd found the reason he wasn't going to be able to walk tomorrow morning.
"Tenmongaku," I said cheerfully. "Astronomy."
"Hn," came the disgruntled answer.
My queen-sized duvet had become the flattened size of a pillow during its three months of captivity. I fluffed it about and then left it in a corner to think about air.
Finally (now there was some floor space) the sofabed was guided into position and --just for that final mind blowing effort-- one of the movers polished the floor with a cloth in case he had left a mark. It was doubtful he had; before they started the agonising process of getting the desk into the apartment, all the movers had politely taken off their shoes. Only in Japan.
Japan is a totally non-tipping culture. You don't leave extra money in restaurants, taxis or bars. Nevertheless, these movers had done an extraordinary job and I would have liked to give them something. I dug out my computer from under the inflating duvet and sent out a quick message to a Japanese friend:
"Can I tip?"
She wrote back, "You don't have to, but you can if you think they were really good."
I glanced over at the desk. Hell yes.
As the men prepared to leave, I handed one of the movers a small pile of notes. He stepped back in refusal but took them when I tried to explain that I thought their work had been amazing. Hopefully this means that tipping was OK and not that I have condemned him to a life of HARDSHIP, PAIN and MISERY while he tries to explain the extra income to his boss, his wife and his particularly accusatory pet dog.
Then they were gone. I moved from the cushion on the floor to the sofa and examined the contents of the room. Ooh, hello snowboots, how I've missed you!