I approached the woman behind the counter at the 'Tokyo Hands' department store and put my purchases on the counter. I had done this exact same action the day before. Same time, same store, same goods. I hoped very much it was not the same shop assistant. Does it count as deja vu when you really have done it before?
One of the first adjectives I learned in my Japanese class was 'benri' meaning 'convenient'. At the time, it struck me as an odd word to have come up so early (how many times do you use the word 'convenient'?) but that was before I understood more about Japanese culture.
The ideal Japanese life is perfectly described as benri and nowhere is this more apparent than inside a Japanese apartment. While small, apartments in Japan are designed extremely efficiently with every inch constructed with a specific activity in mind. If you are able to curb your rebellious streak, it is indeed a very convenient lifestyle. The built-in cupboard by the door is for shoes (a fact that escaped me until my movers tried to put my foot wear in there when they unpacked), the one above the washing machine perfectly fits a bottle of detergent and not much else. Flushing the toilet runs water into an integrated wash basin as it fills the tank and any Japanese homeowner believes the kitchen cupboards should be filled in a very particular manner. The balcony, meanwhile, is a place to hang out clothes to dry.
The presence of a small balcony is a common feature in Japanese apartments. While --with a bit of a squeeze-- you could put a chair and small table out there, it is obviously not what the architect had in mind. The barrier that stops you plummeting to your doom is normally a concrete wall high enough to block any view a seated martini drinker might enjoy. It also boasts two built in racks designed to support a pole on which to hang washing.
It is normal for each apartment in Japan to have its own washing machine, but not its own tumble drier. Potentially, you could buy a two-in-one device (there is no space for a separate machine, the apartment design completely forbids you buying one) but most people hang their laundry outside during the warmer days. In Sapporo, this actually means a few scant months when the place isn't filled with snow, which explains why this was a new venture for me.
'Tokyo Hands' offered a range of sizes for washing poles and, while I had measured the length I required, I wasn't sure which pole would be best. This goes someway to explaining why I ended up buying two poles on subsequent days; the first pole was a success so I went back to buy a second. I also hadn't bought enough pegs, which explains the second repetitive purchase.
I attempted to break this strange real deja vu sensation by going up two floors, rather than one, to use the bathroom after I'd paid. This plan was flawed by the men's and women's restrooms alternating floors. I resigned myself to a predictable afternoon.
It must be said that drying clothes outside basically rocks. Of course, I had done this many times at my parents' house but since then I had either not had an outdoors area, or lacked a fail-safe way of erecting a make-shift line. Now, however, I could put my wet clothing neatly out of the way on my balcony, go about my day and when I returned it would be all air dried and wonderful.
…. I was just congratulating myself on my purchases when it started to rain. You would think my memories of the UK would remind me of this obvious drawback. Since I had hung items out on my single washing pole, I expected to return to find a soggy mess. Instead, I discovered the balcony above had protected them from the light shower and they were perfectly dry. How…. convenient.