On Tuesday I visited seventeen Osaka apartments with Akamori-san from work and the shy young real estate agent, who patiently walked up and down stairs with us in the 95-degree, 60%-humidity weather. He carried a bag of slippers and a small briefcase. In each place, he laid out two pairs for us in the entryway and waited till we were inside to pull out his own. He turned on the electricity, pulled aside the plastic curtains in the windows, and stood patiently while we looked at the views, the layout, the state of the bathroom, the positioning of the bedrooms, the window screens, the AC venting. We asked about bicycle and scooter parking and community cleaning requirements. (Many of the places have rotating duties for sweeping the stairs and shared areas, which I’m ashamed to say didn’t appeal to me at all. I dreaded the negotiations when I’d have to miss my turn because of a business trip.)
We bowed to potential neighbors we saw. Shoes on and off, on and off, we traipsed the city.
There are two classes of rental units: アパート, apaato (“apartment”), and マンション, manshon (“mansion”). Apartments are lower end (one-room affairs, for instance, with broken bathtubs and motorcycle gangs tearing through at night), and mansions are higher end. Mansions can also be bought, like condos. As an English teacher in the 80s, I rented an apartment. Now, as a salaryman and family head, I get a mansion.
Rooms, or parts of rooms, are designated as LDK, for living, dining, and kitchen, and then you add the number of other rooms, which can be bedrooms or whatever you want. If the rooms are Japanese style, they’re measured in number of tatami mats, and if they are Western style, they’re measured in square meters. To prepare, I created a conversion table for tatami, square meters, and square feet. I mostly looked at 2LDKs, 3DKs, and 3LDKs, though I did see one 4K, with 4 tiny rooms along a hallway and one strip of a kitchen. I wondered what type of families lived there (big ones, presumably). There’s no mention of bathrooms, because there’s only ever one—sink, toilet, and bath in three separate closets, plus a drain for a washing machine. Every place has at least one balcony for drying laundry and airing futons.
I’m allowed a certain price limit and size limit. My fearless HR advocate, Kelly, convinced them to increase my size limit from 60 m2 (645 ft2) to 70 m2 (753 ft2). “They are very large people,” Kelly explained. “When you see them, you’ll understand.” I owe her dinner.
It’s true that in the 40-year-old buildings, I had to duck to walk through the doors. I rather liked those old places, though. They reminded me of my apaato days in the 80s, only bigger. But Akamori-san, and later the other women in the office, convinced me that I’d tire of their quaintness when things started breaking, I’d find them hot in the summer and cold in the winter, and the bathroom mold and smells could overwhelm me. Also, I should think of my daughter.
I’ve decided on a cozy 3LDK near the Expo ’70 Commemoration Park (万博記念公園). It’s only 20 years old, built just six months after the end of my last year living in Osaka. And my daughter will be able to walk or take a short bus ride to school through a bright, family-friendly neighborhood, with grocery shopping around the corner.
“I am Keihan people,” said Suzuki-san at work, meaning that she lives and works on the Keihan line, the train that goes between Osaka and Kyoto. I’ve always felt that I’m Keihan people, too. I’ve lived and worked on it for so many years. I guess it’s time for a change. Now I’ll be on the Monorail, which curves like a comforting arm around the north edge of Osaka.
I am Monorail people.