Furniture stores & sushi trains

I am becoming domestic. I may be typing this in a hotel room with wet jeans hanging off the bath and knickers dangling from door handles, but I like to think that I’m entering a new era in my life. I am on a Daiwa Scholarship to become fluent in Japanese so I can become the ultimate writer and culture journalist, bringing you all the latest awesomeness from Japan, and Asia more generally. This is the biggest commitment I’ve made to a career path so far. Not only is the programme a whole 19 months of my life, but I intend to stay for longer to attain the highest Japanese language level JLPT 1.

With such long term ambitions to stay in Japan, finding and furnishing a flat that feels like home is important. No more Poundland – or, rather, no more 100 Yen shop. I don’t want to camp. I’m in my mid-twenties. My home should surely have a little style and charm to it.

Then why was I a little alarmed that I jumped with excitement on entering a furniture store?!

Last weekend, one of our sempai (previous Daiwa Scholars) kindly took us on a house furnishing trip. As this clearly is a chore, the adventure naturally had to begin with a meal to fuel our energy levels and moods for tackling furniture. We ended up at Daikonman again (which I reviewed here), tucking into okonimiyaki. I can confirm that putting avocado and shrimp into the pancake mix is a VERY good idea.

Prawn and avocado okonomiyaki, Kansai-style, 980 yen
Prawn and avocado okonomiyaki, Kansai-style, 980 yen

Their yakisoba (fried noodles) with mixed seafood also looked pretty yummy.

Mixed seafood yakisoba
Mixed seafood yakisoba

Sated we stopped by a second hand store in Shimokitazawa in which we met this fine and gentlemanly polar bear (I’m not sure about his wife though). I also bought a floor length lime green mirror for 1080 yen – bargain! The Japanese don’t tend to like buying second hand so prices can be great.

Polar bears are HUGE
Polar bears are HUGE

Then we set off to Nitori, which is the Japanese equivalent of Ikea. They market themselves slightly differently though – it’s all about “total coordination”:

Nitori Google

It’s a little trek out from the centre of Tokyo, and it took us two trains and a taxi to make it there. On arriving, I felt overwhelmed. There were so many choices. Did I want a bed or a futon? Traditionally, Japanese dwellings are furnished with tatami mats as flooring, which are similar to straw mats and have some give to them. This makes sleeping on a futon on the floor not as unforgiving on one’s back as one might expect. However, the majority of buildings now have wooden floors, particularly in an area like Tokyo which evolves at lightning speed. But what if you hanker after the traditional, despite your modern surrounds? I present to you this hybrid: the tatami bed!

Oh look, the love child of a tatami bed coupling...
Oh look, the love child of a tatami bed coupling…

A key difference between Japanese homes and UK homes is the lack of insulation and central heating in the former. Unfortunately, I am not exaggerating and I do not mean “poor insulation and central heating”. I mean “There is no insulation and central heating and you risk losing your nipples to frostbite in the winter!” The windows are single-glazed. I wish I were joking when I tell you that I bubble wrapped my windows on the advice of my neighbour when I was living in Kyoto. And that I’m not the only one – check this article out.

One of the ways that the Japanese stay warm is through using a kotatsu. This is a low table with a heater underneath and a blanket which covers your legs. We found a very fancy one in Nitori. But I stubbornly refuse to see the comfort in warm knees and a freezing top half. As someone with asthma, a myriad of allergies and all-round pathetic immune system, breathing very cold air makes me ill. So there will be no kotatsu in my flat, just a very large electricity bill.

The perfect heater for warm knees
The perfect heater for warm knees

After wandering the aisles in a furniture-induced tranced for an hour or more, I eventually managed to pick a futon set, bedding, towels and basic kitchen equipment. Almost everything I bought was green: I believe that the second-hand mirror purchased earlier must have had an influence.

It was a major relief to learn that Nitori has a reasonably priced home delivery service, where you can specify the exact time on the exact day – unlike England, where sometimes you might wait in for the whole day in the hope that your item appears (no guarantee). I am getting my futon delivered by 8pm on the day I spend my first night in my flat. Let’s pray their service is excellent or it may be a very miserable first night.

After any shopping trip, a gastronomic celebration is obligatory. So what better way to reflect on our furnishing achievements than having sushi delivered to us on a train?!!!!! In this busy restaurant in Shibuya, everyone has their own touch screen menu and, within five minutes or less, your chosen dish will zoom along the tracks and stop in front of you. It delighted me so much that I can only imagine my fascination as a child. Watch the video below. For the record, I’m not stalking the blonde women – I just don’t have a clue how to use my camera:

Yet super-fast train sushi was not enough for us. What better way to finish the day than to whizz up to the 15th floor and look out over Tokyo, whilst sipping a yuzu and ginger cocktail?

Lights inside and our - fifteen floors ip
Lights inside and our – fifteen floors ip

We then raced to get to an ice-cream parlour before it closed, admiring donuts en route – and fortunately found that the parlour was closed because we may have been getting a little carried away.

It was  when I was waddling back late, full of food, pondering all the ridiculous events that I had lined up for the following day, contemplating booking a flight to Hanoi, that I came to the conclusion that “wants nice furnished flat” could definitely be compatible with “not grown up yet.”

And so I pay tribute to my parents, who have told me many times:

Don’t ever worry about growing up. We’re still waiting.

Author: Phoebe Amoroso

Phoebe Amoroso is a Tokyo-based reporter, multimedia journalist and storyteller. Hailing from the UK, she moved to Japan in 2014 and has since been shouting about the country to all who will listen. She divides her time between covering breaking news and producing feature stories for TV; writing about everything from business and tech to food and travel; and guiding hungry visitors who want to sample the best of Japanese cuisine. When not working and/or eating, she can often be found running up a mountain or cycling by the sea.

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