Japan Thru Non-Japanese Eyes

David Ellis(USA)

David Ellis, an American English teacher in Tokyo, has lived in Japan for seven years. In his first two years in Tokyo, he lived in three "gaijin houses." He is the co-author of Setsuko Watanabe in Web-Watching the World and has read his own essays on the tape, Web-Watching the World.
His URL http://geocities.com/Athens/Agora/7984/

The Ups and Downs of Living in a Gaijin House

When many foreign workers first come to Tokyo, the main problem they have is finding a place to live. Apartments are often expensive, and they often require a guarantor and lots of money for deposits, key money, washing machines, futons, telephone lines, and so on.

Since many foreign workers do not even know how long they will stay in Japan, many people choose to live in guest houses for foreigners. These infamous places are usually called "gaijin houses." Gaijin houses are crowded places that have a wide variety of problems, but they also have some good points. Living in a gaijin house is similar to living in a crowded American college fraternity house, which is a house for a young men's college club. If you donŐt know what a fraternity house is, you should watch the movie "Animal House." Each person has a private room with about 4.5 tatami mats or a shared room for two people with about 6 mats. The house manager provides necessities, such as futons, heaters, and fans. The house usually has a shared lounge with a TV, sofas, a kitchen, refrigerators, and a telephone. There is also usually a coin laundry with a clothes drier that heats rather than dries your clothes. The shower room usually has a coin system in which you pay 100 yen for a ten-minute shower. Therefore, you always need to keep 100 yen coins in your room. You also have to be careful to shower quickly, or you will end up finishing your shower with cold water!

There are often about ten or fifteen people living in one house, which, of course, causes problems. First, you often have to line up for showers and wait for the use of the washing machines. One major complaint is of people stealing each other's food. I would sometimes come home after work and find that someone had eaten my cheese or drank my milk while I was gone. Some bad residents expect other people to clean their dirty dishes, which causes people to leave angry messages over the sink reading, "Your Mama doesn't live here, so Wash Your Dishes!!."

The biggest problem, however, is the noise. Many houses have nightworkers, such as hostesses, who come home from work in the middle of the night and decide to watch TV and cook themselves dinner. Other people have late-night parties in the lounge, so that people with early schedules have to sleep with earplugs, since most of the rooms have "paper-thin walls." So, you might ask, with all these problems, why would anyone want to live in a gaijin house?

First of all, it saves money, since you donŐt have to pay deposits or buy futons, heaters, fans, telephone lines, and other household necessities. It also gives foreigners a sense of freedom that if their job makes them too unhappy, they can always pack their bags on payday and catch a plane back to their home countries. People with apartments are much more tied down with all their things. Most importantly, you can easily make friends quickly when you first come to Tokyo, and you can get the support you need when you have trouble in this very big, confusing city. It's also a good way to meet people from many other countries. Some young Japanese, mostly women, choose to live in gaijin houses as a way to make foreign friends and learn English. In short, living in a gaijin house definitely has its ups and downs. I enjoyed meeting some unusual characters from around the world and enjoyed some very fun parties in my gaijin house days, but I also felt like I had no privacy and definitely had trouble sleeping. I now feel too old to live in such a place, but it was definitely an interesting cross-cultural experience during my first two years in Tokyo. I'd recommend living in a gaijin house to any young and adventurous newcomers to Tokyo.

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