Thursday, September 21, 2006

You Are Where You Live

One of the reasons I was so glad to have my kitchen floor replaced was that I had always felt somewhat uncomfortable having students come over and see it. They didn't seem to care much and seemed to be able to distinguish between "old" and "dirty" and I don't think my apartment has ever cost me anyone. After discussing apartments with one of my students, I can say that at least one teacher was not so lucky.

We chatted a bit about the landlord-tenant relationship in my case and whether or not I had to pay for the replacement (I didn't) and somehow this lead to her mentioning a situation with the first teacher the referral service sent her to. She prefers to drive her car to lessons and checked out the area he lived in for parking possibilities. Apparently, the teacher was residing in a gaijin house that, at least externally, looked pretty rundown. In fact, she said that she was shocked by how it looked as she didn't even realize such places existed.

However, she didn't reject the teacher entirely because of the way things looked. She's a very nice person and didn't want to judge based on the place he lived in though the area did make her uncomfortable. The other issue was that he claimed to have held a job at a fairly prestigious place and she doubted the veracity of what he said based on where he lived. She couldn't imagine anyone who held such a job would live in such a place.

I did explain to her that foreigners in Japan have limited housing options relative to most Japanese, particularly when they first arrive because of the need to put forward as much as 6 months rent right off the bat. The only reason we were able to get the place we did is my brother-in-law, who was already living here, secured it for us and loaned us the money to get it when we first arrived. A lot of people have few choices but to live in gaijin houses until their finances get rolling good and strong. It also doesn't help that foreigners still are not acceptable to most landlords.

She said she may have misunderstood the situation when I explained this to her. There's no reason why she should understand it but it does shine a spotlight on how many Japanese people don't realize the hardships foreigners sometimes have to put up with while working here. However, I'm pretty sure that the fellow couldn't have been working full-time at the place he mentioned (not that he claimed he did) or he certainly wouldn't have been in a gaijin house. If I were in that situation, I'd probably arrange to teach lessons at a coffee shop until I could move somewhere a bit better.


Roy said...

You know I used to live in a gaijin house which was a renovated dormitory previous owned by Nihon Chemical. The place was rundown on the inside and outside but was kept very clean.

Many people lived there including some vagrant gaijin but most were working as English teachers and some working in proper Japanese companies. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the gaijin house and I would say that while it may seem like the foreigners didn't have a choice of where to live, in most cases it was just that they felt comfortable there and didn't have much motivation to move to a respectable place. The social comaraderie of a gaijin house was lots of fun and I still keep in touch with many I met there.

Shari said...

Several of my former Nova co-workers expressed similar sentiments. In fact, after one moved to her own place, she was pretty isolated and unhappy. So, I do understand the social aspect though, being married, it's not something I'd really think about for myself.

It didn't occur to me to mention that to my student because I hadn't thought about it for awhile but you make good points. It's another aspect of being a foreigner here that the Japanese wouldn't have insight into because they don't know what it's like for us coming over here without any family or pre-existing social connections.

If the topic comes up again, I'll mention the points you've made.

Roy said...

Another thing about the gaijin house that I forgot to mention was that about a quarter of the people living there were Japanese. Most of these people were not even interested in English or meeting foreigners. They just needed a place to stay for a few months and didn't want to bother with key money and deposit. We were a merry bunch.

Recently, I did a search on such places and found dozens of guest houses aimed at Japanese as well. Seems to be a growth industry. I guess if you are a freeter and don't have a guarantor it's a good place to stay.