Thursday, March 29, 2007


A lot of people need to have “alone time” where they can be by themselves in a relatively isolated space for awhile. In Japan, where the apartments are small, getting time by yourself can be rather difficult if you are married or have children. In some apartments, even when you are alone in one room, you are so closely-connected to the others that you’re still essentially together with the other inhabitants. True privacy and isolation are sometimes rather hard to come by.

Personally, I’ve never had issues sharing a small space with my husband. Part of the reason for this is that, when my husband and I physically met for the first time, we melded into a Shari-”Shari’s husband” beast which is forever connected and is very reluctant to ever be separated for more than the time it takes to go to the bathroom. Perhaps we were conjoined twins (note the political correctness of my terminology) in a former life. Perhaps we’re two halves of the same soul finally come together. Or, perhaps, we’ve just incredibly strange, but we do love to be together pretty much all the time.

Whatever the case may be, we never feel smothered or antsy in our confined space. The only time it’s the smallest bit of an issue is when one of us wakes up substantially earlier than the other. Given how easily sound travels through the relatively thin walls of the rooms in our apartment, when either of us wakes up early (as I did this morning having awakened 2 hours before the alarm was supposed to go off), we have to be very quiet if we don’t want to wake the slumbering spouse. Unless we want to sit and stare at a Tokyo-smog-coated wall for an extended period of time, this can be a bit of a problem.

On such occasions, my greatest impulse is to use the extra time to “get things done” followed by a desire to eat something for breakfast. I walk carefully around the apartment looking at various tasks and deciding if they can be done quietly enough not to disturb my husband. This morning I considered putting away the clean dishes in the drainer from last night’s dinner. It’s a particularly risky endeavor since the dishes are balanced on each other in such a way that one wrong removal will send them all sliding over each other with a clatter.

Trying to carefully pluck dishes from the pile such that they don’t loudly slide together is like playing a game of “pick up sticks”. For those of you too young to remember it, it was a game in which you dumped a bunch of colored wooden sticks onto a flat surface then tried to remove one at a time without the whole stack toppling. One wrong removal and the stack collapsed and you lost. I think the game got re-invented as Jenga at some point but that was after my time.

After 4 successful removals, I decided further work on the dishes was pressing my luck and the desire for breakfast was mounting. On such occasions, I curse the tendency of engineers to decide that every action you take has to be accompanied by a beep because this makes using the microwave oven an issue in a small place. It’s not enough that it beeps when food is done, it also has to beep every time you press a button and three times when you’re done.

The safest bet is usually toast because the toaster oven only makes one ding when it’s done so I went for that. However, there is also the problem of extracting the bread from the freezer given that it’s in a plastic bag (which crinkles) and surrounded by what appears to be hundreds of other plastic bags tightly wedged in around it. Moving one thing not only risks setting off a chain reaction of other plastic-related noises but also a cascade of food items sliding out of the freezer and falling to the floor because everything is crammed in there so haphazardly. There’s probably a metaphor for this with another childhood game of some sort but I was more of a board game player when I was a kid so I’m at a loss for what it was called.

If we’re low on milk or need something or other, I’ll occasionally tiptoe out of the apartment to a convenience store but this is also a bit risky. When we open and close the door in the apartment, there seems to be an air compression issue where the door will tend to slam shut very loudly if windows are open or there is an almost palpable air vacuum movement when they are closed. This air movement is something I’m very sensitive to and often wakes me when my husband tries to quietly leave on mornings when he’s up before me.

After I’ve given up on doing anything useful and done my best to quietly eat breakfast, I’ve still got about an hour to an hour and a half to kill in relative silence. Since all the fun stuff is in the bedroom (computer, T.V., husband), I’m pretty much stuck in the living room with our books and hundreds of DVDs with nothing to play them on. I do have my ancient iBook which I use in English lessons but it’s not connected to the internet and only has the relatively basic functionality because of its age.

Most of our books actually belong to my husband because I’m more of a “buy one book, read it, and then get rid of it” sort. Most of the books in our shelves are ones he isn’t seriously interested in reading but hasn’t given up on yet or are ones we’ve both already read but will probably re-read some day.

This doesn’t make for the most appetizing selection of early morning reading material so I tend to pick a book at random and read a few chapters then give up on it. This is somewhat useful in that I can say to my husband when he wakes up later, “you know that book, (insert title here), it sucks.” He’ll give me a thoughtful look considering my insightful review and say he’ll give it a look later and then we’ll get rid of it if he doesn’t like it either. Of course, he’ll never really look at the books I mention but we have an understanding about these things. He doesn’t read them and eventually I nag him into getting rid of them but first we have to be bursting at the seams with books. You have to have an effective method for dealing with such things in your marriage. ;-)

Usually, I end up on the old iBook doing something or other. Generally, I play the old game “Heroes of Might and Magic III” but sometimes I also write lesson material for my students and transfer it over to my main computer later. Sometimes, I even write overly long blog posts about how you have to make certain sacrifices living in a small place in Japan where every sound you make might wake your sleeping husband so you have to amuse yourself quietly.


Roy said...

It's great that you and your husband are so close. When I was teaching English to housewives most of them said that they have separate rooms from their husbands and didn't sleep together because they both needed to get "good sleep" and they also said mentioned the waking up at different times thing as well.

I've always felt that feeling comfortable intimately with your partner (smell, body temperature etc) was one of the most important things for sustaining a long term relationship. I had an ex-girlfriend who was really great but somehow her body heat was a few degrees to warm for me and I could never have a good sleep.

Sometimes, I wish I could be the "buy one book, read it, and get rid of it" person like you. It would reduce lots of the clutter in my life and save me a ton of money.

Problem is I get obsessed with a subject and then proceed to accumulate as much knowledge and expertise about it, which means buying A LOT of books. Recently, the topic has been day-trading. I already bought 5 books last week and have about 6 coming from Amazon. Read 3 completely already (one of the reason for the reduction in my blog posts)

I have piles of books in every room and when I go from room to room I pick up a different book and read a bit before moving on. I don't read much fiction these days so following a story is not an issue.

Shari said...

My husband and I feel very fortunate. We also know we're weird mutant beings for being the way we are. ;-)

I think it's been proven in studies that people sleep better in separate rooms by and large. Sleeping together sounds great and all but it can actually be bad for a thorough night's rest. Even though I would never give up sleeping with my husband, even I recognize that we wake each other up on occasion and would both probably sleep more soundly if we were in different rooms.

I agree most wholeheartedly with you that you have to be content with your partner's chemistry to stay together. I guess that's part of the reason why there's such a huge industry out there to mask all the more potentially unpleasant attributes (deodorant, perfume, etc.).

Incidentally, I think my husband is more like you on the book front and that's why we have so many books that he has bought. When he was interested in P.G. Wodehouse, he bought most of his works. When he was interested in New Age spirituality, he bought a ton of those books (he still is interested in it but his interest is more focused now). I think that this is actually more normal than the way I am.

As always, it's good to hear from you, Roy. :-)

Kai | Kat said...

my mom and dad sleep in the same room and they've been married oh... a bit over thirty years now. she didn't really mind his snoring much until they got older and my mom started sleeping more lightly. she never considered sleeping in another bedroom though. at night, she just sleeps the opposite way (with her feet to the headboard) so he wouldn't snore right in her ears. ^_^

oddly enough, they whine more about the noise from my room (like a hallway away) than the noise they make in their own room if one happens to wake up earlier than the other... like my dad watching basketball or my mom playing text twist. -_-

my lit teacher once told my class (during one of her marriage-wisdom lecture breaks) that most people think having sex is the best thing about being in a relationship. but it's actually sleeping together and waking up to each other that feels really wonderful.

but since i've never been married i wouldn't know... and i was too polite to ask her about how wonderful morning breath would be to experience... >.> <.<

Shari said...

Hi Kai and thanks very much for your comment. :-)

Sleeping with another person is very comforting. It may be more or less so for some people but I recall that there was a point where my sister and I slept together when we were very, very young and I wonder if that has something to do with how comforting I find it. If you get used to someone being there at a young age, you probably want it on some level even when you're much older.

I'm guessing your parents probably got used to each other's noises (my husband and I have this as well but it's situational - I'm used to his reading in bed at night but it wakes me up in the morning) but they aren't used to yours so even something down the hall would wake them before a louder noise one or the other makes.

It's incredibly sweet that your parents value being together after 30 years of marriage. :-)