Monday, May 31, 2010

Kichijoji C-House – Chapter 2 – 3D sketches

I love architecture for its way to blend function and art.

One thing that Sakamoto-san gets is that a house needs to be envisioned three dimensionally and with some color.

This is the approach once past the driveway.


This is at the top of the stairs on the second floor towards the entrance of the living room.


This is the view from the study of living, kitchen, dining, and family room.


This is from the family room. My favorite design accent is the crossing beams with the overhang shelves which give a Frank Lloyd Wright feel.


View from the kitchen.


So there are still a million details to cover and we just ended 1 week-end run of showrooms but that will be for another post as I’m exhausted from hours of looking at windows.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Guess who’s coming to Dinner

Our architect came on Tuesday. I thought it would be good for him to my family and give my wife the chance to see if she felt comfortable with his design process. We gave him a tour of our current place and explained what we liked and what we didn’t and how it was guiding our design ideas. He was a very good listener.

But before we hit the 15 point agenda I had sent him the night before, we thought we’d be nice to start and treat him to my wife’s melt-your-soul Lasagna. God only know what we’ll do once we have a proper kitchen with counters that are not built for a 4 foot pygmy oba-chan. But I digress. We got a to know a little bit more about him (Mr. Sakamoto) and just chilled over good food and our children’s silly jokes.


After we put the kids to bed, we set down in the living room and reviewed a pile of schematics for almost the rooms which would require the most detail examinations:


1- Reviewed the first floor shadow schematics and although the second will be full of sunlight, the first will be mostly in shadows. But that’s where we sleep and spend only 20% (if that) of our day there.

2- The entrance has enough shoe cabinets to make Imelda Marcos proud. But that’s not us. We’re going to convert 40% into multi-purpose storage.

3- The bathroom had us debating for a good 15 minutes over the position of the windows. At the top? On the sides? Do we need any? Finally, Sakamoto-san, suggested that we go with a glass bathroom/Bathtub divider and get natural light from the tub area. We liked it.

DSC_37694- The Utility Room, we liked the revised layout and decided to add a sink. Anyone who has children will appreciate having a place to scrub major stains away from the kitchen or bath area.

5- The study area was perfect.

6- The kitchen counter was a bit of surprise because it was a 2-level counter to hide the mess. We clarified that we wanted a flat surface so food prep could be done on both sides of the counter.


A pause for today, but please come back for the lovely 3 dimensional hand drawn sketches of the 2nd floor living areas.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The not so big Mortgage

A call for questions!
Our architect will be coming over for supper tomorrow and it will be a good opportunity for us to know each other on a more personal level.

I already have a list questions for a profile interview.
Please let me know if you have any questions you want to add to the list?

Relieving Mortgage stress:
In the meantime, just thought I would post about the financial sense. I think one of the main concerns about having your own home in Japan is getting over sticker shock. This is where extremely low interests in Japan help relieve some of the stress.

What you get in Japan for ~1450$/month:
You can go for a 500K USD@1.2% and over 35 years it will cost you about 110K in terms of interest payments.

What you get in USA for ~1450$/month:
You can go for a 355K USD@3.5% and over 35 years it will cost you about 255K in terms of interest payments.

So which one looks better?
Well the Japanese mortgage looks better now. But the reality is more complex.
It's not a complete apples to apples comparison since homes in the US (the last 4 years not-with standing) grow in value, whereas homes here depreciate in value. But in a way that's my point. In Japan, You win some. You lose some. But a home is home, and our plan is to just live in and enjoy it. Taking a look at the big picture...the mortgage does not look so big after all.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Land Cost as a proportion to Home Cost

So I should hear back about the loan by the end of the week or early next week at the latest. I had an additional form to fill out today for Life insurance. If I croak, my family is protected as the mortgage will be covered. This is included as part of the loan free of charge supposedly (more like hidden into the bank fees). But anyways... this is good insurance to have.

On a different note, buying land in Tokyo is not cheap. I'm now remembering a conversation with my wife about moving out further out into the boondocks like Tachikawa, Kunitachi, Hachioji, where land was cheaper. Setting aside the fact that I would not elongate my already daily lengthy commute, I thought it would be good idea to do some quick math.

Land-Home Ratio
According to neighbors and friends in Kichijoji 2/3 of the costs are related to the land and rest is for the house (TOP example . From looking at the land prices in Kunitachi the ratio changes to 1/2 for the land (BOTTOM example).

Taking into consideration the average life span of a japanese home (25 years) and making the assumption that: A- House value would equal ZERO in 25 years and B - land value would appreciate at 1.5% per annum I calculated the amount of I would end up losing due to depreciation. The quick math seemed to favor the home with higher land cost. With the top case I've only lost the a Toyota. With the bottom scenario I've lost a Porsche. Of course this is not extensive analysis as I have not factored in mortage interest costs or tax savings but it's a different perspective on things.

At the end of the day, anything is better than RENT!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ramen at Harukyia

So tomorrow I submit my formal loan application.
I'm betting I'll have an answer by Friday....

In the mean time, I've got ramen on my mind.

One of my long time favorites near Tokyu deparment stores is Harukiya.
Harukiya originates from nearby Ogikubo and is one of the most famous Ramen shops in Japan.
It is noted for it's fresh noodles and original tasty yet balanced broth.


The atmosphere is...what atmosphere? Dude or Dudette, you go to Harukiya for the ramen, everything else is just a distraction. Focus on your bowl and enjoy. And may the force be with you.

The Chuuka Soba is what made them famous. Regular portion.

Below is the Won-Ton Chuuka Soba. Large Omori size.
Be aware that the won-tons are more skin than meat and this adds an interesting mix if textures. This is according to their menu the most popular item these days.

Kichijoji is full of ramen shops, supposedly due to large concentration of college students.
I would have gladly traded my college pizzas for this.

And if you need tips on eating Ramen watch this from Tampopo (BEST FREAKING, IF-YOU'RE-NOT-HUNGRY-AFTER-WATCHING-YOU'RE-NOT-HUMAN JAPANESE MOVIE).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Kichijoji C-House Chapter 1 - New House Plans

As I mentioned in a previous post, it's hard to let go of one's vision even if one must adjust to the new terrain. But it was a bit of shock when I saw the configuration below. To be fair, it was just a very very rough plan and was made mostly to fill out to 150 square meters which is the total usable space which we need to present on the loan application form.

There were so many things wrong with it:
  • The entrance is very narrow on West side and unwelcoming.
  • Extra greenery is on the North side and too narrow to be considered a "space".
  • Too many corners down the corridors make you feel like in a rat tunnel.
  • 2 Floor utility room has an adjacent balcony which does not get much sun for hanging the laundry.
  • The dining room is too isolated.
  • Can't see what's going on in the study from the kitchen. Are the kids doing homework or are they surfing Youtube?
So this is what happens when you don't meet your architect....!!

Now that you've seen the BEFORE, now see what happens when you have a 2-hour brainstorming session.

Let's start with the first floor:

As you can see the layout has changed dramatically.
  • We moved the entrance on the South side so it is a welcoming approach.
    Sakamoto our architect and principal of ISTA (Institute of Space,Technology, and Architecture) and winner of Good Design Award in 2009 provided some 3D sketches throughout the across the plans for us to get a real feel for some of the rooms.
Below is an example of the entrance with storage and floor window, as well as a front facing sketch of the Bathroom.

  • Girls room is more North-South with the North for sleeping and South for playing and studying (yeah right!).
  • Entrance hallways is wider and will act as an Art gallery.
  • Bathtub is now on the NorthEast corner and will have a small lit garden as a view.
  • Private garden will be adjacent to Master Bedroom and Public garden will be on the other side of the Entrance.
  • Linen Closet built using corner of Ishan's room.
  • Stair will be skeleton staircase which allows for more light and under will be a display space for Ikebana with window.

For the 2nd floor, it's a return to my original vision but with more space to play with.

  • We've added a family room on the NorthWest side and it will have a skylight.
  • The Dining room will also have a skylight.
  • Both Family Room and Study can be see from the kitchen.
  • Very Long Diagonal views from Family room to outside Deck, as well from Study to Kitchen. Although the space is open, it will be cozy and intimate and encourage family interactions yet allow for some private space.
  • Here's a view from the family room down to the study. We will have open beams going down the room to visually create a nuanced sense of demarcation. The loft wall above the kitchen will have a small overhang to place art work and decorations. There will also be a pillar on the kitchen counter to provide support for the loft but will also act as a decorative detail.
  • Finally below is the study with built-in bookshelves and built-in couch that is the same size as a single bed to accommodate for an overnight guest. We will place a double (american-type) futon couch on the corner for when the grandparents visit.

In my opinion this is a good start, yet we have a long way to go.
Let me know what you think!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Walkable Cyclable Kichijoji

Sometimes narrow streets serve a purpose. They encourage people to walk or ride their bikes.
In Kichijoji, this new urbanism is by design.

Check out this interesting article: The New Urbanism: Kichijoji Style

Our youngest below is taking her first little spins (picture taken last year) without the training wheels down our street.
Pure happiness and sense of achievement!

Thinking of the kids reminds me I should post a little something about education in the area at some point in the future.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Village Vanguard Diner

Every neighborhood should have it's own true of a kind original burger joint.
Village Vanguard definitely tops of our family's list for it's funky decor, excellent burgers, tasty onions rings. The only down side is probably the 400yen Coca-Cola...but you don't have to order it and the burgers are well worth the trip.


We usually end up having the wait outside for a 10 minutes as we are a family of 5.
This is a big group for this small place.

The onions looked so good I forgot to take photos after we were almost done with them.
Thankfully, the tortillas mix came right soon after and reminded me.

Counter Seating and Diner style decor.

Good brews on tap.

And even wider Bottled selection.

This is the Midnight Cowboy.
Man where to begin....The usual suspects: quarter-pound of tasty juicy hamburger, lettuce,tomato, onions, BBq sauce, fried egg, bacon, cheese topped off with fried garlic.

This ones deserves an aerial shot.

They also have Kid Sets for the Mini-me's.

My son Ishan who is 10 has graduated to the adult sized cheese burger.
He usually ends his Village meals saying " I'm so full and happy I could die."
The dude gets it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

My First Real Estate Deal

Yesterday I completed my first real estate deal. It feels like a major life milestone.
The deal won't close until the end of July, but since the loan has been pre-approved and there won't be material change to the application, I expect the process to be smooth.

Above is the contract binder, which was procured by Nomura real estate who are the sellers' agent. It feels quite luxurious with its velvet cover.

Just thought I would note how the contract meeting went:
  • The meeting was arranged by my agent about 1 week earlier.
  • We met at Nomura's office in Kichijoji.
  • I played it safe and wore a suit and tie. The owner's came in fairly plain conservative garb.
  • I swapped meishi's with the Nomura agent and exchanged bows with owner couple both about late 50s.
  • The agent opened the meeting by stating the purpose of the meeting and presented his certification credentials.
  • For the next 45 minutes he read every details of the contract. Land Size, Zoning, water, gas, city plans, deposits. If you are well prepared you should have not any surprises, as most of these points should have been discussed beforehand with your agent. My japanese is about 2-kyu level and I managed to get about 90%. I think the owners looked like they understood about the same amount. Legalese is a language in it's own right :).
  • There were a few minutes of awkward conversation with the owners in between the shuffling of papers. The husband seemed happy to sell. The wife had a serious disappointed look. I expressed how thankful and happy we were to be part of the neighborhood, and how we were looking forward to raise our family there.
  • We spent about 15 minutes putting seals down on document till my fingers were blue and I got lots of practice writing my address in kanji.
  • I handed over my 5% down payment japanese cheque for which I got a ***RECEIPT***.
  • The owners handed over a a brick of cash in an envelope to pay for their agent's fee while my agent looked in envy and I was thinking "who brings so much money in cash, when you can have a cheque for a 840 yen fee?".
  • And that was it. Very smooth though somewhat impersonal.
Below is a shot of the binder again. It's about 2 inches thick with documents and weighs about 3 pounds.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Kichijoji C-House Prologue - Old House Plans

I will be working with a Japanese architect whom I will profile in much greater detail once we finalize all the various contracts. The next three months are going to be very busy for both him and I as we pour every detail of the home and I hope you'll find good information in the postings.

I'm very excited to work with him as he is really open and receptive to the idea of showcasing our work online.

So I've been reviewing the house plans (very rough draft submitted for the bank loan) and I'm realizing that I'm having a hard time starting from scratch and thus I have bias for some of the same designs that we had details for the first piece of land which fell through.

Below are the Old Plans for 125sqm home:

Some Key Design points at the time were:
  • Second Floor living area for best sunlight and warmth during winter.
  • Large open Kitchen and Dining attached to an Utility/Pantry room for washer/dryer and food storage.
  • A small away room for computer with window seating adjacent to Patio.
  • Southern facing balcony for clothes drying.
  • First floor are sleeping areas for cooler temperatures during summer.
  • Bathroom with double sinks and bathtub overlooking small japanese garden.
  • Loft space for office/guestroom and home theater.
Some external sketches:

In my next post I'll go over some of my ideas and adjustments made for the new land and larger floor space.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Garcon! Japanese Cheque please!

So I have a date with the owners and my real estate agent this Sunday for the signing of the land purchase agreement contract.

As far as I understand, the agreement will be contingent on the "formal" (seishiki in japanese) loan approval.

For this meeting, I was told to bring 4 things:

1- My Deposit。 預金小切手(よきんこぎって)
This is usually about 10% of the contract amount but is negotiable. I'm putting in about 5%.
I will lose this if I bail out of the deal. I will double this amount if they break the deal.
You get this at your bank and you should bring your A) Bank Book, B)your Inkan (Seal) C) Cash Card. D)Gaijin Card.

The procedure was very straight forward. I was simply asked how much I wanted my cheque to be, filled out a couple of forms (make sure you ask for the most secure option), put down my Seal, entered my PIN for security reasons.

After about 5 minutes of waiting, I was handed my cheque. Overall, I was very surprised at how efficient the process is.

2- Revenue Stamp. 収入印紙(しゅうにゅういんし)
This is the Stamp Duty on the contract and the amount depends on the value of the contract.
Get your agent to tell you how much the duty will be and essentially just buy a stamp for that amount.

3- My Inkan
4- My Gaijin Card.