Saturday, November 19, 2011

Chapter 47–The Genkan ( Vestibule]

In the old place we rented the entry was typically a mountain of shoes, schools bags, coats, outdoor toys. Although, we still have the occasional shoe pile up, it’s definitely more manageable and we have plenty of storage for coats, miscellaneous items. Actually we have so much storage now that we’ve gotten away with not being the most organized.


As you can see, we typically leave out our daily footwear. I think we intended for them to be always out of sight, but practically speaking it’s simpler to create a little rack space for the most used shoes.


I still can’t figure out how to easily slip into my shoes the way the Japanese do, so we had a bench built, which gives us additional storage for toys, bags, picnic blankets. The de-cluttering process is also aided by the fact that the kids’ rooms are also on the first floor, so they have a “new” habit (instilled through copious parental nagging) of bringing their stuff straight into their rooms.

The sliding door has been useful in cutting down drafts.

Maybe one thing we’d re-think would be the color of the tiles. They are very light so dirt shows a little more easily. Not a huge deal but something to adjust to if you’re current place has darker tiles.


Under the storage units, we have a our cat door which our two cats, Cade and Ruby started to use almost immediately after we moved in. As you can see it gets a lot of use and one down side is that we’ve discovered we have a lot more animal life in the neighborhood than we thought, as both cats have been bringing us little gifts: birds, field mice, grasshoppers. Our two girls have been giving them a good talking-to and those events have reduced.


The low lighting was a nice little touch that was in our architect’s home, and it’s an elegant way to keep the genkan lit at a low cost. It also provides a little lighting for our bed room garden.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Chapter 46– 9 months later…

I wish I had a handy excuse such as being pregnant for being disconnected for the last few months, but I’ll just fess up and confess that I got a little lazy after reaching the major milestone of moving in.

Today Lara and I met a lovely couple and their kids who are off on their own adventure of building a home in the Tokyo area.  It’s great to see that my documented control-freak habits and panic attacks are actually useful for people. As we talked I felt nostalgic: Ah those feelings of “Wow that’s a big mortgage!”, “How will I get through all that paper work?”, “Where do I begin?”, “What if I mess up and I’m stuck with it till I’m 70?”, “I want to buy this plot now! and move no..must check if there’s something better…slow down”, etc. Yes stressful but looking back, plain old fun.


Now 9 months later, with hindsight the question is: Is there anything we would have done differently?”. For now I’ll answer that question at a macro level and zoom in to each area of the home over the next few weeks. I guess it’s report card time :)

Location: No regrets here. I still get weekly emails on properties in the area and in terms of location at the right price, I think we timed it perfectly.

Home Design: Our goal was to build a comfortable, functionally and energy efficient with good materials. We can go into the nit picky details a little later on. but very little that I would do over.

Garden: This is a hard one to rate, as our intention has always been to build over time and do it ourselves. Unfortunately our beautiful lawn died of some fungal disease which forced us into a redo of our front door landscaping. More on this later, but at this point we’ll have to wait until next spring for new grass.


So you’ll get all the grizzly details from the genkan to the loft in the next few weeks. Albeit on a tangent, tonight I roasted our first chicken in our Miele Convection oven/microwave and it was perfect!! All golden on all sides, with that beautiful and delicious crispy and salty skin crust. Yummmmm.


Feel free to ask questions by leaving a comment.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Chapter 45– Spring Time Gardening

April in Japan marks the beginning of new school and fiscal year. Despite all the tumult, we are getting on with it and continuing on our little projects around the house. For the past 6 weeks we had been treading on a muddy walk-through as we waited for the weather to warm up so we could start putting down a lawn. Not the picture perfect way to move in, but we wanted to save on landscaping fees by doing it ourselves. We had quotes between 12~20K$ and we’re willing to shell out.

I can’t claim any credit for this back breaking work. Lara spent 4 days literally tilling the clay earth and picking old debris and rocks from our soil. She filled about 5 boxes full which we gave back to our builders to dispose of.


Below Lara got some walkway tiles from J-mart which in retrospect we should have sourced ourselves since it was cheaper than what we got from the builders and of equal quality. Extra soil and sand was mixed in with the local earth since we had to make sure it was soft enough for the roots to take hold. You’ll find all sorts of resources online about this.


Thankfully, we had a neighborhood friend who is a certified Japanese landscaper to help us. He came at a very competitive price and Lara could not have done it without him. He even gave us a discount on the total bill because he felt he did not do a perfect job since it was his first time laying Western sod. The type of earnestness you only see in Japan.


The finished result! Some of the brown spots is just top finishing earth. So it’s now a matter of watering it twice a day and not stepping on it for a few weeks. By golden week I should be able to lie down on my own front lawn in Tokyo.

By the way this is where we got our sod. It was the best quality at the right price.


Monday, March 21, 2011

The Show Must Go On: Spring

The house is still standing. We are safe and healthy though a bit stressed. These past 10 days have been a mixture of fear, grief, worry and hope. I’m not going to rehash what’s already been written in the media (nor comment on it).

What I will write is that according to what I’ve experienced these past few days in Kichijoji, is that things are going back to normal. There is bread, bottled water, toilet paper in the stores. And I managed to get a full tank of gasoline for the car today. So it appears that a certain amount of calm has taken hold.

Photos below are from yesterday at a popular park near our that is popular with young families with toddlers. A beautiful day to take your first steps or play ball with Dad.



The usual clients at Starbucks were happy to soak in the sun, not appearing to worry about all the nuclear radiation reports.


These are good signs. Hopefully there will be better signs to come from the government and nuclear agencies in the coming days. I think people are starting to process the barrage of information and situations (earthquake, tremors, tsunami, power outages, daily supply shortages, etc.) and begin to adjust to the point where it’s become their “new normal”.

Lara and the kids went on early spring break on Wednesday to Fukuoka in Southern Japan, as the level of radiation increased in Tokyo and various incidents were happening simultaneously at the Fukushima nuclear plant. I have decided to stay for work as,according to government, levels are considered very low and do not pose a health risk.

The more I think about the past week, the more I think this is a lot about Faith. Faith in the government, faith in the media, faith in your family, faith in nuclear experts, faith in your employer, faith in your community. Who do you believe? Who is right? What happens if any is wrong? On Tuesday, Lara and I decided to take the kids out of the event risk equation until we knew more. Thus Fukuoka.

The initial plan are the family to come back this Wednesday. Better rested and better informed. After that, the next step is figuring out how we can help. Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Nuclear reactors. We are undeterred. Kichijoji is our home. The show must go on.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Chapter 44 - cats adjusting just fine

Cade and ruby, our two cats are finely settling into their new digs. I think last night was the first time we managed to sleep without cursing their meowing. To be fair to Cade, it's really Ruby who is most vocal.

As you can see Cade has found his favorite spot.

Some other views of the semi formal living area.

Below is the family living where all five of us can pile in. A more casual area.

Some of Lara's ikebana in the gallery.

And where I'm blogging from right at this moment. ;). Cats are still spending the night with us at the foot of the bed.

One more week and we'll introduce them to their cat door.

-Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Chapter 43 - Shut the Door, have a seat

First post since we've moved in. Not sure if I can handle the pressure. About 80% unpacked. Not bad for first week.

So far the house is great and overall every thing we'd wished for. The most impressive thing from a functional point of view has been the insulation. It's fantastic! Our Ac units start at 6am and are on till 8. The heat rises to the second floor where it is very sunny in the morning. After 8 the heaters shut off and the heat from sunlight warms the house throughout the day. No more freezing hallways or floors!

Kitchen is a dream to clean. The miele dishwasher is super quiet.
And can't say enough about our washer and dryers. They are efficient like nothing else.

So anything we would change?
Well for starters, maybe I would have notified the internet company earlier about our move. But when your dealing with loans, packing, work, etc, the web takes a back seat as long as you have a reliable backup (thank you iPhone).

Other nice to have is having the walkway finished before move in. A compromise that will save us lots of money now though. Just have to be patient a couple of more weeks so we can plant grass in warmer weather.

The paint is great but kid finger smudges do happen. Just be ready for it. Remember that you can repaint it yourself later. We've realized that we can probably add a lot more color in the future even if we like as it is now.

Still lots of to dos for the next few months such as getting curtains and finishing the landscaping.

I will keep posting as we experience our design ideas further.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, February 11, 2011

Chapter 42–Video Walkthrough (T-minus 2)

We got the keys to the house!

The video will play in a separate window via youtube.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Chapter 41 – The Last Mile (T-Minus 4)

Here’s what my to do list has been like this week thus far:
Monday: Load car with bed to give away. Go to City to pick up certificates of residency, certificates for Seal stamp. Go to Bank at lunch time, fill out more paper work for 1 hour, convert USD to yen from overseas accounts, Call Internet Provider to give notice of move. Call Landlord to see if he wants to keep anything of ours. Drop off bed at friend’s house. Play hockey late night hockey (this is my reward).

Tuesday: Still trying to get hold of ISP. Transfer money from US to JP. Hopefully it will all arrive on time. Coordinate final site check visit. Add blog entry.


Saturday we had a preliminary site check where we nitpick about any scratches to walls or caulking that needs smoothing, mosquito screens that don’t slide easily, etc. There are quite a few little nicks here and there but our site manager was present and helped mark all the areas for fixing with little pieces of colored tape.


We really couldn’t to see how the lighting would turn out. I think the overall effect surpassed our expectations. I think Lara summed it best as “Pinch me, is this really happening? Is this really our home?”. Earlier in the day Kawata-san our site manager and Sakamoto-san our architect were standing outside in our bedroom garden and were looking at the house with air of pride. Kawata turned to me and said “This is great home. It’s rare that people take the time and energy these days to build something this beautiful.” And it struck me that they had invested much of themselves in this project as well. Nothing like appreciating a job well done.



Stay tuned for a video walk through for our next post.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chapter 40- Yikes! (T-minus 9)

With all of the changes happening inside it’s a bit easy to forget the guys outside toiling away to make sure we have parking for the car and bikes.

Probably the darkest area of the home is our long hallway next to the entrance. So we decided to make it a little wider and put in niches to create a little art gallery. We chose LED lights here so we can leave the lights on most of the time without worrying too much about energy.

Our heating and cooling is installed now. We went with Daikin AC/Heater units. These models circulate air not just up and down but side ways as well. We like the flexibility and for equal money and features I will most of the time go with the specialist company.

We’ve been asked many times if we went with heated floors or Yuka Danbou. We’ve chosen not to mainly because we felt it wasn’t worth the prices for something that is used for just about 3~4 months of year. Don’t get us wrong, it feels great! but it’s a luxury we could live without. It also really limits your choice of flooring we’ve heard.

In order to avoid washing schools shoes (wabaki), calligraphy sets and various mishaps in the kitchen or bathroom sink, we installed a separate sink cabinet in the utility room. Not the prettiest, but a proud planning detail.


Double sinks in the washroom will hopefully reduce the occurrences of family members spitting on each other. At least that’s the hope. Whether there will be a definite boys and girls side needs to be seen.


So what is the YIKES all about? Well this morning, doing my daily morning supervision noticed a large crack on engineered stone kitchen counter, right where the MIELE IH cooker would be installed. Not a good way to start the day. But a quick email to Sakamoto and prompt response confirmed that they were on top of it already and that the counter would be replaced today. PHEW! I assume they must insured against these kinds of unfortunate events.


Monday, January 31, 2011

Chapter 39– Calculating the Extras (T-Minus 12)

Keep it real. Be ready for changes and additions. Extra lights, extra plugs, privacy screen, better windowa, etc. It means more money but if you planned it right, you’ve already earmarked a certain percentage above your home build contract to make the matter that much less stressful.


Still, no reason for your contractor not to give you all the details. (We got our 12 page estimate today) And ideally you should have an updated list every month to monitor the expenses. Unfortunately, this didn’t stop the surprise 20% overshot from last month’s estimate. But all in all we’re well within budget.

Ok on with the updates:

Let there be Light (by Odelic): Over the future dining table.


Kitchen Dining Counter Lighting.


Finally, a proper family sized washer and dryer (by Whirpool). Never thought I’d be excited over a Whirlpool.



Western dishwasher (by Miele) so we can kiss the daily game of dishware tetris in our counter top Japanese dishwasher.


Our new Satis Toilets (by Inax). Unless you’ve lived in Japan you won’t get this but…Japanese toilets are the BEST !!!.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Chapter 38 – Hang on to your hats! (T-minus 16)

Just as a follow-up to our unsettling moments where things don’t always appear as you envision. Sometimes it just takes a little faith and trust. In the first photo we thought the beams and ledges would have too much contrast with the staircase if we kept to our plan of clear varnish. Sakamoto-san assured us (though I could tell he could see our unease) that the varnish would bring more harmony . And he was right! Thankfully, we can close worry point #122.

photo photo(2)

Closing Fees:
Stepping away from the home design for a moment, I’ve been cutting it close with the required house registrations (hyoうji touki = 表示登記) which is a pre-requisite to receiving the 2nd portion of the loan and my house keys. The notary fee is 95,000yen so I was hoping to find a better deal, but I’ve found this point too late, so I’m going to need to suck it up in order to hit our deadline. Lesson #87, remember the closing fees for house. It doesn’t end with the land purchase, and give yourself enough time to shop around. With enough planning you can save yourself 20,000 yen.

Going Green:
Meanwhile Lara is hard at work on finalizing some of the exterior design. This is one area where we’ve decided to take in stages based on the advice of friend gardener. It’s much cheaper and less risky in many ways. But one thing we would like to be ready early on is our green wall. We saw this in our neighborhood and we thought it would be a great way to hide the old decaying facade of our neighbor’s building. Who wants to see hanging laundry on their way in?

green fence
This is one of the plans Lara is thinking about below:

Get ready for more updates. Probably sick of them but this gives you an idea of the pace at the end.

Most of the kitchen cabinetry has arrived, and partially installed. Can’t wait to see this unfurl.


Bathroom floor tiling, sink cabinets are done. One of double sink made it this morning. Like I said,”Hang on to your hats! It’s going to be an interesting sprint to the finish line. Oh and did I mentioning the packing, selling, disposing, giving away, etc :)


Monday, January 24, 2011

Chapter 37- 3 weeks to go update (Day 170)

One of the draw backs of monitoring the daily progress, I find is that there are areas when taken outside of context (because other surroundings are not yet completed) cause you to doubt your initial choices. It can be an unsettling feeling. For example, we are quite happy with our son’s room which has a vivid blue.


But in some ways, we think could have gone with more vivid tones in the girls’ room. Same in master bedroom where the beige is faint in the natural light. My opinion however, is that it will look different once we have the lighting installed. Stay positive :)



In the meantime, things are moving at an accelerated pace. The entrance is almost done.

Kitchen tiles are done.


We can safely go out on the 2nd floor deck.


And our long awaited dishwasher is here.


Oh…and the packing...the packing…the packing.