Making a Home in Japan (when that home’s infested with terrifying bugs)

Well here it is:


Ma place. It might not seem like much, but I can call it home; I can call it home and I actually like coming back to it at the end of the day. And that’s a lot for me.

Digging out a home creates a natural sort-of stopping point: it’s that marker in the sand saying that this is (at least a temporary) beginning middle and ending point—all roads lead back to it, however long the journey in between might be.

Until now, that whole concept of ‘settling in’ usually made me focus on the ‘settle’ part of it: if I make it my home, that means I have to stay there, right? And that level of commitment was inherently scary to me, especially Vancouver post-Paris. That meant the Vancouver apartment was left the way it was found: a couch a desk and a squeaky bed. Effectively windowless too, and so those unadorned walls seemed to melt gray during those long rainy months. It forced me to hate my home, forced the home out of the house entirely, to the point where I’d spend my days running in and running out—the less time spent sleeping and showering the better (some days I’d just stay away entirely, those were the best).

Jump to Japan, and it was beginning to look like I’d be doing the same thing out here. After only three weeks, the sloth was already creeping in pretty hard, exacerbated by the incomprehensible Japanese garbage collecting system (seriously, where does the paper go—WHERE DOES THE PAPER GO DAMNIT?) so that all the various wisps of trash piled up and up. The couch was tucked away in a dark corner, and every time I sat down there to do some work or just read a book, a piece of trash would fly, tumbleweed-like, across the desk and shatter the focus.

That third week, the walls began closing in the moment I’d open the door, a constant ticking countdown inside my head. “So that’s it then,” I thought. “We’re already back to square one, eh?” And because this had all happened before I didn’t spend too long thinking how I could get out of it. Instead, I just started biking at night, finding lamplit streetcorners to read or do some writing, just somewhere to breath before going back for sleep. It’s a livable condition if you set your hopes on hopping over to Osaka or its area every weekend or two, but of course money or work or life always gets in the way of plans like that.

Still, I could’ve made it for maybe a year, a year before pulling out of JET and finding the next ‘life experiment’ to jump into.

But one morning last week, stumbling out of bed (probably with the nattering of a vague hangover), I opened my bathroom door: a cockroach the size of my middle finger greeted me. We both just stared at each other, both making an “uhhhh, I don’t think I’m supposed to see you right now,” kind of face, embarrassed like I’d walked in on him doing his thing. I closed the door, as if agreeing to keep this a secret between us.

After escaping I basically did just that, telling no one and spending as little time as possible in my house over the next couple of days. As each day passed without seeing the bastard again, I began to rationalize it: “it was early morning, you could barely see at all—you sure it wasn’t just the dark corner of the tub and your imagination?” And I moved on with my day like I always do, letting everything that’s not directly in front of me all fall to trash. But even for me, a cockroach is about one step too disgusting: it chipped into me more and more each day, digging into my dreams and forcing me awake at all the different times of the night, waking feeling bugs crawling all over my skin.

This Sunday—the morning after the first Saturday night I haven’t drunk a drop for as long as I can remember (honestly)—I woke up to a room that had been through a tornado: boxes overturned, papers everywhere, and sticky floors with bits of cereal littered in Hansel and Gretel-like paths running over it. The Cockroach?! Oh wait, nope, that was just me.

And enough was enough. That morning I cleaned the whole apartment and went to buy some furniture from the second hand store near my place. The wonderful thing about many Japanese people having an aversion to buying old items, is that when us North American thrifters come along we get the pick of an enormous collection of tables chairs desks and grandfather clocks (lots and lots of grandfather clocks), unlike the Canadian scramble for the last piece of soiled overgarments after hippies like my Mother have already scoured the beginning and end of all that’s good. So within an hour I’d grabbed a desk and chair,

and miraculously those two items, along with a rearrange so the table and couch hit the light of the balcony, changed the entire dynamic of the room. Suddenly the room felt inviting to me; that same room in enough disarray the day before to make sleeping stressful. A day well-used: for once I actually was excited about home. Go figure, guess this cultural exchange is about new horizons on all ends, huh?

And when I got home that night after a long day of hiking and Ramen eating, the warm glow of the reading lamp curled over the couch and caught the reflection of the pictures from home or Paris I finally put up. “Welcome home,” the place said, let me give a sigh of relief—

Right as I saw the cockroach running along the floorboards. Oh fuck me—now, really? It didn’t scare me so much at first, but then when I hopped for the squish he had already hit the far side of the room. Fast bastard. And then I remembered cockroaches can keep going without a head—alright now I’m scared.

No pictures of Mr Cocky could be located, but this one during the height of the battle was recovered
No pictures of Mr Cocky could be located, but this one during the height of the battle was recovered

I couldn’t go in alone, and special shoutout to Justin, neighbor JET, who came rushing in for the heroic rescue. In the long three minutes until then, me and Mr Cocky just stared at each other, knowing full well the other couldn’t go on with the other one breathing. (It’s this experience that makes me realize how smart cockroaches are, a revelation that both makes me feel bad about killing him and also reaffirming why I have to do that in the first place). But Justin arrived. After finding him again in the darkest edge of the room, I clapped space with cardboard and Justin, scopping up, ran ran ran to the night, smacked him down on the pavement and we whacked with all hell till there were  only some wings and a couple legs left squeezed into the floor.

Call it the house… purification?

It’s been a couple days now since the incident so it’s hard to say just yet if the war’s really over or not: more of its kind could easily scamper up and reclaim its rightful place as master of this domain. I don’t know how it’ll play out, just like I don’t know if this place will be my home for the full two years or just 11 more months. But I think what ended up happening this weekend was that, by at least attempting some homemaking and organizing and cockroach hunting, I agreed to give it all a shot. It was admitting the possibility that “well hey, maybe this might just actually work.”

And in the end, that’s all I can do for right now. (Now, where the hell do I buy cockroach repellent? What the Hell is ‘cockroach’ in Japanese?)

Thanks for reading! If you like these musings on Japan, check out the other three posts on here! If you like my style in general, click back farther for some short story goodness. 


One thought on “Making a Home in Japan (when that home’s infested with terrifying bugs)

  1. This is giving me flashbacks to my time in Thailand and the many wars fought over who was going to keel over first, the bug or you. I feel your troubles and the waking up with the fear it’s on you is all too real.

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