We are moving to Osaka, Japan in about a week. I don’t feel the nerves yet; I don’t know why. Perhaps it is because we are well prepared. My husband and I make a good team: I love planning and my husband loves spreadsheets – given any opportunity he sneaks off to the computer and creates an Excel file. So, we have now achieved the heavenly state where most of the stuff on the looooong spreadsheet has been ticked off. There is quite a lot to arrange when you move abroad, especially if you have a diabetic child, if you are moving somewhere outside the EU, and if you own a house in the country of origin, which you plan to keep for the duration of your stay in the target country, and hence need to make some long term arrangements both in the target country and the country of origin. But I think we have sorted most of the important jobs on the spreadsheet, like getting our Visas, booking our flights, contacting the Brighton diabetes team to discuss how the 9 hour time difference between Japan and England affects our daughter’s insulin regime, contacting our son’s new school to arrange a visit and have some academic tests, and contacting our son’s current school to apply for extra holiday time for visits in Japan. You see, our son will be based in Brighton until the end of this school year. That way, should we soon realize that moving to Japan was a bad idea, we can come back in September and he has not lost his school place in Brighton. However, if all goes to plan, our son will move over to Osaka permanently (for 2 years) in July. Until then, him and my husband will be travelling between Brighton and Osaka, on a month-here-month-there basis. Even after July, when our son’s school breaks up, my husband will be ‘commuting’ between us in Osaka and his job in Brighton. This isn’t because he has not been able to find a job in Japan – he hasn’t even looked. Instead, he will become a partner in his law firm the very day I start my new job in Osaka. Hence, a monthly commute across the globe is what he will have to (and is willing to) do. I am pretty confident that his journey to work is one of the longest commutes in the history of mankind. No longer will I be able to shock people by telling them that for three years I used to have a 4 hour journey to work when they hear that my husbands’ journey to work is 14 hours, minimum. My old commute has lost it’s shock-factor. Well never mind, I am hoping that soon I can shock/wow my friends with interesting snippets of information about Osaka and Japan rather than my knowledge of each petrol station/services along the M1 and M6 motorways. In any case, me saying ‘we’ are moving to Osaka isn’t as clear-cut as it might sound, as only me and our daughter, and our au pair are moving to Japan initially, and even him (i.e. our male au pair, if the pronoun confused you) is arriving a month into our stay there.
In addition to most of the major jobs on the list, we have been busy getting more minor, and downright trivial issues sorted, like buying a microwave oven food cover, so that I don’t have to discover our lodgers’ and my husband’s three-year-deep menu on the inside of our (integrated) microwave when I return to my kitchen. You see, the arrangement is that my husband will stay in our house whenever he is in Brighton and we have rented three of our five bedrooms out to lodgers. We have decided to keep two bedrooms for my husband and the rest of us whenever we visit Brighton.
Another minor item on the list was to organize a (successful) leaving do. Or perhaps this should have been labeled as one of the more important items on the list… Nevertheless, we had our leaving do about a week ago. And I think it was a success. Everyone seemed to have a good time. Although, I was a little tipsy so I can’t say for sure. And my husband was slightly more than just a little tipsy. He had that frog-look on his face. You know, when your partner is heavily drunk and their eyes point in different directions – one east, one west, and they look like a frog. That’s what he looked like on that Saturday evening, so he can’t really make any statements as to whether or not people were having a good time. But even if they didn’t, it was an eventful evening nevertheless. A baby cut his palate open with a sharp piece of crisp. One of our friends nearly had her rucksack stolen; she found the two thieves in the ladies toilets going through her stuff. The other accidently dropped her mobile in the toilet and had to fish it out only to realize that the phone had had permanent water damage. But the turnout and the atmosphere (I think) were great! We had a nice little spot on a roof terrace in a Brighton pub. I know what you are thinking: Roof terrace in the evening in early March! But I can assure you it was not that cold. It had been a sunny day and the heaters were on. Besides, this is England and people are much more hardy than, for instance, Finnish people. As far as I can tell, English people can’t feel the cold. They are not concerned about thermometers. In fact, not very many English people even own one. English people just look out the window and, as far as I can tell, go by the sun. ‘Sun out’ means: wear shorts and a T-shirt, even mid-winter; ‘Sun in’ means: wear slightly warmer clothes. Finnish people also look out of their windows, but not to determine whether or not the sun is out, but to check their thermometers. Practically, all Finnish houses have a thermometer fitted outside of the kitchen window and (consequently) Finnish people base their clothing decisions heavily on the actual temperature. To me, that kind of makes sense, but if you are an English person you probably think that having an outside thermometer sounds as extravagant as having a Japanese toilet. The problem with going by the sun when determining what clothes to wear, is that on a typical Friday-night in January, one can observe hundreds of British women on their way to the pub/club wearing tiny tops and a mini-skirt with no coat or tights in sub zero temperatures. I’m guessing the lack of sunlight has disrupted their ability to judge the temperature by looking out of their window (not that it is that accurate method even in optimal conditions). In contrast, there am I (and a handful of other foreigners) wearing my big parka, wooly hat and mittens looking like a granny. Come to think of it, I could be their granny! See, they start young over here, and even if they didn’t, I’m approaching that age where a young adult could be my child. But that is not a topic I want to really dwell on or in fact even voluntarily think about so let’s get back to the topic of English people behaving completely irrationally with reference to cold. The thing is that it is not just outdoors where English people show no awareness for temperature, this can also be observed indoors. The conditions inside many English people’s houses are also like the arctic. For some reason they avoid turning the heating on during the autumn/winter. I don’t know why. Money? Perhaps. Finnish houses are the polar opposite, like the tropic, creating often an inconvenient and, frankly, unpleasant contrast between the inside and outside temperatures. I mean, you can imagine the sweat on parents’ foreheads when in full outdoor clothing they try to get their two-year old appropriately dressed for a -26 degree outside temperature in their hallway approaching +26 degrees. On the other hand, only one (thin) layer of clothing is required if you visit a Finnish house during the winter, and no need to bring your own slippers/woolly socks, and should you need to go to the toilet during the night you can comfortably do so instead of hold it in for the remainder of the night because you are way too cold to lift the duvet. So, in a nutshell, our leaving do on a Brighton roof terrace on a March night would have raised an eyebrow or two in Finland but in England it was completely acceptable.
I am also happy to tell you that we have FINALLY been able to secure an apartment in Osaka. This was something that proved to be much more difficult than we anticipated. The problem was not the language barrier, which we thought might have created a problem, because we found a letting agent who spoke English. So we thought we were sorted. But no. The problem was the Japanese landlords’ reluctance in letting their properties out to foreigners. In England that kind of open discrimination would probably be illegal and at least in many circles frowned upon. But our Japanese estate agents openly declared that Japanese people do not like foreigners. And I have to say I can kind of understand that. Having seen how clean the streets are in Japan, how well behaved Japanese people are the majority of the time (excluding sake-ridden Karaoke-sessions), and how softly spoken and quiet they are (e.g. it is considered rude to talk on your mobile phone on the train or even blow your nose in public), I can totally understand why Japanese landlords are more or less as happy to let their property to a family of foreigner as I would be letting my property to Homer Simpson. But we’ve had a breakthrough on this front. You idealistic types, don’t get too excited! We did not manage to convince the Japanese landlords that we would be ok tenants. And just for the record, I think we would be ok tenants, apart from the fact that our kids are not exactly well behaved (no-one’s kids are!) and I wouldn’t exactly use the adjectives ‘softly spoken’ or ‘quiet’ when referring to ourselves. Come to think of it, we are not that tidy and clean either. I mean, I am both of those, but our children are not. My husband isn’t. And our au pair without a doubt falls in the same category as my husband. The reason why we after several weeks of sending numerous documents back and forth between ourselves and the letting agents made a huge step towards the direction of securing us an apartment was thanks to my work place. I was starting to fear the worst, i.e. that we would not find an apartment in time for our move. So, I contacted my work place and queried whether they would be contributing towards our stay in a hotel if we could not find an apartment before arriving in Osaka. An hour later, literally, I received an email from the letting agents informing us that my work place had contacted them and my letting agreement would be presented to the landlords as a corporate lease between them and my workplace and that me and my family would be listed on the lease as ‘occupants’. Sorted. This arrangement however leads to another entry on our Excel sheet of things to do before we go. You see, Japan is extremely gift-orientated. By gift-orientated I mean that people give gifts at many occasion where Finnish or English people would be happy just to say ‘Thank you’. The fact that a member of the management team at my work place kindly contacted the letting agents and got the ball rolling in relation to our apartment necessitates a gift. And I have to say that I am more than happy to oblige with this cultural feature at this instance. In terms of gifts, Japan is not the only country with its peculiarities. Finnish and English people also have their own little conventions. For instance, a Finnish person would rarely go and visit a friend’s house, even if just for coffee, without bringing a box of chocolates, a packet of coffee or some flowers. I’ve never seen an English person do that. Perhaps it is because in Finland it is assumed that the host will (or at least should) provide something on the side of the coffee, e.g., cake, biscuits, cinnamon buns and savoury pastries – preferably home-made! So, many households keep vierasvara ‘guest supply’ of baked goods in the freezer in case anyone pops over unexpectedly. In England, going over to someone’s house for coffee literally means ‘coffee’.
On the other hand, English people are very generous with their cards. You receive cards (and are expected to give them) at pretty much every occasion. The obvious birthday and Christmas cards aside, there are cards, for instance, for graduating school, passing your driving test, leaving work, engagement, getting well, and so on. Finnish people, I feel, are not as bothered about cards, and give cards much less sparsely than the English people. I think this derives from Finnish people’s overall tendency of being quite tight with money, so they do not want to waste money on a piece of cardboard that will be binned after a week or two. If a Finnish person is being generous, they would probably put the card money towards a slightly more expensive gift. On the other hand, showing up with just a present at someone’s birthday party in England would be a complete faux pas. I get the feeling, in England it would be better to show up with just a card and no present than a present and no card, while the opposite is true in Finland.
Other than the purchasing of some gifts and going and doing a car-boot-sale to get rid of some stuff that we can no longer fit in the house, we are pretty much ready to go and experience Japan with all arms open. I hope they will be happy to see us.