Okaeri

24May12

Welcome home indeed.

It was three days before I learned that I live in Setagaya. Setagaya is the largest of the 23 wards of Tokyo, similar to the bureaus of New York City. This ward is mostly residential, as we are surrounded by apartment complexes and small houses. The neighbors gather one Sunday a month and voluntarily clean the park across the street. It reminds me of Iowa, only they are speaking a different language, and are even more strict about recycling.

We have a similar clean up situation at our apartment complex. On a revolving weekly schedule we take turns sweeping the stairs and the parking lot. Our turn just happens to be this week, the same week we moved in. Pretty sure we are being hazed.

We met our neighbors the night we moved in. As I mentioned before, we had to go around door to door delivering treats, kind of like an ass-backwards Halloween. I was dressed as an American.

Despite that one hassle, moving into our new apartment was pretty painless, mostly due to the fact that the Japanese have amazing customer service and remarkable respect for their jobs.

The experiences of moving to Philadelphia and Tokyo are night and day.

When Lisa moved to Philadelphia (five months before I did), I flew from Iowa to assist. The same day, Lisa was flying in from Tokyo. The apartment management company wouldn’t let Lisa move in until they had proof of her renter’s insurance. Lisa had the insurance, but for whatever reason, the company hadn’t faxed the proof. Since Lisa was somewhere over the Pacific, she asked if I could call the insurance company to see what was the hitch.

So during my layover in O’Hare, I was on hold with the insurance company. As my departure time creeped closer, I finally got a hold of a live person, who couldn’t find Lisa’s records. After another exasperating hold, the operator located Lisa’s info and happily told me that everything was in order. Except nobody had bothered to fax over the information, even though everything had been prepared to do so over a week prior.

At the end of our conversation the operator asked where I was from, saying that I was too nice to be from Philadelphia. It was obvious this idiot didn’t deal with many friendly customers.

There are several examples of horrendous service in Philly, from Septa tix sales to bus drivers to Comcast. When we disconnected our cable and internet in Philly, the Comcast operator told us they would send us a pre-paid box in which we could mail back our modem and cable equipment. The package from Comcast never arrived. On moving day, I called Comcast to find out if it happened to be enroute. The operator told us the package was never mailed, but we could leave our gear with our doorman, and a Comcast worker would pick it up.

When we dropped off our bag with the doorman, he told us there was a 50-50 chance the Comcast folks would never show up and we would end up paying the fee.

Which brings us back to the customer service in Tokyo, which has to be the best in the world. Also mentioned before, the night we moved in, we realized we didn’t have any hot water. The next morning, a Sunday, Lisa called the gas company to see if somebody could come over and turn on the gas so we could have hot water and use the stove.

The gas employee came over three hours later, and exactly on time. Just like that, we had hot water and I could fry my grilled cheese sandwich.

(Point of note, I did not make a grilled cheese sandwich. I only wrote that for literary effect. In fact, the only thing I have eaten since arriving is fish, rice, tofu and seaweed).

(Second point of note – that isn’t accurate either. The past two nights Lisa has cooked delicious stews using chicken and pork. Once again, using exaggeration to highlight my point)

We received the same prompt service from the cleaning service, who came over the day we called for the initial investigation of our apartment. When they came to do the job on Tuesday, they called to see if it was okay if they came an hour early, which never, ever happens in America. Then, when the time came, they actually arrived five minutes earlier than scheduled in order to prep. Lisa told me they do this so that they start to clean at exactly 1 pm, and don’t waste our money.

What a concept.

Our movers were the same way. Granted, they said they would arrive somewhere between 12 and 2 and arrived at 1. While they weren’t early, at least they were within range, which can’t be said about most American companies. Then, when they brought in our boxes and furniture, they covered the floors and walls to prevent damage. Nothing was broken except our ironing board – though the argument is still open as to whether it was I or the moving company that broke the ironing board.

By Wednesday, we were relatively settled into our new apartment. Our furnishing is still sparse, but what we have is in its place and we can survive for a while until our next shipment of boxes comes in July. We have found the grocery store, pharmacy and department store, all within a five minute walk, as well as the dry cleaners, liquor store and “hostess” bar.

Now that the hubbub of moving is over, it has dawned on me that I actually live here, and am not on vacation. And there is much to learn and many adjustments to be made. This was made abundantly clear when the hot water was not working. The directions to the water meter were in Japanese, and I was at a total loss what to do. Lisa had to make the phone call. She has had to make all of the phone calls.

Last night we went to Yodobashi to buy an air conditioner. After half an hour, I quit pretending to pay attention and played Angry Birds on my iPhone because I was completely useless.

Today I was home by myself for the first time. A girl going door to door dropping off coupons rang the doorbell. I didn’t know what to say in the intercom, so I just opened the door. If it was possible, the poor girl was more confused than I. She said something in Japanese and handed me her brochure.

I hope I didn’t buy anything.

Okaeri!

(Welcome home!)

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