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Sunday, Dec. 10, 2000


Old Mother Hubbard had a better deal than this

I keep trying to convince my friend Reiko to burrow. "You'd have much more living space," I told her. Other than the underground shopping areas and a few pipelines, you'd have as much space as you wanted. "But this size apartment is normal in Japan," she said.

Reiko is a typical single woman with a career. If she had stayed in her hometown, she would live with her parents until she got married. But her job brought her to Okayama, where she lives alone in a six-tatami mat room with a kitchen and bathroom. We'd call it a studio apartment in the United States, except that this is much smaller, so it would be more like a micro-studio apartment. The first time I walked into Reiko's apartment, I realized how kittens feel when people put them inside cardboard boxes.

The Japanese use of living space is, well, amusing. The veranda is for the washing machine and hanging out laundry. The entrance to Reiko's apartment is on one end of a hallway, which happens to have a kitchen in it. There is a sink, a gas burner and a mini-refrigerator just sitting in the hallway.

This hallway empties out into the living room/dining room/bedroom/TV room.

Why in the world you'd enter an apartment from the kitchen is beyond me.

Easy escape in case of a kitchen fire?

The hallway/kitchen doesn't have any counter space, so when I go to Reiko's for dinner, there are always bowls of food temporarily occupying chairs or sitting on the floor.

If you're cooking and someone wants to enter or leave the apartment, you have to suck in and hold your breath, while plastering yourself against the wall so they can pass, the whole time praying that the person passing through doesn't catch his belt buckle on your sweater, or step in the salad.

If there is more than one person in the kitchen and you want to pass through, you have to yell, "Coming through! Everyone hit the walls!" It looks more like an emergency drill for horizontal lightning.

And this is considered the country, where people have more living space than in the big cities. You'd have to be Houdini to live in a one-room apartment in Tokyo. Where do people put things? Can you imagine having house guests?

Guest: "Do you have an extra futon?"

Host: "Yes, it's in the refrigerator."

Guest: "Hmm, I don't see a futon in the refrigerator."

Host: "It's behind the dry cleaning, next to the sushi."

Guest: "Oh yes, I see."

Host: "There are new sheets in the freezer."

I'm lucky to live in a house. But still, Japanese houses aren't that big. My kitchen is spacious but there isn't enough counter space. You know the old pasta trick where you throw a spaghetti noodle onto the ceiling and if it sticks, you know it's done? I test my spaghetti that way and if it sticks, I throw the whole batch up there to get it out of the way until I'm ready to serve dinner.

I've been thinking of ways to increase my living space. I think the Japanese could learn a lot by observing how domesticated animals live in small spaces. Wouldn't it be great if Japanese houses were sold with optional tubing, like they sell for guinea pig and hamster cages, that you could stick into the side of the house and that would lead up to a small sun room or reading room? Even a micro-studio apartment wouldn't be so bad if it just had an exercise wheel.

Then again, maybe we should just burrow.

Visit the Japan Lite home page at www.amychavez.com or e-mail comments to: amychavez@mailexcite.com

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