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Saturday, March 12, 2005

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

Oh give me a home where the roaches won't roam


For years I took my dog on walks into Saitama Prefecture so she could go pee, among other things. Now I have found similar use for Saitama myself.

For I have moved there. You see, we used to live within Tokyo limits in a rental property barely a mikan toss from the Saitama border. But all that changed late last year when . . .

We bought a house.

Yep, after a quarter of a century in Japan, I am at last tied to one locale. I have put down roots, dropped my anchor, pitched my tent, hitched my pony, cooled my jets and shelved my thesaurus. After 25 nomadic years, my wife and I are finally off the fence and committed to one side of the ocean. We own our own house!

Or at least we co-own it with the bank. As to why now and not years before, the answer can be found at the end of a complicated mental equation that calculated various subtle factors such as a small inheritance, falling land prices and our dog's affection for Saitama.

The house itself is typically Japanese. Meaning it is tightly surrounded by other homes and essentially small. How small?

Well, we have to sleep standing up. And the kitchen drawers are so tiny that we have to store chopsticks separately. Floor plans show that we own a spacious second story, but until we can diet some we will never be able to slip up the narrow staircase to see it. Meanwhile, I must refrain from putting nails in the walls for fear of harming the neighbors.

But we do have a yard. It does not exactly fetch images of Mao's 6,000-mile trek, yet it is still functional. Especially if we define "function" somewhat liberally.

For example, it is not the kind of yard that my sons and I could toss a football about. In fact, we couldn't even quite hand it back and forth. We would instead have to share holding it in close quarters. But -- after all -- football is a contact sport. Right?

In this yard, we also have some grass. It is not much -- just a square plot of earth -- but I am duly proud of it. For in all this world, I find no grass to be greener, no grass to smell sweeter and no grass to be so soft and inviting. For this grass is mine!

I feel so fond of this grass that -- especially in our first week in the new house while my hardworking wife strove to unpack our multitude of boxes -- I found it ever so pleasant just to go sit there and ponder and re-ponder the blissful meaning of life. Until she would yell . . .

"Get up off your grass and come help me!"

Despite its wee size, our Saitama castle did not come cheaply. What does in Japan? While I will refrain from stating the price, I will say I have heard the same amount could have purchased an entire fleet of islands in the South Pacific. I doubt, however, the bank would have floated me the loan for that.

This was the first loan I had ever taken in Japan, and I entered upon doing so with trepidation. For experience has taught me well that you should never give a Japanese clerk an opportunity to do more paperwork. It's sort of like showing a vampire a scratch on your neck. I feared the feeding frenzy it would cause. A fear that turned out to be not unfounded.

I endured checks, double checks, triplicate forms and quadruplicate frustrations -- much of it made worse by the fact that I was a foreigner. My convoluted financial history and my confounded "gaijin" name made the bureaucrats at the bank turn cartwheels of aggravation or joy -- I could not tell which.

Here is a brief excerpt of one conversation at the bank. I warn you: It is not pretty.

My loan officer had just discovered that I had a middle name. This made doing each of the 88 zillion forms all over again necessary or -- in all likelihood -- the world would end. He grinned at me over clenched teeth and bloodless lips.

"So . . ." He cleared his throat. "What IS your middle name?"

I blinked back, then spoke. "It's Dwayne."

All movement stopped. Other clerks in the bank froze in their spots. With trembling hands, my loan officer picked up his phone and punched the number of the bank president.

"Sir, there's a foreigner here with the middle name of Dwayne."

In a moment, the bespectacled president stood before me. The roomful of bankers all leaned far forward to listen, with the suspense alone enough to support them.

"Mr. Dillon," the president began. "Is your middle name really and truly 'Dwayne?' "

"Yes, it is."

"Do you mean as in . . . 'Dwayne the bathtub, I'm dwowning?' "

And then the bank erupted in riotous laughter and the president and loan officer exchanged high fives.

Yet -- for the sake of our new house -- I endured even that bad joke. Until at long last -- after weeks of finger cramps from filling out forms -- the house was totally ours!

Or rather will be in the year 2865 when I finish paying the loan.

But who cares? My wife and I are landowners and are now obsessed with taking care of our new Saitama property. To start, I now always walk my dog back into Tokyo to go pee, among other things. For though our address now reads "Saitama," the boundary with Tokyo is just down the block.

Yet, you, dear readers, are all invited to come pee, among other things, right at our very house.

Just keep in mind that the house is small. You can only come in one at a time.

To contact Thomas Dillon, send e-mail to marriedtojapan@yahoo.com


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