We finally did a little video tour of our "mansion" for Jason's parents last night. In Japan, apartments are often called mansions. I believe it has a specific real estate meaning, but it most simply refers to an apartment and not the American idea of a mansion. We won't bore you with all of the details, but want to highlight a few things we really like about our mansion.
Our apartment is smallish, but well designed. It's about 800 square feet with two bedrooms, one bathroom, and a reasonable kitchen area. The building is quite new and in a very convenient location, only about an 8 minute walk to the train station via a covered walkway.
The downsides: It's not a residential neighborhood and the urban park outside our building is more urban than park. Our space is very well designed to maximize living space, but we don't really have room for a dining table. We have a huge balcony, but because it overlooks at least 9 sets of train tracks, we almost never use it.
The biggest surprise: Despite living next to 9 sets of train tracks, you barely hear the trains with the windows closed. The apartment is very sound-proof!
Things we like:
Well-designed to maximize space
Great closet space with built-in shelves and conveniences like this stove-side spice/essentials rack:
Combination appliances: our washing machine is also our dryer. Not only does this mean we only have one physical appliance, but the amazing thing is that after loading and putting in detergent, you hit one button and several hours later, your clothes are clean and dry. Yes, it takes more time, but putting the clothes in the dryer is one less thing to remember.
The bathroom is actually three separate rooms: a toilet room, sink area, and bath/shower room. This is a fairly standard bathroom design in a Japanese home. While it consumes a lot of living space, it is a more efficient solution to a one-bathroom household.
The genkan and shoe closet. You always, always take off your shoes before entering a Japanese home and leave your shoes in the genkan (the entryway). In fact, I learned this summer that this area, while technically inside, is considered to be outside and even placing your bare feet in this area is considered unclean. I've always known not to wear my shoes past the genkan, but I did not know that my bare feet should not even touch this part of the floor. To make sure shoes do not pollute the rest of the home, this shoe closet near our front door is fairly common in Japanese apartments and very convenient. There is another small closet next to it for umbrellas and other items.
Central air and central heat are less common in Japan where electricity is so expensive. How expensive? Our electric bill was nearly $300 in September. To improve conservation, each room has its own heater/cooler unit, so that you only heat or cool the space you are in. Although we have chosen comfort over cost, imagine how high the bill would be if we ran the AC in all of the rooms!
Other great ideas: our bathroom has a drying function. If we don't want to run the dryer on the washing machine, we can hang them up in the tub area, close the door, press a button and warm air will run through the room, drying our clothes more gently and presumably with less energy than the dryer.
We have lots of buttons and presets in our apartment, but I love the programmable bathtub. You pick a temperature, the amount of water, put in the plug and push the button. When it's filled to the preset amount, an announcement tells you it's ready. Oh, and several of our appliances talk to us. We don't usually know what they are saying.