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In search for a new domicile: being a good neighbour in Japan

Any area around the world, once residing at a new location, it is imperative to understand that each location would have a certain custom or tradition of which you would have to learn, even if it may seem strange. 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do.'

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have recently moved into a house in a suburban area of Saitama (a prefecture beside Tokyo). The area is a quiet neighbourhood, mostly composed of retired folks. Just to paint a picture, every single day, at around 7:30 pm, the streets are dead silent, with hardly any cars or people passing by. Somehow, with a ‘local’ feel that comes with the territory, I felt that I would need to be extra conscious of the local ‘ways of doing things’.

The first interaction with my neighbors started, not after moving in, but rather before the house renovation started. My wife and I needed to briefly introduce ourselves and notify the surrounding residents that a renovation would take place soon. I would’ve imagined that the construction foreman’s notification would suffice, but they said that it is an absolute necessity for the new owners to personally talk with the neighbors.

After moving in, my wife and I again needed to greet the neighbors and inform them that we would start living there from that day on. For those who have researched “moving into a new apartment in Japan” or such topics, you may have heard that it is customary for new tenants to introduce themselves to their next-door neighbor or even to the apartment below and present them with a small token. I learned that this is not an absolute rule, although as a sign of good manners, people do so. I would’ve given my neighbors a box of chocolates or even some traditional snacks, but we ended up giving them with a carefully wrapped laundry soap. My wife said, ‘it’s the thought that counts.’

In the next following days, we were visited by the ‘area chairman and assistant’. They are the ones who organize the area – telling the townspeople of town updates, events, garbage management, and such. In general, they have told us about how things work around the area. They also gave us a map of the neighborhood and the names of the people residing there. I must say, it really impressed me how they try to keep things organized for everyone.

Speaking of garbage management, we were given a 16-page pamphlet on garbage disposal. We were told that it is crucial to follow the schedule and specific instructions on garbage segregation. In regard to this, garbage segregation and schedule depends on the area that you are living at. It is just unfortunate that Saitama is one of those locations where you need to segregate your garbage into more than 8 different categories. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining! Sure, it was a task at the start, but after a while, separating rubbish into their specific categories isn’t much of a big deal.

snow covered home

Just a few weeks ago, a good amount of snow fell around my area. This meant I would need to shovel off the snow which fell on the street that surrounds my house, to create an easier and safer path for people walking, or cars which may be passing by. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a shovel at the time, so I took several old boxes and make-shift plow to push the snow off the street; that was some workout. Coming from a country where it never snowed, I’m not sure if this is a common gesture in cold countries, but that was definitely a learning experience.
Those are a few customary things which caught my attention. However, there’s also the small unspoken things, which are common everywhere, like “don’t be so loud”, “parties are ok, but if possible, end it before 9”; when walking your dog, make sure you clean up after he does his business, and so on.

I think following good neighbor “rules” is common sense – as a part of a community and as a person. To be honest, I haven’t had the chance to talk with my neighbors, except with the frequent “ohayou” and “konnichiwa” whenever I pass them. It seems that most Japanese are more private, compared to where I am from. Although, for now, their smiles and simple greetings are enough to indicate that I’m not being a bad neighbor. Well, who knows, with some of the events in my area, I might be able to really interact with a few of them and really be part of the community.

- J.C. (Phillipines)