We’re Down to Our Last Roll – 12

Shelter-in-place observations. An ongoing chronicle of the plague.

An Old Fisherman. I took a long walk down to the harbor this morning. Highway 1 was completely bare of traffic in broad daylight, something I don’t remember having seen before.

On Johnson Pier, I ran into Cary and his dog, Boda. We greeted each other from 6 feet. Cary is an old fisherman who lives on his boat, makes a living working the trawlers that put out from Princeton in the mornings. He has a long beard with little braids in it, which he twirls together. He was blonde, once.

He must have really weird working hours, usually seems to be done for the day if I come around at 9 or 10AM. He hangs around the outside tables next to Princeton Seafood, before the place opens, drinking coffee with a half dozen other guys who look just like him. Cary keeps an ancient Mercedes in the harbor lot, uses it to bring in food. And coffee, sometimes.

I watched as he and Boda climbed up the ramp from the docks to the pier. They both struggled to make the climb, Cary bent over, encouraging the dog. I thought to myself, these two will die within days of one another. Such thoughts are not uncommon, lately.

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Feeling the Heat in Japan. Here, we have a shortage of masks. In Japan, where the government is sending masks to every household, there is a shortage of thermometers. With fevers being checked at home and at work, the manufacturers can’t keep up with demand. There’s a call for any unused thermometers people might have at home. If they don’t work, they probably just need new batteries.

Japan must be a really tough place for foreign workers right now. Most of them have only a rudimentary understanding of the language, can’t follow the news. And Japanese apartments can be tiny. You think you feel isolated?

The NHK news service ran an article about a government outreach for these people. It was a headline piece, illustrated with the following stunningly bad photo. I present it here without crop or edit:

Is this the worst news photograph ever? No heads or faces, we have no idea what they’re doing. But, they do seem to be workers of some kind, foreign or not: they have tool belts and all that. The photo was clearly taken with a cell phone by the story reporter, suggesting that all the photographers in Japan have disappeared, probably plague victims. Are we photographers a high risk group for severe infection, like seniors and people with asthma? Stranger things have happened.

Extended Vacation Rentals in Japan

We found long term rentals in Kyoto and Fukuoka.

If you’re traveling abroad for any extended period of time, hotels and endless restaurant meals can take a toll on your budget. When you want to spend a few weeks or more in a single place, one idea is to look for an apartment with a kitchen that can be had on a short term rental. Vacation rentals by owners (VRBOs) and airBNB sublets are common solutions, but in Japan, and especially outside of Tokyo, such places can be hard to find. We found one that caters to tourists in the Kyoto suburbs, and another in Fukuoka that is used mostly by Japanese salarymen.

Apple House is a tiny cottage operated as a vacation rental by Hiroko and David James.  Apple House KyotoWe rented it in February as a cheaper alternative to hotels for our monthlong stay in Kyoto. David met us at the train station and showed us there the first time. We had to walk the last part of the way: Apple House is located on a street too narrow for cars (deliveries come by motorcycle), flanked by a narrow canal.

Downstairs, a minuscule kitchen led to a freezing porch with a clothes washer and a couple of clotheslines. These were a bit tricky to use: we would put our washed underwear on them and it would freeze and become rigid overnight. In the summer humidity, I was told, it would simply remain wet. We spent very little time on the patio. Inside, there was a living room with a propane heater. A steep staircase led upstairs to two bedrooms with tatami floors, and futons upon which we slept.

 Apple House Tatami Room

_FireTruck100223_0046_LRWe shopped locally in Sugakuin for food. We were eating salmon every night: you could buy a steak in the market for 3 bucks. We got to know our neighborhood, a bedroom borough mixture of new houses and brick apartments in close proximity, and old truck farms interspersed on a hillside above the city. There were hidden treasures: an old temple on the hillside, with an ancient fire truck in the yard; a country residence belonging to the emperor, with manicured winter gardens. And a half hour ride on the number 5 bus got you to downtown Kyoto.

 

In Fukuoka, on the southern island of Kyushu, we could find no similar VRBO. But we did manage to unearth Tenjin Success, a large tower of efficiency studio apartments which seemed to be part of a nationwide chain. Japanese companies often station employees far from home for long stints, and these apartments, designed for single occupancy, meet their need for cheap housing. Since the units are not marketed to tourists at all, enquiries in English may frighten the staff and be ignored.

Fukuoka towersThe Tenjin area was a congested nest of apartment towers, with restaurants and nightclubs on narrow streets by another river. On the fringes of more fashionable areas, it was in walking distance to everything and had a couple of great izakayas. Fukuoka, a far more autochthonous city than Kyoto, is more attuned to  tourists from Korea and China than from the west. It’s attractions are limited, but it made an excellent hub for rental-car explorations of the island of Kyushu.