Since half the world’s population is currently trapped in their houses due to various local and national quarantines , I thought it would be fitting to give you all a tour of our house here in Nagiso (note to those reading this post in the future – it’s mid-April 2020, and Covid-19 is still rampaging across the world – you may remember this period from your history textbooks as ‘The Great Collapse’).
Unfortunately, you can’t all be here in person, so we’ll have to settle for a photo tour. So here it is: our cozy house in Nagano’s picturesque Kiso Valley.
Our house is located at the edge of our tiny neighbourhood, just above a narrow road leading to the local temple (more on that Totoro-as-hell temple in another post).
Note the tasteful moss on the stones, and the combination concrete/stone steps I spent about two days clearing moss, earth, and weeds from in order to not slip and break my neck literally any time it rains.
Also note the storm window container just to the left of the windows. We can simply slide these across to cover the windows and lock down the house in case a typhoon hits.
Fun fact: our house was originally built as a summer home, and thus was uninhabited during the colder months. This explains the complete lack of insulation or double glazing, which means that in the winter it gets so cold at night you earnestly want to die.
The View From My Front Door:
Climbing up the steps and turning around, you can see the scenery of the Kiso Valley beyond our neighbour’s house – mountains, the wide-open sky, and (if you get the angle just right (i.e. not like this photo)) a sliver of the Kiso River in the distance.
The neighbours also have a very good dog, but you can’t see it here (sorry).
From outside our front door you can see what at first appear to be a collection of extremely sick solar panels, but is actually some kind of place to test how various kinds of roof tiles fare against the elements for extended periods. Fascinating.
If you’re lucky, you’ll sometimes see a gang of monkeys hanging around, foraging for food. No shots today, sadly.
The Terrifying Rear:
Turning the corner to the back of the house, you’ll enter what I like to call ‘the haunted bit’.
This is a general storage space/shed used by the previous inhabitant to keep such valuable objects as ‘a broken rice cooker’, ‘a bit of old wood’, or even ‘a single filthy tweed jacket, dangling forlornly from its hanger’.
As you can see, these things are inexplicably all still here.
The owner stopped coming here in the summer about ten years ago due to health problems, and no one’s lived here since, so there wasn’t any pressing need to remove the prosaic-yet-oddly-disturbing mountain of rubbish from the storage shed until we moved in.
The landlord’s slowly going about getting it all removed. I’m really going to miss this broken bit of 1980s bathroom fitting when it’s gone.
This is where the thirty or so umbrellas live.
This is our kerosene tank. You put the kerosene in the top and it heats all your bath and kitchen sink water, to either 30 °C or 250°C, depending on the alignment of the stars apparently.
The Entrance Hall:
Come into our house and you’ll be greeted by the most charming interior decoration known to man, situated just above our shoe rack.
The wooden choo-choo train spells ‘Nick ❤ Eiko’ – i.e. my and my wife’s names – because we’re married and we’re in love, if you really must know.
Sitting above the choo-choo train is a finger-puppet Santa and his favoured sidekick: ‘a bee’. There’s also a carved wooden bird that was a present from my mum, and which I won’t make jokes about because it’s a really, really nice bird.
Next to that you’ll see a nice clock. The owner of the house used to work at a Japanese clock manufacturer, and so kept his house full of clocks. This is one of the few he left behind.
You wind it by pulling on the chain at the bottom, and once wound it’ll run for a good few days – maybe a week – before you need to pull it again.
At first we kept the clock running out of a sense of wistful nostalgia for a past neither of us lived through, but its ticking is honestly the loudest, most irritating noise in the world, and eventually we silently agreed to never wind it up again. If that upsets you then I’m sorry – you try living with it.
This Is Where The Magic Happens:
This is our toilet. In most Japanese houses the toilet and the shower room are separate. This allows you to go for a wee and/or poo while your partner is having a bath, without having to trade in your romantic tenderness for a resigned sense of familiarity.
My wife would like you to know that the off-white and salmon pink toilet rug + cover combo is not ours, but in fact came with the house.
You thought we were done with the toilet? Oh boy, we’re just getting started.
While it may look to untrained eyes like a delicately-composed haiku, it’s actually just detailed instructions on how to flush the toilet. Since we have a septic tank, the amount of water in one flush is pretty small, and the hole at the bottom of the toilet is closed off until you flush, to prevent unnecessary seepage of septic tank smells.
The hole at the bottom of the toilet is also extremely small, for some reason. So if you’ve just finished a long day’s work down at the IBS factory, your post-toilet clean-up experience will be a bit more, well, hands-on than most city dwellers will be used to.
Which leads us on a quick diversion out round the back of the house again. This is the opening to our septic tank. We need to call a man to come pick up our shame, but only when it’s nearly full. And in order not to waste money we need to make sure the septic tank is actually nearly full before we make the call.
How do we do that, you might ask? Some kind of automatic sensor, or Chernobyl-esque radiation-shielded remote-controlled drone? Of course not! We (read: I) open up this manhole and look down into the spawning-pits of Isengard below to assess its state of readiness.
Side note: our septic tank is an absolute unit, with a capacity of one whole ton. This makes me feel proud for reasons I can’t articulate.
Okay, Enough Of That. Onto The Kitchen:
Our kitchen is small, but I think we’ve done a great job of making it feel cozy. Hanging novelty oven mitts, a vegetable shelf, and an honest-to-god homemade spice rack really help to turn it from yet another kitchen into a relaxing place where you can make stews, bake bread, and have an absolute meltdown because you just can’t get the falafels right why can’t you ever get the falafels right?
Here’s yet another, if I may say, unreasonably cozy spot that I had absolutely no part in putting together. These cookbooks are all mine, and the black notebook at the bottom is my own homemade recipe book (yes, I have a homemade recipe book – you can’t bully me, we’re not in school anymore), but the tasteful setting is all thanks to my wife.
The brown bag of rice was a wedding gift (I’m assured this is a thing in Japan), and the clear pack on the left is a vacuum-sealed bag of rice with our surname on it. We handed these out to our neighbours just after moving in as a greeting present (I’m assured this is also a thing in Japan).
Finally, our pantry: ever since reading Claire Thomson’s The Art of the Larder, I’ve been enamoured with the idea of keeping a larder/pantry. I also like making lots of new recipes, and so tend to accumulate a huge selection of different ingredients.
I’ve also always been a bit of a ‘what if all of human society collapses tomorrow?’ nervous, paranoid kind of oddball, so I feel most comfortable when I’m sitting on a hefty stockpile of food. I would be more apologetic about this strange character flaw if (a) I didn’t live in earthquake, tsunami, Mega Typhoon-prone Japan, and (b) people hadn’t been stockpiling and panic buying for the last month or so due to a global pandemic.
On a side note: don’t come trying to steal my food and toilet paper stockpile. I have an huge, aggressive Doberman with very sharp teeth that’s just out of shot of all these photos.
The Living Room:
Like our kitchen, our living room is small, but cozy. Also, it’s mid-April right now, but Nagiso is still pretty cold during the evenings and mornings, so our kotatsu is still out (if you’ve never heard of a kotatsu you’re missing the best thing since sliced bread – it’s essentially a radiator/sofa/bed you sit in with the heat turned up for 4-6 months of the year).
I’m not going to show you the bedroom – my wife kept saying unhelpful things like “please don’t”, “it’s weird and invasive”, and “you need to stop trivialising my legitimate complaints by framing them in an unreasonable light” – but I will show you the strange little corridor between our bedroom and the edge of the house, and the lovely view just outside our windows.
It’s one tatami mat thick and three tatami mats long, and it has no function or general reason to exist that I can fathom, so we’ve just bunged our clothes rack and our bikes in there. I also bought a standing bike converter, so now on rainy days I can enjoy road biking without any of the hassles of nice scenery or fresh air (I’ll write a post sometime about the nice cycling spots around Nagiso).
And That’s It
And that’s it! That’s basically our house – it’s really small, and it gets unreasonably cold in the winter, but (a) it’s pretty damn cozy, (b) we’re paying absolute peanuts to live here, (c) the surrounding scenery is beautiful, and (d) I can step outside my door and already be on a cycle or a walk through such a picturesque part of Japan that I wouldn’t have believed it possible even a year ago.
Considering the last place I lived looked out onto a multistorey car park, I think that’s a pretty good trade-off , all things considered.