Tuesday, December 27, 2016

53 years ago

Comments on my post from Sara got me thinking about all the changes that have taken place, just in Nerima where we set up housekeeping 53 years ago.

Today, Nikko and I took a walk back to the site of "Masumiso", the little two-story walk-up where we lived at first.

Several years ago the building was still standing. I had seen a sign on the wall advertising for renters.

I do not know what changes may have been made to those apartments over the years, but when we were living there, each apartment had one six-mat room, one four and a half mat room, a one-mat closet, and the last two and a half mat space formed a toilet, genkan, and kitchen.

One tatami mat is about 6'x3'. This picture was taken my first Christmas in Tokyo. Behind me the two sliding doors lead to the kitchen and genkan. In the left corner is my kitchen cupboard. The refrigerator was an ice chest that sat outside the kitchen door. There was a small sink ... no hot water ... and a small propane burner for cooking,

We had investigated several potential apartments but all were very expensive. The cost of this, including the propane, was 18,000 yen a month. Insurance was 2,000 yen. Paul was working for Hitachi at that time and it would have been cheaper to live in company apartments but they were far from his family and I was reluctant to face living up to company expectations.

With overtime pay, Paul was bringing home 20,000 yen a month and I was able to get a job teaching English at an English Salon in the Ginza area. Thus, we were able to survive as long as we were careful with expenses.

This picture was taken outside our door. The dog is "Merrily" who came to us from Paul's Uncle who was moving to South America. She lived with us many years and was buried under a plum tree in New Jersey, where we lived while Paul was in training at Banker's Trust in NY.

Behind Paul, at the end of the building where the stairs come up, was a big field and off to the left was another field. At the end of the field was a row of two apartments.

The fields changed produce from season to season, Cabbage, daikon, winter wheat, broccoli and sprouts and onions.  Along the back road was the farmer's big house and also a public bath house.

During lunch time, the sewer trucks parked along the back road. (stinky)The area did not have city water or a sewer system at that time. Our water came from a well that was turned off once a week for cleaning. Almost all the toilets in the area were indoor out-houses of the squat type. Hard to believe these days where most houses have modern sit toilets with even heated seats ... some with sensors that flush when you get up and many with washlets.
Depending on the time of year, the trucks came along with a wide hose that sucked up the contents... maybe once a month or more often in the summer. I was always a bit afraid one of my kids would fall in that hole. A wooden lid fit over the opening when not in use. Toilet paper did not come on a roll but one bought paper and cut it into pieces about the size of half a sheet of paper, and those were placed in a small basket beside the squatsie.

Now standing on the site, though the old wall remains, is a new house.

The streets are now paved and any trace of the fields, farmhouse, or public bath are long gone.

What fields that remain have mostly been turned into co-op apartments called "Mansions" or parking lots or warehouses.

 This is now the scene from where we turned up the stairs to our apartment.

This building on the left looks something like Masumiso but it is, along with the building behind, built in what was then fields.

All the area to the right was also fields, with the apartment buildings and public bath at the end.
Straight ahead was the farmer's house and more fields as far as you could see.

There still remain a few fields that are active, growing mostly a variety of vegetables. One was turned into a public garden with plots that households could rent to grow their own produce. Sadly, that area was turned into a huge apartment a few years ago. The plot behind it became a parking lot.

Our apartment was a short walk to Nerima Station on the Seibu train line and it was just a bit farther to the street where Paul's folks lived.  We often went there and used their bath, which was much nicer than being "exhibit A" at the public bath. I had a few private english students that came there for lessons. Their home was much warmer with a narrow hall separating the rooms from the outer windows and buffered from the cold with shoji-papered doors.

There was little insulation in those days. I remember watching buildings being put up with a layer of straw being plastered to the walls before the inner board was put in place. Most homes had small space-heaters but they were kerosene and dangerous so not used at night.

Other than doll bedding, the first quilt I made was pieced from scraps I got from a tailor who altered men's clothing. It was just a tied cover and not fancy but needed for warmth. There was never a photo taken, even of Merrily sleeping on top, and being mostly wool, it was given up long ago ... or what was left when the moths took over.

We lived in that apartment until 1965. During the Tokyo olympics, Paul was loaned by Hitachi to the Olympic Organizing Committee. Those were days of many changes and I did get to attend some of the events as well as the opening and closing ceremonies.

My first daughter was born in February and kept at the hospital for a month because she was too premature. in going back and forth to the bus stop on my way to deliver milk to the hospital daily, I found a new duplex going up at the spot where we are now living. The rent there was 22,000 yen a month but it was just down the street from my inlaw's place. I could teach english in my own home so add classes and there was a real bath, a three-mat kitchen, and a three-mat room for a crib besides the six-mat bedroom. By the time my little one was released from the hospital, we had made the move. A new chapter had begun. We planted a flowering plum in the garden to celebrate and enjoy it still.

NHK did not walk to this site but they did get the story.


  1. Oh, this is really interesting! I hope you will keep reminiscing! For my part, living in Kyoto in the late 1970's I also have not so fond memories of the sewer trucks. Because Kyoto was not bombed during the war there was no need for rebuilding and modernizing. Consequently, even in the 1970's it was said that only 30% of Kyoto had flush toilets. You really did NOT want to be around when the trucks came to clean out the sewers.

  2. My son and his wife will be flying to our home town in Texas in early January. I will get to drive them around and show them where we went to school, our first home, etc. while there. My son knows most of it, but, his wife has never been there. Nice to remember the history in our lives.

  3. Looking back and knowing how we managed then, to what we have now, so totally different. We always had an inside toilet, but tank water which sometimes in summer were almost empty. And a copper, tubs and a hand wringer for the washing. A huge orchard and garden which Dad worked on and we always had our own supplies. He even grew peanuts. We lived too far out to go and buy fresh veges. You must wonder at how young couples live today compared to your first years as a young woman then a Mum.

  4. What a fun read. We all went through the small living spaces & little money phase!! You both look happy in the pictures, so it was a good start. Glad your daughter was given great medical care. Hope your holiday was good. I am looking forward to a new year.

  5. What a wonderful story! My children find it completely amazing that when Jerry and I married in 1964 our first apartment was a one room with a bed that pulled down out of the wall and cost $12.50 a month. :) And we were so happy to be there with just each other! blessings, marlene

  6. Love to read your stories - thank you for sharing - ;))

  7. Enjoyed reading this post. What a change occurred over the years. Thanks for sharing

  8. This was so wonderful to read and learn more about your life and how you both got started in your life in Japan. I think I would have been petrified to make such a move. It is amazing to see how so much has changed since you started and I feel the same way here, we started out with an apartment that had the bare minimum, cold in the winter and we couldn't afford the heating Bill. Our grocery Bill was 20.00 for the week and you could fill up the car for a few dollars, lol. I really felt the emotion with you as you walked down the place where you and Paul began your new life.


  9. Thank you Julie for your story of your early life in Japan with Paul. Fascinating. Sadly we seem to take all our mod cons for granted these days, I have been married for 37 years and those early days in the 70's were such happy times even though we did not have very much.

  10. Lovely to read your story Julie. I remember my parents' first Apart was tiny and wood fire cast iron bathtub. But I can't remeber about toilet at all!

  11. Thank you for sharing! Always new chapters are forming in one's life. May the New Year bring wonderful company, travels, and adventure. Peace-Monica