Marui House


Monday, 13th September 1987

At 11am sharp we left Fuji house for the last time.  We struggled with about 3 bags and a heavy box on a series of trains down to Ikebukuro.

We found Marui House again pretty easily, paid over the rent to Chieko and began to unpack our stuff.

The house was, like Fuji House, a regular Japanese residence that had probably been built to house a large family.  Only slightly modified, it now had capacity for 14 people.

The main door opened into a lounge with a sofa and a television. A door at the back of the lounge then led directly to a large kitchen with a dining table.  There were showers and toilets next to the kitchen.

There were two bedrooms on the ground floor. The rear one was occupied by two Swedes, Lotta and Peter, who were selling paintings on the streets of Tokyo. Andrew and I were now moving into the front room next door to them.

Upstairs there were two tatami rooms at the front of the house.  The smaller one, although set up to be a double, was occupied by Akira, a Japanese guy who was probably there to improve his English skills.  The larger tatami mat room belonged to Alison and Volker; she was from Lancashire and he ,her boyfriend, was from Germany; both were working as English teachers.

At the rear there were two more western-style rooms.  One was occupied by another teacher, April, an Australian woman in her late thirties and she shared it with Masa, another Japanese guy. The other room was occupied by Helen, a Bostonian American born in London who was in Tokyo to study karate, and a tall black American lad who was also a teacher and who had adopted the nickname “Napoleon”.

As neither April and Masa nor Napoleon and Helen were couples, it was clear that the double rooms were not segregated by sex.  Whenever a spare bed became available it was offered to anyone who would pay for it.

Finally, sitting  in front of  the house in what would have been the place for a car parking space, was a prefabricated room which was known as “the shed”.  It was occupied by Steve, a Kiwi also studying karate and Nick, a teacher from the USA.

Chieko, the land lady,  lived nearby and came in to do the cleaning every day and to collect the rent on Mondays. The other residents told us that she had a reputation for being quite careful with money to the point of being mean.

We celebrated our move with a bowl of ramen at a noodle shop on the corner.  We agreed that we had made a good decision. It was a lovely little neighbourhood and lots seemed to be going on.  Best of all, for me it was only 20 minutes door to door to Shinjuku.  It was even better for Andrew as he could walk to the Ikebukuro branch of his school.

I left for work at 4pm with a positive spring in my step.


Tuesday, 14th September 1987

Tuesday was a public holiday.

This was an extra bonus and we used it to finalise moving in.

The holiday was for “Respect the Aged day” and in our new little neighbourhood there was much bustling activity with preparations for an afternoon carnival. It was amazing how the Japanese had held on to their cultural traditions despite all of their advanced technology.

We spent part of the day with Alexia and Kate at California House just outside Shinjuku on the Keio line.


We had yet to master how not to get the Keio express train that rushed through their station and meant you had to return on the next train.

We had a lovely meal of tuna fish casserole followed by fruit yogurt and washed down with Kirin beer.  We finished all of this off with a trip to Dunkin Donuts in Shinjuku.


Friday, 18th September 1987

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday passed quite quickly and I settled into a brand new routine that lasted for the next few weeks.

I talked to anyone who would listen in the house till 2am or 3am every morning. Fortunately Andrew, Nick, Steve and Helen were all good listeners.

I lay in bed until about 11:00 or 12:00 and then got up and cooked a brunch. The 7-11 store had a fantastic range of instant noodles and frozen meals suitable for the hungry teacher who couldn’t be bothered to make too much effort making brunch.

If I felt energetic, maybe I had a walk around Ikebukuro or into Tokyo to the Post Office to pick up my parcels from Perth and from home.


Andrew and I would sometimes do a round of the food departments of the Parco and Ikebukuro Mitsukoshi department stores getting as many free food samples as we could.

The food departments were amazing and filled with almost everything you could imagine.  Sadly we never managed to find the two things we had spent quite a lot of time imagining:  Marks and Spencer’s beef sausages and a decent pork pie.

The local neighbourhood got more interesting. There were lots of tiny shops selling everything from hairdryers ( a plethora of dry cleaners) to seaweed. All the shops had that very Japanese space saving device; the automatic sliding entry door.

Come 4pm each day it was time to don the suit and jump on the Saikyo line which took just 3 minutes to Shinjuku.

I then spent 5 hours trying to get groups of 4 Japanese people to say something interesting. I taught different levels.  I moved around from the 3rd floor beginners to the 7th floor where the higher achievers had their lessons.


Then at 10pm, after a few pieces of complimentary Sushi, I would set off home again.

At home I made something to eat. Normally it was something simple like an omelette.  I usually cooked from ingredients purchased earlier but the local area was so alive that it was actually possible to shop 24 hours a day.


I usually ate around midnight and then we would sit there and talk rubbish until about 2am or 3am.

We had already had a discussion on the place of men and women in society,  “America versus Japan” and lots of other useless topics.


Saturday, 19th September 1987

I lay in until 12 noon.

I had a breakfast of bread and chocolate and then decided to do a bit of sightseeing. Tokyo was so large that I thought it would take many weekends to see everything, but that particular afternoon I gave it a good go:

I circuited the Imperial Palace avoiding the joggers on the way; I headed into Marunouchi and tackled Tokyo Station’s underground maze; I window shopped a bit in the Ginza; I paused for a meal of croquette, curry and rice under the shinkansen tracks at Yurakucho; I visited Japan’s largest toy shop at Shimbashi to see miniature trains of every type (all made in Japan of course); I walked back via Hibiya;  called in at the Tokyo post office again and then rode the train on a half circuit on the Yamanote line.


Map from diary

When I got home in the evening there was only boring old Space 1999 on the TV.

Steve was the only one home.   He was eating ice cream watching the film.  He seemed to be always eating ice cream.

I got an early night.


Sunday, 20th September 1987

Kate and Alexia phoned to announce they would be visiting later in the day.  Andrew and I set about gathering all the ingredients for a lunchtime feast. The ingredients consisted of a heap of vegetables for a wok fry up.

We met Alexia and Kate at the station and to try to impress them with our new location, we guided them through a fair chunk of Ikebukuro.  We took them past an array of neon-lit night clubs and shops, down a series of back streets and finally to Marui House.

We dined on miso soup and vegetables fried in oyster sauce and soy sauce. After dessert we had a long walk to aid digestion and this took us eventually to the other side of Ikebukuro station and into the massive Sunshine 60 complex.


We walked back past amusement arcades and met two Israelis from Fuji House who were on the street selling pictures. We finally ended up in the evening back at an akachochin on the paved canal section of the road close to Marui House.

We had a few Sapporo beers laughing as we filled each other’s glasses in the Japanese way. We ate meat patties fried in batter and dunked in soy sauce and tsukune (grilled chicken balls) on sticks.

The other customers were youngish men and were very amicable. They talked to us in broken English and Japanese about baseball.



We saw Kate and Alexa to the train at Ikebukuro station and then returned to another red lantern pub. We had more beer and a lot more food: octopus with hot wasabi mustard; tofu in soy sauce; deep fried shrimps and oden (a kind of meat, offal and vegetable stew).


The drinking went on until 2 am and we made sure that Monday wouldn’t be starting very early.


Monday, 21st September 1987

Needless to say, I woke with a headache and didn’t do much the whole day until late afternoon when it was time to go and teach.

The Autumnal Equinox festivals were in full swing around Tokyo and one of them kept me from crossing the road in Shinjuku for about 5 minutes. I managed to make it to work with about 5 minutes to spare.

The night’s teaching wasn’t too strenuous although it was just starting to get a little boring.



Tuesday, 22nd September 1987

Tuesday didn’t start too early either. I woke at 1pm and quickly pledged to myself that I would try to start getting up earlier each day.

The late mornings were obviously caused by only getting home from work at 11pm, but I was still frustrated that I was not doing enough with my days.

At about 3pm Chieko appeared to do the cleaning. She might not have been the most generous person in the world but she did  give us a laugh with the strange signs she left all around the house –  “Thank you for your corporation” “Please open the shower window even a bit to avoid the vaip and keep them dry”. “Don’t leave anything untidy there around” .

These notes were actually very mild forms of Japlish.  There were a lot of much better examples elsewhere.  Andrew and I had started making a list of the illogical English which appeared throughout Tokyo.  We already had things like “off one Environment”   “All of nature was once alive” in our collection.


I made my excuses to Chieko and quickly left. I bought a donut and a coffee on the way to the station and then spent the evening observing the higher level students.


Wednesday, 23rd September 1987

Another holiday.

In the morning we had a look around the modern Sunshine 60 building in Ikebukuro. We went to the import centre and had Dunkin Donuts with our morning coffee. We checked out the view from the 10th floor. We figured it was not quite as dramatic as the 60th, but at least it was free to access.

I then caught the Yamanote line around to Ueno and spent some time exploring that part of the city. I sat and watched a Scottish guy busking playing the bag pipes. He seemed to be doing alright and had a pile of notes and coins in his tray.


I walked down from Ueno to Akihabara, the cheap electronics district, and spent a few more hours wandering around amongst the TV’s, CD players and videos. I walked back to Ichigaya through the book selling district near Ochanomizu. The whole place had a feel not dissimilar to Paddington in Sydney.

Unlike many other cities, Tokyo didn’t really have one main centre.  It had several sub-cities: Ginza, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Shibuya etc..   In between all these places was just a mass of nondescript roads and concrete residential housing.  I had  mentioned to Andrew that the city was like a boring soup with very interesting vegetables floating in it.  He had laughed at me but I thought it was a good way to describe it.

 I jumped on the Chuo line at Ichigaya went back to Ikebukuro.

I spent the evening in the pub with Andrew again eating more octopus and drinking more miso soup.


Friday, 25th September 1987

After 2 weeks in Marui House life had settled down a little bit more. My routine had changed slightly again.

We generally now got up at 10am and Andrew and I had fruit loaf for breakfast with tea and coffee.

We would then spend the rest of the mornings chatting to whoever would listen. Helen was learning Japanese, Nick was felching and Steve sat there criticising Japanese people or “monkeys” as he put it. Alison and Volker came and went  regularly, but we rarely saw April, Napoleon, Masa or Akira.

Two Canadian girls moved into Peter and Lota’s room but left soon to go on the shinkansen to Kyushu.



In the afternoons I generally ironed my shirt and got ready to walk to Ikebukuro station for the train to Shinjuku.

The teaching had also settled down and I had now started teaching the more advanced students in the school. They were capable of much more interesting conversations.


I had also made a lot more friends at work too.  There was Richard from Canada who seemed to move around from gaijin house to gaijin house in Tokyo almost every week, Sonia and Richard from New Zealand, Garth from Wales and many more besides amongst the 40 or so young British, American, Australian Canadian and Irish  people.

Generally we all got on well together and we looked forward to Friday evenings when we  went out to the bars and pubs in Shinjuku together,  sometimes until quite late.



Saturday, 26th September 1987

After a late start I spent the day wandering around the old temple district of Tokyo at Asakusa. The Kanmon Temple was one of the biggest tourist attractions of the whole city.

I walked all the way back to Ueno from Asakusa through largely boring streets.

The best thing was that it was starting to get colder and there was a lovely feeling at dusk when the neon signs started to come on.

In the evening I went to Roppongi with Helen. We intended to go to a live house concert but we ended up sitting in the Urban Train pub people watching. The Urban Train was  the size of a bus shelter and it sat on the sidewalk just up from the famous Roppongi crossing and the Almond Café.



Alexa came round and announced that she may be leaving Japan within a week.


Sunday, 27th September 1987

I had a walk from Shinjuku via the baseball stadium and Harajuku towards Shibuya.

I met Helen in a record shop there and we trudged back together through throngs of people to Shinjuku and had a walk around the Kabukicho red light district area.


Tuesday, 29th September 1987

I walked around Takadanobaba and inspected the Big Box, Waseda University and caught the little tram they had there (the last one left in Tokyo) back to Otsuka.


Wednesday, 30th September 1987

I walked back to Shinjuku from Ginza and had a look at the Imperial Palace, the Diet building, Akasaka palace and, for 150 yen entry, Shinjuku Goen (park). I thought the park a bit of a rip off but I supposed the entry fee kept the crowds out.


Andrew and I spent the evening at the pub. It was the closest akachochin to Marui. We drank with Nick and Helen. Nick left early but the the three of us ended up staggering out at 3am. We drank beer and then shochu (Japanese spirit) and not a little food: oden, octopus, and some delightful Japanese-style spaghetti.

When we returned to Marui Andrew woke the whole household up.


Thursday, 1st October


Andrew was oblivious to ever having woken anyone up.


Friday, 2nd October

We were still recovering from having a hangover the day before.

After almost a  month the occupants of Marui House had changed once more.

Nick had moved out to a flat and Steve was without a room mate. We had had an elderly American couple from Washington State passing through. Akira had moved out and in his place came American Eric, tall bearded and balding, and his girlfriend Susan. They were on their last stage of their year in Japan.   Helen moved out, as did the Swedes. Dave, an American (31) from New York and his Japanese girlfriend Sachiko had moved in.

Saturday, 3rd October

I went to Seibu department store to take a look at the British Exhibition.

It was quite impressive; a full 11 floors of Union Jack banners and a fair amount of stuff from Britain. There was a makeshift British pub, fish and chips for sale and even a real Mini car.

In the afternoon I went to Shimbashi with Nick and we had a walk around Hibiya park, a look at some kind of political demonstration and then a walk towards Hammatsucho station. We checked out the World Trade Centre, and had a look at Tokyo bay.


We then hit Tokyo tower just at the right time. We caught the neon lights  just coming on and the city lighting up.

We then headed off in the direction of Roppongi and after a burger at Arby’s we headed back on the subway to Ebisu and on the Yamanote line back home.


Sunday, 4th October 1987

I spent a very lazy day doing laundry, eating ramen and having another look at Seibu.

In the evening Andrew and I had a meal with Dave, the newly arrived teacher from New York, at a place near the Marui Store in Ikebukuro.

Dave had been staying for a few weeks previously at Kimi Ryokan.  This was a traditional Japanese ryokan (Japanese-style hotel) but it catered almost solely to foreigners and was a cheap place (although a lot more expensive than a gaijin house) to stay a few nights.

Kimi was located quite close to Marui House a little bit closer to the railway station. We had already figured that a lot of the people who later became residents at Marui had started off at Kimi.



Wednesday, 7th October 1987

We went out again with Dave, this time to “One Lucky”, which was a sort of little gaijin hangout bar he introduced to us nearby.

The fact that One Lucky had been set up in close proximity to Kimi Ryokan was not a complete coincidence and the people staying at Kimi made up a large proportion of its clients.  Dave had found out about the place at Kimi himself.

The clientele were usually all gaijin except for the barman/owner  “Master San” who seemed Japanese to me at first but was actually from the Philippines.

We ate some lovely food: potato salad, miso soup, beef curry and rice with lovely slices of orange as dessert.

The bar had music playing constantly and it had a tape collection of more than 1000 cassettes.  There were also hundreds of photo albums in the bookshelves. Every time someone left “Master San” took their photo together. Each time someone came back they would start looking for their photograph from last time.  It was a self repeating cycle and it made people want to go back to see the photos from last time. A very clever idea.

We stayed after dinner and got plastered on apple juice mixed with shochu.

We staggered out of there at 2am.



Thursday, 8th October 1987



The teaching had consolidated and it was getting more and more routine.

I finally started to turn my attention to the main reason I had come to Japan; to try to learn Japanese.

My Japanese was still not progressing much beyond a murmured domo (thank you)  in exchange for my groceries and slowly copying the words that Andrew used when he ordered food and drink in the pubs.

The good news was that ACA had long been considering making more money by offering the teachers Japanese lessons and were just about to set up a new course. They had hired a new teacher, Kobayashi-San, for the purpose.

I had signed up a week before.

Classes had been supposed to start this week, but then on Monday we had learned that Kobayashi-San had been sacked for complaining about the school’s racist rules which forbade him to teach Japanese to Taiwanese, Koreans or Chinese.  The class was cancelled and we were told there would be a delay of several weeks whilst another teacher was found.

Yesterday I had learned that Kobayashi-San had decided to set up on his own in secret from the school and would try to get as many teachers to study with him as he could.  We all supported his anti-racist line and virtually everyone decided to support him and boycott the official school lessons.

I let the school know that I no longer wanted to study Japanese after all, and then I joined friends Michael (Australian) and Richard (Kiwi) to be the latest teachers to sign up with Kobayashi-San.

The lessons would start soon.


Friday, 9th October 1987

On Saturday 10th October I would be making my first trip outside of Tokyo since arriving in Japan.

Andrew and I had decided to head out for the weekend and we had chosen the mountain resort town of Nikko as our destination.