Article first published in July 2004's edition of JETFuel


Christmas 2003, Tom and I enjoying a meal with my mum and dad at the apartment.  

The kotatsu (heated table) and heated rug are our own additions - as are the (clean) 

sheets and duvet...and a fair bit of our own clutter now!

Moving inÖ

Öand wanting to move right back out

A plea for those who are leaving, and a warning for those who are arriving.


By ďSherry RhodesĒ

Heís disgusting.  Iíve never met him, but I know heís disgusting. 


I moved in to my lovely apartment in August 2003.  My supervisor drove me up to the building, and I heaved my case up to the door.  She found the key, opened up and let me inside. 


My first impressions of my new apartment?  I was over-the-moon.  It was so much bigger than I had been expecting Ė two good sized rooms with shiny polished wooden floors, bathroom, separate toilet (thank god it was western-styleÖ), utility room, a balcony, and the BIGGEST DAMN CUPBOARDS I had seen in my life!!!  I reckoned you could sleep at least 8 people in the cupboards alone! 

Little did I know what the cupboards held.  The doom that was awaiting me. 


Iíd been in contact with my predecessor in the month before Iíd left home.  Heíd told me all the *great* things he was leaving for me (at a price).  A TV, an oven (ďvery rare in JapanĒ), a washing machine, a bed, a hi-fi, all the furniture I would ever need (including a sofa), and I was expressly told I didnít need to worry about towels and sheets Ė he had the lot.


Oh how naÔve I was.  But not too naÔve Ė luckily I didnít pay him before I saw everything.


Seeing I was installed, my supervisor told me that everything had been put away in the cupboards, but she thought my predecessor had left me everything I needed.  With that, she hopped in the car and drove away. 


I was alone for the first time in a week.  You guys all know what itís like Ė youíre loaded onto a packed plane, herded off at the other end, and instantly bundled up with hundreds of other people for orientations, parties, more orientations, etc etc.  But I like my space Ė I was so happy to be alone after all that! 

I decided to investigate what had been left.  I opened the cupboards.  They were completely full.  And I mean COMPLETELY full.  To give you some idea these cupboards are about 1.6m by 2.4m, and 1m deep.  Each.  There are two.  Thatís a volume of 7.68m3.  Thatís a lot of space.  Or rather, lack of space since it was full.  Thatís a lot of stuff.


The first thing I saw was a ratty old black wig.  I oiked it out across the floor.  That would be my first victim.  Then I saw it.  The sofa!  I hauled it out.  ďSofaĒ is rather a generous word.  Itís a typical cheap Japanese sofa Ė one of those where you may as well be sitting on the floor.  Donít get me wrong Ė I was happy to have it!  What I was dismayed to find, however, was the food stuck to it.  And the crumbs.  I found the ancient vacuum cleaner, and cleaned it up a bit.  I set the bed into place.

What next? 


Well, Iíd been promised sheets and towels.  I dug some of them out.  It was maybe at this point it started to dawn on me what a complete shit my predecessor was.  The towels were dirty.  They smelled.  And I donít just mean of damp from being in the cupboard for a few weeks.  I mean they smelled of sweat. 


The sheets were worse.  Now, Iím not squeamish, and Iím not particularly fussy.  But the sheets were discoloured and stained.  And I donít mean a bit yellowy.  I mean the kind of discoloured youíd get if you used them day after day for months at a time without ever washing them.  


The pillows.  Ah.  The pillows.  One actually had what I assume to be scrambled egg stuck all over it.  And they were that same brownish-yellow shade of soon-to-be rotting material as the sheets. 

I couldnít use any of it.  In fact, I felt sick just looking at it all.  Here I was, alone in Japan for the first time, tired, hungry and disorientated, and faced with this mess.


Little did I know what was to come.


My supervisor had taken me to the shops before bringing me to the apartment.  Iíd got milk, bread and jam Ė enough for a basic meal until I got sorted.  I went to put the milk in the fridge.  The fridge was mouldy.  Not mildew.  Mould.  Growing on bits of food suck to the shelves.


I then decided it was time for lunch.  A jam sarnie.  I dug out a plate.  Like the fridge, it had food stuck to it.  I dug out a knife.  It had food stuck to it.  All the cutlery and crockery was filthy.  What wasnít covered in food was greasy.  Unfortunately, this is no exaggeration. 


It takes a lot to make me cry, but at that moment I just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry for a week.  I didnít.  I just got on with it.


The balcony was next on my list of things to check out.  There were some largish plant pots out there.  One of them was completely filled with cigarette butts.  Now, Iím not a smoker, but I think even 60-a-day people would be put off by the sight of such a large collection of someone elseís used smokes.  Iím not talking about an ashtray-full.  It looked as though a cigarette had not been thrown away since my predecessor moved in to the apartment.  The rest of the balcony was cluttered with rubbish, too, but nothing else quite as disgusting as that.


Ten months and two complete carloads to the dump later I have more-or-less gotten rid of the filthy crap that was left for me.  Much to my shame, after a brief look I left one cupboard completely shut up until my partner moved in in October. 


To give you an idea of what he found in there:


One day while I was at work, my partner decided to check the top cupboard.  He found a rug for the bed, and put his hand in to pull it out.  It turns out the rug was infested, and he got two large welts on his hand which took over a month to heal.  Nice, isnít it. 


When I brought this matter up with my predecessor, he told me it must have got infested after he put it away.  Thatís why there was a part-used can of flea-spray under the sink, then.


There were other horrors, too.  Too numerous to go into here.


And what of all the good stuff Iíd been promised?  The furniture?  Broken or mouldy.  The TV?  Tiny (actually smaller than the screen on my laptop).  The hi-fi?  Broken.  The video player?  No cable to plug it in.  The oven?  Filthy, and doesnít actually work for anything other than real basics*.  Like cheese on toast. 


In fact, the only good stuff were the bed and the washing machine.  And my predecessor wanted a lot of money.  In the end we came to an agreement Ė less than he wanted and more than I wanted to pay him.  I got fed up with the nagging and e-mails.  I wish I hadnít given him anything, but I was worried heíd take it up with my school, and all the teachers (especially the female ones) loved him.  In the end I paid up to get rid of him, not for the contents of the apartment.


After all this time, and all the work my partner and I have done getting the apartment in order, we are still finding things.  We have a problem with cockroaches, which I believe started when my predecessor left a considerable amount of food in open packets in a cupboard in the utility room.  Weíve recently had another two roaches, and we traced them to the cupboard under the sink.  We found a box hidden away at the back Ė containing a filthy coffee maker.  That cupboard, incidentally, was where I found his used toilet brush.  Next to the chopping board.


I could go on, but I think you get the idea.


What I would just like to say is this:  to all the people who are leaving this year Ė think about your successors.  Think about how you felt when you first moved in.  Simple cleanliness is not too much to ask for.  I would have been ashamed to leave the stained sheets and mouldy utensils for anyone.  Itís not what you want to face when youíve just moved to the other side of the planet. 


Remember that you probably wonít meet your successor, and the image they will have of you will be what you leave behind for them.  A clean apartment, clean contents, and maybe even a quick welcoming letter.  I was left a letter by my predecessor.  It was on my desk at work for everyone to read (and yes, quite a few of the teachers can read English).  It was really rude, and very scathing about some of my colleagues.  Not very subtle.


Oh, and throw away your loo brush.

For those newbies who have just arrived:  If you have the same experience as me (and I really hope you donít), donít feel obliged to pay what your predecessor is asking.



*The oven has two settings:  'Broilage' and 'Grillage'.  Both seem to do the same thing. i.e. not a lot. 


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