Still Alive: Two Years in Japan

Taking the Chiyoda line to Tokyo’s northwest corner where the line terminates lands one in Adachi ward, the last bastion of the mighty metropolis before it gives way to the desolate suburbs of Saitama and Chiba. This terminal station is called Ayase, a quiet little “shitamachi” neighborhood that’s a little old, a little beat up, and a little quirky. But those are its charms. I moved to Ayase in January, and I haven’t looked back. It has been one of the bigger and more positive changes in the second of my two years in Japan.

Ayase is a great town–bars and pubs crowd the station in the south, with restaurants, shops, hair salons, and a nice park in the north. Yeah, there are pachinko parlors, sketchy clubs, and all that good stuff, but it’s hard to find places without that kind of stuff anywhere in Japan, so it’s best not to sweat it. Think of it as contributing to the atmosphere. Where I live is a short walk from the station, where the area starts to become very residential, making Ayase a pleasant mix between urban and suburban. I guess Ayase is technically “the suburbs,” but the area is easy to navigate on bike, and all the essentials are close to the station. There’s always people out and about, especially due to events at the Tokyo Budoukan, and all the nearby schools, so it never feels dead, but also never too busy.

I’ve carved out a pretty good life over here, a stark contrast to where I used to live–where everything was too spread out and a pain to get to. On nights when I don’t have plans inside the Yamanote loop, I hit up a local haunt, like a local bar I found run by an Iranian guy (I’m half Iranian, for those keeping score), and I’ve made friends with a few locals that way. There’s some killer ramen up here, too. I will (hopefully) talk about these establishments in more detail in another post at a later date.

One great aspect about Ayase is that it provides decent access to central Tokyo. The Chiyoda line allows for direct access to Harajuku, and Nishi-Nippori on the Yamanote line is only ten minutes away. When I first moved to Ayase, I hung out with some friends in Ikebukuro on a week night, and I managed to make it back home without the trip taking ninety minutes. It was a good feeling. I can even sometimes make it to Shimo-Kitazawa from Ayase in one shot! Sure, it can take thirty or forty minutes to get to places like Shinjuku, and even longer for places more towards the west, but that’s a step up from where I used to be, and I kind of enjoy being a little bit separated from the hustle and bustle of central Tokyo, while still technically being within one of its twenty-three wards. I’ve always lived in the kind-of-suburbs-but-not-quite anyway, so Ayase is just right. Where I used to live was full-on US-style suburbs, and was naturally completely awful.

Long story short, Ayase is a great place, and if you’re looking for a cheap place to live in Tokyo, I highly recommend it. And hey, I’m here, so you can hang out with me, which I’m sure is an extremely exciting prospect for many people. Just be sure to stay clear of Kita-Ayase (North Ayase). It’s not a particularly bad place, but getting there requires a pain-in-the-ass transfer at Ayase to a special train line that exclusively runs between Ayase and Kita-Ayase, departing from Ayase station’s mystical “Track 0”.

As far as other stuff goes, I think after two years my Japanese has finally plateaued. It’s getting to the point where I’ve picked up as much as I can pick up naturally, and it’s time to hit the books. While I’m at it I should probably aim for JLPT2, or something…

Things are still going well with the ladyfriend a year later, and generally on the social side of things, I’ve found myself within a few nice circles of people over here, so I’m typically out and about on weekends or after work. I’ve had to take on a couple of side-jobs to support my extravagant lifestyle of being an outgoing socialite, but all said I’m not super busy, and am more or less having a good time. I should actually probably chill out a bit and focus more on things like, I don’t know, updating this blog!

From here on out, the next big challenge is going to be finding a new gig over here. The current job isn’t really cutting it anymore, so I’m ready for a change. That said, all-in-all, things are still great, and given how the last year went, hopefully they’ll only continue to get better.


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