Andrew’s world in Japan 2018/March

Artist & researcher based in KL since 2009, passionately exploring the creative process & connecting with other creative people.

Learning The Hard Way.

How easy is it to misuse language? People do it often enough, intentionally or not. Examples such as jumbo shrimp, act naturally and clearly confused hint at ways. Ok, these are actually called ‘oxymorons.’ Where I’m taking us is to my ‘weekly mansion.’ When we arrive you’ll begin to know my frustration and disappointment.

My friend helped to set me up with a place to live for a few weeks in Tokyo. She suggested a ‘weekly mansion.’ I wanted a private apartment. Not just share floor space at someone’s tiny Tokyo living quarters. Desiring those general comforts of a kitchen, private toilet and some personal space. Of course, I didn’t want to spend much. I never do. Set that aside and I was all for trying something new. ‘Weekly mansion’ had that exotic exciting ring to it. My imagination flew to the high heavens with images of swimming pools, jacuzzies and general luxury living.

Housing has a wide variety of styles, shapes and uses. Japan is no different. From traditional homes that reflect specific regional environments to urban high-density public housing, Japan runs the gamut. Basically, housing design serves either the single family or a multiple-unit building. A key difference from Western ways is the general presumption that Japanese housing holds a limited lifespan. The culture expects that after 20 to 30 years a structure will be torn down and rebuilt. I’d never considered culture would impact living style. This was my first experience outside of staying with a host or a friend. More often than not, visiting foreigners may not see many of the housing options simply because of barriers and complexities of renting, especially to non-Japanese.

Looking back, I really should have shown so much more appreciation to my friend for the work and risk she no doubt took to set this up for me. Alas, my inexperience, immaturity and general nature had me completely obsessing on the use of the words naming the place. Basically, a ‘weekly mansion’ is a 20 square meter space almost the same as a typical Tokyo apartment. The real convenience and often key influence on the price is proximity to a train station. So although the use of the word mansion threw me for a loop it was a simple misunderstanding. Was this some cruel joke?

I have to smile and laugh today thinking about it. In English, a mansion means a large dwelling house. But the origin of this word is French, mansio, simply meaning dwelling. My sense is that along the way, someone thought it a good idea to add some mystique to these very typical dwellings by adding some good ol’ French flair to the mix. In Japan, a mansion is simply referring to the building. This is typically a concrete or metal-framed apartment house. Words and their meanings are what allow people to communicate. This experience was key in helping me to open up and prepare to be more flexible during travel and life. Different countries, cities and even generations understand the meaning of a word differently. That’s a whole different topic that fills shelves at the library or bookstore. Regardless, when you’re heading to Japan, and deciding what kind of accommodation you’d like, consider the ‘weekly mansion’ but realize it’s just a standard apartment that only sounds exotic to first-time visitors.