Sakura House Asakusa Iriya

Originally uploaded by apes_abroad.

We flew in to Haneda airport in midafternoon, but it could have been 2am for all we knew after 30-some hours since our heads had touched pillow. We bought Passmo pay cards which work on all the trains and subways now, and also vending machines and even restaurants around the city. Finally, a kind of debit card for hopelessly cash-driven Tokyo! We ate tempura udon (and paid via vending machine, naturally) and headed for the Sakura House offices in Shinjuku.

I’d been prepared for hot weather but the humidity (32C feels like 36) was hard to take in our travel clothes and backpacks. I noticed women daintily dabbing the sweat from their faces with tiny lace-trimmed towels and stopped to buy one for myself – it’s been a lifesaver. We now understand why there are drink vending machines on every second block in this city. These are record high temperatures for September, but August often gets up to a sweltering 35C/95F.

Sakura House dominates the long-term foreiner housing market here, offering reasonably priced rooms with shared bathrooms and kitchens. Most importantly, they don’t charge “reikin” which is the standard moving-in fee. Also known as “key money”, it’s considered a gift to the landlord, equivalent to up to three month’s rent. I guess people don’t move very often around here!

At their office we signed reams and reams of documents, promising to follow proper garbage separation rules, agreeing not to share files on the local lan, and itemizing everything in the apartment down to the number of spoons – 2. We took the refreshingly air conditioned Yamanote line back to our room in Asakusa Iriya house. Look, they’re so organized our room even has a video on Youtube.

It’s actually a bit of a dump. Not surprising given the low price, but with all the crap they made us sign you’d have thought we were moving into a palace. The furniture’s cheap and mismatched, the windows are a meter from neighboring buildings, the garbage hasn’t been taken out in a month (remember the heat…) and the door doesn’t lock. Not that we’re worried about crime here. However, it’s quiet and our room is relatively big with its own kitchen and working aircon, tatami floors and two Japanese style futons that joined together are bigger than a king-sized bed! We have only one ghostly housemate who may not even speak English, and as I mentioned doesn’t like to take the garbage out.

I chose this place for the location in Taito-ku, between the bustling street markets and pleasant parks of Ueno to the east, and the traditional temple district of Asakusa to the west. It’s an older part of the city with two and three story buildings, and seemingly no local zoning laws. Next door is a tiny slacklining gym, and at the end of the street trucks are loaded with sheets of glass during the day. There are restaurants and combinis dotted around every block, yet it maintains the feel of a quiet residential neighborhood, lined with potted plants and filled with children playing. Our walk to Ueno takes us through the household shrine shopping district, where store after identical store blasts cool air onto the street, inticing people to browse through their shiny wooden cabinets.

Next up: the Tokyo Game Show!


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