Construction in Japan 2


Construction workers are crooked and lazy all over the world! (With a few notable exceptions, hi Jeff and that one other honest contractor somewhere in the world!)

I posted awhile back about the construction going on next door to me, but I have never actually posted on this site about the construction we had done to our place before we moved in, but recent problems have begun to remind me and so, here comes a rant.

See, the place we live in, in Tokyo is rather… unique (you can see some pictures in the article about the construction next door that is linked above), I guess you could say. My father in law has a small plastics company and the apartment we live in is built on the second floor of the warehouse for the plastics company. Now when I say warehouse most other people from the states tend to think huge sprawling dockside buildings where you could park a semi. Not quite that big. It’s a little warehouse. You could park 2-3 cars it if you were really inventive and patient.

We get to live here for free, so no complaints from me. Well… okay, so there are some complaints. In fact, lots of them, but it’s still better than forking out a minimum of US$2000 a month for a similarly sized place in Tokyo.

So the apartment (and accompanying warehouse) are 40 years old. In Japan this general means that it is made of some wood, paper and sand. Ours happens to be wood, paper and sand on an iron girder framework, but you get the point. Believe it or not, wood, paper and sand are not known for their long-lasted ruggedness after 40 yrs of use above a warehouse, in humid, smoggy, moldy, bug and mice-infested Tokyo.

And then there were some other “age-related” things that had to be changed, like the squat toilet (image below) which kind looks like a urinal on it’s back and embedded in the ground, and an open-flame bathtub heater which was actually inside the bathroom. Toilets in Japan are fascinating. No, really. Look, there’s even an entire Wikipedia article about them!

Below are the type of toilet we originally had and the type of toilet we have now, complete with buttsquirter thing and captain Kirk controls.


And this has nothing to do with anything, but here’s some toilet paper from the Nara period. I shit you not! (HA!), That must have been a real pain in the ass! When I saw it I thought someone was taking the piss! (okay, I’ll stop now)

So, before moving in we went to back to the U.S. for a month and had a construction contractor come in to redo the toilet and the bathroom (these are two separate rooms in Japan, unlike most cases in the U.S.) as well as do some wiring (adding outlets for all my gizmos, etc.) and put down flooring in one room and replace the tatami mats in another.

We came back and everything seemed okay. That was of course until we started hearing noises coming from the attic and the circuit breakers would start blowing if I even look at an electrical outlet as if I was going to plug something in.

Two problems, totally unrelated to one another except for the fact that different employees from the same company (now out of business I might add) caused both.

The electrical problem was solved easily enough by calling out a power company inspector and having them tell me that the electrician had connected EVERY POWER SOURCE IN THE HOUSE TO THE SAME BREAKER. This despite the fact that the apartment has the largest capacity circuit breaker box allowed in a residential building in Tokyo. There are literally like 20 switches in the box and everything was connected to the same one. So, if I happened to say be on the computer and the refrigerator cycled on, blammo. Which was fun because the circuit breaker box was downstairs in the warehouse, requiring me to not only go outside and force open the old, rusty and heavy warehouse door, but climb over boxes and sacks of plastics materials to get at the box in the corner.

So I of course had the electrician come out and reconnect things, and restrained my laughter quite well when he tried to bill me for the extra time before showing him the door.

The noises from the attic however turned out to be an entirely different problem which would last over a year and a half.

Remember the part above where I said we live above a warehouse? Well that means the ceiling of the warehouse is the floor of our apartment. With me so far? Well, also remember when I said we had some work done on the water and sewage including a new toilet and bathtub (okay, I didn’t explicitly mention the tub, but we got a new tub as well as a modern hot water heater)? Well to get to the pipes they had to make a hole in the ceiling of the warehouse to get at our subfloor.

So they apparently just kinda took a hammer and bashed out decent size holes under the toilet and tub. But then, now, here’s the winner mind you… after they had done all the stuff with the piping and everything, they just left the holes open! The holes which led from the 40 year old warehouse with boxes stacked to the ceiling, into our subfloor, and from there into our walls and attic.

You know where this is going already don’t you? You know SOMETHING got in there, you just don’t know what yet, right? Well neither did we.

So we called an exterminator, I figured it was a mouse. The exterminator came and crawled up in the attic (I’ve never been up there myself, it’s not a usable space, just a crawl space between our ceiling and the outer roof) looked around, came back down, said we had mice (In Japanese this is “nezumi”, remember this, it’s important later!), crawled back up put out some poison, came back down, charged me $500 and left.

So time goes by and we are still hearing noises up in the attic, I find a little dead mouse in the kitchen, all smelly and burst open from ingesting poison, found by accident when trying to “find out what the hell that smell is” and nothing much else changes.

Until one day, while we are sitting in the room in our apartment which leads out to our veranda. Our veranda is rather large (I really wish it were a room instead of a bunch of wasted outdoor space) and we have these weird frosted sliding windows, so light gets in (and out, shadow puppets!) but you can’t really see anything (see the picture of our apartment from the outside below).


All of the sudden, my wife grabs my arm and points at the window. There is clearly something, a fairly large something, moving along right outside the window. I figure it has to be a big cat or a small dog. We have these trees that grow sort of beneath/to the side of our veranda, so animals can climb up onto it if they so choose. So… I walk over and slide open the window, and just before it skitters off under the veranda, I see the biggest goddamn motherfucking rat I have ever seen in my life. This thing was huge! It could have killed a pug or any of those other tiny dogs.

So we call the exterminator again and he comes back out and we have a “discussion” about there being a mice. I tell him what we saw and he says, “yeah, a mouse” (nezumi). I calmly explain that was not a fucking mouse, it was a rat from the bowels of hell itself, RAT not MOUSE. Well, turns out that in Japanese rat and mouse are the same thing, “nezumi”. They have specialized terms for different types and stuff, but in basic, everyday speech they are both, “nezumi”.

What a wonderful opportunity to learn this, I thought to myself. Here I’ve been, thinking we had a couple of little field mice living upstairs, when what we have is great big Tokyo rats (notice the plural “s”) that would shame New York sewer rats. Disease infested, plague carrying, big-enough-to-bite-off-fingers-and-toes type rats, living above our heads for WEEKS. The dead one I found, BABY!

Well laa dee fucking da, aren’t I the richer for my learning experience. So after going up to check the attic he decides he should try to find some point of entry for the things and immediately we all think “warehouse”.

So we go down to the warehouse, and nose around for a bit, and after pushing our way through the tons of boxes and stuff towards the areas where the tub and toilet are located above us, we notice the gigantic, jagged holes in the ceiling/floor, and my brilliant exterminators says something along the lines of the Japanese equivalent of, “well there’s your problem!”

So I pay the exterminator another profane amount of money, he leaves and I call the construction company. I explain about the holes, and the rats, and the owner of the construction company actually has the balls to say, “oh, you wanted us to close those back up when we were done?”.

Jesus, mary and joseph, motherfucking gob-knobbling sonovabitch. Even thinking about now makes me want to murder the man, and to this day I giggle happily whenever I remember the day I heard his company went bankrupt.

So they close the holes. The rats are now trapped INSIDE the apartment with us. I call a different exterminator who is $200 less and yet for some reason much more effective, snagging the buggers with glue traps his first time out, and offering to come back out FOR FREE if we ever have any other problems. Wonderful guy, if you ever need an exterminator in Tokyo this is your man,

So, everything is fixed, things are going good until summer comes and there’s another weird smell, exterminator comes back out and finds the giant monster rat my wife and I saw, dead and nearly mummified after cooking in the attic for awhile.

After that, no more construction woes until recently when the power has started going out for no reason again, and the bastards responsible are now out of business…

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