When Ken and I were looking at apartments to rent in Kyoto on AirBnB, we came across the traditional Japanese residence in which we are now staying and were charmed by the idea of it. All the traditional elements seemed to be there: the mats, the walls, the futons, the low table, the intense order, the rice paper screens. It just screamed Japan, and we were thrilled at the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the culture. Well, I can tell you that after a few days here, the charm of this space has warn off and we are feeling more and more as if we are in some Japanese version of Huit-Clos. The discomfort begins when arriving at the room from the outside. As is the custom, we must remove our shoes before entering. But because of the single large step-up and the location of the door and shoe rack on the outside, we must perform this balancing ritual with the dexterity of an Ebola nurse removing her protective clothing. Once inside for a while, the closed-off nature of the room induces a bit of claustrophobia, and there is a creepy feeling that there could be anything outside the space, or total abyss. And after inhabiting the room some time, you realize that there is no single place one can ever get comfortable. The table is low and has no chairs, so one must sit cross-legged in front of it. This usually lasts about 10 or 15 minutes before our legs begin to get pins and needles and we are forced to sit in one of the few other approved positions, such as on our knees. This also lasts a punishingly short period of time until the pain forces a move to another position. So we move to the thin futons to lay on stomach or back for a few minutes, but this is hardly ideal for reading or writing. Most of the wall space is made of delicate materials not suitable for leaning against, and even the small areas we can use are likewise painful after several minutes. In the corner of the room is a chair for sitting in, but it is cruelly low and one can never get comfortable in it, one’s knees are always too high and it is too small. At night we sleep on the aforementioned thin yet surprisingly squishy futons, which seem perfectly designed to induce lower back ailments ranging from muscle twisting to slipped disc. The constant inability to get comfortable is leading to frayed nerves and shortened tempers. Ken and I are looking forward to leaving this place tomorrow, not a moment too soon. We are at least able to laugh about it for now, but too much more time and it will look like a seppuku slaughter in here.
Editor’s note: Outside of our apartment choice, I highly recommend Kyoto, it is lovely.