When I studied in Japan, I stayed in a dorm of 18 students, ran by a Japanese family. We called the Sugimoto family okaasan and otousan, literally translates to “mom” and “dad”. I remember okaasan as a very strict figure. My relationship with her was complicated as often times, I saw her as a bully. In many ways, she was.
Living abroad alone when you don’t speak the language was one thing, living under her reign on top of that was on another level entirely. A set of strict rules was in place, designed to keep the dorm a happy, clean, and healthy home. I did not mind the rules, but I think there were better ways to enforce them back then.
Almost 10 years later, as I am making my own home with K, I think of okaasan a lot. K and I spent our weekends to get settled in our tiny (and cute!) apartment and I was reminded about the gazillion rules okaasan imposed on her dorm kids. I don’t admit it so often, but my time in Japan and ultimately living with okaasan hold a major role in shaping who I am today.
I found myself almost unconsciously applying everything she taught me – to clean the sink after I drink or wash dishes, to clean microwave immediately every single time after I used it, to have two different napkins for cleaning the table and drying the dishes, to not wait until there’s a pile of dirty dishes, to not leave the stove on unattended, to value family time and be brave enough not to run to my room every time, to cook with love; everything I can sum up into one sentence: to live harmoniously with others and always, always, respect and think of them first.
It seems like a common sense, but after a few more years of staying with other housemates, I assure you not everybody has common sense.
I did not agree with okaasan ways, I still don’t. But now I see why she had to do what she did. Essentially, she opened her door for 18 strangers – young adults prone to partying, rebelling, being ignorant, so convinced we were adults and know what we’re doing all the while lacking the discipline and barely aware of what responsibility means. I don’t blame us, and okaasan needed to be strict exactly because of that.
Being married is something new, and I am content. At the same time, living with someone else and sharing a space 24/7 was also new. K is extremely clean to the point of obsessed haha, therefore I am grateful for all the time okaasan drilled her cleaning rituals and all the lectures she made about making a home… well, a home.
Speaking of home, K and I moved into our very first apartment together last week!
We’re slowly turning it into “our place”. For thanksgiving last week, I wanted to get a bouquet of flowers for the table, but then K suggested to get a potted plant altogether. I was immediately sold to the idea, and gladly took Spotty here home.
I’m doing my best not to murder Spotty – I don’t want plant blood on my hands. I also don’t know how houseplants survive in the winter, since I came from a warmer part of the world. So, any tips for taking care of this sweet little gold dust is welcome!
My favorite part of the apartment is the kitchen. It is where I spend most of my time working magic through cooking, brewing coffee, and of course, pouring my heart out through writing! K helped me set up a functional kitchen that I can turned easily into my own writing, reading and coffee time spot. I absolutely adore it. Since the previous owner has a couple of things designed for small spaces, like folding table and chairs, K and I just keep them there.
Aware of the limited space we have, K and I have been having fun finding different ways to maximize the space and design a living and working space. “The trick with tiny spaces”, K told me, “is to stack upwards” hahaha. I also found that hooks are your best friends, you can practically use it to turn any flat surface into storage.
To think that we finally found a place was a blessing on its own. The process of finding an apartment in the US is quite an interesting, almost bizarre one. But then again, a lot of things are bizarre here (like why in the world everything is still using imperial system? but they also sell both baked and unbaked pie crusts in the supermarket, so no complaint here). You go to sites like craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, find an ad, and arranged a viewing. You don’t really have to meet the owner or landlord, they can just give you the code to a lockbox – I was so fascinated when I saw a lockbox haha. I was also unaccustomed with the practice of visiting an apartment without the owner’s presence. I felt like I was violating someone else’s privacy.
Depending on the lease system, you can either deal with a landlord, or you can sublet someone else for the remainder of their lease and pay monthly fee to them, often at a discounted price.
The biggest element to our search is the fact that this, too, feels like a temporary thing. We don’t want to spend too much on a temporary place, but also excited and want to find a place that is “ours” all the same. My mom then said something along the line of “stop being stubborn and learn to accept trade-offs”.
K and I fell for this place, and other apartments we’ve checked out before just blurred into the background. You kind of just know that it is the place. Well, probably not exactly like that. In situation like this, in the back of your mind you’ve probably calculated everything else, like if there’s a grocery store on a walking distance, if it’s close to a train or tram station, if there’s a park and coffee shops or restaurants nearby et cetera. All translated to “this is the right place” vibe.
Moving in was a big milestone to me, it finally sinked that I am actually living with my husband and having a place we call our own. The sudden realisation of adulting hit hard. Before this, it has been a chain of events building up to our departure to the States, and I have always been “on the go” mode, always living out of a suitcase, always being a nomad. I am used to and comfortable with it.
That’s why settling down a bit like this is entirely new.
As always, when making sense of things, I ran back straight to my sanctuary – writing. Sitting down in the kitchen, reflecting back on where I am right now and what has been happening, my thoughts lingered back to okaasan. This time I would love to have a cup of coffee with her (maybe she drinks tea, I’m not sure). I want to thank her for everything she taught me, the things and wisdom she shared, that I’ll carry with me as I embarked on this new journey of homemaking. I want to thank her for that “think of others” and “live harmoniously” concept she carved so deep in me.
And of course, for her famous Spring cleaning and tips to keep your kitchen clean hahahaha.
Stay safe everyone.