Showing posts with label kohnan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label kohnan. Show all posts

Monday, 6 August 2012

Experiencing the "Kampong spirit" in a mansion

In Japan, the type of apartment where I am staying is called a "mansion".   There are about 24 people living in the four-storey mansion where I live. A quarter of them are non-locals.  

The four-storey mansion where I live.
My next-door neighbour is O-san, a young Chinese girl from Anhui. I first met O-san in early April after I had just moved in. From her, I gathered where I could buy furniture and other household items at good prices, and where the nearest 100 Yen shop is.   When O-san  came over to look at my place that day,  I was very glad to have her look around the spartanly furnished apartment, and to hear her suggestions on how to optimise space use in the 15-square-metre apartment. The following day, she knocked on my door with an almond pudding in hand as a welcome gift.   

Neighbours know best. Top: A recycle shop recommended by neighbours,
which sells second-hand furniture and household items.
Bottom: Kohnan, a department store recommended by neighbours as well.
It sells new furniture and household items at good prices.

Besides O-san, I also got to know the rest of the non-local neighbours by knocking on their doors and introducing myself.  Staying across from me are  D-san and H-san. Through these gentlemen, I learnt that there was actually free wireless internet I could tap on if I stood near the entrance of my mansion! They also taught me how to tap on a LAN internet connection by the use of a flat LAN cable.  In fact, they offered to let me tap on their internet but unfortunately, it was not feasible to run a cable between our apartments. So they advised that I brought this idea to O-san. O-san graciously agreed to let me run a cable through her window to tap on her internet.  So instead of paying about 4000 Yen (SGD 64) of subscription per month if I had applied to the service provider, I am paying half the amount sharing the cost with O-san.

Hikkoshi soba prepared by J-san. I contributed the Xiao Long Bao and the tofu.
A month ago,  a new neighbour, J-san from Shanghai, moved in. I introduced her to the neighbours I know, and brought her to where she could get cheap furniture and household items.  It felt good to be able to pay it forward the kindness that I had received from others. I was very happy when J-san invited me to her place for hikkoshi soba.  Hikkoshi soba is soba you give your neighbours upon moving in to a new residence.  The practice is very rare in Japan these days so it was a really nice surprise to receive hikkoshi soba from my new Chinese neighbour.  Last week, J-san tried to bake cookies with the microwave oven and invited me over to taste the cookies after she finally succeeded. I never knew you could bake using a microwave oven!

I was glad to experience the "kampong spirit" with the few neighbours whom I got to know in this foreign land. I had the good fortune of receiving some mooncakes in the mail from two really amazing friends from home. I shared these with O-san and J-san, who were thrilled to see the mooncakes. O-san said she had not tasted a mooncake in ages. 

The loneliness would have been unbearable if not for the warmth I experienced from my neighbours' kindness.  From O-san's easy-going nature, to D-san and H-san's willingness to dispense advice. And now, J-san's interesting culinary adventures.

O-san, D-san and H-san would be returning to their countries soon as their 2-year Masters Programme had ended.  Once the summer heat had become more bearable, I shall attempt to whip up some Singapore-style curry to share around.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Getting around in Kyoto

Transport in Japan is expensive.The standard cost of a bus ride on the Kyoto city bus is 220 Yen (SGD 3.50). The subway costs about the same, starting from 210 Yen.  I met 2 Singaporeans visiting Kyoto through a Taiwanese school mate and they had an interesting perspective.  "In order not to feel the pinch, just pretend that you were riding in a taxi all the time".

When I arrived in Kyoto, I was determined to find an apartment near my school so that I didn't have to incur unnecessary transport costs. I could of course invest in a bicycle like everyone else living here but I had no confidence riding a bicycle then.

And so my most important criterion to my housing agent was to find a place within 20 minutes' walk from my school so that I could walk to school everyday.  It was fortunate that they found me an apartment 700m from school, about 10 minutes' walk. 

To save on transport costs, I started to walk to places I wanted to go instead of getting on public transport.  My threshold for what was considered "far" was raised.  Any place within a hour of walking was considered "near" by my new standard.
A bicycle shop near my university.

When I started to get engaged in volunteer work, I began to realise that transport costs were depleting my budget.  The venues for those activities were too far for walking.  The transport costs on an activity day would cost me more than 1000 Yen (SGD 16).  

At first, I bought 1-day bus passes for unlimited travelling on the Kyoto city bus. That costs 500 Yen each. However, the transport costs for a month of volunteering activities were still quite high. Eventually, I started to seriously consider a bicycle.

Getting a bicycle

There are many shops in Kyoto selling used bicycles.  The shops in areas where there are universities tend to sell their used bicycles at higher prices, from around 6000 Yen (SGD 100). There are some cheap  department stores like "Kohnan" which sell new bicycles from about 8000 Yen.  The internet, notably has some pretty good offers for new foldable bicycles costing slightly more than 9000 Yen.

A friend also pointed me to the message boards at the Kyoto City International Foundation to check out the items for sale. There, I found someone who was willing to sell his bicycle for 1000 Yen but you must first justify to him why he should sell his bicycle to you.

I also heard about school mates who managed to get cheap second-hand bicycles at only around 3000 Yen.  So I started to ask around in school with the hope of buying an even cheaper used bicycle from overseas students who were returning home.  Eventually, I found someone who offered to give me her bicycle as she was returning to America.

Soon after I got a bicycle, my quality of life improved tremendously. I no longer had to walk the distance back from the supermarkets with the heavy groceries. I was also able to explore more places in Kyoto, which also meant I could seek out places where the bargains were.

Used bicycles in tip-top condition for sale at Toji flea market.
Recently, I went to a flea market at Toji Temple, cycling almost 1.5 hours to get there.  I discovered bicycles going for less than 3000 Yen at the flea market.

My neighbour quipped that I should get another bicycle since  it is so cheap. It was very tempting indeed, considering that they all came in many different bright colours and were in tip-top condition. I would have loved to get the one in fuchsia to match my wallet and laptop.

A bicycle crossing right beside a zebra crossing for pedestrians.
The bicycle is indeed the best and cheapest way to travel around Kyoto.  Kyoto streets are easy to navigate due to the grid layout of the city.  The walking paths are usually shared between the pedestrians and cyclists.  On some sidewalks, a path for bicycles is clearly marked out. 

The only grouse most people have is probably the challenge of finding parking for bicycles.  There are many people who park illegally in parks or sidewalks.  They would then risk getting their bicycles removed and being slapped with a 2300 Yen handling fee. Taking the advice from friends, I usually pretend to be a patron of a pachinko outlet or a restaurant and park my bicycle there for free, like everyone else.

With a bicycle, anywhere within 1.5 hours of cycling could be considered "near" by my new standard. As temperature soared in summer, cycling could be pretty torturous.  I also found out that discounted bus and train tickets could be purchased in downtown Kyoto. So on days when I did not feel like cycling, I would use such tickets.  

A shop along Shijo Kawaramachi selling discounted train and bus tickets. On the right is a diagram showing the price of the discounted Hankyu Railway tickets for use on normal days, non-peak hours and on weekends.
The 1-day bus pass, and the discounted
 tickets for off-peak travel on the Kyoto City Bus.
Discounted tickets for public transport

The discounted bus tickets have to be bought in bulk so it is really for people living in Kyoto. You pay 2000 Yen for 13 tickets which means that each ticket costs only about 150 Yen instead of 220 Yen.  However, the catch is you can only travel between non-peak hours from 10am to 4pm, and you cannot travel on Sundays.  If you do not want such restrictions, you can pay 5000 Yen for 26 tickets and each ticket will cost 190 Yen.

The shops selling such tickets also sells JR train passes and sightseeing passes for tourists. They even sell movie tickets at lower prices.  I went to Osaka on the private Hankyu Railway at only 300 Yen on a Sunday, using the discounted Hankyu tickets. 

If you are coming to Kyoto, you know that there are always cheaper options available for travelling around here.