My Kingdom for a Truck

When I moved to The Village two years ago, everything I owned was transferred by bus and train on three backs: mine, that of my erstwhile housemate The Australian, and that of my friend The Rover, who had the misfortune of visiting me from Canada at the time I was moving. With the ensuing accumulation of a sofa, a bed, and a 29” TV, it seemed that I would need to grow four wheels and a very large steel box if I was going to attempt the same thing again.


With a little investigation, I learned the following:


(a) I would likely need a 2-tonne truck to transport all my stuff.

(b) It would cost 60,000 yen (about $700) to use the “Black Cat” delivery service, and I would not be able to ride along in the truck.

(c) There was no place where I could rent a truck in The Village.

(d) I could rent a truck in P. Rock for as little as 15,000 yen (about $175), but I would have to go there to pick it up.


I was not prepared to pay two-thirds of the cost of my furniture just to move it from point A to point B, particularly given that I would have to pay $1400 in “key money” to my new landlord for the privilege of being allowed to pay him rent. But trucks are hot commodities in April, when a huge number of Japanese people move to new locations every year. Even a month before I moved, I knew I was getting going late, especially since I couldn’t drive the truck myself (I don’t have a license).


Things started well: Bugsy in Shimoda agreed to help out me with no hesitation at all, so I made the call and rented a truck with relative ease. Then he said the truck I had rented was too big for him to drive. So I rented a van instead. Then he said the van was still too big, leaving me to wonder precisely what kind of truck he had had in mind. He finally backed out entirely, suggesting that I look into using a shipping service since he was sure it couldn’t cost that much more, thus leaving me back where I started, minus a week of time.


As I was agonizing over my transportation troubles, in the rest of my life I was dealing with a final round of lessons that turned out to require much more work than I’d anticipated, busy teachers who forgot to help out as they’d promised, a stack of personal farewell cards I’d decided to write to all 36 graduating students at Friday Elementary, and a desperate effort to eliminate my new landlord’s extortionate $1400 of “thanks” money, which had thus far succeeded only in making Number Two question how serious I was about moving to my new town while  getting A. ticked off with me for rocking the boat.


By the end of the week, my abused puppy dog look had been perfected to the point that the principal at Thursday Elementary called me into his office. I suppose the fact that everyone in the teachers’ room was either looking up or calling moving services on my behalf made things a little obvious.


“When do you plan to move?” he asked.


“Well… probably on April 3rd


“Will a 2-tonne truck be enough?”


“Um… yes. That’s perfect.”


“I’ll give you a lift.”


I told him he had to be joking.


“Nah. I moved my kids when they went to university. This’ll be nothing.”


This is why it is wonderful to live in a small town: whatever your problem, you will eventually find someone who knows someone who can help you out, because everyone knows everyone. The principal even rescheduled a licensing test he was supposed to take just to drive me up. He showed up with a borrowed 2-tonne truck at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday the 3rd, and within an hour and a half the mountain of boxes that had filled my living room was somehow perfectly packed onto the back. We even had unexpected help from Sunny and his two sons, who showed up an hour late and swore that they thought we were starting at 9:00. But it was great: the kids even swept out my apartment when we were done.


Then, three hours later in my new town, it only took us another hour and a half to get everything off the truck and into my 2nd-floor apartment. Although he grudgingly accepted my bottle of Crown Royal in thanks, the principal otherwise refused any payment or even lunch in return. He dropped me off at a supermarket, and he was gone.


The new apartment turned out to be in better shape than I’d thought. Though the shower had the disturbing predilection of opening directly into plain view of the entrance, the rooms were all larger than I’d expected. There were little things like seaweed clogging the washing machine and explosive cascades of water flooding my balcony when the people upstairs did laundry, but I developed a Temporary Immunity to Sludge and, with the aid of several rolls of paper towels, handled such matters with surprising ease.


Perhaps it’s because I hadn’t really settled anywhere before I went to The Village, but for the first time in my life I was beginning to notice that it is indeed a little strange to move into a new town. Sitting at home a few nights after I arrived, I came to the conclusion that I could be killed and my apartment gutted and nobody would realize that anything had happened. I promptly went to the bar down the street in an ambassadorial effort to convince the locals that I was a nice guy whose apartment really didn’t need to be firebombed.

View from my new apartment
The view from the stairs outside my apartment. The line in the middle is the bullet train. It’s actually pretty quiet; just a “thooom” of displaced air every ten minutes or so.

Such peculiar moments of paranoia aside, the transition has been eerily smooth. My first lessons, usually subject to a high “flub” ratio, were all total successes. Within a few days, I had kids telling me I was their favourite ALT, and one of the English teachers declared me his all-time “Number Two” ALT (Number One is apparently 40 and has been teaching in the same location for 7 years. I’ll see what I can do).


We had a really cool week when professional sumo wrestlers were practicing down by the river every morning, and I was impressed to see that they could do the splits to the ground and a shoulder roll on command, as well as smashing themselves together with the sound of a wet thunderclap.  


I went walking around to historical points in town with the first-years, camping with the second-years, and received presents (“omiyage”) when the third-years came back from their trip to Kyoto. I’ve even managed to memorize about a third of their names.


All I can ask is that they stop playing the Carpenters’ “Top of the World” at the end of lunch every single day... makes me crazy...


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