Pepi in Wonderland: Gulliver’s Travels

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Another chapter of Pepi in Wonderland is here, and this time it comes with a twist. Have you read Gulliver’s Travels? If you have, you already know that Gulliver gets trapped by people from Lilliput. Well, in my travels, I wasn’t trapped by Lilliput citizens, but by the room! When I first landed in Tokyo, I wasn’t aware of how tiny houses could be. And when I say tiny, I mean Lilliput tiny. If you liked to play Tetris compulsively as a kid, this was the time to play it in real life! How do we fit into a 17 square meter room? What about a 20 square meter apartment? Could you make it? After eight years living in Japan, I can proudly say that I am the Empress of real-life Tetris. [All those hours playing the digital version did pay off. I never thought a video game could come as handy as Tetris was for fitting your luggage and books in such a tiny space!]

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My first apartment was a tiny room of about 17 square meters situated in the students dorm of the University of Tokyo, aka Todai. Todai shared the dorm with other Universities, so you would find international students from around the world going to different Universities and sharing experiences. Think of it as a tiny UN. This was big because the living room, the kitchen and the washing machine space were shared. I was lucky since this dorm had a tiny toilet-shower in it, so I didn’t need to share it with anyone. However, it felt quite claustrophobic. When I first saw the room, I was shocked by its tiny space, and I thought I wouldn’t make it… ever! However, in a flash of desperate illumination I remembered all the hours wasted on Tetris. Tetris is God.

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Click on the image to see how Komaba Todaimae room and sharing space was.

This was the room of Komaba Todaimae. I lived there for two years. And it felt really small. However, I managed to enjoy tea and watch movies with other friends inside. Maximum capacity of four people on the bed trying to see something on the computer a meter apart on the table. [If you enlarge the image above, you’ll realize what I’m talking about.] And this was Heaven. No kidding! Other dorms had to share the shower and the toilet. Sacred of sacreds! I cherished my shower as I cherished the Starbucks that I used to go at 3 am in the morning in Shibuya. [Say hello to claustrophobia, shrinking walls nightmares, and a strong will to drink lattes at sheer hours at night!]

I had to share the rest. Only, I had a problem with the kitchen. After some weeks of my arrival, I discovered a girl from the Middle East cleaning her feet into the sink. Yeah, the sink where you are supposed to wash the dishes. I went into panick attack mode. If she is having her shower into the sink, what else are people doing in the kitchen? Moment in which you start noticing all the posters around throughout the dorm building. They weren’t really nice; they had rules like: please don’t wash your feet in the kitchen’s sink. Or, please don’t take other people’s rice!

At this point, it wasn’t only Tetris what I needed, but some nutso idea on where to cook that would be healthy enough, and that could be done inside the room. And so Japan saved me: an electric rice cooker. You can put rice, an egg or whatever and you’ll be able to boil stuff in record time. [Obviously, you only come to this solution after imagining other things besides a girl cleaning her feet and legs into the kitchen’s sink!]

Then there was the problem of people leaving the food cooking in the kitchen and forget about it. Rice in electric boilers is safe because it gets done and the machine just stops, but… can you imagine a forgotten stew? The smell can be challenging, but the view can be dramatic. No Gameboy game can prepare you for this. None!

Click on the image to see how Kitakarasuyama room was. Oh look! That's me on the first pic!
Click on the image to see how Kitakarasuyama room was. Oh look! That’s me on the first pic!

My second room was in a shared apartment in Kitakarasuyama. I was in love: it had tatami, and it was big! And I had two sofas! [I know, those leg-less mockups of sofa might be ridiculous, but I had two sofas! There was no way I could fit those in my previous room! Even if leg-less, I had two sofas, yoh! TWO! And a huge mirror.] This time around I had no bed, but futon. It’s really comfy, even if it looks messy.

My trips to the Starbucks were changed by messy study habits in my room. While international parties in Komaba Todaimae were easy, the only party we had at Kitakarasuyama’s home in two years was after the week I moved. Don’t ask me who these Japanese are, because I don’t know. They were friends of Noriko, one of my roommates. I was amazed by the amount of people you can fit in a tiny room. Nope, those weren’t the only ones attending the party: there were more people. How did we survive? Sake?

This was a huge improvement for me: I had more space, and so I could feel better. In fact, the two years I spent in this room were really good! The only thing is that tatami is hard to take care of. You have to be careful and vacuum it constantly, specially if you are allergic to dust. [Oups, guess who is!]

After this one, I moved three more times. The last home I was in was 20 square meters, and we were two living in it! By that time my real-life Tetris superpowers were massive. How did we manage to survive during two years living in such a tiny space eludes me. I am here, alive and breathing. We must be superheroes! Unfortunately, I have tons of pictures, and I couldn’t find the ones of the last home on time, so I will leave them for another post.

I was so lucky in Komaba Todaimae because I had my own bathroom. Despite all the anxiety regarding the tiny space, Starbucks was the night savior that kept my fuel rolling. Oh, those gorgeous Lattes! I was also very lucky with Kitakarasuyama’s apartment. I got to share it with extraordinary people! And I thank Tetris from the deepest parts of my heart: the training I gained wasting countless hours on it saved me from total madness! [Or not.]

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Copyright: Images on this post (C) depepi.com / Other images and Memes (C) by their owners.

About pepi

A Geek Girl interested in Geek Anthropology, comic books, books, Superheroes and discovering all about pop culture.

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  • Brittany Zick

    Pepi I am so jealous! I want to live in a tiny room, as long as its Japan!

    • xDDDD Tokyo was awesome, but it was hard to live in such tiny spaces. It can be challenging at times.

  • Wow! Although, I lived in Japan it was on a military base so of course our space was up to American standards. When I did live in a dorm there my room was 500sq ft. I had my own bathroom and I had a bedroom and a living room. Although, I had to share a washer and dryer and also a kitchen. But when I got married we moved into a 1000sq ft apartment which was so much better then the room.

    But you are amazing! I have been over to friend’s houses with space that small and I’m amazed at how you can truly play teteris with you life.

    I also had another friend in South Korea that has a tiny apartment, I don’t think it was much bigger then 600 or 700 sq and managed to get two bedrooms, a bath and a living room and kitchen out of all that. Truly amazing what can be done!

    • Wow! Those were palaces!!! When you have no other choice, you become very creative on how to play Tetris in real life. It was good for me because then you realize how many things you don’t need for living, and also how much you cherish to have a big room, or some furniture to enjoy. All in all, this was a great experience for me. Unknowingly I learned a lot! So, I am sure that your friends are having a great time, though some times they might feel somehow packed.
      xoxo

  • Oh dang! My tea stash alone would take up most of that space!

    • Wow xDDDD Yeah it was tough at the beginning to come to grips what I could and couldn’t do with space. On the other hand, it was good it was so small. A geek lost in Tokyo?? Are you aware of the amount of geeky stuff that I would have bought if I had had the space!???? xDDDDDD I think that, even if it was challenging, it saved my pockets! :p