After about a hundred days of sitting at home, Ms. Kanto and I finally went on a trip. We both wanted a little weekend getaway from Tokyo and to visit somewhere we haven’t gone to before. With that in mind, we decided to make the trip down to the Izu Peninsula, a few hours south from where we live.
Even though in early June, Japan’s COVID-19 numbers were fairly low, we opted to skip public transport and rent a car. While public transportation is great across Japan, it isn’t as convenient once you get out of the main cities. In certain parts of Izu, the buses only come once an hour and not every spot is accessible.
I wasn’t actually quite sure what to expect, in terms of what things would be open and how crowded or not crowded beaches would be. For the most part, beaches were fairly empty with only a handful of families at each one. Not every place that we wanted to visit was open either, but luckily, the few places we did visit were more or less deserted.
Our favourite spot was this cute, small beach on the western side of Izu. It was nice to take a refreshing dip in the water before our drive back to Tokyo.
Along the way back, we stopped at Mos Burger to try out their new Plant-based Green Burger.
To be honest, it was okay. 😅 I actually prefer the regular MOS Yasai Burger since it’s not completely covered in sauce like this one. 😋
Aside from that, June was fairly routine just like previous months. Ms. Kanto did make some really good vegetarian sushi, that I have to ask her to make sometime again. 😚
Here’s a quick recap on our spending:
I’ve decided I’m going to change up this section. For the most part, there’s really little change from month to month so I think I’ll only talk about any interesting spending that happened.
In Shopping, we decided to finally buy a fan. We debated for quite some time whether we should spend the 500 or so dollars and get a real AC that can provide us with both cooling and heating for our downstairs and living room. In the end, we decided just to get something simple – a relatively inexpensive ($30) fan that so far has been paying dividends, given Tokyo has hit more than 30 degrees several times already.
Aside from this, Fun includes the car rental, the hotel, and any additional fees like parking, entrance fees, and tolls. Overall, I would say it was definitely worth the money.
So that’s it for this month. My schedule has opened up a lot in the last week or so, so I’m planning to update my posting schedule to twice a month.
Japan lifted its state of emergency in the middle of May, as the number of average daily cases dropped from about 500 to almost 50. Since then, it’s been hovering around 30-50 for the most part.
For the most part, almost everything is back to normal. All the stores at the mall near our house have opened up. The main difference is that many stores have hand sanitizer at the front and that there’s this transparent plastic separating cashiers and people that are paying.
Japan’s borders are still closed to non-Japanese people, which has been a contentious point amongst foreigners living here. If you happened to be outside of Japan temporarily, even if you have a spouse and kids in Japan, if you’re not Japanese, you can’t enter the country (even if you’re a permanent resident).
I read a story where a European guy, who’s working in Japan on a valid, left in March to attend his dad’s funeral and before he could get back, the border closed. At the time, he was in the process of changing apartments so he ended up having to get his girlfriend to move all his stuff from his old apartment to his new one, and he still hasn’t been able to get back.
As for school, we continued our lessons via Zoom for all of May with the potential plan of maybe doing some lessons in-person in June, entirely dependent on the COVID-19 numbers.
Aside from this, the weather’s been getting nice, reaching as high as 29 degrees on some days, so Ms. Kanto and I have been going for a walk by river near our house after dinner each day. There are a few places where there’s a bit of a rock platform to sit on directly in the middle of the river, so it’s been refreshing to sit there and relax on some of those very hot days.
Spending in May
With things slowly going back to normal, Ms. Kanto and I have already started planning trips for June and July. As a result, May may be the last month under $800 in expenses for a while.
Housing: One thing that’s surprised me about living in our new house is the ratio between utilities and rent. In other places I’ve lived in, utilities tends to be no more than 10% or 15% of rent. Whereas here in Tokyo, the amount we spent in May is 43% of rent, with a breakdown of 13% for gas, 12% for electricity, 11% for water, and 7% for internet. Part of me wonders if it’s just because our current rent is so low, naturally, our utilities seem expensive relative to rent.
Phone: I currently pay for my phone with a US credit card, which is why there is a little bit of fluctuation on this from month to month. My plan with IIJmio is expected to end this August, so I think I’ll have to start looking into renewing it in the next two months.
Transportation: May was the third month in a row without a single yen being spent on public transportation. I actually think this might stay at nothing for the next while since we currently don’t have any plans to go anywhere (outside of a vacation or trip).
Groceries: This was was actually the second lowest we’ve spent on groceries, right next to February when we first moved into our house. Our local grocery store has also added soy meat to their stock, which is awesome since we don’t have to go to a further grocery store to pick it up.
Eating Out: I didn’t end up doing any bike rides in May, and we didn’t leave our neighbourhood so … nothing was spent here, haha. 🙂
Shopping: At first, I wasn’t sure what this could have been but when I looked at my expenses, turns out it wasn’t any interesting: just razors and shaving cream haha.
Medical & Dental: No spending is good, right? 🙂 Also, I found out that out of the $70 or so that I spent on health insurance in March, I’ll be getting $50 of it back. Woohoo!
Fun: Definitely the last month this is staying at zero. Ms. Kanto and I already planned our June and July trips, and after three months of staying at home, we’re excited to enjoy this nice weather.
While COVID-19 is far from over, the warmer weather in June makes a good opportunity for us to do a little bit of traveling, which I’m stoked for.
After two weeks of spring holidays, school finally resumed. This time around, lessons are being held online over Zoom which, from my perspective, has been actually better than being in a real classroom. I’m finding that much easier to concentrate when I’m just focused on the teacher whereas in a regular classroom, even a loud whisper from the back of the classroom distracts everyone immediately.
As for COVID-19, Japan finally went into a state of emergency in the middle of April, right when the 7-day average of cases seemed to hit its peak.
By the end of April, cases had already dropped in half and my hunch is that by June, everything will be back to normal. That said, I find it hard to understand given the number of new cases in North America.
Walking & Biking
One thing I’m really happy about is I’ve developed this habit of going for a walk each morning. With the cherry blossoms blooming at the end of March, the warmer weather has made it one of my favourite parts of my day.
In early April, I went on one of the most interesting bike rides I’ve ever been on. I found a nearby mountain pass, 入山峠, and on the way up, I came across a few landslides. The covered was covered with debris and I had to carry my bike across. To get to these points, I had already biked quite a bit so I really didn’t want to turn around.
When I finally reached the top, I crossed paths with a Japanese cyclist who was warning me to turn around. I explained how the road I had ridden on was also pretty bad and is probably the same. Then I came across this.
Initially, I thought I had no choice but to turn back, but then I saw the ladder on the left. So I carried my bike up this ladder with one hand and one hand on the ladder. I eventually made it up, walked across the collapsed road, and back down the next ladder. Fortunately, the remaining path was fairly smooth, with only a few places where I needed to carry my bike across.
When I finally reached the bottom on the other side of the mountain, a “Do Not Enter” sign had already been placed so I must have just picked the wrong side to ascend from.
With the weather warming up, I’ve been trying to get out most weekends for a ride. A friend and I arranged a bike ride one day and we were able to make it to a few lakes.
Spending in April
Aside from the occasional bike ride, I don’t think Ms. Kanto and I ever left the 30-minute perimeter of our house. As a result, April ended up being my cheapest month in Japan so far.
Housing: So far, our utility bills have been coming in higher than Ms. Kanto’s expected. She’s lived in another large city in Japan, and her utility costs, in some areas, were almost half of what we’re paying today. We’re going to try to do our best to conserve electricity and water as much as we can over the next little while, so we’ll keep an eye on this to see if it makes a difference.
Phone: As expected, I barely used my phone this month and it only cost me about $10 for it. I’m on a one-year plan for IIJmio that finishes at the end of the summer and with the current prices, I’ll be more than happy to continue with it.
Transportation: April was the second month in a row with not a single yen being spent on public transportation. With the number of COVID-19 cases dropping week by week, I imagine it’ll only last one more month. But in the mean time, it’s been nice just walking everywhere and not having any errands to do.
Groceries: More or less the same as in March. For the most part, we don’t pay much attention to prices when we do our groceries but we also tend to avoid things that are overpriced (most fruits in Japan). I think in the long-term, we’ll always spend roughly the same each month. I can’t imaging this number going down by more than 10%.
Eating Out: Each time I’ve gone on a bike ride and picked up some snacks for the road, I’ve just assigned those purchases to this category. But in reality, most of those things I can also buy when we do groceries, so I’m not sure if it makes sense to keep here. I imagine this will more or less be $0 for the next month as well.
Shopping: We bought a toaster oven! Something that surprised me when we moved in here was the lack of an oven. I’ve lived in more than half a dozen places in North America, and I’ve never lived in a place that was oven-less, until now. It’s been fun making some things I haven’t made in a while.
Medical & Dental: No spending is good, right? 🙂
Fun: Though we didn’t venture out of our neighbourhood all month, I’m not sure if it will last through May. With the weather warming up and COVID-19 cases going down, I think Ms. Kanto and I are both itching to go somewhere. I’m not sure what the situation is like at hotels or ryokans, but I think we’ll try to do at least a day trip somewhere in the next month or two.
As expected, April ended up being pretty similar to March. At this rate, May will probably be identical to these two months but that will probably it. I think starting June, life will start to resemble pre-COVID-19 life once again.
While it seems like most cities in the rest of the world are taking serious measures to try to contain COVID-19, I wouldn’t be able to say the same thing about Tokyo. I’ve read stories of how even parks are taped off with police tape in certain cities in the US, but here parks are filled with kids running around and playing around with each other.
The general vibe I get from reading Reddit is that Tokyo tried hard to not have to postpone the Olympics. As a result, many things like schools were scheduled to re-open in April and carry on business as usual.
But now that they’re officially postponed until next year, I sure hope we get into some sort of lockdown here since the numbers here are looking worse by the day.
At the end of February, my school transitioned to just e-mail correspondence with our teachers. The initial plan was to resume classes after spring break, which ends next week. But according to our latest update, it looks like we’ll be transitioning to online classes until at least early May thankfully.
Ms. Kanto’s work also transitioned into “work from home” back at the end of February and right now, there are no updates on how long that will continue for.
Fortunately, this month at home turned into a good opportunity for me to get back into some good routines.
I started reading again.
Each of the last three years, I’ve averaged about 15 books per year but just couldn’t get into the swing of things this past January. Now that we’re spending almost every hour of every day inside, I’ve managed to get back a daily habit of reading.
Michelle Obama’s Becoming was the first novel I took on this year. I’m usually a fan of memoirs and biographies, and while I wouldn’t say it was one of my favourites, it was interesting to learn about life inside the White House.
I then picked up Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill which was incredibly hard to put down. I had no expectations going into the novel, having not even heard of it before, but it’s definitely one I would highly recommend.
Now I’m working my way through the Japanese version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I read the first novels of the series last year as a way to study Japanese, but each took over four months since I was a pretty slow reader and referenced the English version quite heavily. But now, I’m much more comfortable in Japanese, so I think I’ll be done around mid-April.
Now that it’s been starting to warm up, I had the chance to take out my bike on a few early morning rides.
Earlier this year, we moved closer to the Okutama Mountains and through some Google searches, I found 和田峠, a nearby hill that’s considered “the steepest hill in Tokyo.”
Let’s just say hill is an understatement. 😅 With its hairpin turns, it’s kicked my butt every time I’ve tried to ride up it. That said, it’s been a fun challenge, and my next goal is to make it to the top without stopping to catch my breath.
Now that we’re both home every day, Ms. Kanto and I have been going out for a walk around the neighbourhood every day after lunch.
We found a store nearby that has a pretty good selection of imported goods, and it even has gochujang, a Korean red chili paste, that I used to make a vegetarian bibimbap bento for us the other day.
We also took the opportunity to drive down to the Fuji Five Lakes.
Even though there’s no official lockdown in Tokyo, we’re avoiding all public transportation and minimizing the number of grocery trips we have to make. We brought a lunch that Ms. Kanto made which came in handy when we found a good parking spot.
To our surprise, we saw a few tourist groups either biking or walking around Lake Kawaguchi. We even saw some families, which bewildered me since now is not exactly the greatest time to be traveling abroad. 🤔
At Lake Motosu, seeing the dozens of tents along the lake led us to discuss where we want to travel next. Many months ago, we had talked about either going to Korea or 八丈島 for Golden Week but now the airport is one of the last places I think we want to go to. As a result, we may opt for another scenic drive around somewhere. 🙂
Spending in March
Now that we’re all settled into our new house, March was the first month where our utility bills came in so this month should be pretty representative of our expected spending for the remainder of the year.
Housing: Our first gas bill came in significantly higher than expected at ¥7138 (~$65) per person. We were a bit surprised by this, but after speaking to a customer service representative, we were told that this is within the normal range of what we should expect. We’re going to see what the next few months look like.
Phone: This was the most I’ve spent on my phone since September but I expected it. My current phone plan with IIJmio gets me 3GB for about $10 and I pay a set rate for every minute that I talk on the phone. I usually don’t talk at all on the phone but with our moving in February, I ended up making more phone calls than usual. I think it should be back down to normal next month.
Transportation: Since moving to Japan, I’ve been spending about ¥4000 (~$35) monthly on transportation, most of which would either be going out on weekends or running errands. But given the coronavirus situation, all errands have been within walking distance so it’s nice to see a zero in this category. 😚
Groceries: Since moving in together, my monthly grocery bill has dropped by ¥6,000 (~$55). I’m not sure if the reason is that we’re buying in bulk more often, or we have cheaper grocery stores around our new area, but no complaints from me. 😬
Eating Out: On our way back from the Fuji Five Lakes, we got stuck in a three-hour traffic jam so we opted for dinner at a new Indian restaurant we haven’t tried yet. The Indian restaurants close to where we used to live only had one or two options for us, but this one has half a dozen. 😋
Shopping: Three trips to the dollar store and one purchase of garbage & recycling bags, nothing exciting here. 😅
Medical & Dental: I had been putting off going to the dentist for close to a year now. When I lived in California, I would go as often as my insurance would cover (twice a year). But now in Japan, I put it off since I wasn’t the most confident in my Japanese. Fortunately, I found a local clinic that had a few high-quality reviews on Google and when I went, I didn’t have any issues communicating with the staff. I also got an unexpected bill for health insurance tax (民健康保険税) which led spending the most I’ve spent on medical and dental since moving here.
Fun: I think we did fairly well for a day’s worth of fun driving around the Fuji Five Lakes. A 20% discount at Toyota Rent a Car and packing our own food helped a bit. 🙂
With both of us staying at home for the indefinite future, I imagine April will end up very similar to March. Until then, stay safe. 😷