Meeting your neighbors can be an interesting experience. I’ve been lucky in that most of my fellow inhabitants of my apartment complexes are pretty nice, usually pretty quiet unless it’s the weekend, kind of people. When I lived in Itako, my neighbors close to me were very sweet, they brought me over to cook me dinner. The elderly couple spoke some English, and I exercised my basic Japanese with them.
The other neighbors across the way from me where a mother, father, and two sons. I taught the older boy at my junior high school, actually, and he was a good student. I spoke with the mother every once and a while, and she sometimes brought over some vegetables or some sweets if she had extra lying around. I always appreciated the little gestures.
I didn’t know it at the time, but in Japan new neighbors are supposed to give some small gifts to all their surrounding people. Usually it’s something useful, like tissues or say air fresheners, but I like to give snacks like miso crackers or something. Nobody expects you to break the bank, so cheap is fine. Usually, you have a note attached that introduces where you live in the apartment complex, who you are, and then you tag on a “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!” at the end of your note.
Over the years, I’ve had other neighbors, and I’ve given them gifts. In Machida, I had an old gentlemen who would practice his broken English with me. He’d also bring me gifts on certain days, and I’d always give him fruit or something in return. We had a long gift exchange thing right up until the day I moved out. Where I live now, I see my neighbors, but none of them seem interested in really getting to know me. They say good morning and good evening, but they all work and we’re all different ages. I doubt we’ll be close.
But anyways, I remember back when I lived in Itako that I wrote a post about neighbors in a bit more detail, but I ended up deleting it because I thought it was too boring. I wrote it all out, agonized over how to make it more interesting, and just gave up. I also feared someone reading it, because I felt I was too whiny about not feeling included enough.
See, I knew they might chit chat with me, or invite me over once in a blue moon for dinner, but I couldn’t be friends with them in the way Americans are used to being friends with people. My American friends didn’t even knock on my door half the time before they’d just waltz on into my house or room or whatever. I couldn’t do that in Itako, and it made me feel really isolated, knowing there was no one around whose door I could knock on to just go talk to.
Because of that complaint, which was much longer in the deleted version, I opted not to post it. I waited around until something interesting happened to post about. Well, be careful what you wish for, I guess.
The Other Kind of Neighbor
Posted on October 22, 2011
Most of my Japanese neighbors are pretty swell. The few times there’s been big earthquakes since I been here (meaning, the ones that just either keep going and going or the ones that actually make my stuff move around) we all run out to make sure everyone’s okay. When we’re all sure everyone’s alive, we proceed to go back to the tasks we were doing. A couple of my neighbors even invited me over for dinner and I had a good time.
Then, there’s the other kind of neighbor.
Meet Bob, everybody.
Spiders. I don’t particularly like them, but I don’t hate them either. However, I’ve got one small problem by the name of Bob. Bob is a spider. He’s apparently a pretty common Japanese spider that just likes to hang around, making webs, and helping to keep the evil mosquito population down. In other words, they’re my friendly neighborhood vampire killers, and I’m okay with letting them live.
I catch most spiders in my house and throw them outside. Usually, it’s not such a big deal. Also, they’re usually small enough that I can just scoop them up with a tissue and shake them out of said tissue. It’s quick, painless for both of us, and I get karma points for not killing a helpless creature.
But then, Bob happened.
I was minding my own business one morning. Coffee in hand, I moved into the living room to open the curtain. I like natural lighting. I can stand fluorescent just fine, but I don’t like it. I slid back the curtain to find Bob. At first, I thought he was inside my house. One heart attack later, I figure out that he’s just outside the window. I breathed a sigh of relief and then glared at him.
He sits in his web and just dares me to do something. I sigh and just walk over to pick up a book. I think I was reading “Memoirs of a Geisha” at the time. I did my best to just ignore him and go on with life. After a few days, I kept opening the curtains to find him in the same place. I took pictures and then went to Google to find out if I should worry. Luckily, Bob proved to be a pretty boring find.
He’s just a common spider called Yama Onigumo, which translates to “barn spider.” However, Bob’s big for his species. I measured him safely on the other side of the glass. He’s bigger than the average yama onigumo. I decided since he was sticking around and he wasn’t doing anything to bother me, I named him and started greeting him every morning.
We had a routine. I would wake up, eat breakfast, and then go open the curtains. He would scurry around on his web until he got to the middle. I would say, “Mornin’ Bob.” And then I’d either read a book or watch a movie. He wasn’t a bad cohabitant of the same approximate living space. He killed a good many bugs, and I saw that as keeping his keep. All was well.
One day I opened the curtain and Bob’s web was gone. I looked around for Bob, but he was nowhere to be seen. I surprised myself at how sad I felt. My eight legged little friend had gone and abandoned me. I continued on with my routine, but it didn’t feel right.
Later on that night, I saw Bob…in my apartment…making A GODDAMNED WEB OVER MY TV! I freaked out and screamed a little. I shouted, “Bob! You get down from there this instant!” Bob gave the equivalent of a spider giving me the finger. He proceeded to continue making his own mini-home in the corner where the walls meet the ceiling. I yelled out a few curses, felt violated beyond measure, and felt irrationally betrayed. At some point, I got around to grabbing a cup and a sheet of sketch paper.
The process of getting Bob down from the ceiling included me chasing the freaking spider along the walls. It would’ve been easier to kill him, but it felt wrong to kill him after I named him. I finally got him on the ceiling at a good place to slam the cup over him. I slid the paper, and Bob plopped into the glass.
I stared at him. He stared at me. I sighed. All the effort I’m going through to save him from a shoe and he just looked as content as ever. Jerk.
I walked over to the front door. Carefully, I set Bob near the stairs and said, “Okay, Bob. Stay out of my apartment.” I thought that was the end of it. Bob would scurry off into the night, and I’d never see him again.
The bastard made a web on my porch. He won’t leave. I’ve destroyed his webs several times, and even sprayed some bug spray around in the hopes of making him leave. All the other spiders got the hint and got the hell out of dodge. Bob just remade his webs and avoided the areas I’d sprayed.
After a certain point, I just gave up. I wasn’t going to kill him. I couldn’t do it. Stupid spider was determined to stay, and honestly he wasn’t inside my apartment. In my opinion, I have no right to kill him. He’s not bothering me. If his web strays just a little too much into the walk way, I just destroy it. Bob will have another one up before the sun rises.
I could complain, but oddly enough, Bob’s a part of my routine again. I find him comforting. The spider stands on constant guard for the other, more annoying, bugs. He even took down a cockroach once, which was pretty awesome. The cockroaches here are pretty big, and he made that one fly as far and fast as its wings could take it. I also take great pleasure in imagining a thief coming up the stairs, taking one look at Bob, and heading straight back down.
Every day, I walk up my steps and look up at Bob’s web. He’s usually just sitting in the middle, waiting for a meal. I nod my head and say, “Hey, Bob.” right before I enter my apartment. Bob doesn’t say anything back. I doubt he understands me, but I’m glad that he’s watching over me anyway. All in all, I guess Bob’s a pretty cool neighbor, even if he’s not human.
Yep, so that was the introduction of Bob the Spider. For weeks after that post, I can’t count how many times I got asked, “Is Bob still there? How’s he doing?” and such. People got just as attached to him as I did. I remember he stuck around way longer than most, he stayed on that porch right up until December, when it gets too cold for spiders to be out and about.
I wrote out that post and intended to get around to rewriting the neighbors one, but look how long that took! Five years later and I finally did it. I hope this one wasn’t too long with the story attached. See you all next Friday for another flashback!