Crooked is still missing, it's been three weeks, and I had a dream last night that we found him. Waking up was disappointing.
We visited a real estate agent yesterday and she had a few properties that fit our criteria for location and budget, even if they were a little bit on the small side.
A note on that - whenever we said we were thinking about buying a house in Japan, people would mention, "houses in Japan are small." But nobody could explain what they meant. How small is small? Are we talking refrigerator box or a typical box house in Arlington? Bigger than a breadbox? Smaller than an elephant?
We haven't been inside any actual Japanese houses yet, so I can't comment intelligently (note how this won't stop me), but we've come to the conclusion that for two people with no ambition to multiply, small house by American standards doesn't necessarily equal undesirable. We're just outside Tokyo, for Pete's sake! Not exactly a rural area, and we're not looking for a place with a couple acres of yard and a picket fence. In addition, we haven't seen a lot of houses that weren't chock full of personality. They may not be as large as we're used to seeing, but they're a lot more interesting to look at. We're considering houses that are between 80 and 110 square meters, about 860 to 1180 square feet - larger than any apartment I've lived in, and within a 15-minute walk to a train station. We could certainly get them smaller ("breadbox" might actually be a good way to describe one or two houses we've walked by), but the larger end should be just fine for us.
At any rate, the real estate agent said she could introduce us to a bank that will lend to foreigners, even ones that haven't married a Japanese citizen (arranging that at this stage would be awkward) and she emailed us the application. Progress!
The other half-yay:
There are three writing systems used in Japanese: Kanji (Chinese characters with set meanings), Katakana (symbols used to represent newer concepts, like "telephone" and "computer," I think they're syllable-based, but don't quote me), and Hirigana (the closest equivalent to our alphabet, split into syllables like ka, ko, ki, ke, ku, ga, go, gi, ge, gu, etc.).
I've committed all the Hirigana characters to memory. Mostly. (Two Kana applications for the iPhone have been very helpful in addition to the memory drilling I did before I left.) I can identify them when I see them, but not necessarily reproduce them. So I can sort of sound them out if I'm trying to read an advertisement, but Hirigana characters are pretty well mixed in with the others, so it's fairly rare that I get a complete word or sentence. Essentially, my reading level can be described as "Hangman." But it's a start.
Bikkle comes from random streetside vending machines in a glass bottle (unusual), and has a pull-tab top. To be honest, I have absolutely no idea what Bikkle consists of as a beverage, even after drinking it. It could be fruit, it could be yogurt, it could be both, it could be neither. It's not my favorite drink, but it's not bad.
We explored a new area of Tokyo after visiting the realtor, and passed a vending machine with a soda that was packaged in such a way as to make me think of both disco and Jem and the Rockers. Unfortunately, that one was sold out, so I got this one instead. Chocolate-flavored soda.
It's about what you'd expect, or at least what I anticipated...more strange and interesting than good or bad.