Moving house in a pandemic: Meeting the neighbors and readying your child for their ‘playground debut’
Moving house during the pandemic didn’t seem that much harder than at any other time. We found a place, organized the move itself and are now living contently in a larger space.
When we were hunting for our new home, we had several criteria for judging potential neighborhoods and properties, most of them fashioned to the needs of our 6-year-old daughter, Hana. Our new place needed to be close to an elementary school that was not too big, not too small and not too scary. The surrounding streets could neither be totally deserted, nor as packed as central Shibuya.
We were also hoping for a reasonable number of biracial or non-Japanese kids in the area — if not for instant friendship, then at least so Hana wouldn’t stick out too much. We’ve all heard the Japanese proverb about what happens to a nail that sticks out, and we didn’t want the hammer to come down on our child.
We also didn’t want to be stacked into an apartment block with hundreds of tenants, like our previous place. Fewer families equals closer connections, or so we thought. At our former apartment, we were on “friendly nod” terms with two or three families but, after almost five years, I still didn’t have a clear picture of the guy living next door.
We achieved all the goals on our list at the new apartment. It’s in a Meguro Ward neighborhood that is less traveled, somewhat suburban but technically still central Tokyo. We’re in a building with about 15 other households. It’s too early to tell how deep the connections with our new neighbors will be, but at least we already know what their faces look like … above the masks, anyway.
Ringing a stranger’s doorbell just to introduce ourselves seems poor etiquette during a pandemic, so we put greeting cards announcing our arrival into everyone’s mailboxes instead. Some wrote back, others stopped for a socially distanced chat when we met on the stairs, and one lady brought us homemade cookies. We learned that another biracial boy lives on our very floor. He’s about Hana’s age, but he seems afraid of her — a situation we’re putting down to the gender politics of 6-year-olds and not the politics of ethnicity. She doesn’t speak much to him when they meet, but she speaks a lot about him when he’s not there. He may not know it yet, but this could be the start of something wonderful.
A major driver of forming social bonds is, of course, the local playground. (If you have kids, that is. Otherwise, steer clear of it.) We are lucky to have one of the city’s most happening playgrounds in our backyard. You might even say it is our backyard. The kōen debyū, the first day you enter your local playground with child in tow, has been a stressful event for many a Japanese parent. Will we fit in? Is our dress too fancy or too casual? Luckily, we had already been coming to this particular playground before we even thought of moving there. So, some of our new neighbors are actually old acquaintances, and our kōen debyū was more a case of hisashiburi (long time no see) than hajimemashite (nice to meet you).
So, it looks like the moving process is over and we can finally concentrate on building a home in our new community. The next major milestone? Getting to meet all our new friends with their masks off.
This is the final in a three-part series about moving house. Part 1 on looking for an apartment can be found here, while part 2 on packing can be found here. Andreas Neuenkirchen is a German novelist and essayist based in Tokyo.
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