The Japanese domestic space

Living with my grandparents in Japan could feel like my second home

Art by Ranuka Tandan.

Living with my grandparents in Japan could feel like my second home, although at times, I felt more like a voyeur. I’d watch, listen and absorb what happened in our home with an interest in domestic life that my family considered mundane.

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I was fascinated with every aspect of their daily routine – whether it be hanging the washing, preparing a meal or sorting the rubbish into foils, plastics and polystyrene. Reflecting on this, I’ve tried to understand what the source of this interest is.

I’ve decided that these sentiments are most likely affiliated with my biracial being. Despite speaking, listening and comprehending all that occurred around me, I never felt as though I was living as a Japanese person. Annual visits to my second home were not enough to help me assimilate into the Japanese lifestyle, and so I was stuck in an in-between space.

Over the Japanese winter last year, I documented these feelings of being a voyeur, navigating the space between belonging and longing in a domestic environment. These photos speak of the invisible and complex barriers I can’t seem to describe articulately in words.

1. 玄関 – Genkan

RMs – a hint of Australia my boyfriend brought with him, an imposter amongst the precise arrangement of Japanese shoes my obāchan spent every morning perfecting.

2. 料理 – Ryōri

Chaahan for lunch.

3. 昼寝 – Hirune

My ojīchan loves routine. Six o’clock, wake up, seven o’clock, breakfast, eight o’clock, morning walk, ten o’clock, read the paper, 12 o’clock, lunch time, one o’clock, nap time.

He goes for two walks a day, one from eight until ten in the morning and then another walk in the afternoon from two. He’s so stubborn about his routine that even when there were typhoons during the summer, he would still go for his walk, whilst my grandma shouted out the door, “idiot! You’ll get yourself killed!”

4. お茶 – Ocha

It’s rare to see my obāchan so calm. If she is, it’s most likely because my ojīchan has left the house. They’ve been married for over fifty years, where love equates to bickering and small acts of service. When I visit annually, she loves to sit down, pour me some tea and tell me stories from when she was young. I loved trawling through the many photo albums she kept in the oshiire, flicking through stunning photos of my obāchan in sleek looking western clothes during the 50s. She’d repeatedly tell me, “I didn’t always have such a big belly.”

8 家族 – Kazoku

I have three cousins, all of whom are the first generation to pursue further education. The eldest, Miyuki, pictured drinking beer, went to an arts college, specialising in music for two years, before marrying and having a child at 22. The second, Saeka (not pictured), went to university to study art history whilst the youngest (far left) went to an arts college to study voice acting. She’s now moved to Tokyo, claiming “If I don’t make it big in two months, I’ll come back.” It’s now been five months.

9 – 新聞 – Shinbun

Ten o’clock. Time to read the paper.

10 – 化粧 – Keshō

My obāchan made her face every morning, outing or not. She loves wearing bright colours, whether it be fuchsia, deep red or bright purple, despite my mum’s wishes for her to wear more “subtle” clothing. “Reds and pinks look good on me!” she’d exclaim.

11 – 近所の猫 – Kinjo no neko

Our neighbourhood, Minamimachi, Toyonaka, was one of the first to have apartment blocks built in Osaka. Now they’re stained grey from water residue and have cracks like veins that trail up the buildings from past earthquakes. They’re now in the process of demolishing the 32 identical apartment blocks.

12 – 洗濯 – Sentaku (washing)

The hues of peach and cream fabrics infused with the sweet scent of laundry detergent made the winter feel just a little warmer. Each morning I’d help my obāchan hang the washing. Her arthritic hands would tense up in the cold, but she never complained. “Hang the undies inside. There’s a few underwear thieves around here!” she’d tell me as we looked out over our second floor balcony.

13 –204番 – Nihyaku yon ban

My grandparents have lived in this apartment complex for over 50 years. Last year was the first time they ever had to move houses. We moved to number 204 which was the building just adjacent to us. The real estate agents had started moving the elderly out from the apartment complexes to demolish them and rebuild new ones, which the elderly would be moved back into. I asked my grandma how she felt about this,“I’ll probably be dead by the time they’re finished. I’m okay with that” she replied.

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