Monday, November 10, 2008

Neighborhood meetings

I thought I'd write a little about my neighborhood though that means I'll be without pictures today.

One of the hardest things for me is to be part of a group and join in the group thinking and this is essential in Japanese culture. For one thing, I can never completely fit in. I am American, I always will be. I look American (well, I don't look pure Japanese) and think American and it doesn't matter how long I've lived here (31 years) or how good my Japanese is (fairly good), I will never be accepted as a Japanese. That is fine with me. I don't think of it as discrimination, just that I am the resident foreigner in the neighborhood. Another reason I don't like being part of a group is that I'm sort of a rebel anyway and don't like being told what I can and cannot do.

Our family moved to our neighborhood some 16 years ago. We had lived here and there in Japan and had finally been able to afford a house out in the country (land prices drop the farther one lives out). The area is basically farming and the families have been here for generations but there are a couple communities where people like us have moved into the area although they have no ties from generation to generation.

It seems simple enough. Move into a house that you like, greet your next door neighbors, start life. As family situations change, find a larger or smaller home that meets your needs and move away. Not so in Japan. True, for people who live in apartments or "mansions" as townhouses are called here, places of residence may change, but when a family buys a house or inherits a house from their parents, basically they are there to stay. The eldest son and his family will move into the parent's home. The house itself may be torn down and rebuilt to accommodate the larger family but the family rarely moves away. I'm not saying that people never move, but they certainly don't change homes with much frequency.

So, when Tetsu and I bought our house in our neighborhood, we were putting down roots and it was a life decision. I doubt very much that Takumi will ever come back (with or without his family) to live with us and one day we will probably sell our minuscule plot of land for a piddling and move into a convalescent home or something. Anyway, we are here to stay.

Joining a neighborhood first meant that we join the homeowners association and that was the first link to our new community. Each neighborhood (and farming community etc.) is guided by a homeowners association and our neighborhood is divided into 12 groups according to block. Each year we take turns being chairman of our block and in our case the turn comes around about ever 10 years. The year that I was chairman it was my job to go to each house on the block and collect homeowner fees (about $50 every three months) and pass out notices, newsletters, and general printed matter generated from the city hall. On occasion I was required to call each home and let people know of emergency matters such as deaths in the neighborhood, or a fire etc. Once every two months the 12 chair people and other neighborhood officials meet for a general meeting. And twice a year there is a general meeting to review the budget and plan or revise for the new year. There are also meetings before sports day, before summer festival, before New Year's celebrations.

I dislike any and all meetings but Tetsu doesn't have the time and he gets more annoyed than I do so it has always been my job to attend. I dislike all the newsletters and papers that have to passed out that it seems like no one reads anyway and in this busy age it seems to me that there must be an easier way to collect homeowners' dues rather than to spend at least a week going from house to house trying to catch people at home, collecting their dues, taking it to the treasurer getting a receipt that is turned in somewhere else etc. I'm not a big fan of the homeowners association but since we live here... we do what we have to do.

It doesn't sound so bad written down like that, but once we moved into the neighborhood we also had to be responsible homeowners and take an official position in the neighborhood politics. I've been the traffic and safety official for the past 4 years and so I have to attend all those meetings plus go to the homeowners meeting. There are at least 20 other positions that must be filled by homeowners and NO ONE wants to do any of them but they all must be filled so at the end of the year we all spend HOURS and HOURS trying to "trap" new people to take our positions.

Another group we had to join was of course PTA just because our kids went to the local schools and there were more groups and more positions that had to be filled. Okay. Fine. I did that off and on while the kids were in school and I'm sorry, I thought most of it was a waste of time. Besides that the neighborhood has a "Child raising association" which was different from PTA but we were required to join that group too as a member of the neighborhood. More meetings.

Let's see. Because we belong to the neighborhood we take our turn at garbage station cleaning and monitoring. We join in the community neighborhood cleanup days held three times a year (yesterday... Tetsu went out and cut grass and picked up trash for two hours) and we also have a small group that we belong to where people on our street take turns cleaning the gutters once a month that get filled with leaves and sludge. At least that doesn't have a meeting. We just get out there and sling mud.

A few more groups that we bow out from are the Women's Volleyball team, the Men's baseball team, the Older Women's association (they are trying to get me to join that group) and the Elder people's association.

I'm sorry, but it is enough to make me want to move out of the neighborhood and back into an apartment building. But where would my cats and dog go?


Anonymous said...

What happens if you don't participate? Do they fine you?

GARI said...

Oh, my. And why is it that you live in Japan? We live in the country in the US, on 5 acres where we can't see any of our neighbors. I already liked it that way but your blog has made me even more grateful for my very private homelife.

The Calico Quilter said...

Poor you! I can sympathize completely. The comment above said just what I was thinking: What is the worst that could happen if you don't play along? Ostracize you? Sue you?

And, if most Japanese men work the long hours they appear to, do all these committees and meetings and neighborhood jobs fall mostly to the women?

All this sound like torture to a non-group person like me. I live in fear of someone trying to start a Neighborhood Watch organization. Because I'm retired I would be fair game for all the drudge jobs.

Quilt Pixie said...

the benefits of living in a community ahve a definate cost! I must admit to prefering the individualism of north america, but maybe its just because I don't have an experience of other.... It is tru though that the individualism I live with has its own costs and benefits...

Anonymous said...

Do you have home owners taxes? We don't go out and do the trash stuff or cleanup because the town does it with our tax money. Sounds like we could do it cheaper if we could get the neighbors to work together--maybe that's an answer to some of our economic woes. BUT then someone else could loose their jobs.

No easy answers!

Pennie and David said...

Wow! this is absolutely fascinating! You have explained your meetings and committee's so well.
Sounds like it might have been a good idea many years ago but now???
Do you pay local Council Rates?
I sympathize with you totally... here are a few quotes that I've used during my meetings with Committees.
“A committee is a thing which takes a week to do what one good man can do in an hour.”
“To get something done a committee should consist of no more than three people, two of whom are absent.”
“If you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it.”

Amanda said...

Oh golly gosh, it all sounds so Japanese! It seems as if they like to live in each other's pockets. It wouldn't do for me at all, I'm a bit of a loner, and would find it very difficult to remain patient with all that time wasting.

Katie said...

I hear you. We chose our house partly because the HOA is non-functional and the covenants have expired. There is a general backlash against HOAs right now. People are bucking the rules that don't let them hang clothing out to dry, make them plant a certain kind of grass and stuff like that.

The Calico Cat said...

I dislike any and all meetings but Tetsu doesn't have the time and he gets more annoyed than I do so it has always been my job to attend. I dislike all the newsletters and papers that have to passed out

You sound just like me... Luckily we only have about a half a percent of "meetings" & those are purely voluntary... & I am lucky that my husband will be the "involved" one...

Shasta said...

Wow! I too am a nongroup person. I did join the PTA, and the neighborhood association, voluntarily. It does seem like only a few of the people do the work. It would be awful to drag the other people in, because they would slow things down and decrease morale. Maybe you shouldn't try so hard to fill some of those vacant positions - maybe some of them need to be eliminated.

BrendaLou said...

Tanya.....I know it's a pain. But I imagine if we in the US would agree to take care of ourselves instead of insisting the Government do it, we'd all be saving a ton in taxes to pay not only someone to do the jobs, but to oversee the people who do the jobs and to oversee the people who oversee the people who oversee. Now it costs about $500/hour to clean the gutters.....if people realized what THEY spent on jobs like this maybe we'd just do them ourselves.
I guess my politics are showing! oops

Mary said...

There's an association here at our townhouse community too and so far I haven't volunteered for any jobs - I'm definitely not a joiner. Luckily, I pay my monthly dues via online banking. Rather the neighbors doing the work...our dues pay for a service to do the gardening, remove snow, even change porch lights...Keith especially likes not having to be responsible for any of the outside upkeep and maintenance.