Nagoya, Japan

When I look out my window, I don’t see ancient Buddhist temples nestled in pine forests or geishas gliding past with luscious kimonos and ruby lips. Nor do I see a neon city of glimmering glass reflected from skyscrapers that block out entire neighborhoods. That’s not the Japan I see. Our four-story apartment (known as a “mansion” in Japan but hardly like its equivalent in English) is typical. These mansions are often given ostentatious names that seem to give the occupants some sort of noble status, but everyone knows that our building, known as Grand Maison, is not grand. Nearby Park Avenue looks more like a rundown psychiatric asylum, and Grace Ueda, across the street, has as much grace as a lump of coal. Our apartment is surrounded by other buildings, walled in on almost all four sides, and has just a sliver of a view onto a one-way road. On the south side, there’s a two-story house that reaches to the height of our balcony. In the summer when the old couple who owns the house opens all the windows and doors on the second floor, I can actually see straight through their home and into the windows of the facing apartment.

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