Friday, July 15, 2005

Top of the Hill

I love roller coasters. Tokyo is pretty lacking for them, but there is a very nice amusement park down by Mt. Fuji called Fuji-Q Highland. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for this park because I saw it featured in a Jackie Chan film that I watched over and over before I ever set foot in Japan. When I got to Fuji-Q Highland in person for the first time, I had that sensation you might know, of "wow, this place really exists!" Coupled with a vague unease that bad guys in brightly colored ninja suits would be jumping out of the crowd to attack me at any moment.

Anyhow, Fuji-Q has a great rollercoaster, called Fujiyama. At the time of its construction, it had the tallest hill in the world (just over 80m, as I recall), the longest vertical drop in the world (about 78m) and steepest vertical drop in the world, listed in the Guinness book. It got beat out a year or two later, I think, but it's still a damn impressive coaster. You're on the chain track climbing that first hill... and climbing... and climbing.... and CLIMBING! I mean, the view of nearby Mount Fuji is gorgeous and distracts you for a few minutes, but then you start to realize you're getting pretty goddamn high up and shouldn't the top of that first hill be around here somewhere?

You reach the top of that first hill and the car seems to pause on the edge, then you drop. I remember that first drop. The statistics I had read in the line mentioned the steepest vertical drop record and put it at a 78.9 degree drop or something like that, but as I begin to fall it seemed like it had to be an 89.99 degree plummet. Or steeper. I love rollercoasters, keep in mind, but this was the first time I ever really felt, with that sudden cold icy stab in the gut, that goddamn, I could fucking die here.

Great roller coaster. Love it.

I've lived in Japan coming up on eight years now. When I got here, it was common knowledge that the only way that you could buy a house here as a foreigner was to marry a citizen and get your permanent residency status and then, maybe, if you were a good boy or girl, the banks might give you a home loan. If you were single and had a regular visa, no way.

This was how it was for many years, but over the last few years Japan seems to be finally coming to grips with the idea that foreigners live here too, we pay our taxes and spend money and bring in jobs. It used to be you had to go stand in line at immigration for half a day and fill out a stack of paperwork to renew your visa at least yearly. Sometimes every six months if they didn't quite trust you. Eventually someone somewhere must have figured out that the gaijin here with real jobs were not going to just disappear if they acted difficult about the whole thing, and that maybe paying their officeworkers to endlessly process over and over the same stack of forms once or twice a year was actually cutting in to the 7500yen they charged for the visa in the first place. Over the span of several years, it got easier to do the forms, they started giving out 3 year and then 5 year visas, and they opened up new branches of the immigration offices that were easy to get to, and efficient and well-staffed enough that if you got there at 9am you could be out in an hour, instead of having to line up at 6am to have any hopes of being finished before lunch. (How it was when I was here in my student years.)

Late last year, I thought to check if they had also loosened up the restrictions on granting home loans to foreigners. Sure enough, they assured me that as of a year or two ago, a couple of the big Japanese branches had begun to grant home loans to foreign residents in Japan who did not have permanent residency. Whoa! This was something new to think about. I'd lived 7 years in Tokyo making a very good salary but paying rent every month because I figured I just couldn't buy a place of my own. With the idea now in my head, I began to look at apartments for sale in the Tokyo. I figure I'm going to be here pretty longterm, so buying a place makes a lot more sense than paying rent.

So my girlfriend and I have been looking at apartments for a while now. It's been hard, harder than I expected. There are some nice buildings, but it seems like by the time we got to them most of the apartments are already sold. Sometimes I definitely got a cold shoulder for being an foreigner. And of course many times the apartments that look great on the web are not so great in person. Lots of highrise apartments here must be built next to train lines or major thoroughfares, so they can be noisy even with the best attempts at insulation.

But, we finally found a nice apartment in a nice part of Tokyo, which is being built up and renewed and becoming pretty popular. We lucked out - a guy had had to cancel his purchase because his job was moving him to another location, so his slot opened up only a few days before we came in. And it looked great, so I signed the papers and crossed my fingers. All that remained was finding out if the realtor could find a bank to give me a loan for the place.

One bank rejected me fairly quickly. The next hasn't come back yet. But on Thursday I found out that Shinsei bank has approved my loan and I am good to go. Oh my god, I am really buying property, committing myself to debt for the next 35 years.

That icy slushball is back in my stomach.


tempusmaster said...

Congratulations on getting approved for the loan. We just bought a house in Chiba and went through 5 different lenders before we found two that would finance us.

James said...

Belated thanks! Waiting for the face-to-face with the bank, but they've already opened an account for me and sent me an atm card and id code, so they must not have found any problems so far. Fingers crossed!