Floor Master of the Clipboard

Before I bought an apartment in Japan, I did not know of all the very important tasks that would descend upon me as one of the apartment owners in our building. After I had to serve as a house-committee-member right in my first year of residence due to regular rotation of the task among the 62 parties in the building, I had thought I’d be spared any bureaucratic nightmares for a few years, but far from it 😉 Since 1st of April, I am the master of the clipboard for my floor for a year until end of March 2020. What does a clipboard master have to do? The lady, who is the clipboard master of the whole building, is putting information from our ward office and other xyz community announcements into my post box when she gets something new. Next, I have to put it into a (provided) clipboard together with a piece of paper, where all parties on my floor have to put their stamps on as proof that they have “read/acknowledged” the contents. (In Japan, people use stamps/seals of their names instead of signatures). So what happens is that you put the clipboard in front of the door of the next person and the last one is supposed to return the clipboard to me. I have to keep it and repeat the procedure when the next information comes. So far so good. But, when I got the latest stack of paper there was something else in my post box too. The request to go around and collect 100 yen per apartment for the Red Cross. Hya! I experienced the thing the other way round of course, a neighbor coming and asking me for the donation. It happens about three or four times a year, for the Red Cross, and two or three other welfare oriented NPOs. Nobody told me it would also be my job as the clipboard master to go around and collect that money.

For a moment I was less than enthused, thinking I have no time for this, but then I persuaded myself that it was actually interesting. I know some of my neighbors, but by far not all and it would be kind of interesting to see who lives where and how they react to a foreigner collecting that stuff. So I ventured out on a Sunday evening before dinnertime and knocked on every of the ten doors assigned to me. Eight answered and handed over that 100 yen, all being very polite about it and saying the standard greeting for hard work done. Since I presumed the lady who is the clipboard master of the whole building at the moment was collecting the money, I went by her place last and she was quite enthusiastic that I had done my job. I asked her what about the two parties that did not answer and she shrugged and said forget it. She then sent me though to another lady who is the collector of the money. There the same show of politeness and bowing all around.
The thing is – had I gone complaining to the clipboard master of the house, she probably would have insisted that I collect from everyone, but since I was pro-active, shut up and did my job, I am released of the duty to try to catch the last two parties. Another observation is, such tasks are solely performed by women. In the two and a half years that I live at the place, not a single man has come around to collect the Red Cross or other donations. Who answered the door were solely the housewives or adult daughters. Still so much Japanese tradition: house /community = women’s job. Well then, I shall go collecting that 100 yen another two or three times and send the clipboard around every month until my term of duty ends.

The House Committee

Last year November, I moved into an apartment building (buying the unit, or rather having the bank buy it and paying back now for forever). The building has 65 apartments on 7 floors. There is a house committee whose reports I’ve been getting and suddenly, I get a paper with my name on it, being the vice whatever chairman of the committee and an invitation for the committee meeting, which happened on the 20th of March. I thought I better show up there when my name is on it and it’s good that I went.
Japanese community overdose 😉

I entered the community room of the house a bit late due to work and found some fifteen people gathered and an old man greeting me with the words. “Oh, gaijin da.” “Oops, a foreigner!”
I bulged into the room during a presentation of a guy from Panasonic who was introducing a new interphone system to us. That presentation was Japanese sales-men-of-the-old-sort style, he had a demonstration machine with him and reminded me strongly of movies from the seventies with vacuum cleaner flying sales men in it. Next up was his competitor. A not so well known company called Aiphone, in existence for sixty years, the sales dude said, and not to be confused with any iPhones.
The apartment owners are employing an administrative company who is sending a guard man there five days a week, usually old gentlemen who perform this not too tough after retirement job to get some money. There was a younger guy from the company there though, who functioned as the chairman of the meeting. He made us vote on the spot for either Aiphone or Panasonic, shushing the sales guys out. (Aiphone won, in the style of: Chairman: Aiphone is OK, isn’t it, right? Right? – Maybe he’s got a deal with the company ;-))
Next, administration chairman ran through the year-end-report of 2016 in magnificent speed, rattling down numbers and items that even the Japanese had trouble to follow.
Last but not least the agenda point came up of who will be on the house committee for 2017 and I finally got a word in, introducing myself and asking what this was about, citing that I’ll be too busy attending every meeting due to work and the occasional overseas business trip, which brought one of the housewives to say to her neighbor, “ehhh overseas business trips….” Seems that was something she has not been confronted with yet. The administration guy and the former committee boss reassured me that it’s not such a big job and if I’m not there I’m not there, but I should try to come to the committee meetings.

The committee membership is rotating through the building and it’s coincidence that my floor half’s turn is 2017. The next turn of half of the floor I’m on will be ten years down the road. They didn’t give me any sort of choice to bail out of the “job”.
That clarified they went through some other agenda points, one of them being that ours is a pets-are-not-allowed building but nevertheless several people do have small dogs (maybe cats too, I didn’t get that part). Then they started ganging up on one of the apartment owners in floor 5. The people in apartment 5xx ignore the rules! They don’t answer to inquiries (we had a “do you have a pet questionnaire” going around a few weeks earlier). They never show up to the committee meetings! His neighbor said he had “reached the limit of patience” with the unit and asked the administration guy to talk to them.
Woah, they need serious conflict management 😉 Now I’m interested in the people who live in unit 5xx 😉 non-conform Japanese, sticking out of the crowd! 😉

The whole meeting took a ridiculous three hours, well, one and a half of them were from the interphone sales guys. I will have some fun with that committee in the future. But all in all it didn’t look like they’d gang up on me, despite me being the only foreigner in the building 😉 But whew, time stands still here and we are still in the Showa era 😉 All in all it’s good that I went there. So far I was greeted on the corridor either not at all or apprehensively. Throughout the week I met one of the committee members and now I’m being greeted with a friendly, loud voice. Let’s hope that lasts 😉