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IKEA Blues

Ikea opened its seventh Japanese outlet in the suburbs of Fukuoka on April 11th.

The opening couldn’t have come at a better time. With my wife pregnant again, we needed to do a major spring-cleaning of our flat which necessitated buying new shelves and cabinets and organizing all of the junk that had accumulated since the birth of our first child.

So, early last Wednesday morning we drove out to Shingu.

The idea was to get there before the shop opened and avoid the crowds. Unfortunately, it seems everyone had the very same idea.

Although the line of people snaking around the entrance of IKEA was reminiscent of the queues in front of E-ticket rides at Disneyland[1], it moved along quickly enough and we could find the things we wanted without too much trouble.

Why they even had kids for ridiculously low prices.[2]

Where the hell's my crap!


Anyways, everything was fine until I got home and tried to put the shelves together.

I should note that IKEA does a remarkable job of designing their products and instructions in such a way that even the most unexperienced of DIYers can still hack it if they follow those instructions carefully. There is also a reason to the madness. Regrettably, it only started to make sense by the time I was on my third piece. Namely: before doing anything, open every thing up and line the pieces up. Make sure you have all your screws and pins separated so that you don’t make the easy mistake of grabbing the wrong ones. Do this first and you’ll save yourself a lot of grief. Trust me.

Not listening to my own advice, I pulled out the wrong screw and tried my damnedest to screw it in, but the little bastard wouldn’t fit into the hole. So, I took a hammer to it and gave it a few good whacks. Still no good. Looking at the instructions again, I realized I had the wrong screw. Trying the correct screw, I encountered a new problem: having tried to drive the larger screw into the hole with a hammer, the hole was now too loose to hold the smaller screw. Lucky for me, it wasn’t in a crucial spot, so I soldiered on and completed the first cabinet.

It was about nine-thirty in the evening when I started on the third piece, a cabinet I intended to use for my son’s toys and books. A few minutes later, the cops came.

I don’t care much for the police anywhere, but Japanese police are deserving of more derision than most. I find them only slightly more useful to society than Japanese university professors.

The police told me that someone in the building had complained that I was making too much noise.


I live in Daimyô, Party Central of Fukuoka City. What’s more, it was in the middle of Golden Week and the drunks are out en masse causing all kinds of hell and I was the one making too much noise? Moi?

What really galled me was that it was around nine forty-five when the two police officers came meaning that the complaint had probably been called in around nine. Japanese police are not known for making haste. A call comes in and they finish drinking their green tea or filling in their Sudoku before getting off their arses and heading out of the police box.

The only people who go to bed this early are the Hashimotos, an elderly couple down the hall and my son. It was because my son was sleeping that I was putting the cabinets and shelves together in the common hallway of my apartment building. It was also my desire not to disturb my son’s sleep that I was trying to keep the noise at a minimum. No matter, the police were now here and telling me to finish up tomorrow.

I told them I would and started packing my things up. They wanted to know my particulars of course, which only infuriated me more.

All I could think about was who had made the call. Was it the Hashimotos? Was it the retired teacher downstairs? Or was it the “Kurêmah[3] on the sixth floor? He’d been giving everyone a lot of grief lately.

Whoever it was, he or she had now made me suspicious and resentful of all of my neighbors.

I’ve been living in the building for over fifteen years for chrissakes. How about sticking your goddamn head out the door and telling me to my face to quit making such a racket? My god, what kind of coward goes and calls the cops?


Listen: several months ago, my next-door neighbor was having a party in his flat. It was well past eleven thirty and my son was asleep, the tatami floor below us was vibrating wildly with the deep hum of his woofers.

So, what did I do? Did I call the cops? Hell no. I went next door and knocked a few times. No answer. I knocked on the door a few more times. Still no answer. When my third try was ignored, I opened the door and let myself in. My neighbor drinking wine with some friends and couldn’t have been happier to see me.

“Come in! Come in!” he boomed.

“It’s the music . . .”

“Sit down! Have a drink!”

“I will. I will. It’s just the music is a little loud and . . .”

“Sorry about that,” he said and started pouring me a glass of wine. “You like wine?”

“I prefer shôchû.”

“Sorry, no shôchû,” he said. “You want some yaki-niku?”

“I . . . Well . . . Sure, why not.”

I went over to his computer, a Mac like my own, and turned the music down, then opened up the equalizer and lowered the bass.

“That’s more like it,” I said, sitting down at the table. I would end up staying until four the next morning.

We became fast friends after that little episode and now go sailing together sometimes. Imagine what would have happened if I had called the cops?


A friend mentioned that I was lucky that it was only the police. Why, he said, a person was just stabbed to death last night by a neighbor who was tired of the noise.

That unfortunate incident highlights some of the defects in the Japanese character.

The first one is putting up with something so long that it drives you over the edge. This is not healthy. A small confrontation early on--hey, could you cut the racket--would have solved the problem lickety-split. The other defect is the unwillingness to confront others, causing people to put up with an annoyance until it drives them over the edge.

So, the police left and I schlepped everything into dining room where I finished putting the shelf together. In the end, I must say it looked pretty good.


Finally, I think there’s one caveat IKEA should include in its instructions: refrain from assembling this in front of young children. My two-year-old son ended up learning the F-word thanks to IKEA.


[1] I think I may have just dated myself there.

[2] Some assembly required. Batteries not included.

[3] クレーマー (Kurêmah) is someone who is a serial complainer and trouble maker.


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Reader Comments (2)

"...putting up with something so long that it drives you over the edge."

One conference weekend, I was sharing a nightcap in the hotel room with a couple of fellow teachers, and one of them had a voice that carries. We asked him a few times to keep it down, but he had some trouble dropping his "classroom voice." Then the man in the neighboring room began pounding on the wall, a rapid "bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam." If he'd given a light knock an hour earlier, we would've broken up the gathering and let him get his sleep. But instead, he lay there seething, letting it build up (as you described) until his cork just popped. By then, though, I was a bit drunker, so before I went to sleep, I snuck quietly out of my room, and on my neighbor's door handle, I hung the "Please clean this room now" door hanger.

May 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBill


May 8, 2012 | Registered CommenterAonghas Crowe

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