So, come into the house and turn left. Looking down the hall (with the stairs and bathroom behind you), you can see the door to the living room straight in front of you (complete with baby gate), the door into the utility room on the right and the door into the tatami room on the left.
Here's the tatami room, from the doorway. Traditionally, pretty much every room in a Japanese house was floored with these tatami mats, tightly woven rushes covering a thick core of rice straw. Light green when they are new, the mats gradually fade to a lovely golden colour. Nowadays a lot of new houses use no tatami at all, but we knew we definitely wanted a room like this. It can be a spare bedroom if you put down futons, a dining room around low tables, a train track room (see below), a place for a birthday party or a clothes swap party, somewhere to do yoga, or simply somewhere to dump stuff out of the reach of little monkeys.
The sliding doors on the right open into the living room, although we keep them closed nowadays to contain T. That chest of drawers in the corner belongs in the living room really, but baby K used to use it as a climbing frame so it got moved here for a while. Beyond the paper screens is the engawa, a wood-floored sunroom-type area looking out over the Japanese garden; lovely for sitting and having a cup of tea, or doing a bit of crochet with a baby.
From the chest of drawers, looking back towards the door, you can see the large closet for futons and the display area, currently bare. Set into the wall above the closet is a small Shinto shrine. A lot of Japanese homes have a small Buddhist shrine but a Shinto one is quite unusual. H comes from a long line of Shinto priests though, so this is what we have.
Another angle, revealing the bamboo xylophone from Tim, and the clothes horse in the engawa:
And the engawa again. Behind the floor chairs is another big cupboard. Apart from the walk-in closet in our room, and the shoe closet, most of our storage space is in this room.
The photos above were taken when Katherine came to stay, so we had tidied it up. Usually, it looks more like this:
Back to the hall, and into the living room:
The chest of drawers in the tatami room is supposed to be where the (toy!) Black and Decker workbench is. Well, it will be again in a year or so. The cupboard beneath the bay window is supposed to house photo albums but after an Unfortunate Incident involving baby K, it is now home to toys. More 'baby' toys are in a basket next to the TV and there's a mat for nappy-changing in front of the big window.
Standing in the same spot, turn to the right and look into the dining area. There are sliding glass doors which can be used the separate the living and dining areas, but they are usually left open. Almost out of shot, on the left, you can see the toy piano and a few other big toys kept behind the sofa. In the dining area there is H's computer desk in the far corner, the top shelf of which is one of the few places that T can't reach and is therefore piled sky-high with
The play-pen doesn't get a lot of use, but it is still good to have. I often pop T in there after meals while I clear up all the mess on the floor, without him spreading it further afield. The play-pen is big and full of toys and, for limited periods, T is quite happy there. Sometimes K asks to go in too, either to play with T or to escape from him...
Right, the next photo is from the TV corner, looking straight through. There's another glimpse of K's solar system mural, next to a painting he made of H, and another box of toys next to the sofa.
Now from the computer desk, looking towards the kitchen:
More space stuff on the wall there, more toys (and lots of books) on the shelves below the counter, and a baby fence to provide hurdling practice for adults. The counter is higher than is typical, at my request, in an attempt to hide some of the perpetual kitchen mess. At the far side of the kitchen you can see the door into the utility room, next to the covered-in-magnets-and-junk fridge.
The view of the kitchen from the baby fence:
By Japanese standards, this is a pretty big kitchen (6 tatami mats, if you're interested). The hob is between the windows and the microwave/oven is in the corner, in the centre of the photo. The sink and main work area faces the counter, so I can see what the little monkeys are up to, and the space between the microwave and the fridge mainly now functions as an Out Of The Reach Of T dumping ground.
Another angle, this time from near the utility room door. By now I just wanted to get these photos taken and done with, although you'd think I could have put away those dishes and empty milk cartons first. Oh well...
I forgot to take a picture from in front of the hob, looking back this way at the wall. So you'll just have to imagine it: a world map at K's eye-level, which he spends hours poring over, a wooden chair usually covered in bags and some shelves housing K's DVDs, baskets for the boys' clothes, various paperwork and Other Miscellaneous Junk.
Finally, if you're feeling brave, open the door into the utility room. I suppose, strictly speaking, it's not really a utility room since it doesn't have a sink, or the washing machine or anything like that. It's just a little room between the kitchen and the back door, but we have to call it something...
Despite the mess (which somehow looks even worse in a photo than it does in real life), it's actually reasonably organised in here. The grey shelf unit and the wooden desk next to it hold various files, recipe books, stationery, the nappy and wipes stock and Other Miscellaneous Junk. The pole up high is very useful for hanging laundry, and there's a child-sized coat stand that I use to hang all the bags for the various categories of rubbish and recycling. The door on the right leads back out into the hall, opposite the tatami room.
The big built-in cupboard is under the stairs (it's the other side of the cupboard in the toilet), which also explains that funny square jutting out in the ceiling. Can you see that the floor on the left side of the photo is lower than the rest? Hang on, have a look at the next picture...
The back door is, like the front door, at a lower level than the indoor floor. It's the place where you take off your shoes, and also leave any dirty, outdoorsy things. Not having a garage or a shed, we keep the barbecue, winter tyres and garden things here. To get a bit more space for those things, the under-stairs cupboard is at that level too. Also, when you step down to that level in the utility room, the space between the floor and the ground level is open, allowing us to store (not too big) things under the floor.
Finally, from the back door, looking back in:
There's the door to the kitchen, and the big metal shelf unit which is, again, a lot more organised than it looks. There's the old microwave (useful when the newer one is busy being an oven), the bread maker and the fish roaster; my collection of might-come-in-useful boxes and bags; plastic containers housing cleaning supplies; piles of paper and card awaiting recycling; the very important supply of breakfast cereals and, believe it or not, in this shelf at least, no miscellaneous junk!
So there you have it, the Monkey Magic house. Things have changed a bit now actually, since the boys have started sleeping together in what was the spare room, and since I've been doing Jo's course and getting things More Organised. Time to get the camera out again I suppose...