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Meeting the neighbours

In Japan most toilets have a little sink on the top of the water tank for washing your hands when you flush. The water then goes into the tank. It’s a great way of saving water, and, it turns out, it is also a good way to get to know the family living below you.

I live on the fifth floor of a block of flats in a growing area of Yokohama. It’s pretty much me and 24 young families. I’ve introduced myself to the families on my floor but had only exchanged “good morning/evening” with those living on the floor below me. I had thought about doing something, like baking cookies, to introduce myself. But, you know how it is, you leave that for too long and it becomes increasingly odd to do so.

Then I flooded my toilet.

I had decided for some reason that I should decorate my sink thing with some coloured rocks. It seemed like a good idea at the time. In hindsight—ah, hindsight—I was setting myself up for what happened.

What happened was one of the rocks blocked the sink, which was a problem for two reasons:

  1. The water tank didn’t fill up, meaning the tap kept flowing until the sink overflowed.
  2. I didn’t notice this until the water flowed into my hallway and then into my kitchen.

I dropkicked my internet router out of the way just in time and then went about the business of stopping the flood of water. A few minutes later and all was well with the world once more.

I headed out for the day, secure in the knowledge that nobody would ever know of my folly and the near disaster it caused.

Arriving home at the end of the day I found a card stuck in my post box, asking me to ring the landlord. Water had leaked through to the family below. It sounded like there wasn’t serious damage done, but he advised me to go and talk to them.

And so it was that I did my most awkward self-introduction ever. “Hi, I live above you. Sorry for leaking water into your house. Oh, your grandma was in the toilet at the time? Ah . . . yeah . . . so . . . erm, nice to meet you.”

In the end though, we had a nice chat. We went through the standard round of questions: how long I’d lived in Japan, did I like the food, etc. They introduced me to their young daughter who is just starting to learn English. They told me that they had been trying to work out where I was from, because I “don’t look American” (I’m English). I wouldn’t say we’ve become friends. But I think we’re cool about the water leak, and it’s safe to say the ice has been well and truly broken.

Yup, sometimes you get to know folk through carefully organising events and prayerfully inviting people. And sometimes you flood your flat and have to apologise to the people living below you. But it’s a great relief to know that God is with us through all our interactions, even the unexpected and unintended ones, to help us build bridges in our neighbourhoods.

By Levi Booth

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