Simply Google “Japan” and colorful images of tall red pagodas, a snow-capped Mount Fuji and the iconic cityscape of Tokyo will pepper your screen. Without a doubt, these landmarks are as “Japanese” as you can get. But have you ever wondered what living in the areas untouched by tourists would be like?
Below are just a few of the many perks that come with Japanese country living.
An Interactive Time Capsule
Though Tokyo and Osaka are ultra-modern cities buzzing with life and movement, you will find that the countryside is much more laidback, with its landscapes frozen in the past. Sunbaked storefronts that have been left unmoved for decades and neighborhood temples tucked away in bands of tile-roofed homes are just a couple of the common landmarks that can be found.
Architecture isn’t the only enduring aspect of rural Japan. Unique festivals and traditions that have been celebrated for centuries are preserved in the depths of Japan. Festivals that celebrate belly buttons, bamboo battles, and penises are just a few of the one-of-a-kind celebrations that can only be experienced in the lesser-known parts of Japan.
Dialects, or hogen, are also well conserved in rural parts of Japan. With more and more young people moving to bigger cities, dialects are often ditched for hyojungo(標準語) or standard Japanese due to professionalism or even embarrassment. Much like other countries, many dialects have stereotypes associated with them – some of them more favorable than others. By speaking or knowing a few words from a specific dialect, most Japanese citizens can figure out where the speaker is from. Because each dialect is strongly associated with specific regions of Japan, being exposed to and learning a specific dialect not only startles locals, it earns you extra points with the locals.
Level Up Your Japanese
As previously mentioned, being able to speak and understand a Japanese dialect is extremely impressive and personal to the Japanese that live in the countryside. Japanese that is taught in the classroom is standard Japanese, with dialects getting very little to no time in an academic setting. Learning the local dialect will earn you respect and a different level of warmth, which is incredibly helpful if you find yourself living in rural Japan.
Another way living in the countryside of Japan will level up your Japanese is that English support and text is minimal. Aside from some advertising material and the occasional road sign, most information shared in public areas is in Japanese. Some apps like Google Translate can make things a little easier but they aren’t always correct. This circumstance has led to many rural-based ex-pats to excel in Japanese reading and comprehension.
Like most rural areas around the world, citizens of countryside towns and villages in Japan tend to have a long history with their community. Moving into an “everybody knows everybody” sphere can be intimidating, but a little bit of effort goes a long way. One piece of advice is to introduce yourself to your neighbors. Often times this is all that it takes to break the ice and allow the free flow of conversation. Come harvest season, it’s common to share fruits and vegetables with those around you so do not be alarmed if you come home to a doormat covered in produce.
A Local Celebrity
Piggybacking off of the last point, the likelihood of you being one of few, or perhaps the only, non-native Japanese resident is highly likely in rural Japan. This will make you somewhat of a local celebrity, which has its own set of pros and cons. The perks of being a local celebrity are that you will most likely run into someone that knows you wherever you go. Trips to the grocery store or neighborhood bar can turn into an exciting catch-up session with your landlord or coworker. Local festivals have another level of excitement when you’re invited to help with the festivities.
The downside of all this is that because you’re a bit of a novelty, all eyes are on you. If you aren’t kind to your neighbors or fail to follow community rules, the chances of you being ostracized are high. To avoid being the “infamous foreigner”, be sure to follow your neighborhood and town rules. Most of all, be kind and friendly to your neighbors. Word travels quickly in small communities!
Your Own World
Japan is a volcanic island, resulting in mountainous terrain that is difficult to navigate around. Building a transportation system around these craggy grounds is both time-consuming and expensive, resulting in little to no public transportation. If you are lucky enough to have a train station in your town, it’s not uncommon for trains to come only once every hour and ending their route before 10 pm. With Japan having the most punctual train systems in the world this may be hard to believe, but fewer and fewer people are living in the countryside of Japan, decreasing the demand for such services. Instead, you will find that having a car can be very helpful or even in some cases, unavoidable.
As mentioned before, rural towns tend to have tight communities. Becoming a part of it takes time! Until then, you may experience a sense of loneliness or misplacement. It’s very easy, and common, to get homesick while living in a community where everyone seems to be with family. Whether it’s from physical isolation or a sense of displacement in the community, many ex-pats experience a sense of isolation. However, with time and patience, things become more familiar and “home” like.
Language and Cultural Exchange
Living in a predominantly Japanese environment is a great way to become familiar with the Japanese language and culture. On the flip side, there are plenty of Japanese people who would love to learn more about your home country and language. Being asked to teach short English lessons or partake in a “culture swap” is very common in rural areas where English language schools are sparse. These experiences lead to so many unexpected adventures and lessons that are unavailable in a busy city setting.
Access to Japan’s Natural Beauty
One point that is not discussed enough is the accessibility to nature. Japan has thousands of beautiful hiking trails of all levels which can be finished off with a visit to a local onsen, or hot spring. Animals unique to Japan, like the famous “snow monkeys”, can also be found lounging about in unexpected places. In fact, many rural towns have an intercom system inside homes to warn citizens if a bear or wild boar has been spotted! In the countryside of Japan, you get to live inside of nature while being able to appreciate and familiarizing yourself with the animals and foliage.
One of a Kind Experience
You can read all of the articles online or listen to hundreds of personal testimonials, but no two Japanese country living experiences are the same. Deciding to move into a remote part of Japan is a courageous feat that comes with many obstacles, but it is an incredibly rewarding adventure.
Have you moved to the countryside of Japan? Are you thinking about making the big move? Tell us about your experience or thoughts in the comments below.