7 Things I Miss About Living in the Japanese Countryside
By Alex Sturmey
When I first came to Japan two years ago, I was placed in a small city in southern Ibaraki prefecture. Needless to say, before arriving I was pretty worried. After all, my only experience with the “countryside” (or “inaka”) had been a brief interaction with a cow in the summer of 1998.
Although when I was living there, I craved to see a building taller than two stories high, now that I’ve been living in Tokyo for just over a year, there are a lot of things about the countryside that I’ve really come to miss.
Except the centipedes and wasps. They can stay there.
The lack of queues
It’s not so much that I’m annoyed at the amount and duration of the queues (although they do warrant complaints) but rather that there are queues for everything. Random ramen shop: queue. Toilet: seven queues. Entrance to get into a festival: change your address and accept your new residency.
In the inaka, simply due to there being less people, queues aren’t really a thing.
When I first came to the city, the concept of chairs placed outside a restaurant for people to sit on was completely foreign to me. I assumed that every shop was just having a small yard sale and that Tokyo had an abundance of wooden chairs. The only queue I ever experienced in the countryside was when I was waiting for my bento to be warmed up.
Here’s my view from my old apartment in the inaka:
Not great, I know. In fact, it looks like the front cover from a National Geographic article about suspicious-looking buildings. However, sometimes the views could look like this:
Or even this:
That’s not to say that Tokyo isn’t without its special views. The Skytree at night, and the Sumida river in the spring have a certain magic to them.
However, they often can’t compare to what the countryside has to offer. I still miss looking over the horizon and seeing a sea of rice fields with blue mountains in the background. Now all I see is a sea of exhausted salarymen sitting outside the station waiting for the first train.
I’m not saying that Tokyo people aren’t kind. Nor is everyone in the countryside the pinnacle of good manners. It’s just that Tokyo people always give off that “grumpy because I’m busy” look. They’re always doing busy business things. You can tell by their business suit and how they’re always in a hurry for busy business meetings and busy businessy-business things. Did I say business enough?
Once you get past the stares from the people in the countryside, I’ve often found them to be extremely nice. I was once offered food and fruits when I first moved to the inaka by a random woman who knocked on my door. My only neighbour interaction that happens in Tokyo is an awkward hello in the elevator.
No crowded trains
Where do I even begin on this one? We’ve all been there – pressed so far into someone on the train you leave a face imprint on their suit so deep that archeologists will be studying it in a 1000 years.
In the countryside, I don’t think I ever saw more than two people on the train; one was the driver, and the other, my reflection. In Tokyo, the trains are eternally crowded. I’m convinced some people ride them non-stop all day, so they can pass down the legendary story of how they “got a seat” one day on the Yamanote line to their grandchildren.
In the countryside, I don’t think I ever saw more than two people on the train; one was the driver, and the other, my reflection.
Although the events in Tokyo are equal parts bombastic as they are beautiful, they lack the community vibe which countryside events had to offer. Several times, myself and friends were given opportunities to take center stage in helping with and performing at the festivals. You’re not really given that same chance in Tokyo. In the countryside, weeks before the event, the whole village was taken over with preparation as the whole community came together to make them extra special.
The rareness of vending machines
In Tokyo, every corner has at least 100 vending machines. They’re a common sight. However, in the inaka, you’re not saturated in their bright “BUY ME” light to such an extent. In fact, I think I only got to see one or two near our station.
I miss the magical moment that seeing a vending machine gave me. They were a rare treat to stumble upon. Their white glow piercing the night sky, beckoning you to witness what curious goodies they had inside. It was like spotting a rare animal on a moonlit plain. Now, they seem more like pigeons.
In the countryside, you’ll often find yourself being thrown into situations where you’ll have no choice but to speak Japanese. In Tokyo, I have a million different classes to pick from to learn Japanese; in the inaka there was none. I miss the challenge and the adventure of learning a language in its rawest form while living in the countryside. Plus, it was interesting to see if when I went to get a haircut I came out looking okay, or as a disheveled lego man. Usually, it was the latter.