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Job Location: City Buzz vs Countryside Charm

Do you prefer the hustle and bustle of urban life, or are you more comfortable basking in the soothing tranquility of the countryside?

By 5 min read 2

In English teaching, and indeed many other industries in Japan, we often do not get to choose where we will be located. With this in mind, the working location can often play a key role in dictating which job offer we eventually take. Some prefer the hustle and bustle of urban daily life, others are more comfortable basking in the soothing tranquility of the countryside.

As someone who has worked both in the big city and in the rural heartlands of Japan, I thought I would offer my take on the debate. If you are currently weighing this particular conundrum, hopefully I can help you make an informed choice.

Bright Lights Big City

I was born in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city. For most of my adult life I have worked and lived in big cities. First it was Glasgow during my days as a newspaper copyboy, then Edinburgh during my university years. Since moving to Asia I have spent extended periods of time living and working in Osaka, Tokyo and Hong Kong. However, I am no stranger to rural life either, and I can certainly say that my 2 years in Okayama prefecture had their plus points too.

Whether you think it is a good thing or a bad thing, the increasing concentration of companies in urban areas in Japan is a matter of undeniable fact. Therefore, it comes down to a simple equation: urban living equals more and larger companies which offers far more opportunities for expansion and advancement in your career. This is why so many people from rural outposts all across Japan find themselves drawn to the bright lights of Tokyo, Osaka and the other urban hubs.

Convenience is also a major plus point of city living.

Indeed when I made the decision to return to Japan a little over 2 years ago, I chose Osaka, for one simple reason. I had an idea that I would not like the job I was getting into, and being in a big city would make finding another job far easier when the time came. It’s also worth pointing out that in industries outside of English teaching, salaries tend to be far higher if you work in one of the larger cities.

Convenience is also a major plus point of city living. Where I live now is by no means considered the city centre, but within my building there is a convenience store and two different restaurants. The train station is literally on my doorstep and gets me to the city centre in less than 20 minutes. This kind of convenience is something you simply cannot find in the countryside.

But of course there are downsides to city life too. Apartments are inevitably smaller, or in my case significantly more expensive than those in the countryside. Likewise trains and buses, whilst undoubtedly convenient are also cramped and overcrowded, especially in rush hour.

Pollution is also a major issue. Both Tokyo and Yokohama can, at times get very smoggy at the street level. Osaka has its unpleasant moments too, especially when amplified by the heat and humidity of summer. Still, Japan remains far better than the likes of Hong Kong, where 7,000 people per year die as a result of illnesses derived from the poor air quality.

The city can also be a pressure cooker environment for some. It is so busy, frenetically paced and at times overwhelming that stress and anxiety can also be major issues. In a country where suicide is a major cause of death in those under 50, it is worth noting that suicide rates do in general tend to be higher in cities than they are in rural areas of Japan.

A new job in the city often represents a first chance to strike out on your own for many young people in Japan. However, as I have highlighted, the city can at times be a lonely place, in spite of all the hustle and bustle. In smaller towns and villages across Japan, people still talk with their neighbours every day, and there is a sense of community that has long since vanished from the city.

Country Living

Countryside living has many benefits. Besides the fresh air, larger and cheaper apartments and strong community spirit, it can also be quite enlightening.

Certainly in my two years in rural Okayama, my Japanese level improved immensely. I also developed a greater appreciation for Japanese culture and customs as I adapted to what was a radically different environment from what I had previously known in Tokyo.

Going to local events and festivals, striking up conversations with people, engaging with the local community as much as I could, I gained a lot from my time there. However, I can’t deny that only having one train per hour and one bus every two hours to the nearest major town some 15 kilometers away was a major hassle, as was the lack of local leisure facilities.

Overall, I have to say that where I am now, Osaka, strikes the perfect balance. It is nowhere near as busy as the likes of Tokyo or Hong Kong, and as such my personal stress levels remain relatively low. However on the other hand it still has all of the amenities and social opportunities that Okayama lacked. Whilst I do miss some of those local festivals and customs in Okayama, Osaka has its own unique and distinctly charming character.

Overall, there are various pros and cons to both city life and rural life. I think my own view is something like this. If I were married and had a family, I would almost certainly prefer a more sedate, countryside existence. With is wide open green spaces, larger and inexpensive housing options and still plenty of opportunities for a teacher and writer such as myself, the countryside takes care of my every need.

However, as a single, and still relatively young man, I still find myself enamored with the city life. Osaka provides the perfect counterbalance to me. It is busy but not overly so. It has charm and character but never feels too alien. I am content here.

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