I’ll never forget the day of my interview to work in Japan. I was sitting outside waiting for my turn when an ex-ALT approached me. They said, “What if you get placed on an island?”
“Oh yeah, I heard about that. Chances are slim, though,” I replied. Island ALTs always felt like an urban legend before I came to Japan to teach English. You know they exist, but they are never you, right? So when it was confirmed my placement in Japan would be on an island, I imagined boats shipping me away to some deserted location.
I was used to city life in Osaka from when I studied abroad. I had no idea what to expect when Google Maps pulled up a picture of Awaji Island. But is being an island ALT really something to be that afraid of? Admittedly, it wasn’t, but my experience as an ALT is the epitome of: “I live and work where you vacation.”
Trading trains for cars
Japan is celebrated for its convenient and easily accessible public transportation. No matter where you want to go, there’s a train that will take you there—except on an island. On Awaji, you need a car or bike. Public transport on islands is nearly non-existent or too inconvenient to even bother with.
Buses are few and far between. Except if you want to get on a highway bus off the island. That’s one of the ironies of living on most islands: not much public transport to get around, but plenty to get on and off. Some islands don’t have a highway bridge that connects to the mainland. Luckily, Awaji happens to have the longest suspension bridge in Japan, so I get to skip the struggle of having to ship via boat or plane anytime I wish to travel.
I never pictured myself driving around Japan when I signed up to teach English. I barely ever drove in my home country! However, the fondest memories I will take away from living here are those picturesque, tranquil drives.
Windows down, the crisp breeze blowing through your hair, mountains to the left and ocean to the right. Add some good music, and there’s no way you’d want to sit on a crowded train again. Immediately roll up your window if you see a murder hornet, though. That’s a lot of nope.
From clubs to crickets
Something I loved about living in the city in Japan was the lively night scene. A night out consisting of booming music, flashing lights, and people flailing their arms around was a great way to relieve the week’s stress. But If you’re looking for a lively clubbing scene on an island, you’re in for an awkward moment.
If the music of singing frogs and cicadas with the flashing lights of fireflies is your jam, islands technically have clubs. Islands are more for nature activities like kayaking, snorkeling, and dancing in flower fields. But that doesn’t mean there’s no partying at all. It just comes in different forms.
Whether it’s beach barbecues with your friends, finding a local bar to chat up the ojisan (grandpas) in your area, or screaming your heart out at karaoke. Rest assured that Japan’s love for karaoke means you can find somewhere to scream no matter where you are. I mean sing.
Japan’s four seasons, all in summer
I’m probably not the first to tell you about Japan’s esteemed “four seasons,” where every season has something unique to offer. However, the island lifestyle often feels like it’s either 0 or 100 throughout the year. There’s not much to do for fall and winter, and it can be quite a bummer.
However, in the summer, Awaji is the spot everyone, and their grandmother wants to be. The island is almost unrecognizable as massive crowds pour in and constant activity is bustling, especially during summer festivals. Sitting on beautiful beaches, diving into gorgeous springs, and lighting up the sky with fireworks become a daily ritual for island residents.
The magic of living on an island during the summertime makes up for the lackluster colder months of the year.
When you’re out in public, you’re bound to run into a coworker, student or acquaintance.
I definitely lucked out and had some of the best years here. If I could say anything to myself five years ago when I got my placement email for teaching in Japan, I’d say, “It’s really not that bad, not at all. So stop whining, drama queen.” Well, maybe not that last part.
While I miss the anonymity of living in a big city, something is charming about knowing every soul you’re stuck with on an ocean-locked piece of land. When you’re out in public, you’re bound to run into a coworker, student or acquaintance.
You could say living on an island is a never-ending screenplay of that awkward interaction where you say goodbye to someone and then walk in the same direction after. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Have you ever lived on one of Japan’s islands? What was it like? Let us know in the comments!