City, or country? Which affords the better life? Josei Seven (Dec 2) takes up the ancient question – without answering it, for there is no final answer, but there are stark differences between the two environments, each nurturing, or stifling, inborn qualities in us. Some thrive in the city and wither in the country. Others find the city overwhelming. If opportunities abound in the city, so does crime. If warm and close personal ties characterize the country, so does narrowness of outlook and a sense of constantly being under surveillance.
Undoubtedly, Josei Seven says, the city offers places to go, people to meet, education options, career choices, potential marriage partners and so on that rural folk miss out on. The urban-rural gap fuels a worrying education gap in children. City kids study harder, attend more after-school juku classes, take more extra-curricular lessons, go to better universities and so on than their country cousins. Sociologists measure this in terms of “socio-economic status” (SES). It percolates down the generations. Children of parents with low education tend themselves to be under-educated in terms of the qualifications today’s job market demands.
Online classes are said to be a great equalizer in that regard, but it’s not really so, the magazine hears from expert sources. The pressure in the country simply isn’t intense enough to drive kids to study online.
As with school, so also with social life. Urban kids “network” more than rural kids, producing what’s called a “network gap.” The internet and its networks are open to all, but it’s the urbanites who largely flock to them.
So every family with kids should move to the city, right? Lots of families think so, and many actually do – with mixed results. Take crime, for instance. Consider these extreme statistics: in Osaka, Japan’s most crime-ridden city, one person in 129 on average is a crime victim. In rural Iwate Prefecture, one person in 484 is.
Crime thrives on and hides in urban anonymity. Anonymity is a subject in itself. It has its advantages. The individual is left alone, free to live as he or she pleases, no one disapproving. On the other hand, living as a stranger among neighbors can be chilling. Friends are easy to meet but as easily lost. Rural ties tend to be deeper and firmer but also more clinging. It’s a toss-up. Mutual support is a characteristic small-town feature – and a characteristic big-city absence. There’s good and bad in each. Knowing no one in your neighborhood is isolating but liberating. Knowing everyone is comforting but confining, leading also to an instinctive suspicion of outsiders that may not be conducive to growth of character.
Meet Shichie Takeda. Born in rural Ehime Prefecture, she moved to Osaka at 20, and moved back at 23. She’s 65 now, still in Ehime, running a minshuku whose guests get a chance to experience farm work.
Three years in the city were enough. It wasn’t her kind of place. She “u-turned,” went back. Soon afterwards she met her husband-to-be, Tatsuya, another u-turnee.
Education gap? “Country life is itself an education,” Tatsuya tells Josei Seven. The local schools are less elite but more accessible and less pressured – “you don’t have to spend your life fretting over your children’s academic standing.” Instead of entertainment – nature.
Which is better? Impossible to say. The real question is, Which is better for you? And only you can answer it.© Japan Today