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Life out of Tokyo becoming more appealing

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Tokyo is losing its appeal for some yearning for a less stress-free life. Photo: REUTERS

You don’t have to live in Tokyo.

 That seems too obvious to require emphasizing, but demography suggests it may not be. From the way Tokyo gains population and the rest of Japan loses it, you’d almost think Tokyo was the only place in Japan worth living in.

People are starting to discover otherwise, however, says Josei Seven (July 25). It’s a slow but sure process, spurred by various factors ranging from a growing exhaustion with the congested, hyper-competitive Tokyo lifestyle to the liberation from physical space made possible by virtual space – the internet.

For now, Tokyo remains the center that sucks the life out of the periphery. Its population grew in 2018 by almost 140,000 – the 23rd consecutive annual increase – while 72 percent of Japan’s other municipal jurisdictions declined. One might conclude from that – wrongly, says Josei Seven – that a government initiative begun in 2014 aimed at reversing the Tokyo-bound flow has been a failure. The initiative includes funding and tax breaks for entrepreneurs starting new businesses, and families raising children, in the hinterland. Results are visible. But it’s a slow process.

The Tokyo-based NPO Kaiki Shien Center, which supports migration to local regions, tells the story in numbers. In 2008, says director Ko Takahashi, the center fielded 2475 inquiries; in 2018, 41,518 – a 20-fold increase. Ten years ago, 70 percent of inquiries were from people over 50 thinking about retirement; now, 70 percent are from people aged 20 to 50 and thinking about working. The former image of the countryside was romantic: gardening on sunny days, reading when it rained, surrounded by nature, dining on the fruits of the earth, and so on. Now it’s more likely to be about building a first life rather than a second one.

In 2014, Josei Seven says, citing Meiji University research, 11,735 individuals left Tokyo for the regions – four times the 2009 figure.

“U-turners,” they’re called, suggesting life going back where it came from – the countryside. Let’s meet one of them. Tomi Kawasaki, 39,  worked in retailing in Tokyo. It was interesting work and it paid well, but constantly running against the clock, meeting quotas and deadlines, was making her ill. She wasn’t sleeping, she felt rundown all the time; she began wondering whether there were ways of making a living that didn’t destroy you in the process.

In 2016 she made her move – to rural Tottori Prefecture. The local government runs an Abandoned House Bank. Abandoned houses abound in the country. The occupants die or move away, there are no heirs to take them over, and they just sit there. The one that drew Kawasaki had nine rooms; the bank was offering it for 30,000 yen a month. Why not? she thought. She didn’t need nine rooms, but the excess space did no harm. She’d always been interested in product design. She could launch her own freelance business, working from home.

Settled, she decided, after due deliberation. She earns significantly less than she did in Tokyo, but then again she spends a lot less. The main thing is, she’s a lot happier.

 From the southwest, Josei Seven takes us northeast – to the central Hokkaido village of Higashigawa. Its population in 1993 was 6,000; now it’s 8,300 – a startling increase amid overall decline. More than half the population is comprised of newcomers. Three hundred of them are foreigners – students at Japan’s first rural Japanese language school, founded in 2015. The rest are people like Hiroshi and Nao Sekima, 44 and 36 respectively.

Eight years ago the couple had been scrounging for a living in Kanagawa Prefecture, scrambling to raise a family on part-time work. It wasn’t working. Their eldest child happened to be allergic to wheat flower, which got them thinking: Why not open a restaurant that specialized in cooking free of that ingredient? Curry, for instance.

Maybe the idea never would have got off the ground if not for the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011. Catastrophes set people in motion. They found Higashigawa on the net, fell in love with the place, and off they went. Their restaurant is a success. Tourists especially like a certain quality it has, best describable as exotic

© Japan Today

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20 Comments
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Of course life out of Tokyo will become more appealing, it's capacity is slowly being reached with no signs of slowing down.

Maybe this will convince the government to finally invest in promoting and creating possibilities for life outside of the big cities and spread out the population more evenly to rejuvenate the abandoned countryside.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I know corporate Japanese culture is a massive barrier but teleworking need to be promoted for office workers. It can from home or from satellite offices for big corporations to keep this critical sense of belonging. It might be a long journey but worth to try.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

There would be many Japanese wives who would have serious problem if hubby was at home all day teleworking. The divorce rates will increase.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

There would be many Japanese wives who would have serious problem if hubby was at home all day teleworking. The divorce rates will increase.

Why do you think that would be a problem ?

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Why do you think that would be a problem ?

Many marriage survive the test of time because the husband is not at home all the day. Many marriages have problems when the husband retires and the wife just isn't accustomed to having him home all day.

The divorce rate increased a few years ago when the law was changed entitling wives to 50% of husbands pension even with divorce.

My Japanese wife and I have been together 24/7 for more than 25 years. Think we have only been away from each other for about one month when I was in hospital.

Many Japanese wives enjoy their personal freedoms which they would lose with hubby at home.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

My Japanese wife and I work at home all the time and never had any problems although you are right that it will require some adjusting in the beginning if you are not accustomed to the culture of working at home.

Maybe in some relationships teleworking would indeed cause serious problems but then there would already have been and underlying problem in the relationship such as not respecting ones freedom.

On top of that nowadays most Japanese wives do work themselves anyway so it would not be like both partners would be home at the same moment all the time which in itself doesn't need to pose a problem like your own personal situation clearly demonstrates.

I personally think the majority of the relationships will be fine and working at home gives many advantages of which some are even beneficial for the relationship.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Personally, Japan's suburbs and exurbs are neither very appealing, so I prefer being in the city, be it Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto or Sapporo. There are exceptions, of course, Karuizawa for one. But then it's a resort area. Otherwise, it just seems that rural towns or suburban areas with any charm, for lack of a better word, are rare.

zichiJuly 23  10:48 pm JST Why do you think that would be a problem ? Many Japanese wives enjoy their personal freedoms which they would lose with hubby at home.

First, this doesn't have to change. Second, if it did and the wife doesn't want to be around her husband that much, then the marriage was probably a mistake to begin with.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Tottori Prefecture. The local government runs an Abandoned House Bank. Abandoned houses abound in the country.

Interesting. I've been thinking about buying a cheap house in Shimane someday, maybe the local government is doing the same thing.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Since last year the prefectures started a program for a bank of empty properties for rent or sale in them. Can be found on their websites.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Japanese people believe so many myths. One of them is that Tokyo is convenient. It is not.

It is not easy to find good fresh vegetables in Tokyo. By the time they are wrapped in plastic and delivered to a supermarket they are not fresh. In the country I can buy really fresh vegetables at a 100 yen shop by the side of the road, unattended, just leave your 100 yens in a box. Sometimes a local farmer sees me and knows what I want. He then picks it for me. You can't get that service in Tokyo.

Looking for a coffee shop? They are never full in the countryside and the tables are never undersized?

Transportation? Well, everyone drives, which is much more comfortable and convenient than trains, never overcrowded and always a seat. Why don't people drive everywhere when they live in Tokyo? For them it is both inconvenient and expensive.

Shopping? There are good cheap supermarkets, even basics like milk and eggs are much cheaper, and you can park free of charge.

Housing? Live in a real house with a garden instead of an overpriced "mansion". Overpriced if you rent, overpriced if you buy.

Shopping? Yes, there are shops and large cheap shops, too, within a short drive. How long does it take someone in Tokyo to get to the nearest BIC? Like Tokyo people, people living in the country often find it more convenient to shop online.

Life in the countryside is better.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

I've lived in inaka for about twenty years. There are minuses, community commitments and I think some of neighbours spy on us, but I really like it. So much more space to do things. Though people claim inaka is the "real Japan", its actually easier to have a European style life. To have a big home, to have a garden, to keep pets, to do outdoor things, to drive on something approaching "the open road", etc.

I think zichi is onto something in that the Japanese home is the wife's domain, not the husband's castle. One reason why so many Japanese men work away from home (tanshin funin) is that their wives don't complain. Many wives actually prefer their husband out of the way. I saw a news feature once that showed young husbands secretly hanging out in an Internet cafe after work. They did this so they could pretend to be doing overtime. These were perfectly pleasant, well dressed and well spoken young men, not patriarchal old farts, but they said they didn't feel comfortable going back to their own home. I work at home myself and do not suffer this situation, but it is clear to me that others do in Japan.

https://matome.naver.jp/odai/2147597762326639501?&page=1

That's simply not wanting to go home after work. Working at home would be a whole extra step.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I saw a news feature once that showed young husbands secretly hanging out in an Internet cafe after work. They did this so they could pretend to be doing overtime. These were perfectly pleasant, well dressed and well spoken young men, not patriarchal old farts, but they said they didn't feel comfortable going back to their own home....

That's simply not wanting to go home after work.

That's insane. If someone is that uncomfortable in their own home, something is seriously wrong.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Only lived in Tokyo for six months out of the last 25 years. I don't I've visited there for more than 10 years.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I’ve lived in Tokyo suburbs, and real inaka. Pros, cons to both. Think I take inaka.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Lived in Tokyo for a decade, left for Kansai, that's when I realized I never knew like 90% of Japan.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Found this today. It was intriguing to see the rise of Kyoto in the 1500’s and especially the rise in Tokyo from the early 1600’s to the late 1600’s. Kind of makes this story rather insignificant.

“it visualizes cities ranked by population in a bar chart race over the course of a 500-year timeframe.”

https://m.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=JWjMiwAbGgA

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I love living in Tokyo, it's great fun but my plan is to live right by the ocean when I retire.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Who would want to live in an overcrowded, expensive, polluted and increasingly unbearably hot and stifling like Tokyo?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Who would want to live in an overcrowded, expensive, polluted and increasingly unbearably hot and stifling like Tokyo?

Me. I love it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Escape from Tokyo! Blazing hot today!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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