When I became an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), I was assigned to work in Shimane—the second least-populated prefecture in Japan. Moving here taught me that life in Japan’s inaka (countryside) is very different from living in a big city, and it also showed me wonderful things that inspired me to remain in the inaka for years.
If inaka living is in your future, here are some things about teaching in the countryside you should know.
You Might Need a Car
I had traveled and studied abroad in Japan before moving to Shimane, so I thought I knew what the inaka would be like. For instance, I didn’t plan on driving because I assumed I could go anywhere via public transportation or walking.
One of the first things my new supervisor told me was that I needed a car. I was scheduled to teach at multiple schools—some in very remote neighborhoods—and public transportation in rural regions like Shimane can be infrequent or nonexistent compared to urban hubs.
Driving in Shimane was a major adjustment, but I eventually grew accustomed to it, and having a car gave me freedom. Getting to work was convenient, and during holidays, I drove to places like Himeji and Nagasaki. I also drove around Shimane and discovered things that travelers who stick to urban hubs never get to see (more on that later).
Make Friends The Inaka Way
One difference between making friends in urban areas versus rural regions is that the inaka may offer limited activities or social circles. To make connections, you need to meet your community where it is. There isn’t much nightlife in Shimane, so I couldn’t meet people that way. Instead, I took up activities like mountain climbing and taiko drumming. I also join whatever local events are available, such as festivals, language exchange nights or beach cleanups. I made new friends by doing what the locals do.
Since communities in the inaka are smaller, everyone is more likely to know everyone to an extent. This makes relationships even more important than in the city. Sometimes, this comes with a lot of pressure—especially for teachers where you’re often expected to be a role model for students—but from my experience, if you do your best to be polite respectful and adapt to local life, your community will stand by you.
I finished my job as an ALT in 2020, and thanks to the connections I made, I could later find a job at a local university. My friends have also been invaluable in helping me feel at home and get through situations (even with dangerous weather). Be proactive and get to know your community—it will be worth it.
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