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How to survive living in a small town

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If you choose to go teach English in Japan, you’ll most likely end up living in a small, rural town for your first year. Experiencing the Japanese countryside is an amazing thing, as I consider it the "real" Japan. Every foreigner in Japan should live in the countryside at least for a year. It allowed me to learn a lot of Japanese and to see a more traditional side.

Some foreigners choose to live in rural Japan for several years, and I can see why. However, I’m a city girl at heart, and small town living presents a lot of challenges for me. Even though I’m moving to Osaka in a few months, I feel so sick and tired of my location, and knowing I’m leaving makes the wait even more difficult. Here’s a survival guide for living in rural Japan.

Fill your free time

You’ll be spending A LOT of time in isolation (more than you would ever expect), so be prepared and find a lot of hobbies. All that free time is great because you get to use it to be as creative as you want and to work on personal goals and projects. Writing, running and baking are my favorite activities. Also, thank goodness for the Internet and an unlimited amount of music, movies, and information.

Learn Japanese

Learning Japanese is so much easier when you live in a rural area, because most people don’t speak any English. When I travel to big cities like Osaka and Tokyo, I always get addressed in English, which is annoying because I don’t get to practice my Japanese. I try to study a lot at home, and I always get excited to go out and run errands so I can practice a few simple things.

Make Japanese friends

Even if you live in a small town, you’ll most likely meet tons of other foreigners, mostly English teachers from other programs. I was so surprised to meet so many of them in my small community when I first arrived. It’s nice to have them around, but if you only hang out with them, you won’t learn anything about Japanese culture. Japanese friends are so important, and even though it can take a lot of time to get close to them, they’re the most open-minded, kind and generous people you’ll ever meet. Plus, you can do a language and cultural exchange and pick up a lot of new expressions and understand customs. I’ve had the most interesting conversations with my Japanese friends.

Have some foreigner friends

Hanging out with some fellow foreigner friends is equally important, when done in moderation. Having people you can relate to, speak English to and rant about your job/living conditions is always nice and comforting. Since you’re here without your family, your foreigner network often becomes your support system. I choose to avoid big foreigner gatherings (I hate them so much, as they can be very uncouth) and instead hang out in smaller groups, or one-on-one.

Don’t date within the community

Just don’t. Unless you want to have a very public, painful, and humiliating breakup, and feel like you’re on the cover of a gossip magazine… because people will be talking. If you do choose to date someone who lives in your small town, be aware that when you break up you’ll always see them around and know everything about their life, which will make it so difficult to move on. It’s a bad idea.

Take frequent trips

The best thing about living in the countryside is that you save a lot more money, therefore get to escape more often. Taking trips is vital, and having at least a small getaway planned every month is key in order to keep your sanity and have things to look forward to. Even though trains in Japan are pricey, there are a lot of ways to travel on a budget: buses, youth hostels, and cheap, delicious meals. I’m an expert now.

Love your job

Some days, the most exciting part of your day will be to go to work, so you might as well love your job. Even on horrible days, you have to face the little ones, and as dreadful as it sounds, the kids always put a smile on your face and are so heartwarming. I always try to make my lessons more creative and play a lot of fun games to make my kids happy (and behave), and to keep myself in good spirits at the same time.

Indulge in your area

Find something that is specific to your area, as each region in Japan has a specialty. In my prefecture, udon noodles are famous, and we have a lot of natural beauty around us, as it’s such a rugged area. We have tons of temples and shrines, beaches, and mountains. I love to go hiking, and we are also blessed with the exquisite Ritsurin Garden.

Do your own thing

Just do your own thing. I cannot stress that point nearly enough.

Stay couth

It’s not really a word, but it’s the opposite of uncouth.

© Japan Today

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39 Comments
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If you choose to go teach English in Japan, you’ll most likely end up living in a small, rural town for your first year.

Completely wrong. Only on the JET program.

Experiencing the Japanese countryside is an amazing thing, as I consider it the “real” Japan.

Wrong again. There's nothing "unreal" about cities. Especially as more than half of the "real" Japanese live in them.

8 ( +12 / -4 )

There seems to be a fatal flaw in this article. The author is "sick and tired" of living in the boonies, as she says, dying to move to Osaka, yet she pontificates on how to enjoy living in a small town. Perhaps she should take some of her own advice.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

The countryside is "real" Japan? Maybe if you're talking about untouched by tourism or something, but considering MOST Japanese people live in the cities, I think it's safe to say Tokyo and Osaka are REAL Japan.

Also, I have a problem with this author's attitude toward foreigners. Foreign friends should be done "in moderation"? Foreign gatherings are "uncouth" and she "hates" them? I'm actually kind of offended. How about make lots of friends without discriminating? Make friends with people who are good people that you're compatible with? "Hating foreigners" is such a Japanophile thing to say, and very much strikes me as someone who has lived in Japan for less than one year.

Here's a problem with living in the country, too. If you're a young person, just graduated university, and go to Japan to teach English, in the country you'll not find many Japanese people your age. They've all gone to the cities to study/work. So unless you want to make friends with old people...

10 ( +12 / -2 )

Learning Japanese is so much easier when you live in a rural area, because most people don't speak any English.

While living in several small towns with populations of less than 50,000, I was constantly surprised at the number of people, even 'old' people, who spoke passable-to-very good English. They had learned it through their work dealing with English speakers or while working abroad. Especially the older citizens. They had much more contact with the US military than younger people have contact with foreigners now, JET included. I learned a lot about Japan from these people who spoke their minds in English.

Thinking in stereotypes will always hinder your enjoyment of wherever you live.

Just do your own thing. I cannot stress that point nearly enough.

And on today's police blotter we have ... On the other hand, don't date in your community (there's a piece of bad advice if you're an adult dating an adult)...

4 ( +4 / -0 )

When I travel to big cities like Osaka and Tokyo, I always get addressed in English, which is annoying because I don’t get to practice my Japanese.

.This is true.. and the problem with that is that NOT every foreigner is a "native English speaker"...

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I forgot to add that in some cases, the "foreigner's" Japanese could be even more fluent than their English...

5 ( +5 / -0 )

As some have mentioned above, I hate this distinction between "foreigner friends" and "Japanese friends." If you meet people you get on with, spend time with them and enjoy yourself. Making a conscious effort to improve your Japanese is great, but you don't need to hold any sort of resentment towards people just because they'll somehow hinder your chances of getting better at Japanese.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Takamatsu is a small town?!?! It may not be as urban as many other Japanese cities, but it's hardy inaka.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Everyone has a unique experience and relationship with Japan. Therefore my views, opinions and advice are only applicable to my personal situation...

Assuming otherwise is just vanity, such as the article "right listen to me because I know"...

I know you mean no harm, but your advice is only relevant to your life in Japan :)

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Hey everyone, don't be so down on the writer. She is writing based on her experience and the kind of person she is. Not everyone will relate to this. Still, as others have observed, it is strange that she is “sick and tired” of the area and yet goes on about what a nice place it is. I know non-Japanese who have started out in the countryside, went to the big city, then after a few years, went back to the same countryside they worked so desperately to leave. You just have to keep looking for a situation that suits who you are to be happy here (as anywhere, I guess). 

4 ( +5 / -1 )

You’ll be spending A LOT of time in isolation (more than you would ever expect),

I would expect being widely ignored if I showed up in Canada speaking only Japanese.

I hate this distinction between "foreigner friends" and "Japanese friends."

Oh come on. After one season in Japan (South-Korea, Thailand, Germany, etc), everybody hates meeting the eikawa-JET-backpacker-GI fauna. Nothing wrong with having no affinity with a society of bratty binge drinking air-heads from day one.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Oh come on. After one season in Japan (South-Korea, Thailand, Germany, etc), everybody hates meeting the eikawa-JET-backpacker-GI fauna. Nothing wrong with having no affinity with a society of bratty binge drinking air-heads from day one.

I'm not talking about those guys - I'm saying this distinction between "Japanese friends" and "foreign friends" is weird. Like you can only have one or the other, and they both 'serve' different purposes or whatever. This sort of stuff is over-analysed to the death.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Hanging out with some fellow foreigner friends is equally important, when done in moderation.

I choose to avoid big foreigner gatherings (I hate them so much, as they can be very uncouth) and instead hang out in smaller groups, or one-on-one.

I've had the most interesting conversations with my Japanese friends.

Japanese friends are so important

even though it can take a lot of time to get close to them, they're the most open-minded, kind and generous people you'll ever meet.

Stay couth It's not really a word, but it's the opposite of uncouth.

Just do your own thing. I cannot stress that point nearly enough.

The psyche of English teachers in Japan is perplexing.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Interesting how folk hate it when Japanese lump them together with all other nationalities under 'foreigner', then talk about fellow foreigner friends. It might be nice to hang out with people from all over the world, but they're not 'fellow' anything except fellow people.

Poor Vivian sounds like she hasn't really enjoyed her time in Japan so far. Isolation? Needing to getaway every month? The most exciting part of the day is going to work? Not my experience at all.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

if you were to do it here as a foreigner your best bet would be to think small, act small, get noticed as little as possible and keep to yourself like everyone else does. But you'd probably still be 'strange'

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's the school-ma'am-ish tone of this person's articles that turns me off...

It would be more interesting if she added a couple of examples of mistakes or faux pas that she has made while living in the boondocks... but oh no... she's far too good at surviving to have any stories like that.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

When I was in Japan a few years ago, I couldnt have done without one of myfellow foreignershelping me with my Japanese language. I picked up so much from her. So you can be friends with foreigners who have excellent Japanese. Also, as FightingViking says above, sometimes theforeigners Japanese is better than their English and actually that was the case with this girl, which was good for me!! Putting people into categories like the writer seems to be doing is dodgy. I dont like big gatherings either but not all big gatherings offoreignersare uncouth or bad mannered. Besides, you (the author) could use thesebig gathering` occasions to meet people who are going along to meet people like yourself. A means to an end if you like.

I dont know if it matters whether youre in the country or the city or whether you meet other foreigners or Japanese. It`s the effort you make that counts.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

There`s something seriously up with the font and spacing in my messages after I submit them. Especially with the word foreigner!!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The ONLY advice I ever got was from a friend, who really knew me, before I came to Asia to teach English. He's Asian, and from a small town in SE Asia.

Him: Hey man, if you end up in a small town, don't get drunk and make a fool of yourself. People will talk.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Hey man, if you end up in a small town, don't get drunk and make a fool of yourself. People will talk.

They'll talk if you DON'T get drunk and make a fool of yourself. Hey, small towns in Japan are great if you're the kind of person who doesn't need a lot of outside stimulus. Happiness in a small town is personality-based, not situation-based.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

There`s something seriously up with the font and spacing in my messages after I submit them. Especially with the word foreigner!!

Try a different font and see if that helps. I use Firefox, and under Tools/Options/Content, my font is Arial Unicode MS.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

While there are as many experiences of Japan as there are non-Japanese in Japan, there are a number of uncomfortable and contradictory truths in what Morelli has to say.

She is young. She is finding her way through a culture that is not her own while being drawn to and repelled by others like herself who are non-Japanese. She's finding her way to her own identity and that's no straight shot to a bull's-eye for anyone. She's articulated her struggle with being a city girl in a rural area and made suggestions for different ways that others in similar situations might cope and make it work and survive based on her experience. Nothing wrong with that. Morelli is not writing laws for other non-Japanese.There's really no need to be condescending about it.

Why is it that all the good people submitting scathing comments are not offering their superior talents and filing their stories and "advice columns" with Japan Today?

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I know you mean no harm, but your advice is only relevant to your life in Japan :)

And I take it that this applies to all of the sage advice that the writer is now taking? I imagine this article was written for people who were considering coming here for the first time and it has some helpful tips for survival

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I imagine this article was written for people who were considering coming here for the first time and it has some helpful tips for survival.

Yes. That is likely the case--and is the case for ANY writer of any advice column. He or she has gained some helpful insights from his or her experience and is sharing those tips with those not fully in the know. That might cover how to invest, where to travel, how to plan a dinner party for six, or how to better enjoy living in rural Japan with limited language skills and all that goes with it.

your advice is only relevant to your life in Japan :)

No. Morelli's advice is not relevant only to the writer's life in Japan. There are a number of very good points that might resonate with others facing such a similar experience with little clue. Many of Morelli's points are applicable in any geographical location: make local friends, stay in distant touch with expats, discover the gems in your area, learn new hobbies, travel as much as you can, be polite, enjoy your work, avoid complicated romantic entanglements, and be yourself. I fail to see the flaws in any of her points.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

What surprises me is that anyone would want to go to Japan anymore. Salaries are so ridiculously low. 190,000 yen a month, an absolute pittance and disgusting.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

"Don't date within the community."

So, even if a man and a woman living in the same community are attracted to each other, they can't date, huh?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Salaries are so ridiculously low. 190,000 yen a month, an absolute pittance and disgusting.

Not much for a family, but enormous for a single person if you don't waste it on rubbish.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Salaries are so ridiculously low. 190,000 yen a month, an absolute pittance and disgusting.

Yes, well, don't take one of those jobs. There are others if you have any skills or credentials.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Thanks Farmboy, I will try that and see how it goes (about the font)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I'm thinking a lot of that is common sense. But perhaps coming straight out of college, it may not seem like it.

Making friends would help, but that'd be the same in a large city.

You just have to be game for it. And like you said, being a city girl won't help.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

the Japanese countryside is an amazing thing, as I consider it the real Japan.

Paris is the real France, Berlin the real Germany, New York the real America, and yes, Tokyo the REAL Japan.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Now that we have a survival guide for living in the small town, how about one for living in Tokyo oor Osaka??? Especialy for those of us "lucky"(used in a VERY broad sense) to have the Japanese definition of a "full time job"???

To be honest, I probably wouldn't mind getting a job in the countryside for a while. I tend to be a bit of a recluse anyways, and the isolation and privacy needed to work on my hobbies is what I definitely need right now. I guess it depends on if you're a private, introspective, creative person, or someone who likes to be more social. The city is great for meeting people and finding places to go or things to do, but be prepared to always feel like you're working.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Paris is the real France, Berlin the real Germany, New York the real America, and yes, Tokyo the REAL Japan.

False. The real world--the only world--is where you are. Usually there are multiple geographies in your real world as well. You might feel that you do or do not belong in certain worlds, or that they are worlds full of false rather than genuine values, or that you'd like to be in a different (more real?) world, but that's another argument.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

About 15 years ago, I taught at a "rural" junior high school in Aichi. It was so far back in the hills that the kids came to school on Mon. morning, stayed in a dorm all week long, and returned to their homes after school on Sat. (they attended classes half a day on Sat. then) It was so far from my home that I took a train for 45 min., changed trains and took another one for about 15 min. A Japanese teacher at that school transported me between the station and school in his personal vehicle. It was a splendid school! The best students ever! It was always my experience that the gals were more serious that the boys! I enjoyed it immensely!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I did JET in an inaka prefecture. I loved being close to the sea, mountains and ski parks and I loved being in a large town (about 70,000 people), which had both the attractions of a large population as well as having the feel of a community. However, I did feel for the JETs posted to villages miles from the nearest railway line - so little to do, limited ways to escape and if you do, forced to return by the diktat of a railway timetable.

The fact that your village may be "famous" for its noodles is little compensation. Everywhere in Japan is "famous" for something obscure, but they are rarely anything to write home about. The fame also rarely extends beyond the boundaries of the place that declares it.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Paris is the real France, Berlin the real Germany, New York the real America, and yes, Tokyo the REAL Japan.

False. The real world--the only world--is where you are. Usually there are multiple geographies in your real world as well. You might feel that you do or do not belong in certain worlds, or that they are worlds full of false rather than genuine values, or that you'd like to be in a different (more real?) world, but that's another argument.

Philly-san,

I think Mr Lee was being sarcastic.

At least that is how it read it.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

I find the make Japanese friends part hilarious. I think it goes without saying that most people living in the Japanese countryside (or hell, even just less than major Japanese cities) would love to do that. Doing so is the hard part. Outside of the bigger cities meeting Japanese people is TOUGH. Japanese just tend not to socialise outside of their established groups and in the countryside there are no places people meet so...

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

"The country life is the best, that's why I hate it"......What?

Also, "If you choose to go teach English in Japan, you’ll most likely end up living in a small, rural town for your first year." Since when? There are way more jobs in Tokyo, Osaka, and the hundreds of smaller cities. Why would one likely be in a small rural town the first year? The only reason for that....is if that's where you apply to work. Duh.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

thank you for the artical, I live in a town of 1500 and I definitely feel a lot of what you have to say. it is quite lonely, and no forigners for miles. your emphises on doing your own thing and finding hobbies is one im observing quite fast.

I hope I can make the most of my experience, such the same for yours!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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