When one thinks of Japan, the first images will usually be of a bustling metropolis.
Tokyo is one of the commercial centers of Asia, a bustling city packed full of innovation, technology and commercial ventures. Metro Tokyo confirms it houses around 11% of Japan’s overall population, making it the most densely populated city in the country.
Away from the big city, Japan is a country full of beautiful countryside and tradition; although that is rarely the image of the country westerners see. When tourists visit, they flock to the metropolis to experience life, but rarely take the time to find out what the other side of Japanese culture is like, the one set in the rolling hills and fields of the countryside. Expatbets states that the rural areas of Japan are enchanting with immutable tranquillity and serenity. It is also a land of tradition, with a feel for its heritage and history like nowhere else on earth.
Sadly, Tokyo Review explains that many homes in the Japanese countryside are being abandoned as residents flock to the bigger cities. They are keen to experience what the big city has to offer, but what are they leaving behind? Potentially, they could be looking to escape from certain pests, as we covered in our article ‘Beating Mosquitos and Biting Midges’, but they are missing out on a terrific way of life too.
Those insects are part of the appeal of rural Japan too. It is quiet, a million miles away from the noise of the big city, with the noisiest aspect the wildlife in those warm summer months. The lush green forests and mountains create a haven for wildlife to grow and it may surprise tourists to find much of Japan natural and abundant.
There is also a level of safety in rural Japan that ensures residents feel comfortable. Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, but due to the sparse population outside the big cities, crime is exceptionally low. Be sure to cover any tattoos if you do travel into the countryside though; the BBC reveals they are often frowned upon as they are associated with yakuza, Japanese gangs.
One of the main issues, the reason young people flock to the big city, is the lack of social life. Even in relatively big towns, the nightlife is extremely limited. Few places are packed with bars and restaurants that open all night, which leans into the tranquillity but does not encourage the retention of younger people. Public transport can also be a problem, although Japan has some of the fastest trains in the world, many do not connect with the rural communities.
Do not expect shops to open at regular times either; often local stores will close if an owner has to run an errand, using the sign "営業中" to denote when they’ll be back. It’s the Japanese equivalent of ‘back in 10’ and is a common sight in rural communities. To compensate for the lack of certainty in opening hours, expect living costs to be lower. Rent is much cheaper in rural towns, even in cities such as Nomi. It is home to around 600 people per square kilometer, but also has many of the amenities needed for family life. It is rural, but not so much so you have a long drive to the shops.
What rural Japan does offer is a slower pace of life, one in which people know each other, talk in the street and feel safe and secure. It might not be the best choice for young people looking to live fast and hard, but for those who have done their midnight dancing, rural Japan is perhaps as close to stepping back 30 years as one can get.