Living In The Inaka – Part Three

Apart from the staring, the other two factors to consider if you are moving to the inaka are 1) the lack of anonymity and 2) the almost total lack of English.

I’ve only lived in my town for a few months and already everyone knows who I am. They know my name, where I’m from, my age, marital status, how many brothers and sisters I have, where I live, what my cellphone provider is, whether I have the internet, what Japanese food I like and don’t like, my favourite colour and whether I can speak Japanese.

They like to tell me where they’ve seen me – on my bike, in the bank, at the store, on the train. They look in my basket at the supermarket and comment on the contents – “EEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHH?!?!?!?!?! You like rice?!?!”

I should point out that none of this is in any way nasty. They’re just trying to make conversation. Also, it seems that asking inane questions is the way to make friends here. It’s sort of expected to be asked what your favourite Japanese food or place in Japan is, but your favourite colour? Animal? Number? Weird.

The English thing is a bit more difficult. Now, I know that coming to Japan with little to no Japanese is a bit foolhardy, but I came here to learn. I try my best. I study. I try to practice. But all of a sudden basic things like shopping become exhausting trials, never mind anything more complicated like posting something, or opening a bank account or buying a cellphone. Standing in the condiment aisle for over ten minutes trying to figure out which is salt and which is sugar, giving up and buying both gets tiring, as does carrying around a large dictionary.

There is one person in the area who speaks good English – my boss. While she’s very helpful for some things, I can’t really be calling her up for every little salt/sugar emergency. Mostly I don’t want her to think I’m an idiot, and partly because it’s all part of the fun (?)

Without a good grasp of Japanese it’s hard to make friends in the inaka. There are no other foreigners around. There is however another gaijin girl who lives on the same local train line who is lovely, and I can get a local train and then a Japan Rail train into the Big City. If I time the connection right it takes about an hour, so probably not something I’ll be doing that often. I’m imagining that I’ll be spending a lot of time just pootling around the countryside, at least until the snowboarding/skiing season starts!

The town has everything you need for daily life – it has a supermarket, 3 convenience stores (in Japan their food is unreal, nice, healthy and cheap), a giant pharmacy, a gas station, a liquor store and a LOAD of craft shops/paper shops/traditional Japanese stuff shops. Also, you can buy rice almost anywhere (like in the place where you pay your gas bill). For western food or books in English, I’ll have to go into the city.

The one thing that keeps me sane though, is the library. Opening an account was the usual ordeal of dictionaries and bowing, but I got my card and now have access to any of the materials in any of the 20-odd Big City and surroundings libraries (some day I will figure out the computer system). As well as thousands and thousands of books, there are a few hundred dvds. Most of them have and English language track! The selection isn’t amazing – they have more back seasons of ER than Disney movies, but it’s still sweet. The old man in the library knows me well by now, I go there weekly, and he’s always super helpful and never fines me when my stuff is back late. Actually, I think he’s just terrified of having to try to explain “fine” in English, another joy of being a gaijin.

Of course, there are a lot of things that are really good about living in the sticks. The celebrity aspect can be great – people are always willing to help you out if then can. They want to make you feel welcome and show you the best side of Japan. If you make the effort to learn Japanese and talk to people you’ll slowly become part of the community. People will be happily surprised with your efforts and do their best to understand you. The countryside is beautiful – clean air, wonderful scenery, lots of greenery. There’s never any traffic to speak of. The pace of life is slower. There are no crowds. People are nicer. Everything’s cheaper. You can see the stars at night and hear crickets and frogs calling out into the silence. The dirt and noise and crowds and expense of Tokyo seems like another country.

So, with my dvds, bike, coffee shop and year’s supply of salt, I’m pretty happy to be living in the inaka.

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One Response

  1. I enjoyed reading your blog this morning. Your writing is fun to read…honest with a touch of humor…
    I have a 25 year old daughter teaching in Bali…not easy, but I think a good opportunity.

    Best of luck with your adventure.

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