Having recently introduced iTalki briefly as a sponsor on my YouTube channel, I wanted to provide a bit more insight into their service offerings. iTalki is a useful service for pairing foreign language learners with online teachers and tutors. But it also might be suited more to some learners than others, so I wanted to share my experiences and thoughts. So here is an iTalki for Japanese review!
Quick Ratings of iTalki
This really varies depending on the effort and preparation that you invest. That being said, the teachers are able to give you individualized attention and live feedback, which is very valuable.
The most important part of the interface in my opinion is the Find a teacherpage. This worked great and had many categories to choose from. Teachers upload introductory videos so you can get an idea of their personality and style. The app also sends ping reminders. It was easy to schedule despite differing timezones.
I was the most satisfied with the community tutors I worked with (in comparison to licensed teachers). Each teacher will have a different rating on the iTalki site. My rating here is based on my overall experiences. I gave 4 stars because some teachers were too attached to curriculum.
The introductory trial rates are unbeatable. The full-lesson rates are also unbeatable when compared to language schools and private in-person tutors. Depending on your level, you might want to start out with a free app and self study to jump-start your vocab and technical input.
Was that what you were looking for? Give iTalki a try. Or keep reading for more details and insight.
1-on-1: private lessons in Japan with a bilingual teacher
Immersion: living and working in Japan
On iTalki, I tried a few different instructors, all native Japanese speakers. Two were community tutors, three were licensed teachers. They were all very different experiences.
Is Learning from a Native Speaker Important?
Speaking and listening to a native Japanese speaker is necessary, however conversation might not be as important for the most beginner levels as we are made to believe it is. This is my opinion. Some might disagree.
I took a 1-on-1 lesson with a native Japanese teacher in Japan and it didn’t feel worth it because ultimate beginner curriculum can have been more quickly and cheaply input by using self-study. My teacher walked me through a lesson on hobby vocabulary and two simple sentence structures. While $15 for the lesson is very reasonable for a human’s time, it wasn’t worth it when compared to the same amount of focus time spent on the right app.
When iTalki Is the Most Valuable in Your Language Learning Timeline
Conversation with fluent speakers is irreplaceable. The key is doing it after you have enough of a foundation to make it worthwhile.
Attempting conversation with no Japanese language foundation is like showing up to an art lesson without a pencil and paper.
The experience you have with each teacher or tutor is completely dependent on that person. iTalki is simply a matchmaking service. The service provider can be great or terrible, so you will want to look at their rating and reviews on the iTalki platform.
The most valuable instructors I worked with [counterintuitively] were the community tutors. While you might think that the service would be “lesser” because they don’t require the same amount of training as teachers, I found my experience with tutors to be more flexible and useful. They were less strict about sticking to the curriculum and more willing to take detours to answer questions or go down a custom conversational track.
Pros and Cons of iTalki
The ability to search for teachers who speak regional dialects (Kansai-ben, anyone?)
Set your own pace
Affordable when compared to a language school or in-person 1-on-1 lessons
No commute time
Many teachers and tutors to choose from
No subscription fee
Introductory trial rates as low as $5 available from many people
The quality of the session is dependent on the instructor [variable]
Lessons offer fewer opportunities to create community friendships, or meeting new people when compared to in-person classes or online courses that use discord/forums
It may take a few trials to find the instructor that you prefer
Might not be worth it value-for-your-dollar-wise depending on where you are in your language journey
Is 1-On-1 Better Than a Classroom Experience?
Yes and no. I really loved my time taking classes at Aozora Gakuen in Brooklyn (if these classes are still available, they aren’t advertised online). The teacher regularly offered us wine to loosen up. My only classmate was a wise-cracking tradesperson who had fun stories about his Tokyo-born mother-in-law. It was a warm atmosphere and a nice memory. That’s not really related to “effectiveness” per-se, but the community aspect might influence the ease of maintaining momentum.
When it came to actually practicing Japanese, iTalki was more efficient for coursework mileage. More content got into my brain more efficiently than in the classroom. The verbal practice was there. The responsiveness was there. All the technical elements were there. And of course, a classroom simply doesn’t exist for me in-person here in the inaka.
Recommended, but Might Not Be for Everyone
The right person for iTalki:
You have either already taken a course in Japanese or have a fair amount of self-study vocabulary, grammar, and ability to form sentences under your belt
You are interested in the efficiency of input and practice
You have a busy or irregular schedule
You don’t have Japanese-speaking friends to practice with
You prefer to take lessons at home
Not the right fit for iTalki:
Those who are at the very beginning, aka JLPT N5 level or less
Distaste or challenges utilizing zoom/web classrooms
Often late or forgetful of appointments
It’s important to note that iTalki (and any method of conversation practice) is not the whole story. Conversation needs to be accompanied by a great deal of technical input and laborious memorization.
Again, this is purely based on my personal opinion and experiences. An ultimate beginner may very well start with an iTalki teacher and have a great experience.
As far as the platform goes, yes. It is legit, convenient, and well-designed. And it has a very low commitment fee to give it a try. It very may well be the missing key you’ve been lacking in your Japanese study and practice. So after it all, yes. I recommend giving iTalki a try.
Japanese family leaves Tokyo for the inaka, only to be met by social disaster.
Kyoryokutai(Japan’s Chiiki Okoshi Kyoryokutai or JOCV) is a professional role that aims to revitalize the Japanese Countryside. Participants are given a salary from the Japanese government for up to three years (japanforward.com has a nice overview of the program in English). They are given resources to join start a new business while also taking time to volunteer in their new communities.
In this video, a family recounts their participation in the program, only to be met by disaster. One parent from Tokyo and one from Ehime, they moved their young family of five from the city to rural Ehime Prefecture.
The former primary school teacher, Mr. AkiraYagyu, began to reconsider his lifestyle during the pandemic, seeking a simpler and wholesome lifestyle and the excitement that accompanies a new challenge.
Taking on the renovation of a 200-year old kominka folk home, they were sharing their project publicly on YouTube. After quitting his position, Yagyu-san posted this video about the circumstances leading up to their leaving the region.
Their Story: An “Immigration Failure“
As the video only provides Japanese captions, below is an English translation of the narrative. *Please note that there may be discrepancies between the original and the translation.
This video is an apology and report to the viewers. All of a sudden, we’ve been experiencing constant trouble due to worsening chronic illnesses and their homes being submerged in water due to the disaster. We gave up on renovating the old house and decided to move to another area.
Now, I will tell you how this happened using video from over the past year. A year ago, we moved from Tokyo to our current area because we wanted to live a self-sufficient life deep in the mountains. At that time, we relocated using the Regional Revitalization Cooperation Volunteer system [Kyoryokutai] recommendation by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. My recruitment requirements were that I would be on a free mission and that 20% of my activities would be devoted to local activities. I mainly worked on regenerating old folk houses, spreading positive information about the area, and working with the government and youth groups on PR activities to promote immigration.
The problem was that 20% of local activities meant poor relations with certain local organizations. In the eight years since its establishment, the local organization has boldly taken on various projects to develop the region. For the first few months, I also helped out with the organization’s work; running a non-profit organization for eight years using subsidies from the national and local governments, but without making any profits. Forcing volunteers to work on the project, and when the project fails, the blame is placed on past volunteers and they are pushed out of the area.
After learning about this background, I began to distance myself from the organization’s activities. But even though I had these feelings, I still participated in official activities. One day, I suddenly stopped receiving notifications about activity schedules, so I stopped participating.
Around August (three months later), my boss instructed me to come to the conference room at the community center. When I arrived, there were four people there including the representative of the group. I sat down in front of them. They started talking about my local activities.
“If you don’t cooperate with our activities, we will ask you to resign from the JOCV [Kyoryokutai group]. Choose whether to cooperate or quit. If kyoryokutai are dependent on the town, it will set a bad example for the next volunteer. Your presence has not helped this area.” These are the kinds of things I was told.
I asked if my contributions for clearing weeds from the municipal roads, cleaning up the school, and helping to clean up a private home were being taken into consideration. I was told no; that community contribution must be defined as from the leaders of the community. But I am also facing the fact that the local projects made volunteers sour and drove them away. This is not doing any good. I disagree with this.
I’m not sure if those people were the trigger, but the frequency of harassment towards me increased from that point on. I couldn’t sleep and felt ill. My asthma, which had been absent, returned. I started having difficulty breathing, so I was rushed to the hospital. I passed out in the ambulance. When I woke up, I was surprised to find various tubes connected to my body. When tests came back, there was nothing wrong. The doctor said it must have been due to stress.
After receiving medical attention, my condition gradually improved. My health was getting better, but I was having a hard time raising my children well. My wife had just given birth, so she was spread thin. Considering this, we decided to give up renovating the kominka and we would move to another area.
Regarding this, I would like to ask the mayor, vice mayor, council members, and administrative staff to take the time to talk to me individually. They came up with ideas and suggested how our family could settle in this area. But I don’t think the way I’ve been treated will ever end. The previous JOCV members had the same problems and abandoned the area. Considering this, the government officials supported me in moving to a new area.
After consulting with an outside organization, we were told that we might be able to take legal action for some of the treatments we received. I didn’t pursue legal action because that isn’t how I want to spend my time and energy. Also, the government said they would improve the environment to which volunteers are accepted.
I hope that those who come to this area with hope in their heart will not end up like the previous volunteers.
Our family decided on a new trajectory and we were preparing to move in better spirits. But something happened that was the final blow.
A fire broke out in the apartment building where our family lived. It was so strong, the apartment unit where it started was completely destroyed. Our unit, which was below the unit of origin, was flooded in efforts to extinguish the fire.
Upon learning about the fire, I worked to rescue people from the first unit, so I did not pay attention to the fact that our unit was flooding. After the fire was extinguished, the fire department and police interrogated me. I felt my anxiety rising. The fire happened in the evening, so our family and another family stayed at the local community center until midnight, unable to find a place where we could stay. Our house was flooded. Our bedding was wet. Our family went to the home of a couple who always looked out for us. They took care of us and provided food, baths and sleeping quarters.
In the morning, a fire department inspector came to inspect the scene. We observed the damage together. The worst area was the storage room, which had 3 cm of standing water. The fire department has put a tarp over some of our things, but our moving boxes were sitting in water. After the inspection, we began cleaning up. The diapers we received as a baby gift must be useful somehow. When uncovering something still useable, it’s a relief. Most of my clothes were wet and smelled like smoke and ash. Our host cleaned everything thoroughly. The bedding was a mess, but our friends kept washing it repeatedly until it was clean. Some people brought food and supplies. Some worked at the soup kitchen into the evening. Even though our life was in a disaster, it strangely felt encouraging. Though it was a brief time, our family will never forget the local people who helped us.
The day just before moving, we made the house as clean as possible. The landlord has been kind, and we are grateful.
To all of our viewers who supported us and looked forward to seeing a completed renovation: I’m sorry that this is how it turned out. It isn’t anyone’s fault that we couldn’t live here other than our own weakness and inadequacy. Someday I will remember my failure here positively. We will give our new place our best effort. We won’t give up on our dream. We aren’t going back to Tokyo. We will keep trying to create the life we have been dreaming of. Please continue supporting us. Thank you for watching.
~5 Million Views in One Year
The YouTube video has exploded and caused quite a buzz, seeing millions of views and thousands of comments in the first few months alone. The attention it has received has caused many people in Japan to think critically about the reception of new residents into rural communities. Here are some of the responses:
“This video really made me think about why immigrants don’t come and why depopulation is progressing. Please take care of your health and do your best in your new world!“
“I would like people to spread the word about the regrets of many immigrants due to rural customs, and to prevent more victims from becoming victims.”
“It’s no surprise that areas like this to decline and become depopulated! It was a very helpful video. I’m rooting for you.“
“They [rural community leaders] have two faces. They say they want to help revitalize the town, but in reality, they just want free labor.”
“The word “inaka” is often talked about in a very appealing way, but when it comes to human relationships, it might be better to visualize it as the world before modernization.“
Challenges Facing Rural Immigration in Japan
Immigration to Japan’s countryside villages is fraught with challenges. And not just for foreign people… urban Japanese seeking a slow life, self-sufficient lifestyles, or the peaceful countryside ideals are faced with unexpected challenges, especially in cultural expectations.
Small villages may seem like a drop in the bucket of Japan’s population (less than 10% of the population lives rurally). And from the outsider’s perspective, it would seem like rural villages should be excited to have inbound immigration. After all, depopulation carries some uncomfortable symptoms including fewer taxes to maintain community facilities, closing schools and clinics, and collapsing abandoned homes that have become not much more than a life source for new termite populations.
It is not uncommon for groups in Japan to see a “bottom-up” management approach. Those rural villages are not driven by the desires of the larger government – they are managed by themselves. For a new immigrants entering a rural village in Japan, they cannot succeed by appeasing the goals of larger Japan or even local government offices. They must bend to the desires of individual leaders in the local group.
The Responsibilities That Accompany Countryside Lifestyle
Someone entering a rural community will be faced with new expectations. While urban area maintenance is generally covered by tax-funded services, rural communities often carry these burdens on their own shoulders. Taxes don’t clean the community center, clear weeds from the roads, clean the shrine and abandoned schools, or cater the festivals: residents do. Deep rural Japanese communities are not monetary economies. They are social economies.
But in light of depopulation, the load gets a bit heavier. New immigrants may be faced with skepticism, especially those from a “cushy” urban lifestyle. Can they carry their weight?
Moving to the countryside isn’t all rice paddies and kind grannies. It comes with social expectations, laborious responsibilities, and a new culture. Those looking to immigrate to rural Japan should understand what it will take to find harmony there and be prepared should friction arise.
A Cheap Houses Japan Newsletter Review (From Someone Actually Living in a Cheap House in Japan)
The most convenient way to start understanding the residential real estate market in Japan. It’s legit, it’s well curated, it’s operated by a real human, and comes with a few extra bells and whistles like the interactive map of back-listings and interesting articles.
Based on the number of hours put into curating 20 noteworthy properties every week, it is absolutely worth it. And to make it even more affordable, you can click through this discount link to get another 20% off.
Will it actually help you find a house you can buy? Yes, it can. Having lived in Japanese akiya houses (vacant Japanese houses) for a minute now, I’d like to share some additional insights about finding a cheap house here.
What Are the Alternatives?
A few phony and copycat newsletters have apparently popped up recently that follow the CHJ format. Cheap Houses Japan is the original, stemming from passion and lived experience of someone who cares deeply about Japan. He found a creative win-win solution for Japan’s housing surplus situation, provides great service to his subscribers, and has the most experience in ironing out any complications foreigners might encounter.
Japan can be… dare I say… old-fashioned when it comes to the internet sometimes, so the akiya house market really is spread out and difficult to navigate. Your other options are to work with a realtor (who generally have little financial incentive to help with cheap properties) or search through Japanese-language akiya bank websites on a regular basis (which takes a good deal of time and some know-how).
The only other method I recommend is finding a property through word of mouth – by getting involved in a community and understanding the area first. Especially if the destination is a small town in a rural area.
What Cheap Houses Japan Doesn’t Advertise
Cheap Japanese houses under $150k. Sounds great, right? What’s the catch?
Living in the Japanese Countryside Isn’t All Rice Paddies and Cute Grannies
The cheapest houses are in rural Japan areas, so expect inaka culture. Japan is a foreign country. We use the word foreign to describe things we don’t understand. So it should make sense that the one thing you can expect in Japan is that you will encounter the unexpected. From culture shock to the economy, this is a different place in many ways.
Moving to Japan is Difficult
You will often see the Cheap Houses Japan site advertise that they are showing you potential vacation homes. They know that it’s difficult to move to Japan. Visas are fairly restrictive and have an expiration date. Obtaining permanent residence status is difficult. It is possible (I’m here to prove it), but it is not necessarily easy.
The Housing Market Isn’t a Financial Investment
If you are from North America like me, you are used to seeing house values inflate with the occasional bubble here and there. The conventional wisdom is that over time, a house is a worthwhile investment. But in Japan, house lifespans are viewed as finite, depopulation makes the demand for homes fewer and fewer, and houses simply don’t hold their value the same way.
If you are buying a house in Japan, you are someone like me. You aren’t trying to be here for the money. You are someone who is following their passion and daring to imagine a simple life, a natural life, or a different alternative lifestyle.
[this image is a capture from one of the previous newsletters]
The Real Value of The Cheap Houses Japan Newsletter
Did you know that you can find affordable houses with their own indoor hot springs? Or a combination home/main level storefront? Did you know that you can get a freshly renovated flat in Kyoto for ~$80k? Thanks to the newsletter, I know these things now.
While I’m happy living in the mountains of Ehime prefecture with my husband, in another lifetime, it would have been good to know what was available before settling somewhere. Even if your plan is to wait until you are in Japan to invest, I think it’s a good idea to become familiar with what deals are available in some of the nicer, curated properties through this newsletter.
There are also legitimately many people who have used this newsletter to find the homes they purchased and live in or use as vacation homes. It’s not out of the question if your cards are in line.
Cheap Houses Japan Newsletter: Recommended, with a Disclaimer
The buying a house part is a bitmore complicated than just finding a cheap house in Japan. That being said, if this is something that you are serious or curious about, subscribing to the newsletter is a super convenient, low-investment way to step into the Japanese housing market.
*This chart is for general informational and entertainment purposes only. For qualified and personalized guidance, check out these immigration resources.
Should I Work as an English Teacher?
When getting adjusted in a foreign country, it helps to make the process as smooth and stress-free as possible. After all, you will need to deal with culture shock, a new language, new food, and more! English teachers (especially those through the JET program) often receive decent moving assistance, from plane tickets to subsidized rent and transportation. Schools are familiar with hosting foreign English teachers. That means it will be easier for you to get used to your new life in Japan. Many people who move to Japan for the long term start out as English Teachers.
You might be able to retire in Japan, however, there aren’t retirement-specific visas available. The journey to retiring in Japan would start much sooner, and would most likely involve acquiring permanent resident status in advance (which is not a kind of visa).
Don’t take it personally. The population of older people is expected to continue growing until 2044. The state of aging in Japan has a high ratio of 65+ people and a shrinking population. This is putting stress on the social security system and medical labor industries.
Are you wondering what it’s like to live in the Japanese countryside? I’ve lived in the Japanese countryside for two years now. Moving here has been rewarding in many ways, but has been equally if not moredifficult. I get a lot of questions from people overseas who have set their sights on rural Japan lifestyle, people who get stuck on something and think there must be an easy answer that they just haven’t found yet.
I need to be honest with you – sometimes there is not an easy answer.
Sometimes the challenges are going to suck. The people who move here aren’t the ones who expect there to be simple answers – they are the ones who decide they are going to roll with the punches. So for those who are interested, here are some of those punches.
1. Your work options will be limited.
You will be able to get a job as an English teacher and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that (in fact, I recommend it). But a lot of people don’t want to teach English. It’s not very creative or stimulating. And there is not much of a path for career development. In fact, you might say it’s not a career at all. It’s just a job.
So what are your other options? The tourism industry, self-employment (with numerous challenges regarding business culture and visa qualifications), finding an employer who welcomes English (rare), or becoming fluent in both Japanese language and business culture (nearly impossible).
If you choose to try to master the Japanese work environment, you may have a hard time getting hired or getting the pay you want. There may be stressful work expectations in the office and countless interpersonal misunderstandings at the workplace. I know more than one qualified professional who has given up their career in this country.
2. You might be included but not accepted.
Japanese group harmony is an impressive force. In my personal experience as a foreigner in rural Japan, I am not just invited to participate in community events often, I am expected and sometimes pressured to participate.
Living here, you may find times when your values and Japanese culture clash. Beliefs about women’s rights, work culture, age hierarchy and personal autonomy come to mind. But in the countryside where people have little exposure to foreign cultures, the fact that different cultures hold different values is rarely understood. As a result, your foreign perspective may be interpreted as wrong or even immoral.
A fellow foreigner resident once referred to this dichotomy as hammering down the nail. Those that stick out will not be ignored, but they might be forced or pressured to change. Sometimes in are received as aggressive.
*Note that Japanese countryside culture is different than Japanese urban culture. The experiences of foreign people in Japanese rural and city areas will be different.
3. Visas, visas, visas.
Visa assistance is the #1 challenge facing prospective inaka residents. And just getting a visa isn’t enough – those darn things expire! And if you want a career change, it’s going to need to go on hold until you find another way to get approval from the immigration office. But they don’t let just anyone in.
You might be thinking, but depopulating Japan needs bodies and I love Japan! That makes sense, doesn’t it? But there are many things that are more important to Japan than population statistics. The immigration status of Japanophiles does not top that list.
I’m not going to lie – it is tough! Even if you are college educated, you contribute to the community/economy/development goals/etc. that won’t help you get a visa. There are no shortcuts here. You are dealing with a government office. If you’ve heard anything about excessively complicated formal official procedures here, the immigration system is no exception.
Follow your dreams, but know what you are getting into.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t regret moving here and I still love Japan. But I wish I had really understood some of the challenges of life in the Japanese countryside. It helps to know what to anticipate. So the best I can do at this point is to share my experiences. Feel free to drop a comment or question. I hope you found some value in this article!
The getting-settled-in-Japan checklist: what you need for your new life in Japan
You’ve found a job and a house in Japan, ticket in hand and ready to go! You are ready to start living in Japan as a foreigner! After you arrive in your new (or new temporary neighborhood), what are all the tasks you need to do to get organized?
The Ministry of Justice has provided an English Guidebook on Living and Working [in Japan], and that’s a great places to start for entry/residence procedures, procedures at the municipal offices, rules for employment, medical services, tax, housing and more.
But from my own personal experiences moving to and maintaining residence in Japan, that’s just the beginning! Here are my additional recommendations. Depending on your personal situation, there may be more things to do, but this should be a good place to start!
Anyone over the age of 16 needs to have their residence card on them at all times. This will be needed for most official registrations such as enrolling in health insurance and to open a bank account. Residence cards are generally issued at the Japanese airport where you receive a landing permit. If you don’t receive this at the airport, request one at your local municipal office.
☑ Prepare to translate Japanese language
Moving to Japan can be an exhilarating experience, but the language barrier can often pose a significant challenge for newcomers. This is where translation apps and browser extensions come to the rescue, proving to be indispensable tools for expats and travelers alike. Whether it’s ordering food at a restaurant, reading paperwork, or assisting in communication with neighbors and coworkers, it sometimes seems impossible to live without a smartphone in hand!
Google Translate’s camera translation function works well on the road for menus, train signs, and forms. You can generally understand basic information, even when the translation isn’t perfect. DeepL is recommended for situations where natural tone and nuance is more important, such as personal emails and messages.
Google Translate Pro-tip: Download English and Japanese language ahead of time in case you have a hiccup with data or internet connectivity.
☑ Maintain a personal information reference document
When I first got to Japan, I started keeping digital reference information in a text document on my phone. It was indispensable! As I went to appointments at the town hall, doctor, bank, etc. there were always questions about address, phone number, and personal information. It speeds up the process to simply show someone a document with the necessary information, rather than scratch your head and fumble through writing katakana, only to realize you made an important mistake. Here is some of the information you might need to refer to on a regular basis. Use a note, Google Doc, OneNote, or other note-taking app of your choice to keep records of:
Your name written in katakana
Japanese phone number
Address in Japan
Employer information: company name, address, supervisor’s name and phone number
An emergency contact in Japan: name, phone number, address, email address
MVNO stands for mobile virtual network operator. MVNOs are smaller companies that make use of larger cellular networks. These companies include mobal, Sakura Mobile, LINEmo, IIJmio, and NifMo.
Getting a phone provider that offers English support has relieved a lot of hassle. I personally have used Sakura Mobile since arriving in Japan and feel comfortable recommending their services. They offer voice, data, travel SIM and pocket wifi packages for long-term and short-term. They have prompt English e-mail support. Just be sure to check your device and SIM compatibility ahead of time.
If you will be using public transportation on a regular basis, go ahead and buy a Suica, Pasmo or ICOCA card. Busses and trains don’t use a flat fare in Japan – they charge based on the distance traveled. Rather than calculating how far you go and scrambling for exact change, having one of these cards will let you easily tap in and out of your trip.
Brush up on your driving skills! Driving in Japan is a bit different depending on where you are coming from. JAF (Japan Automobile Federation) is the resource you need regarding driving laws, drivers licenses, and more.
🔰 This icon is used for various situations in Japan to indicate amateur/in-training status. For example, you might see it on a name tag for a new cashier. Grab a pair of these magnets for the front and back of your car. It will let other drivers know to drive carefully near you. It is legally required to keep these magnets on your car until you’ve had a Japanese driver’s license for at least one full year.
Getting a driver’s license
If you will be driving in Japan and your brought an International Drivers’ Permit, this will only be valid for one year. If you will be driving in Japan for more than a year, don’t wait until the last minute to get a full driver’s license. There can be a long wait for license appointments. Depending on your previous license, you may also need to study, practice, and re-take a driving test.
You can find a wide variety of bikes to purchase from specialty bicycle shops like Bridgestone or home centers like DCM Daiki. Decide what features would be the right fit for your and your commute before heading to the store, such as whether you are looking for a road bike or a leisurely shopping bike with a basket.
Review bicycle laws in advance. Even if you see Japanese people bending a rule, foreigners have much more strict repercussions for law violations. Traffic violations could even affect the ability to renew your visa, so it’s best to avoid trouble as much as possible!
☑ Get ready to sign official documents with a personalized Hanko
When I got to Japan, I didn’t know what a hankowas at all. Also called an inkan, this is a seal impression stamp that is used with red ink. Basically anywhere you may have signed your name on forms in your home country, you will be invited to stamp your hanko in Japan. Bank deposit slips, internet contracts, package receipts, time slips, etc.
Japanese names are quite often two kanji characters, which fit fairly easily in a small circle shape. Foreign names will require a custom stamp in katakana. Check with a Japanese friend on your katakana-ized name before using it on documents and on your stamp. It will be nearly impossible to change after your katakana name is documented at the town hall.
At the local municipal office, you can register and receive a “Certificate of a Registered Seal.”
☑ Municipal office tasks
Moving in Notification (Tennyu Todoke)
Within 14 days of acquiring a residence, file a moving-in notification at the local municipal office. You will need to bring your residence card or passport.
My Number card
A My Number card is necessary for some services including pension, childcare allowance or medical services. In some scenarios, the My Number card is even used as a medical insurance card or library card. After filing a moving-in notification at your municipal office, you can apply for a My Number card. It may take about a month to process, then your card can be picked up by presenting proper ID to the municipal office.
If your employer doesn’t cover health insurance, you will want to enrol in the National Health Insurance coverage. After you register as a resident, this will be an available option. The staff at your local municipal office will guide you through the steps. In fall of 2024, health insurance cards are planned to be embedded into the My Number card. Until then, you will receive a separate health insurance card to present at the doctor’s office.
Pick up a trash calendar
Ask for a trash calendar (gomi karendā) at the local municipal office. There might even be an English version available.
☑ Set up a bank account
You will need to set up a bank account for paychecks from your employer, paying bills, etc. Here are some large, reputable banks in Japan. Check Google Maps to see what is close to your home or work.
After setting up a bank account in person, install their app to keep tabs on your account. Coming from America, I’ve noticed that there are many services that I’ve been used to doing online that I now need to do in person at a branch office. Be prepared to make more frequent trips.
When setting up a bank account, you will probably receive a cash card. A cash card can be used at ATMs. Similar to other countries, you may be charged fees if you take out cash at an ATM that is not in your bank network. In Japan, cash is king. Many stores and restaurants may be cash-only, so be sure to have cash on you at all times. Take caution, but don’t be too worried. Japan is not known for pick-pockets. 🙂
But please note that a cash card is not the same as a debit card. Cash cards can not be used to make online purchases. You will need to either use a card that was set up in your home country or get a new debit or credit card in Japan. Some companies require that you live in Japan for a certain amount of time before opening a card. One of the easiest cards for foreigners is the Rakuten credit card, which also earns points at many major convenience and department stores.
*New Japanese Credit Card Pro tip: The name on your application must match the name on your ID in order to receive your card in the mail. As most foreigners will have their names written in roman alphabet on their resident card and passport, your application name should also be in the roman alphabet (as opposed to katakana). If this is not possible, you will need to send a copy of your ID to rakuten support to have the card released for pick up at the mail office.
Transferring money between countries
There are a few different service providers in Japan that allow you to send money between borders and currencies, including Wise, GoRemit, Seven Bank, and PayPal.
Wise (Formerly TransferWise) tends to be the preferred service due to the lowest service charge and it’s overall ease of use. There are multiple account levels. The free account allows you to send money through their website, but you will have to upgrade with a one-time $31USD fee in order to receive money.
☑ Prepare for emergencies and natural disasters
Register with the closest embassy or consulate
For example, the United States runs the Smart Traveller Enrollment Program (STEP) for American citizens living or traveling abroad. By registering your location in Japan, you can be more easily trackable in case of natural disaster, family emergency, or other situations. Register that you are living in Japan as a foreigner, using your Japanese address, phone number and an emergency contact.
Review Natural Disaster Safety Procedures
On your city or town website, there should be a link to either a PDF or interactive digital emergency map. Should you evacuate during a tsunami risk? Is your home at high risk of landslide during high rainfall? Where is the closest emergency evacuation shelter? Familiarize yourself with this ahead of time to anticipate what situations will put your home and work locations at risk.
You may be used to having renters insurance in your home country. Insurance is a bit different here – sometimes called “fire insurance,” it covers many of the basic home liabilities, plus personal property and damage when you are out-and-about. Earthquake coverage usually isn’t included, but is sometimes available as an add-on. Review package offerings to decide what kind of coverage you are most comfortable with.
In case of a major earthquake, the NERV app alarm will sound (especially helpful if you are sleeping). After the earthquake is finished, you can see the epicenter of the earthquake, the severity rating, and whether or not there is a risk of tsunami. In case of heavy rainfall or other weather, you can reference the map to see if it is too dangerous to go out. At a bare minimum, install the NERV app for safety, and take a look at the other options.
In case of some natural disasters, it might be recommended to relocate to the closest designated emergency evacuation shelter. You should keep a pair of easy-on shoes close to your bed in case of broken glass, and your emergency backpack within easy reach. You can find pre-packed emergency evacuation backpacks online, or you can assemble and pack your own to your personal preferences.
Backpacks usually also include long-lasting food items such as canned muffins and dried soup mix. Keep an eye on the expiration date, then replace and refresh as needed. Emergency food is easily available at home centers and major grocery stores.
If you buy a pre-made backpack kit, remember to add your own medications, your smartphone charger, and personal records such as emergency family contact information.
☑ Greet the neighbors
Bring a small gift (omiyage) to your new neighbors. Not only is it customary, but it is a pleasant way to make your face known and establish a friendly rapport. You might need help from your neighbor later, so start out on the right foot by creating a harmonious relationship with neighbors in your community.
I tried to be an overachiever by baking honey lavender cupcakes in my airfryer and packing up little daiso bags for my neighbors. It doesn’t always make much of a difference, so don’t stress about your omiyage choice too much! It’s mostly an opportunity to share a smiling face and make a kind first impression.
☑ Maintain your visa and immigration status
Double-check your period of stay (this expiration date is noted on the stamp sticker on your passport). Before it expires, follow official protocols to extend your period of stay. If your visa activities will change, permission for a residence status must be received.
Go shopping! Make sure to pick up the appropriate municipal trash bags and landfill waste bags for your area.
Before hitting up home stores or amazon, check Daiso or other 100 yen (hyaku-en) shops to stock up on basic necessities at the lowest rate.
Don’t forget to grab a beginners driver magnet if you will be driving.
Fresh foods will perish quickly, especially in hot humid summers. You will need to go to the grocery store often. On your first trip, grab some non-perishable items such as noodles and frozen meals when you are in a pinch.
Once you have enough food to survive for a few days, go ahead and order some familiar comfort foods like peanut butter and your favorite tea from iHerb or Kaldi’s online store. Don’t feel guilty about missing familiar flavors. It’s a natural experience when moving to a foreign country!
Home shopping tips for Japan
If you live in an apartment, I’d also recommend starting out on the right foot with your neighbors by choosing bluetooth earbuds such as Apple AirPods instead of speakers when you are listening to podcasts, music, TV, etc. Trust me. Sound carries differently in this country.
Depending on your employment and housing situation, you may or may not need to furnish your home with furniture and appliances. Check out second-hand shops for affordable appliances. They usually offer easy delivery and reliable service.
Most of Japan gets very cold at home in the winter! Most Japanese houses, kominkas, apartments, and countryside homes have little to no insulation. Be prepared in advance, especially if you are arriving in fall! Consider getting a kotatsu (a low table with a skirt and heater), an electric blanket, a kerosene room stove, and cozy room wear including turtlenecks, long underwear, slippers, and layers (such as HeatTech apparel from Uniqlo).
☑ Anticipate upcoming prescription refills
Map the nearest clinic or specialist that can assist with your conditions. Hospitals and clinics may not offer walk-in services. Various departments may only operate during business hours on certain days of the week. Know the location and timing of your provider in advance and schedule an appointment well before your prescriptions run out.
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Enjoy your new expat life in the Japanese countryside! If you have any other resource article requests for inaka lifestyle, please leave a comment!
Hi all! I’m excited to share an update on our kitchen renovation in our akiya in the inaka of Shikoku, Japan! I’ve been too busy to get rolling for a few months now, but it’s finally starting to come together.
You can watch the long-form version of the kitchen work in this vlog:
Akiya kitchen renovation needed!
We decided to renovate our rural Japan home kitchen because it was… um… like this:
I tried cleaning the walls. Even bleach barely did a thing. But painting isn’t very difficult, it just takes time. The time has now come.
Restoring and repurposing an old Japanese Tansu
These old tansu cabinets were hiding in a back storage room under years of dirt. They happened to be about the right size for the far kitchen wall, so refinish them we shall! This kind of furniture find is definitely a Japanese countryside living perk. They were originally in the kominka folk house, but we are going to use them in the newer akiya house now.
And of course, the tansu drawers were lined with newspapers from the 80’s. Fun to look through old newspapers from Ehime prefecture.
Putting my interior design skills to work by scraping away bud nests. I don’t want to know what kind of insect this is from. Please don’t tell me. 🙂
To remove rust from tools, you can soak them with vinegar and salt. These handles aren’t easy to soak, so I used spray metal cleaner, a brillo pad and an old toothbrush to get them a bit cleaner. If you have a steel bristle brush, that works best.
Star of the show: vintage-look tinted linseed oil finish
I had never used linseed oil before but now I’m a believer. Linseed oil hardens with time, soaks into wood grain to protect it, and can also be used as a finish on iron. Perfect for this tansu! This wood love oil finish comes in natural, ebony tint, and other tint options.
After scrubbing down everything with a brillo pad to clean and expose some of the under-wood, I generously applied the ebony tint linseed oil over all surfaces including the hardware, then wiped it away to let it dry. The second coat took over a day to dry and was a bit tacky at the beginning. After returning from a 2-week trip, the tansu finish has no stickiness at all.
I frankensteined a cabinet, a low table base and an old door into the kitchen island. It gives us a more efficient prep space. I’ve never seen any Japanese people around here mix and match furniture like this… leave it to a foreigner to do something wild that breaks the rules. 😉
The kitchen island storage opens up to the prep side, concealing the millions of sauces and spices we have. They are convenient to grab while cooking, but not visible on the “guest side” of the island.
Here is a closer look at the finished tansu. I think I will come back later and add soft-close drawer hardware later. It is great for storing the variety of things we use in the kitchen from pots and pans to small appliances, tea, trash bags, etc.
Renovation cost break-down
It’s not done yet. I’m not even convinced we should call this an official renovation. Anyway, I still want to replace the broken/deteriorating tile backsplash and make a custom bamboo dish drying rack for above the sink. But at the moment, here is the break-down for all the costs:
We finished moving! I’ve lived in the Japanese Countryside for about two years now. My previous residence was a seaside house in a compact village. Now, my new husband and I are simultaneously moving to a new [old] place in the mountains with more land.
Old houses, new projects
My husband is responsible for some orchards here in Ehime, so it made the most sense for us to be close to the kiwi trees. The property here has four buildings: a 100-year old kominka, a newer concrete construction 2-level home, and two generous sheds.
We are working on plans to renovate the kominka into a guest house. It is small and *ahem* well ventilated, so it will be a very rustic and traditional experience for visitors. It may need to be fully closed during the coldest winter months.
I’ve been busy making the newer home comfortable for our lifestyle, starting with the kitchen and general cleaning.
Homesteading in Japan
We are looking forward to making good use of the land. Mr. Nakamura is interested in contributing to green tourism in the area. He has already planted 70 blueberry bushes in anticipation of opening a u-pick field. There are also fig trees, kiwi trees, a yuzu citrus tree, Japanese pepper tree, basho (Japanese banana), apple trees, grapes, and more. We’ve been steadily harvesting various vegetables already including okra, tomato, cucumber, shiso, and kale. It seems like we are on the homesteading track, planning to add chickens and geese next spring.
Japanese Countryside culture
This area is famous for fireflies, the sea of clouds view from the mountain, and various cultural festivals. The population is older. I’m still learning about expectations for me as a young-ish foreign woman in a culturally isolated area. We were the first house in our area to get any kind of internet, which should give you a clue how isolated this place really is.
Every Japanese countryside area seems to have it’s own unique rules and norms, and this place is no different. I look forward to sharing more tips and insights as things unfold.
My husband and I rely on community and word-of-mouth for our leads on homes. I know that isn’t very accessible for many people. If you are looking for a place like ours, you can check out the newsletter from Cheap Houses Japan. ← (This link will also get you a 20% off discount just for the Bitsii community!) Michael searches and shares 20 noteworthy for-sale properties in Japan every week. It’s completely fascinating, even for someone like me who already lives in a Japanese akiya house. I’ve seen beautiful traditional homes, freshly renovated homes, and even homes with onsen (hot springs) water. It’s a great place to start a Japan home search.
*** Nov. 2023 update: this house is currently rented, but will be available March 2024. Serious inquiries should e-mail me.
The Japanese Countryside house I have lived in for about the past year is available for rent. I have moved in with my husband elsewhere. We considered keeping it as a weekend home, but the reality is that we simply have too many projects going to put it to good use. So now this akiya is for rent! The house will be managed by members of the local community (I receive no income from this property). Here are the stats:
Rent: ２万円 per month (at the time of posting, that’s around $137USD per month). At a later date, the house is anticipated to be available for ownership. Location: Sadamisaki Peninsula, Ehime prefecture, Shikoku (Rural Japan) Schools: Misaki Elementary School, Misaki Junior High School, Misaki High School (5 mins by car) Grocery store: Foods Nikoniko, Lawson (4 mins by car) Restaurants: Sadamisaki Hanahana, Marina tei, Cafe Kitoki (5 mins by car) Airport: Matsuyama airport (~1.5 hours by car) Close to a public park, fishing area, bakery
There are three tatami rooms on the main level. The kitchen/dining is separated by the genkan/breezeway. There is one upper-level bedroom. By Western standards, this is a one-bedroom house. In traditional Japanese style, this house accommodated a family with two or three children.
There are three sheds. Most of the backyard is concrete. There is no front yard.
Appliances (you will need to provide your own fridge, LP stove, A/C, etc.)
Repairs and maintenance (large-scale should be done in cooperation and consultation with management)
Included: Hot water heater, any items left at the property (most items have been removed).
*These numbers will vary depending on your lifestyle and usage. I’ve provided these estimates for general reference purposes only. Water: ¥1140 JPY / month Electrical: ¥10,700 JPY / month Gas: ¥2285 JPY / month Internet (Pikara): ¥5,000 JPY / month Community dues: ¥12,000 JPY / year
Prospective tenant requests
The local community is especially interested in a prospective tenant who would like to participate in local activities. This means both leisure (eg: festivals) and work (eg: community weed clean-up). Bonus points for someone who wants to start a business in town.
Japanese language ability: recommended but not required. If you can’t speak Japanese, you should be able to use google translate on a smart phone.
Notes about this akiya for rent
This house comes with no warranties or guarantees. It has not been surveyed for structural, mechanical, or electrical safety. There is no insulation and the house was not built to be air-tight, so it gets hot in the summer and cold in the winter.
Visa: you will need to manage your own visa business. Renting/owning property does not provide any right to live here. Need advice? Ask these qualified sources.
Send an email with your name, LINE ID, and a brief introduction to bitsii.creative [at] gmail.com, and I will forward it to the manager.
Want to see more houses?
Check out the newsletter from Cheap Houses Japan, which delivers 20 noteworthy, affordable properties in Japan to your inbox once a week.
Living in Japan, I’ve been exposed to intricate facets of Japanese culture. Yet, I’ve also been learning some unexpected insights into Western culture. What seemed like common sense in one corner of the world may not hold the same meaning elsewhere. In particular, beliefs about homeownership, housing stability and home life are at the top of my mind. And in this country, western perspective on those topics seems to be very disconnected from an intentional lifestyle.
Aspirational media & aspirational mindset have followed me here.
I think a lot of people can relate to the “if I could just” mindset. If I could just _____, then I could relax and be happy. For me, my if is generally related to having a good home. I’ve moved sixteen times in my life, a handful of which were during childhood. As an interior designer, I think it would be an easy assumption to make that my desire to create finished spaces may be related to a desire for environmental security.
And I don’t think I’m alone. While most of you are probably not career interior designers, home improvement and home design media is a giant industry. From HGTV to home magazines, renovation tik tok and abandoned house renovation YouTube, the non-stop stream of home improvement narratives is out of balance with how much homemaking we really need to live a good life.
The environmental toll of renovation isn’t worth it.
When a home is “dated,” we assume it needs to be updated. Even in spaces that are completely livable, we might assume that renovations we don’t need are an “improvement.” What we assume to be common sense contributes to the fact that “Construction creates an estimated third of the world’s overall waste, and at least 40% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.” (BBC)
Some activists even suggest a global moratorium on construction. Many of us are shocked at the global imbalance of housing – where people are pushed out of affording their homes in places like Seattle and New York, yet millions of houses sit empty in Japan.
While I don’t have an answer on how we could try to remedy this stark imbalance, one thing that has become clear to me is that
The mindset that feeds non-stop construction is not the same mindset that should populate vacant houses in Japan.
We are on a never-ending quest for security.
I, and maybe you too, have looked to homeownership as the key to finding security. Which makes the massive quantity of cheap and free houses in Japan so immensely tantalizing. Like maybe we could finally get a break. But homeownership doesn’t work the same here in Japan. And possibly more importantly, our quests for security will be never-ending, regardless of the state of our homes.
Pema Chodron said it best in her book, “When Things Fall Apart.” She describes that the hope for an imagined future state is a way of dissociating from our present. “To think that we can finally get it all together is unrealistic.” Our lives will always be in a constant rhythm of things coming together, then things falling apart. And while we are hard-wired to always be striving for a solid sense of security, this is a futile effort. She suggests that one must give up on the hope that true, solid, unwavering security is achievable. “We are all addicted to hope.” She says, “Without giving up hope—that there’s somewhere better to be, that there’s someone better to be—we will never relax with where we are or who we are.”
It is easy to misunderstand Japanese architecture.
There were also a few misunderstandings that I (and probably my international audience) hold about abandoned Japanese houses.
First, I am familiar with the fascination about abandoned houses online and their lure. With poor photography, years of vacancy, less-than-graceful exits of previous residents, and the prevalence of pests and termites, it can be easy to assume that these houses need a gut job. That isn’t always true for a few reasons. The first is that houses simply operate differently here, and that is purely a cultural difference. These houses were never intended to be air-tight, well-insulated, or modern (more on old traditional Japanese houses). Houses aren’t expected to last forever. And rural Japanese culture does not consider fashionable home design to be a virtue. Much more respected, in my community at least, are modesty and selflessness.
Second, people tend to underestimate the power of thorough cleaning, minor repairs, and homemaking. Sure, the “before” photos might be shocking for those not used to seeing an abandoned house, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the house needs to be renovated. It might just need time and care.
My new approach is the pursuit of intentional living.
My akiya didn’t need a renovation. It needed a good cleaning, happy moments, good meals, and special people. When it comes to the never-ending quest for security, I’ll go out on a limb to say those things are much more important than any renovation. And with the state of construction and the environmental footprint, we’d all be better off reexamining our expectations for our homes.
In the short time I’ve lived in Japan, I am lucky to have met my partner, whom I want to share my life with. He works doing rural revitalization in cooperation with the local community, so we share the same drive and vision to maintain space and do well with our neighborhood. As he operates kiwi fields in the mountains, I’m joining him in his home from this point on. We will continue to do renovation projects. It is completely necessary, as homes do need ongoing maintenance and homemaking. But the focus will be more on living a good life, and less on creating picture-perfect home images.
Slow life lessons from Japan’s Silk Farming Industry
The practice of silk farming in Japan (sericulture) may seem like a relic of the past, but it offers valuable insights into a slow and intentional way of life.
Silk and the spirit of Japanese tradition
Sometimes in Japan, I hear people say that there is a spirit in everything. The first time I entered my akiya house, I felt an immediate sense of warmth and slow living. Despite years of emptiness and abandonment, the house felt comfortable. Amongst the piles of items to be sorted, I discovered remnants of the former resident Grandma’s creative endeavors. As a creative myself, I felt a connection to her, imagining the slow life she must have lived. The kind of life I aspire to, filled with home-grown vegetables and hand-made items. A pace at which one has room to live slowly with time to think. From embroidery to kimono-making, basket weaving and rag rugs, the house held a diverse and rich history in fabrics alone.
The past lives of fabric
Contemplating the history and intention embedded in fabric, I’ve come to realize that different sources of fabric and fibers have such curious past lives. From plants like cotton and flax to animals like wool, recycled items, chemicals (such as with rayon processing), and even bugs like silk worms, each carries its own unique spirit. The thought of silk being derived from insects is unexpectedly delightful. It has deepened my appreciation for traditional silk farming in Japan.
Sericulture was a staple for many rural Japan farm houses
For centuries, sericulture has played a vital role in rural farming homes in Japan. It involves raising silk worms, harvesting their cocoons, and producing silk filaments, which can then be spun into thread and woven into fabric. However, the industry has faced a decline due to various factors.
The Japanese sericulture industry vanished overnight
The decline of the sericulture industry can be attributed to several factors. The aftermath of the great depression, westernization, reduced demand for kimono silk fabric, advancements in synthetic fiber production, and shifts in economic and demographic landscapes have all taken their toll. Sericulture, though lucrative, faced it’s own challenges such as diseases that pass across mulberry leaves, the food source for silk worms. Some people who made a good income from silk worm farming needed to find alternative industries, such as masonry (source: Ishizumi School). What was once a thriving industry with thousands of factories across Japan has now dwindled. At the time of writing this article, there are only four silk processing facilities left in Japan.
The tradition is now preserved through workshops and tourism
Despite the decline, there are dedicated individuals working tirelessly to preserve the tradition of sericulture, weaving and silk farming in Japan. These preservation efforts manifest through educational tours and hands-on experiences, supported by local governments. While the industry has transformed into more of a cultural tourism experience, it still holds significant cultural value and serves as a source of pride for the region.
Will sericulture ever be a thriving industry again?
In contemplating the current state of sericulture, does it bear any resemblance to its former prosperity? What was once a thriving cottage industry has transformed into something to be observed from a distance. Silk farming still exists, but it is no longer as common or robust. The intentions behind its practice have shifted towards education and cultural experiences. The trade feels like a ghost of its former self, yet it remains an essential part of Japan’s cultural landscape.
Although silk is still farmed, its prevalence has diminished. Preservation efforts focus on keeping traditions alive through educational initiatives and cultural tourism.
Prospects for the future of silk farming in Japan
Considering the challenges faced by the sericulture industry and the evolving cultural landscape of Japan, the future of sericulture hangs in the balance. With an aging population and a starkly declining birth rate, the preservation of cultural traditions becomes increasingly challenging. Nevertheless, there is resilience and dedication demonstrated by those committed to the preservation of the sericulture trade in Japan.
I decided to try my hand at silk weaving. Engaging in this hands-on experience allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the history and value embedded in this ancient trade. Beyond cultural tourism, the profound significance of intentionally crafted items took on a new weight for me. They embody time, heritage, and intention. Inspired by this experience, I am committed to bringing new life to my home through intentional design.
Slow design and the power of intention
Similar to the slow food movement, I have embraced the concept of slow design in my home projects. Rejecting the notion of fast and disposable products, I am seeking to act with intention, considering the ripple effects and investing time and resources purposefully. My goal is not merely to create a house but to foster a home that reflects heritage, community, and a thoughtful, intentional process. Slow design empowers us to appreciate the beauty of a slow life.
The spirit of sericulture in rural Japan offers valuable insights into slow living and intentional living. The decline of the industry, the preservation efforts, and the evolving landscape all present opportunities for reflection and exploration. As I weave my own path here in Japan, I seek to embrace the power of slow design and its ability to foster a deep connection to heritage, community, and intentional living. Sericulture may have transformed, but its essence lives on as a testament to the enduring spirit of Japanese tradition.
Experience silk farming in Japan at the Nomura Silk Museum
Ishigaki (石壁) stone walls explained: a primer in ishigaki history, design, and DIY
Traditional Japanese stone walls, or in Japanese “ishigaki” or “ishizumi” are an integral part of Japanese landscaping and garden design. They serve various purposes, including providing structural support, defining boundaries, terracing steep mountains or slopes for farmlands of rural Japan, and in old times, defending from castle intruders.
Dry stone wall stacking is a common sight in inaka life, including here in Ehime Prefecture. There are many long-standing (and some not-so-standing) rock walls throughout the mountainous rural landscape.
It allows the slopes to turn the steep mountains into the perfect setting for mikans, kiwi, and rice crops.
But that’s just the surface view of a fascinating traditional trade.
There is something nearly spiritual about taking something from the ground and through the simple act of strategic placement, creating something so natural, strong and beautiful. Stone walls are said to be able to stabilize themselves, rather than try to mechanically suppress the forces of nature.
While stone walls can be seen around the world, the Japanese stone wall was developed elaborately into a specialized trade that differentiates it from other parts of the world. Here are some of the basics on traditional Japanese stone walls.
The first ishigaki wall in Japan
The use of stone walls in Japan dates back to the Sengoku period. Iimoriyama Castle (飯盛山城) in Osaka Prefecture is thought to be the first known stone wall in Japan, built in 1560. Stones over one meter tall were used to create moats around the main castle building. This castle is now in ruins.
Today, ishigaki stone walls continue to be an essential part of Japan’s architectural heritage and landscape design. Many traditional gardens, temples, and historic sites still feature these stone walls, connecting modern generations to Japan’s rich cultural and historical past. Preservation and restoration efforts are endangered, but remain necessary to ensure that this traditional craftsmanship endures for future generations to appreciate and admire.
A new life for an old technique
Dry stone masonry techniques are a piece of Japanese design heritage to be cherished. They are one of those trades that has proven its brilliance through simplicity, sustainability, and timelessness. Nothing is quite as authentic and charming as a beautifully constructed stone wall.
In addition, the value of a good rock wall extends beyond nostalgia or tradition. A properly built and maintained dry stack rock wall helps to prevent soil runoff during heavy rains, thereby reducing landslide risk.
A time-tested alternative to concrete
As discussed in the 99% Invisible podcast episode 361, Built on Sand, the rate of construction in the world is so rapid, even sand is becoming an endangered resource due to its use in concrete. And even though concrete is a common sight, it is not so innocent. Guardian called concrete the most destructive material on earth, noting that “if it were a country it would be the world’s worst [C02 emissions] culprit after the US and China.”
This is one more case in which the slow living method wins for environmental consciousness, aesthetics, and performance.
An endangered tradition
But as discussed in this interview with a Japanese masonry expert, one of the challenges of creating such a versatile and long-lasting product is the lack of demand. Because once a stone wall is properly constructed and in place, it could stay standing for hundreds of years. And as the techniques can be very labor-intensive, the cost can also be prohibitive when compared to other more “modernized” (concrete) alternatives. Dry masonry techniques are no longer used in public projects. As a result, the market demand is decreased and the trade is endangered.
As we are restoring and maintaining our expansive mountain-side property here in the Japanese countryside, I took a special interest in the stone walls. Mr. Nakamura and I will spend time on the walls, but first, I wanted to spend some time researching stone walls and sharing my findings here in case others could find inspiration, too.
Japanese stone work type categories
There are three general assembly types for Japanese dry rock masonry. They vary in their processing methods, height abilities, and aesthetics.
Nozura-zumi is the most natural way of assembling a stone wall. The stones are not processed/chipped, and they maintain their original shape. The rocks are stacked without concrete or mortar. As the original shape of the rocks will result in gaps and protrusions, there is plenty of room for drainage during heavy rainfall. If the wall is properly constructed using skillful stacking, small stone back-fill and tilt towards the earth, the wall should be fairly resistant to earthquake damage.
Potatoes are cultivated on a steep mountain slope averaging 40 degrees.
Uchikomi-hagi is the next evolution of stone wall construction methods. In this style, the stones are processed, resulting in a flatter face to the stone wall. By chipping the shape of the rocks, a tighter fit is achieved during the stacking process. This results in fewer gaps. Gaps are filled with mazumeishi stones.
Uchikomihagi walls can be seen at Himeji Castle in Hyogo prefecture and Kumamoto Castle in Kyushu.
Kirikomi-hagi technique uses a higher degree of stone processing, resulting in no gaps. Labor-intensive, this method is restrictively expensive. The lack of drainage necessitates additional rainwater drainage countermeasures. In this method, the stones resemble stacked cubes.
Kirikomi-hagi wall is seen here at Imabari castle in Ehime prefecture.
They can also be seen at Osaka Castle and Nagoya Castle in Aichi Prefecture.
Can I DIY ishigaki stone walls?
You can build your own rock walls, and moving rocks is great strength training. 😉 But improperly constructed rock walls can be a big hazard. A fallen rock wall will be a major waste of time and could cause property damage or personal injury. So be sure to seek guidance or at least refer to a manual (like this one) before investing days in building your own rock wall.
One of the beautiful things about rock walls is that once the fundamental properties are in place, the stacking technique is fairly straightforward. Observing the proper methods for setting a foundation, creating an angle, and back-filling with smaller rocks will result in structural stability.
Building your own rock wall can be a very satisfying project. The building materials can come straight out of the ground so that material costs can be very low.
And from personal experience as I have started to repair and maintain our own rock walls, I can attest to the modest joy of working on a rock wall. There is much happiness hiding in simple tasks, and it is work like this that brings me the most satisfaction in life. I appreciate trades like this that allow me to step lightly on the earth.
Picking up a rock from the earth to create a wall is so simple. But this landscape architecture embodies the wisdom of a centuries-old trade while embodying zero emissions of material transport, manufacturing, processing, etc. What could be more satisfying than that?
For the most basic dry stone masonry, only a shovel is needed. For more sophisticated techniques, the following low-tech hand tools are sometimes used:
shosen (which are tools for moving stones)
Stacking methods have evolved differently over time between the various regions of Japan. This is due to multiple factors. First is the variety of stone types to be found around Japan – varying in mineral content, shape, size, etc. Second are the preferences that developed during practice in each area.
Experienced Japanese gardeners and masonry experts can often identify regional influences based on the stacking patterns used in a rock wall.
Integrating trees and organic matter
Organic materials such as pine logs and bundled rice straw have been integrated behind stone walls since ancient times in Japan. Deep-root trees like pine or oak were sometimes planted at the top of masonry walls. Layers of organic matter between back-filled stones allowed for the process of decomposition. The fungal and microbial communities in the soil guide the root system to the face of the stone wall, where the root system sticks to the moist, air-permeable stone wall and cavities.
In these cases, the roots weave between the back-fill rocks and the soil behind them, creating a strong and flexible structural mesh. (source: chiyumori.org)
This dry stone wall school is in Ookayama, Tokyo. It is a part of the Tokyo Institute of Technology
Ishigaki wall stacking patterns
Meaning: counted stacking. In this method, the long and short sides of stones are alternated. The result is a clever interlocking where two or three short sides abut a long edge, and this pattern alternates.
Meaning: cloth stacking. In this method, a highly uniform and organized face is created.
Meaning: valley stacking. In this method, the stones fit into their own valley, which creates emphasis on the upward position of the stone’s diagonal axis.
Meaning: tortoise shell stacking. In this method, the stones are processed into a hexagonal shape. In Gusuku, Okinawa, it is also called Aikatazumi.
Meaning: cobblestone. In this method, rounded stones are used. Cobblestones are said to result in less stable construction.
Meaning: laughter pile. In this arrangement, small stones around a large stone are said to resemble teeth around an open, laughing mouth.
Due to the fact that I am soon marrying a Japanese gardener who maintains some orchards in the mountains, there will be some living situation changes… more updates on that soon. Don’t worry! We will still have a truly inaka lifestyle. But I figured it would be a great time to post some updated interior pics of my house while it is still in it’s cozy current state!
I hired a local painter to paint the entire exterior. The stucco exterior had been painted once before already. It got updated from a dull peachy color to white, reminiscent of shikkui plaster. My coworker once called shikkui houses “big chalk boxes.”
I painted a big yellow daffodil as a gesture of friendliness towards my neighbors.
The act of painting the mural was a great ice breaker.
It was a positive conversation starter. As I was painting, people would walk by and we enjoyed chatting together.
Besides the daffodil, I wanted to keep things pretty minimal. I opted to color-block accessories in front of the black siding so they don’t stick out like awkward barnacles. This black metal mailbox fit the bill. I’ve been pretty happy with it so far, but be warned that a black finish will show dust easily.
I was planning on replacing the siding with a specialty yaki-sugi (charred cedar) siding, but my grandpa painter friend decided it would be best if he painted the existing siding. I was shocked that he took that initiative without checking in about the idea first. Is that how it is in the countryside? *nervous giggle* Luckily it looks ok.
I got an LED lantern online similar to this one. The edison-style bulb isn’t super functional, but it gives the street a bit of life after sunset – a welcome quality for a depopulated town.
At first, I thought the entry way was going to need a lot of work.
As it turns out, the interior finishes that were neutral in color were actually very comfortable to live with. I’m glad I didn’t show up with a wrecking ball mentality.
This home didn’t need renovation as much as I thought it would.
Cleaning, nesting, and good intention go a long way.
A showa-era eclectic kominka in the japanese countryside.
I just didn’t understand the house yet. What do you think of when I say Traditional Japanese House? You probably don’t think of the 70’s. This house blends some very interesting nuanced influences – Showa-era flavor (complete with glitter mineral walls and sputnik-esque pressed glass patterns), old traditional materials such as shoji rice paper doors and tatami floors, and the quiet, modest vision of the original architectural designer.
Some of the aspects that first confused me are now the details I cherish the most. As a former certified interior designer schooled in western design principals and some strong aesthetic opinions, this place threw me off guard. Having previously designed new-construction hospitals, libraries, schools, etc., my mind operated in visual harmony formulas. But this house, I tell you! All my formulas be damned! So many wood colors, and so many textures. And yet, it’s maybe the most authentic house I’ve ever had the privilege to call home.
A moody moment at the landing at the 2nd level landing.
Not the akiya renovation project I expected.
Naïve me imagined rolling around the Japanese Countryside in a kei truck, hunting vintage stores for the perfect antique Japanese furniture finds. I’ve since learned that countryside houses don’t need so much furniture. If it’s a traditional house with tatami mat floors like this one, you can live on the floor.
And to my confusion and delight, this big old house doesn’t need any more stuff in it. I’m realizing a lot about the messages I’ve internalized about aspiration, consumerism, and the industry of never-ending improvement.
Last year, I was able to harvest peanuts from the backyard bed (shown above on the left side). As beans and peanuts are nitrogen-fixing, I figures it would be a nice way to start off some healthy soil rhythms. Also, there is only super sweet peanut butter at the stores near me. I wanted an unsweet peanut butter, so I ended up growing it myself!
A Personal Case Study: My Experiences and Expenses Living in the Japanese Countryside
I’ve lived in a handful of large American cities, but it was living and working in New York City that nearly broke me. My salary was the highest it has ever been and I was saving some money in my 401k, too. But my quality of life hit an all-time low. It was in New York that I decided to up-end things. That is when I decided to start applying to work in the Japanese Countryside. And as a side benefit, I’ve learned that the cost of living in rural Japan can be quite low.
After starting my YouTube channel about life in the inaka (meaning: Japanese Countryside), I’ve gotten a lot of interest regarding living expenses. My wildly low cost of shelter caused a mini-tornado of attention. Is cheap or free housing the easy way out of the rat race? Yes and no. It’s a simple concept, but it’s not necessarily easy. For the right person, living in rural Japan can have many benefits. The cost of living in rural Japan is one of the great benefits.
I now live in Ehime Prefecture on Shikoku island in Japan. Ehime is known for it’s mandarin oranges. Shikoku is known for… well… being remote. The remote-ness is both a pro and a con in my opinion.
The New York Times recently shared a lovely visual essay about the pilgrimage here in Shikoku (a large route of 88 Temples that individuals sometimes hike on a quest for wisdom). In some ways, it’s these remote areas where foreigners might consider to be the most authentically Japanese places. Trades, lifestyles, and culture almost seems disconnected from the rest of Japan, which can be both fascinating and frustrating, especially as a foreign person.
***For Japan cost of living averages (city and countryside), japan-guide.com has a great overview of rough estimates for living costs. There are also some more knitty-gritty articles with per-item comparisons to be found (I found this one on numbeo.com to look about right). But the numbers can vary greatly.
I wanted to share my personal experiences and cost of living in rural Japan. There are many ways a person can live their life. For me, the low cost of living here feels like a welcome whiff of security. Anyway, let’s dive into the numbers…
Japanese Countryside Living Costs Break-down
My partner currently lives 1.5 hours away from where I work, so I currently split my time between two houses.
My Main House
Now, I live in a Showa-era two-story Japanese kominka house with a courtyard and two small sheds. This house has a 0 yen price tag. Yes, you heard me right. The purchase price of this home is zero. There are taxes and fees at the time of transfer, however I have not yet completed that step yet. There were some hold-ups regarding the inheritance paperwork (that part doesn’t involve me; I’m not related to the homeowner). In the meantime, I have been handing over ¥10,000 JPY a month (about $70/month USD) to someone who helps with maintenance, repairs, and communication with the estate.
Technically, repairs and updates are not included. That being said, my maintenance person tends to just complete small tasks at a low-or-no charge rate.
I spend the weekends with my fiancé. He has negotiated the use of a multi-building estate in the mountains. This property has a two-level concrete construction house, a 100-year old folk house (kominka), a large two-level building that used to house silk worm farming, and another large shed where tobacco harvests were dried.
There is non-stop fresh mountain water (slightly jerry-rigged, but undeniably a simple luxury). The property has terraced rock walls where he is building a permaculture food-growing forest with blueberries, fig trees, kiwi, chestnut, shiitake farming, aquatic vegetables, and Japanese wild foraging vegetables.
Mr. Nakamura also rents a kiwi orchard and large greenhouse a short drive away. This estate is a rent-to-own-type situation, except the rent is zero and the purchase price is also zero (after five years of stewardship). This purchase price does not include taxes and fees to assume ownership, which can be prorated across multiple years if needed.
This scenario is not a government-subsidized program. It was decided by the older couple who inherited the home. The five-year rental situation is a positive aspect in my opinion. It allows us to make sure we can manage the property and rural community obligations before assuming full responsibility. Even though the purchase price is low, it’s still a big commitment. I’ll be moving there in the near future.
For the majority of my time here, I’ve driven a car that is owned by my employer. While I could use it for both work and personal driving, it had some distance limitations. This car was at zero expense to me. The car, gas and insurance were completely covered by my employer.
I recently purchased a kei car (compact car, good for slim roads in Japan). I opted for something that was both inexpensive and cute, so I bought a black Suzuki Lapin with 75,000 km (46,000 miles) for ¥290,000 yen (~$2000 USD). The shaken (Japanese inspection fee) was up to date and won’t be an issue anytime soon. The insurance is ¥8800 JPY / mo ($60 USD / mo). I spend about ¥8000 JPY / mo on gas ($55 USD / mo).
Every once in a while, I take the bullet train or subway over vacation, however this is not a common expense for me. A ferry from the nearest port to Beppu for a hot springs getaway is ¥4200 JPY. Matsuyama Airport has ¥700 JPY/day parking, is extremely easy to navigate, and a round-trip plane ticket from Matsuyama to Tokyo will be around ¥12,000 JPY (~$80 USD).
I grow a lot of my own food and anticipate even more after I move in with my partner. We often receive produce from neighbors who grow vegetables in their garden plots (hatake in Japanese). People go fishing often here and some people hunt wild boar as well. I’ve received fresh fish, octopus, butchered boar, lettuce, daikon, okra, edamame, shiitake, cucumber, citrus fruits, potato, sweet potato, and more from my neighbors. My grocery expenses are variable depending on how much I give in to my convenience store bento weakness. But to be honest, I give into the weakness most of the time. This means a mega-size coffee, onigiri, lunch protein, iced tea and snack every day. Some days I buy one or two NA Asahi beers.
Groceries sub-total: ¥5000 JPY / month
Convenience store food sub-total: ¥40,000 JPY/month
The electric bill spikes when I use electric heat or air conditioning. I sometimes use a dehumidifier. Electricity was several times lower at my former apartment (¥1,400 to ¥8,000 / mo) because there was an on-demand hot-water heater. The current house has a large, old boiler.
To be honest, I don’t have the internet. Yes, I have a YouTube channel, a website, and an instagram account, but I don’t have the internet. This is partially because sometimes it is just frustrating to finish enrollment paperwork as a foreigner (My name has roman letters and a middle name. It’s like throwing a wrench into the gears. I don’t fit the four-character expectations). I had pocket wifi for a while and paid overage fees sometimes, so I just ended up canceling it. I use the internet at work or at my partner’s house. When I had internet at my former apartment, it was ¥5,000 / month.
Internet sub-total: let’s say ¥5,000 JPY / month for good measure.
Home improvement and working on my creative projects are my entertainment. I don’t have a TV, but I went to the Sailor Moon movie last week. I sometimes buy books. When I went to Tokyo last time, I enjoyed Team Lab Planets and went to the Mori Art Museum. Otherwise, I’m pretty much a homebody.
This is deducted from my salary. I visited the dentist twice this year and went to the doctor once. We have physicals done at the town office, which includes checking heart, eyes, blood, weight, urinalysis and more. A health report card is awarded with health grades in each area.
Last year, I sprained my ankle. I couldn’t find my national health coverage card and was very stressed. I waited five minutes for x-rays. The kind nurses let me come back later after I found my card. Out of pocket: ¥1700. Celebratory convenience store cake, anyone?
Healthcare out-of-pocket sub-total: ¥2400 JPY / year
*Conversions were calculated July 6, 2023 using google and were rounded to the nearest dollar.
Total expenses: ¥132,058 JPY per month ($914 USD / $1375 AUD / €842 Euro per month)*
*I’ve done my best to add up and estimate numbers to the best of my ability, but note that I usually pay cash and have probably forgotten something somewhere. Use this for your entertainment and general informational purposes only, please. 🙂 This doesn’t include large infrequent expenses such as moving, buying a car, or buying furniture/appliances.
The housing cost is so low! What’s the catch?
Here are some of them:
Based on what I’ve observed, wildly affordable housing “deals” require that individuals are embedded and active in a community. This can be a lot of work, from cutting weeds to cleaning community spaces to performing at festivals. It can mean checking your ego and apologizing for things you don’t understand. In America, not apologizing is a sort of virtue. That simply won’t fly here.
Typically, the cheapest housing will not meet western standards for thermal comfort, seismic safety, electrical safety, and more.
Housing costs generally don’t include maintenance, improvements or appliances. For example, you won’t be able to call up the landlord if something breaks.
The countryside is full of bugs. Big, scary, sometimes poisonous ones. Beware the mukade (large, icky Japanese centipede)!
Rural Japan is experiencing rapid depopulation, which has affected the availability of amenities.
Is Japan expensive?
It’s highly variable! It will depend on your location and lifestyle. Big cities can be very expensive. Remote areas can be wildly affordable. Do you enjoy gardening, agriculture, old tradition and culture? Can you be flexible and find new ways to entertain yourself? Will you learn the Japanese language? Are you willing to try and accommodate a very different culture? If so, you might want to consider this lifestyle and the low cost of living in rural Japan.
Does Japan have a minimum income requirement for foreigners?
Japan does not explicitly have a minimum income requirement for foreign people, however there are income requirements embedded in visa eligibility. For example,
Business visas require substantial liquid assets, plus additional business-related requirements.
Spouse visas generally require that the couple makes at least ~$30,000 a year.
Work visas require that you… well… work for someone. And the employment options aren’t what you might be used to.
There are not visas for retirement.
There are not visas for remote work (if the parent company is outside of Japan).
*But please note that I am not a legal expert, and these are ballpark numbers. Please refer to this directory for proper legal and federal resources that can answer visa questions.
Conclusion: Cost of Living in Rural Japan vs. Quality of Life
Moving to the Japanese countryside. Is it the easy way out of the rat race? Well, it takes the right person. Food and shelter are at a record low for me here in rural Japan. My life is still stressful, but in a different way. There are many obstacles to manage. I’m taking on my challenges one at a time. But a high price of rent is not going to be a concern for me any time soon. For now, I’ll enjoy the low cost of living in rural Japan.
“Inaka” (田舎) is a Japanese word that translates to “countryside” or “rural area” in English. It refers to regions outside of major cities and urban centers, typically characterized by a more agricultural or natural environment. The term is used to describe areas with smaller populations, fewer amenities, and a slower-paced lifestyle compared to urban areas. Inaka is often associated with picturesque landscapes, traditional customs, and a sense of tranquility.
There are many reasons why people are talking about the Japanese countryside (inaka). Here are a few factors:
Rural revitalization efforts
In recent years, there has been increased attention on revitalizing rural areas in Japan. The government, local communities, and organizations have implemented various initiatives to address issues such as depopulation, aging populations, and economic decline in the countryside. Some of these efforts have made headlines and caused many urban-dwellers to pause and contemplate rural lifestyle.
For example, the kyoryokutai program sponsors motivated individuals to pursue revitalization in Japan’s inaka areas.
The inaka represents an alternative lifestyle choice for individuals seeking a slower pace of life, closer connection to nature, and a sense of community. As urban areas can be crowded and fast-paced, some people are drawn to the tranquility, natural beauty, and cultural richness offered by rural areas.
The Covid pandemic also provoked many people to reassess their life direction. This was due to increased reflection and a shift in perspective. The world experienced changes in work-life balance (for better and worse). The increased exposure to mortality of friends and family provoked a desire for change and meaning. There was job loss and uncertainty, and a longing for a simpler and more meaningful life.
As Japan remains a popular pipe-dream for people around the world, it makes sense that a peaceful, natural setting in the Japanese countryside would experience revitalized interest.
Sustainable living and eco-tourism
The countryside often embodies sustainable living practices and offers opportunities for eco-tourism. People interested in sustainable agriculture, organic farming, eco-friendly living, or experiencing nature firsthand may discuss or explore the inaka as a way to engage with these concepts.
Ozu, Ehime was named as one of the “Top 100 Sustainable Tourism Destinations in the World in 2023” by Green Destinations, an international official certification body and non-profit organization. Sometimes called the “Little Kyoto” of the Iyo region, Ozu has seen several noteworthy revitalization efforts including adaptive renovations that turn old traditional folk houses into hotels, cafes and shops.
For some, discussions about the Japanese countryside may revolve around the desire to escape the stresses of urban life. The inaka provides a respite from the hustle and bustle of cities, allowing individuals to immerse themselves in a more relaxed and serene environment.
The inaka offers a chance to explore and experience traditional Japanese culture, customs, and festivals that are deeply rooted in rural communities. People interested in immersing themselves in authentic cultural practices, local cuisine, and traditional arts and crafts may find that the inaka is the most authentic place to engage with these aspects of Japanese culture.
The Japanese countryside has become increasingly popular among domestic and international tourists seeking authentic travel experiences. As social media has become saturated with all the well-worn tourist destinations, the allure of “off-the-beaten-path” travel becomes even more appealing.
Cheap houses in the Japanese countryside tend to wade in and out of the media attention. Sometimes referred to as ghost houses or ghost towns, they have sparked the interest of many different kinds of YouTube audiences: those interested in abandoned place exploration, alternative lifestyles, slow living, money saving hacks, and Japanese culture enthusiasts alike.
Foreign J-vloggers often have atleast one video on Japan’s countryside. There are channels dedicated to kominka restoration, akiya hunting, and inaka living.
The inaka holds a certain allure for those seeking a different way of life, cultural exploration, or a break from urban environments, contributing to ongoing conversations about rural Japan.
How much does it cost to live in the Japanese countryside?
The cost of living will vary greatly depending on your personal expectations and way of living. That being said, the inaka generally has a far more affordable cost of shelter than urban areas in Japan. While some foreign people have criticized high prices of fruit and vegetables, the truth is that if a traditional inaka lifestyle is pursued, you will discover that the financial burden is actually much lower.
If you become a part of a community and live the way that neighbors do, you might find yourself receiving locally grown, harvested, hunted, fished and foraged foods like daikon (Japanese radish), cabbage, mikan (mandarin oranges), shiitake mushrooms, inoshishi (wild boar), fresh fish, onions, and more.
Those who try to maintain western diets and ways of living in the inaka will pay a premium. Those who adapt and partake in a local sharing/exchange culture will do well.
Here is a recommended set of steps if you are considering moving to the Japanese Countryside:
Research. Watch videos, read articles and books, listen to podcasts, and talk to others with inaka experiences. Try to hear both the good and the bad. Consider if you can manage tough scenarios and come out in one piece.
Visit Japan and spend some time in the countryside. You might consider doing a workaway stay, WWOOF, study abroad, a homestay exchange program, or a roadtrip. It might be difficult to get a true sense of a good community fit from initial visits, but it is better to start with a low-commitment visit. The Japanese countryside is not for everyone, and some people can tell right away.
Organize your visa, which will probably be linked to your employment. The JET program is the highest quality English teacher placement program, which almost exclusively places teachers in the inaka. Applicants may request specific areas, however the placement is not guaranteed. Requesting a countryside location will be a higher likeliness of receiving your placement location (as compared to Tokyo). During the pandemic, many Japanese employers learned how to make remote work possible. While many employers reverted to in-office work after time, some retained their new flex practices. It is work checking job postings if you are interested in remote office work, however most of these positions will be only available for those fluent in Japanese language. If your employer does not sponsor your visa, contact your local Japan embassy or consulate for personalized recommendations.
Organize housing. Jumping into home ownership quickly is not recommended. Many foreigners may find that their level of comfort in Japan changes with time, due to highly contrasting core cultural values, social structures, and general challenges of living in a foreign country. The best-case-scenario is moving into a flexible rental property that is organized by an employer. Real estate websites and local agents can assist in finding suitable accommodations. Many housing opportunities are not listed online. Homes for rent might be listed in the town paper, or be found through word-of-mouth.
Make the move. Get your affairs in order before leaving your home country. This means organizing your finances, health insurance, doing last minute language and etiquette study, making sure your passport is up to date, get your international drivers permit, cancel subscription services, cancel utilities, do any last-minute medical and dental appointments, organize personal belongings for donation, shipping, luggage, or storage, and get all of your important documents such as birth certificate, academic qualifications, and licenses in order.
Located in Tokushima Prefecture on Shikoku Island, Iya Valley is renowned for its scenic landscapes, traditional thatched-roof houses, and vine bridges.
A subtropical island off the coast of Kyushu, Yakushima is known for its ancient cedar forests, moss-covered trails, and being the inspiration for the animated film “Princess Mononoke.”
Shirakawa-go and Gokayama
These historic villages in the mountains of Gifu and Toyama Prefectures are famous for their traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido, is known for its stunning landscapes, hot springs, and outdoor activities. Places like Furano, Biei, and Shiretoko National Park are popular destinations.
These are just a few examples, and Japan’s countryside has numerous other destinations worth exploring. Each region offers its unique charms, from picturesque landscapes and cultural heritage to outdoor adventures and relaxation in hot springs.
In Japan, the inaka is typically populated by a mix of different demographics. Here are some groups of people who commonly live in the inaka:
In many rural areas, the majority of residents are older individuals. As younger generations tend to migrate to larger cities in search of more desirable job opportunities, the aging population remains in the countryside, often maintaining traditional lifestyles. Don’t be fooled. At Japan boasts a high rate of centenarians. Grandmas and Grandpas often follow the diet and exercise recommendations of doctors well, meaning they stay sprite and energetic for a long time! You might just discover that Japanese Grandmas and Grandpas can hike faster, drink more, and accomplish more than you can.
Farmers and agricultural workers
The inaka is home to many farmers and agricultural workers who cultivate crops, raise livestock, and engage in other agricultural activities. These individuals often have strong connections to the land and play a vital role in sustaining rural communities.
People who have lived in the countryside for generations form the core of the local population. They include families, individuals, and small business owners who contribute to the community’s social fabric and economy.
Some individuals choose to live in the inaka while working in cities. These commuters appreciate the quieter lifestyle and natural environment of the countryside while taking advantage of employment opportunities in urban areas. They might maintain hobby hatake (garden plots).
Artists and creative professionals
The tranquil atmosphere and scenic landscapes of the countryside attract artists, writers, photographers, and other creative individuals seeking inspiration. Some opt to live in the inaka to immerse themselves in nature and pursue their artistic endeavors. Many find that the low price of housing allows them to pursue what may be a profession with less income security. Some of these people also adopt restoration of akiya and old folk homes as a part of their creative, alternative lifestyle.
Retirees and second-home owners
Some Japanese retirees opt to move to the countryside. Some people also own second homes in rural areas as vacation retreats or weekend getaways. While foreigners are able to own homes in Japan without a long-term visa, retirement does not guarantee long-term admissions. Please utilize a legal consultant to understand your options.
It’s worth noting that these are general categories, and the population of each inaka location can vary. Some areas may have a more diverse mix of residents, while others may have a predominantly homogenous population.
Yes, foreigners do sometimes live in the inaka (countryside) in Japan. While the majority of foreign residents in Japan are concentrated in urban areas, there is a growing number of foreigners who choose to live in rural regions for various reasons. Here are a few groups of foreigners who may live in the inaka:
Many foreign English teachers, particularly those working in the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, are placed in rural areas as English instructors in local schools. They often reside in the inaka for the duration of their teaching contracts.
Some expatriate families, often due to job transfers or personal preferences, choose to live in the countryside. This can include individuals working for international companies, foreign diplomats, or professionals in various fields.
Homestay and Exchange Program Participants
Foreign participants in homestay programs, such as language exchanges, cultural exchanges, or agricultural experiences, may temporarily live with host families in rural areas to immerse themselves in Japanese culture and lifestyle.
Perhaps having met during college, travel, or otherwise, foreign spouses dot the inaka. Foreign spouses often face challenges obtaining or succeeding in Japanese workplace culture, so they often become entrepreneurs and small business owners.
While the number of foreigners living in the inaka may be relatively smaller compared to urban areas, their presence contributes to the diversity and cultural exchange within rural communities. It’s important to note that living in the countryside as a foreigner may present some unique challenges, including language barriers and limited access to certain services. However, many find the experience rewarding and fulfilling, embracing the local culture and becoming active members of their communities.
What kinds of jobs can foreigners do if they want to live in the inaka?
Foreigners living in the inaka (countryside) in Japan may have various job opportunities depending on their skills, qualifications, and the specific needs of the region. Here are some examples of jobs that foreigners can consider in the inaka:
Teaching English is a common job for foreigners in Japan, including in rural areas. Opportunities exist in public schools, private language schools, and community centers. The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program is a popular option for English teaching positions in rural regions.
The inaka often has a strong agricultural sector, and foreigners interested in farming or working in related industries may find opportunities in areas such as organic farming, winemaking, tea production, or animal husbandry.
Hospitality and tourism
With the growing interest in rural tourism, there may be job openings in guesthouses, traditional ryokans, farm stays, and local tourism offices. Foreigners with hospitality or customer service experience can find opportunities in these sectors.
Outdoor and adventure activities
If you have skills or qualifications related to outdoor activities such as hiking, mountaineering, fishing, or guiding, there may be possibilities to work in adventure tourism or outdoor education programs in rural areas.
Arts and crafts
The inaka can be a hub for traditional arts and crafts. Foreigners with artistic skills or knowledge of traditional crafts like pottery, woodworking, or textile arts may find opportunities to collaborate with local artisans, set up their own studios, or participate in artist-in-residence programs.
Some rural areas have business opportunities that may benefit from international connections or expertise. This could include import/export, international consulting, or assisting local businesses in expanding their reach beyond Japan.
With the increasing popularity of remote work, individuals with jobs that allow telecommuting or freelancing can choose to live in the inaka while maintaining their current employment. This option provides flexibility and the ability to enjoy the rural lifestyle.
It’s important to note that language skills, particularly Japanese proficiency, can be beneficial for many job opportunities in the inaka. However, some positions may have more relaxed language requirements, especially in sectors where international interaction is common. Networking, researching local industries, and reaching out to relevant organizations or communities in the desired area can help uncover job opportunities in the inaka.
Before visiting the inaka (countryside) in Japan, it’s helpful to be aware of a few important things to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience. Here are some key points to know:
Research the destination
Conduct thorough research about the specific region you plan to visit in the inaka. Learn about its geography, climate, local customs, attractions, and any unique considerations or events happening during your visit.
While English may be less commonly spoken in rural areas, especially among older generations, learning some basic Japanese phrases and expressions will greatly enhance your communication and interaction with locals. Prepare translation apps to facilitate communication. Google translate allows you to download languages over wifi ahead of time incase you run out of data or are in a low-service area. Learning to speak and understand will always be more useful, as some Japanese grandparents may have never seen a translation app before and may get confused.
Public transportation options in the inaka may be limited compared to major cities. Check the availability and schedules of trains, buses, or rental car services in the area. It’s advisable to have a plan for getting around, especially if you want to explore multiple locations. Obtain an international drivers permit before leaving your home country. Car rentals need to be reserved in advance.
Check the availability of accommodation options in the area, including guesthouses, hostels, ryokans (traditional Japanese inns), minshukus (family-run guesthouses), or farm stays. Book in advance, especially during peak travel seasons, to secure your preferred lodging.
Local customs and etiquette
Familiarize yourself with Japanese customs and etiquette, such as removing shoes when entering homes or certain establishments, using appropriate greetings and bows, and showing respect for local traditions. Being aware of and practicing these customs demonstrates cultural sensitivity. They are the tip of the iceberg of Japanese cultural expectations, so it is imperative that the simple practices are followed. Adopting more complex and locally-specific practices will be expected with longer stays. Kindness, smiles and apologies go a long way. Depending on the community, some places may be accommodating to foreigners and some places will not.
Cash and ATMs
In rural areas, cash is still widely used, and credit card acceptance may be limited. Ensure you have enough cash on hand, and locate ATMs or nearby banks in advance to avoid any inconvenience. When possible, paying with exact change is polite.
Food preferences and allergies
If you have dietary restrictions or allergies, it’s helpful to learn about local cuisine and ingredients beforehand. Communicate your dietary needs clearly when ordering food or participating in homestays to ensure your requirements can be accommodated. Vegetarianism is possible to accommodate, but it may require additional planning and flexibility.
Consider the weather and local customs when deciding what to wear. Respectful attire is appreciated when visiting shrines, temples, work, school, or traditional events. Pack comfortable shoes and clothing suitable for outdoor activities if you plan to explore nature trails or engage in agricultural experiences. Modest, simple clothing is recommended.
Respect nature and the environment
When visiting natural areas, follow designated trails, respect wildlife, and leave no trace. Be mindful of local regulations, such as proper waste disposal or recycling practices.
While Japan is generally a safe country, it’s important to practice common safety precautions. Inform someone about your travel plans, carry necessary identification, and be mindful of your belongings.
By being well-prepared and culturally sensitive, you can enhance your inaka experience and create positive, cherished memories in rural Japan.
Expectations and reality in the Japanese countryside (inaka) can sometimes differ due to various factors. Here are a few examples of common expectations versus the reality you may encounter:
Expectation: Peaceful and serene environment with pristine nature.
Reality: While the countryside offers beautiful landscapes and a quieter atmosphere, it’s important to note that rural areas also have their share of noise, agricultural activities, and occasional seasonal events that may disrupt the tranquility. Rural Japanese houses are sometimes built close to one another, so indoor noise pollution is common.
Mountains, rivers, seaside views and rice fields are a lovely sight. But Japan also has a high amount of pesticide and plastic use in agriculture. Trash burning is a common sight, and many beaches could benefit from regular trash clean-ups.
Expectation: Close-knit and welcoming community.
Reality: Rural communities in Japan often have a strong sense of community and may be welcoming to outsiders. However, building relationships and integrating into the community may take time and effort, as cultural differences and language barriers can exist.
Rural areas rarely see foreign visitors. Sometimes local inaka residents have little understanding of what to expect and how to be respectful towards people from diverse home countries. Foreigners may find that they make unforgivable mistakes, their values clash with those of their community, or they generally don’t “fit in.”
Expectation: Lower cost of living.
Reality: Generally, living costs in the countryside can be lower compared to major cities in Japan. However, this may not be the case for those unwilling to adapt to local norms. This might mean eating local foods, experiencing extremes of heat and cold in an old house, and having fewer modern conveniences.
Expectation: Slower pace of life and less stress.
Reality: The countryside offers a more relaxed lifestyle compared to bustling urban areas. However, it’s important to recognize that rural life can also have its challenges, such as limited access to certain services, fewer entertainment options, and potential isolation, which may not suit everyone’s preferences.
While the highest stress Japanese work environments are usually in urban areas, there is still a great deal of pressure and obligation culture in the countryside. Teamwork is king. Those who offend or disrupt the social organization expectations may be pressured to change their ways. Depending on the situation and your personality, countryside culture can be high stress, especially if Japanese language skills are low.
Expectation: Abundance of traditional culture and customs.
Reality: Rural areas are often associated with preserving traditional culture and customs. While many aspects of traditional Japanese culture may be present in the countryside, it’s essential to understand that modernization and globalization have also influenced these areas, leading to a blend of traditional and contemporary elements. Some traditions and practices have become extinct or nearly extinct.
Expectation: Limited job opportunities and career options.
Reality: Job opportunities in the inaka may be more limited compared to urban areas. While certain sectors like agriculture, hospitality, or teaching English may be prevalent, finding employment in specific industries or highly specialized fields can be more challenging. Remote work or creating your own business may be options to consider.
Even though there may be fewer job opportunities, grant and revitalization programs are available if you are able to navigate the systems using Japanese language.
Are there alternative ways to have an Inaka experience without moving there?
Yes, there are alternative ways to have an inaka experience in Japan if residing in rural areas is not in the cards for you. Here are a few alternatives:
You can find rural accommodations on AirBNB or STAY JAPAN. Plan according to what local amenities are available. It might be necessary to cook your own meals.
Seek out restaurants or cafes that focus on serving locally sourced, farm-fresh ingredients. These establishments often aim to create an inaka ambiance and provide a taste of rural cuisine and hospitality.
Traditional craft workshops
Participate in traditional craft workshops that teach rural crafts such as pottery, woodworking, or paper-making. Many urban areas have workshops and studios where you can learn these skills and experience the craftsmanship associated with the countryside.
Community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs
Join a CSA program that allows you to receive regular deliveries of fresh produce directly from local farms. Some programs offer newsletters or events that provide insights into rural farming practices and connect you with the agricultural community.
Nature retreats and camps
Attend nature retreats or camps that focus on outdoor activities, mindfulness, and reconnecting with nature. These programs often take place in natural settings outside of urban areas and can provide a sense of the tranquility and rejuvenation associated with the inaka.
Cultural exchange programs
Engage in cultural exchange programs that connect you with individuals from rural communities. This can include language exchange programs, pen-pal initiatives, or virtual cultural exchanges, allowing you to learn about rural life through personal interactions and conversations.
Documentaries and literature
Watch documentaries or read literature that explores the life and culture of rural Japan. These resources can provide insights into the inaka experience, traditions, and the relationship between people and nature in rural communities.
While these alternatives may not provide the exact same experience as being in the inaka itself, they can still offer glimpses into rural life, traditions, and values. Embracing these opportunities can help you appreciate and understand the beauty and uniqueness of the Japanese countryside.
A Rich Architectural Heritage: Old Houses in Japan
Japan boasts a rich architectural heritage steeped in history and cultural significance, particularly in the realm of old houses. Old houses in Japan, such as traditional kominka and machiya, showcase the country’s unique design principles, craftsmanship, and the harmonious integration of nature and human living spaces.
With their distinctive features and attention to detail, these old houses offer a window into Japan’s past, reflecting the values, traditions, and aesthetics that have shaped the nation’s architectural landscape. Preserving and celebrating these architectural gems not only ensures the continuity of Japan’s cultural heritage but also highlights the enduring charm and relevance of old houses in a rapidly evolving world.
In the realm of Japanese residential architecture, let’s look at three distinct types of houses: “kominka,” “machiya,” and “akiya.”
Kominka refers to traditional Japanese houses that hold immense historical and cultural significance, showcasing folk design elements and craftsmanship. Passed down through generations, these houses provide insight into Japan’s architectural heritage and way of life.
Machiya are traditional townhouses, known for their wooden lattice facades, compact layouts, and integration of indoor and outdoor spaces. They have played an important role in community life. Some are now being revitalized through adaptive reuse projects. Kyo-machiya are a style specific to Kyoto, which is often long with a narrow street-facing front and a tsuboniwa (small courtyard Japanese garden).
On the other hand, akiya refers to abandoned houses, which have become a growing issue in Japan due to factors such as an aging population and rural depopulation. These vacant properties pose economic and social challenges but also offer opportunities for revitalization and preservation efforts aimed at maintaining cultural heritage and promoting sustainable living practices.
The Significance of Old houses in Preserving Cultural Heritage
Old houses hold immense significance in preserving Japanese cultural heritage. These architectural treasures are more than just structures; they serve as tangible connections to Japan’s rich history, traditions, and way of life.
Old houses embody the values and aesthetics of bygone eras, showcasing the craftsmanship and design principles that have shaped Japanese culture. From the intricately assembled wooden details of sliding doors, to finely woven tatami mat to the integration of nature and indoor spaces, these houses provide a physical manifestation of Japan’s cultural identity.
Preserving and maintaining these old houses is vital for ensuring that future generations can experience and appreciate the architectural legacy of the past, fostering a deep sense of cultural pride and understanding. By safeguarding old houses, Japan continues to honor and celebrate its cultural heritage, keeping the spirit of the past alive in a rapidly changing world.
Mindful, Sustainable Lifestyles
Living in and maintaining old Japanese homes can foster sustainable living practices. These houses often emphasize a harmonious relationship with nature, incorporating natural materials, energy-efficient design, natural views, high degrees of ventilation and a connection to the surrounding environment. The use of sustainable materials like wood and shoji paper promotes resource conservation and reduces the carbon footprint associated with construction.
Additionally, the compact layouts, efficient use of space and minimalist interior aesthetics encourage mindful consumption and discourage a life of excess.
The preservation and renovation of these homes also prioritize longevity and durability, discouraging demolitions and new construction. By embracing the principles of sustainable living in these traditional houses, individuals contribute to environmental conservation, reduce energy consumption, and uphold a more balanced and eco-friendly lifestyle.
Mottai-nai: a Waste-not-want-not Sustainability Mindset
When it comes to maintaining old Japanese houses, the Japanese concept of “mottainai” holds great significance. Rooted in Buddhist philosophy, “mottainai” embodies the notion of regretting waste and cherishing the intrinsic value of objects and resources.
When applied to the maintenance of old houses, “mottainai” encourages a mindset of preservation, resourcefulness, and respect for the past. Instead of discarding or demolishing these architectural treasures, individuals who embrace “mottainai” seek to maximize their lifespan through meticulous upkeep, repair, and adaptive reuse.
This concept promotes sustainable living by minimizing waste, reducing the environmental impact of new construction, and fostering an appreciation for the enduring beauty and cultural significance of these traditional homes. By embodying the spirit of “mottainai,” individuals contribute to the preservation of Japan’s architectural heritage while embracing a more mindful and sustainable approach to housing.
“… the sage desires what [other people] do not desire, and does not prize things difficult to get; he learns what [other people] do not learn, and turns back to what the multitude of men have passed by.”
THE TAO TE CHING, LAO TSE
Akiya: Abandoned Houses in Japan
The term “akiya” (空き家) refers to abandoned or vacant houses in Japan. Akiya has significant implications for society, economy, and urban development. With Japan’s aging population and rural depopulation, the number of akiya has been on the rise.
The Shocking State of Akiya in Japan
In 2019, the number of akiya increased by around 44,000 compared to the previous year, reaching a record high of 8.49 million vacant houses. (Source: The Japan Times)
As of 2018, the vacant house rate in Japan stood at around 13.6%, meaning that more than one in ten houses were abandoned or unoccupied. (Source: Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications)
Some estimates suggest that by 2033, the number of akiya in Japan could reach 21.5 million, doubling the existing figure. (Source: The Japan Times)
These empty properties not only represent wasted resources but also create economic and social challenges for communities. Akiya contribute to a sense of neglect and decay, plus pose risk during natural disaster or if they harbor termites that may spread through a neighborhood.
However, akiya also present opportunities for revitalization and cultural preservation. Efforts are being made by the government and individuals to encourage the renovation and reuse of akiya, promoting community engagement, economic revitalization, and at times, the preservation of architectural heritage.
One aspect of akiya is that they often come with the personal belongings and remnants of their former residents. This may be viewed as either a burden of labor to rehome or dispose of objects, or may be seen by some as an intriguing opportunity. There may be a treasure trove of items that offer a glimpse into the lives and tastes of the previous occupants. From furniture and household items to photographs and personal mementos, these artifacts carry a sense of history and personal stories.
One may encounter objects that exemplify the concept of “mingei.” Coined by the Japanese aesthete, Soetsu Yanagi, mingei refers to folk crafts or art created by anonymous artisans. These objects embody simplicity, functionality, and beauty in everyday life. Discovering mingei items within akiya not only adds cultural value but also enhances the sense of connection to the past, honoring the craftsmanship and aesthetics of earlier generations.
Sorting old dishes and mingei wares in a kominka akiya in Ehime prefecture, 2023.
The revival of akiya can breathe new life into neighborhoods, support local businesses, and contribute to the sustainable use of existing resources. By addressing the akiya issue, Japan can tap into the potential of these neglected properties and turn them into valuable assets for the benefit of both the community and the country as a whole.
Kominka: Traditional Japanese Houses
Definition and characteristics of kominka
Kominka (古民家) refers to traditional Japanese houses that hold immense historical and cultural significance. These houses are known for their unique architectural features, craftsmanship, and design elements that reflect the Japan’s rich cultural heritage.
Kominka are typically constructed using natural materials such as wood and paper, showcasing a harmonious integration with the natural surroundings. These houses often exhibit a compact layout, with sliding doors and tatami mats defining the interior spaces. The meticulous craftsmanship and attention to detail in kominka make them distinct symbols of traditional Japanese architecture.
Why should we preserve kominka?
Preserving kominka is vital for maintaining Japan’s historical and cultural identity. These houses provide a tangible link to the past, representing the architectural styles and living conditions of previous generations. They offer insights into traditional Japanese values, aesthetics, and ways of life.
By preserving kominka, communities can safeguard their cultural heritage and promote a sense of pride and belonging among residents. These houses also serve as valuable educational resources, allowing future generations to learn about their cultural roots and appreciate the craftsmanship and design principles of bygone eras.
Architecture and design of kominka.
Kominka are characterized by their distinctive architectural features and design elements. The use of natural materials, such as wooden beams and panels, creates a warm and inviting atmosphere. Sliding doors, known as fusuma and shoji, allow for flexible room configurations and the integration of indoor and outdoor spaces. Tatami mats, made from woven straw, cover the floors, adding a traditional touch to the interior. The incorporation of traditional architectural elements, such as irimoya-style roofs or engawa (verandas), further enhances the aesthetic appeal and functionality of kominka.
When were kominka built?
Kominka, traditional Japanese houses, were typically built during the following time periods:
Edo Period (1603-1868): Many kominka originated during the Edo period, which was characterized by relative peace and stability in Japan. During this time, the samurai class flourished, leading to the construction of elegant and refined houses.
Meiji Period (1868-1912): The Meiji period marked the beginning of modernization in Japan. Some kominka were built during this era as the country transitioned into a more industrialized society. These houses may exhibit a blend of traditional and Western architectural influences.
Taisho Period (1912-1926): The Taisho period witnessed a mix of Westernization and preservation of traditional Japanese culture. Some kominka were constructed during this time, reflecting a combination of architectural styles from both the Meiji and Taisho periods.
Showa Period (1926-1989): The Showa period encompassed a significant portion of the 20th century and witnessed significant societal changes in Japan. While the construction of new kominka declined during this time, some existing houses were maintained and renovated.
Renovation and adaptation of kominka for modern living.
While preserving the historical integrity of kominka is valuable, renovation and adaptation are sometimes preferred to make them suitable for modern living. Renovations often involve updating utilities, reinforcing structural integrity, and making adjustments to facilitate thermal comfort. The challenge lies in finding a balance between preserving the original architectural elements and incorporating modern amenities and comforts.
Renovated kominka can serve as unique homes, guesthouses, or cultural centers, blending traditional charm with contemporary functionality. The adaptive reuse of kominka allows these houses to continue their legacy as valuable assets in modern society, showcasing the resilience and adaptability of traditional Japanese architecture.
Machiya: Traditional Townhouses
Machiya, traditional townhouses, hold a significant place in Japanese architectural heritage. These houses originated during the Edo period (1603-1868) and were prevalent in cities like Kyoto.
Machiya were typically narrow, wooden structures with a unique architectural style that reflected the needs and values of the time. They were designed to accommodate both residential and commercial purposes, with the ground floor often serving as a shop or workspace and the upper floors as living quarters.
Machiya are characterized by their distinctive architectural elements and layout. The facade sometimes features a wooden lattice called “koshi” that allows for privacy while allowing natural light and ventilation.
Inside, the layout follows a linear design, with rooms arranged sequentially from the front to the back. An inner courtyard known as “tsuboniwa” brings natural elements into the heart of the house, providing a sense of tranquility and a connection to nature.
Machiya often incorporate sliding doors, known as “fusuma” and “shoji,” allowing for flexible room configurations and the adaptation of space according to changing needs.
The role of machiya in community life and urban planning
Machiya played a vital role in community life and urban planning. These townhouses formed the backbone of traditional neighborhoods, contributing to a sense of community cohesion. They were often passed down through generations, fostering a sense of continuity and shared history within the neighborhood.
Machiya were designed with narrow frontages to maximize the use of limited space and promote efficient land use in densely populated areas. Their presence created a unique streetscape that preserved the character and identity of the neighborhood.
Revitalization efforts and adaptive reuse of machiya
In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the historical and cultural value of machiya, leading to efforts for their revitalization and adaptive reuse. With the decline of traditional industries and changing lifestyles, many machiya fell into disrepair and were at risk of demolition. However, preservation organizations, local governments, and private initiatives have stepped in to restore and repurpose these architectural gems.
Machiya have been transformed into guesthouses, cafes, galleries, and cultural centers, breathing new life into the old structures while preserving their unique character. These revitalization efforts not only contribute to the preservation of Japan’s architectural heritage but also support local economies, attract tourists, and promote community engagement in urban renewal projects.
Restoring and Preserving Old Houses in Japan
While it may be easy to see the value in preserving kominka, machiya and old Japanese houses, it is easier said than done. Renovation and restoration of these houses differs significantly from practiced abroad. This presents unique challenges and considerations.
Cultural implications of renovating a house in Japan
Renovating a house in Japan carries significant cultural implications. Japanese culture places great value on the preservation of tradition, respect for family and history, and harmony with the immediate community and natural environment.
When renovating a house, especially one with historical or cultural significance, it is crucial to consider these cultural values. Renovation projects offer an opportunity to blend traditional aesthetics and craftsmanship with modern functionality, creating a harmonious balance between the old and the new. It is important to approach renovations with consideration for the local community.
Consider the value of the original architectural features, materials, and design elements, aiming to preserve and restore them whenever possible. By doing so, the cultural significance and historical value of the house are respected and upheld.
Renovating a house in Japan not only revitalizes the physical structure but also contributes to the cultural fabric of the community, preserving a sense of identity, and providing a connection to ancestors for future generations.
Some communities may like to see a local priest perform a ceremony to prepare the house for a new resident.
What do you need to renovate in old Japanese houses?
“Livable” in Japan might not be “livable” abroad
The degree of invasiveness required in the renovation of a Japanese house will vary greatly depending on the expectations of the owner and occupant. When viewed from afar, many foreign prospective residents will anticipate that old Japanese houses need certain improvements including insulation, termite damage repair, updated plumbing, etc.
In contrast, local Japanese neighbors would not necessarily approach the property with the same perspective. Especially in the inaka, Japanese people might approach repairs and maintenance a little at a time, waiting until and improvement is absolutely necessary for it to be done. It is common for people to live in modest homes that have existing termite damage, no insulation, old wiring, and deferred maintenance tasks.
A prospective resident might choose to change the house to meet their standards. They might also choose to try out living like a local. It’s a personal choice.
What are common maintenance tasks for old Japanese houses?
Structural assessment and repair
Termite inspection and extermination
Updating old plumbing including leaking faucets and Japanese style toilets
Updating the electrical panel
Replacing water-rotted exterior wood
Repairing deteriorating exterior plaster (shikkui), wood siding or rusting metal panels
Removing and replacing moldy interior wood paneling
Replacing old fluorescent light fixtures for more energy-efficient LED fixtures
Replacing rotten or damaged floor subfloors and structures
Replacing / resurfacing old tatami flooring, or choosing to have it replaced with wood floor, tile, and possibly under-floor insulation
Re-papering shoji screen doors
Cosmetic and aesthetic updates, especially in kitchens and toilet rooms
Adding air conditioning and thermal control
Sourcing traditional building materials, skilled tradespeople, and artisans experienced in traditional construction techniques can pose challenges, as these skills may have become less common over time. Balancing authenticity and functionality, meeting regulatory requirements, and managing costs are additional considerations that must be carefully navigated during the restoration or renovation process.
Despite these challenges, the revitalization of old Japanese houses is a rewarding endeavor that preserves cultural heritage, fosters a sense of identity, and contributes to the unique architectural landscape of Japan.
Old Japanese House Lifestyle
Unique lifestyle aspects and advantages of living in old houses
Living in an old house offers a unique lifestyle that connects residents to the past while embracing the charm of traditional Japanese architecture. Old houses provide a sense of authenticity and a connection to history that is deeply enriching. The carefully considered interiors create a serene and tranquil living environment. The use of natural materials fosters a sense of harmony with the surrounding nature and can create a setting of great relaxation.
Old houses often have spacious layouts and open courtyards that encourage a closer relationship with the outdoors. This connection to nature and the traditional design elements promotes a calmer and more mindful way of living.
Common benefits of living in old houses, such as connection to history and sense of community
Living in an old house provides numerous benefits, including a strong connection to history and a sense of community. These houses carry a tangible link to the past, embodying the cultural and architectural heritage of Japan. Residents can immerse themselves in the stories and traditions that have shaped the house and its surroundings over time.
This connection to history fosters a sense of appreciation and cultural pride. Additionally, old houses often exist within established communities, where neighbors share a collective appreciation for the area’s history and preservation.
Living in an old house can create a strong sense of community, as residents come together to maintain and protect the unique architectural character of their neighborhood. This shared sense of identity and community involvement can lead to lasting friendships, social cohesion, and a supportive living environment.
What is adaptive reuse and how can we use it for old Japanese houses?
Adaptive reuse refers to the practice of repurposing existing buildings or structures for new and different uses, while retaining their historical, architectural, or cultural significance. Instead of demolishing or abandoning old structures, adaptive reuse involves creatively adapting them to serve modern functions and meet contemporary needs.
This process often involves the renovation, restoration, and modification of the existing building to accommodate the desired new use. Adaptive reuse embraces the idea of sustainability by making use of existing resources, reducing waste, and preserving the character and heritage of a place.
It allows for the preservation of historical and architectural value while promoting the revitalization of communities and the integration of old structures into the fabric of contemporary society.
Rising popularity of adaptive reuse in repurposing old Japanese houses
In recent years, there has been a notable rise in the popularity of adaptive reuse, where old houses are repurposed for new functional uses. Rather than allowing them to fall into disrepair or face the threat of demolition, individuals, communities, and businesses are recognizing the potential of repurposing old houses.
The adaptive reuse movement embraces the concept of sustainability by making use of existing structures and minimizing waste. This approach not only preserves the architectural heritage but also breathes new life into these houses, giving them a renewed purpose in the modern world.
Transforming old houses into functional assets, such as guest houses, cafes, restaurants, galleries and shops.
Old houses are being transformed into functional assets, serving as guest houses, cafes, shops, and various other establishments. Their unique architectural features, historical charm, and tranquil atmospheres make them ideal settings for businesses seeking to create a distinctive and memorable experience for their customers.
These repurposed old houses retain their original aesthetic appeal while incorporating modern amenities and services. Guest houses, for example, provide travelers with an opportunity to immerse themselves in traditional Japanese living, offering a unique and authentic accommodation experience.
Cafes and shops housed within old houses create an ambiance that merges the old and the new, attracting customers who appreciate the blend of tradition and contemporary offerings.
Benefits and opportunities of adaptive reuse for local economies and tourism
Repurposed old houses are attractive to tourists, attracting visitors interested in experiencing the rich cultural heritage and unique architectural styles of Japan. The presence of these repurposed establishments generates foot traffic, revitalizes neighborhoods, and stimulates local businesses.
Additionally, adaptive reuse fosters cultural exchange as visitors and residents engage with traditional Japanese aesthetics, and trade / craft practices. This not only supports the preservation of cultural heritage but also encourages cross-cultural understanding and appreciation.
Ultimately, the adaptive reuse of old houses bolsters local economies, enhances tourism opportunities, and contributes to the overall vitality and sustainability of the community.
Examples of successful adaptive reuse projects in Ehime Prefecture, Japan
Challenges for Foreigners in Renovating Old Houses
Cultural and language barriers faced by foreigners in renovating old Japanese houses
Foreigners interested in renovating old houses in Japan often encounter cultural and language barriers throughout the process.
Cultural differences in architectural styles, construction methods, and design preferences can pose challenges when conveying renovation ideas or understanding local customs. Cultural differences can also impact communication and business exchanges, causing confusion and friction.
Language barriers further complicate communication with contractors, suppliers, and government officials involved in the renovation process.
By seeking cultural fluency, learning about Japanese architecture and design principles, and partnering with bilingual partners, foreigners can bridge these gaps and navigate the intricacies of renovating old houses while respecting local community.
Legal and regulatory challenges in navigating Japan building codes and permits
Renovating old houses in Japan involves navigating a complex web of building codes, regulations, and permits. The legal framework surrounding construction and renovation projects can be intricate, especially for foreigners who may be unfamiliar with the local laws and procedures. Obtaining the necessary permits, understanding zoning restrictions, and complying with building codes can be daunting tasks. It is crucial to engage the services of professionals familiar with Japanese regulations and to seek guidance from local authorities. Working with local architects, contractors, or consultants experienced in renovating old houses can ensure compliance with legal requirements and streamline the renovation process, mitigating potential challenges.
Engaging local craftsmen and professionals for renovation projects
A key consideration in renovating old houses in Japan is engaging local craftsmen and professionals. These skilled tradespeople possess the knowledge and expertise required to preserve and restore traditional architectural elements and craftsmanship. Engaging local professionals not only ensures the authenticity and quality of the renovation and relevancy of work to the immediate area. There may be items sourced from that prefecture, unique interventions for various climates, and regional traditions.
Collaborating with local craftsmen fosters a deeper understanding of traditional techniques and materials, resulting in renovations that respect the historical value and architectural integrity of the old house. It is essential to establish effective communication channels, engage in thorough research, and build relationships with local professionals to benefit from their specialized knowledge and experience.
Resources and support available for foreigners interested in renovating old houses in Japan
There may or may not be local government offices and heritage preservation associations to offer resources on historical architecture, renovation guidelines, and funding options. As Japan immigration and home guardianship has become more popular, online forums, expat communities, and professional events have popped up to connect individuals with valuable insights and experiences from others who have undertaken similar projects.
Old houses in Japan, such as kominka, machiya, and akiya, carry immense cultural, historical, and architectural significance. They not only provide a glimpse into Japan’s rich heritage but also offer unique opportunities for sustainable, affordable living, adaptive reuse, and community revitalization. Renovating and preserving these houses presents both challenges and rewards. It requires a delicate balance between honoring tradition and embracing modern functionality, navigating legal and regulatory landscapes, and overcoming cultural and language barriers.
However, the benefits of breathing new life into old houses are undeniable. They connect residents to the past, foster a sense of community, and contribute to local economies and tourism. By embracing the mottainai philosophy and cherishing the value of these architectural gems, we can ensure the continued preservation and celebration of Japan’s cultural heritage for a new generation.
(空き家) In Japanese, meaning vacant house or unoccupied house.
Online database of vacant house listings. These may be for rent or for sale.
(愛媛) Prefecture in the western part of Shikoku, Japan.
(襖) A lightweight sliding panel door used to enclose rooms. Sometimes painted or with surface images.
Stigmatized term for an abandoned house; implying haunting or an empty village.
(田舎) The Japanese countryside; rural Japan.
(古民家) Old-style Japanese house; old folk house.
(京町家) Traditional Japanese house style specific to Kyoto.
(町家) Traditional Japanese wooden construction house; traditional merchant house.
(民芸) Japanese Folk Art; unmarked utilitarian objects that exemplify function and modest design.
(障子) Sliding panel door made of a wooden frame, lattice, and washi paper. Sometimes with glass panels. Often used to screen light.
Dreaming of immersing yourself in the vibrant culture, picturesque landscapes, and rich heritage of Japan? Living in Japan long-term can be a rewarding and transformative experience. However, navigating visas for Japan can seem daunting… because it is.
The most reliable place to receive Japan long-stay visa guidance is from your local embassy or from a licensed Administrative Scrivener (行政書士, Gyōsei shoshi) in Japan.
What is an Administrative Scrivener (行政書士, Gyōsei shoshi)?
A Gyōsei shoshi is a national licensed legal specialist in Japan. They can assist with matters regarding residency / visas for Japan, residency status, Japanese citizenship, naturalization, study abroad, working in Japan, opening a business in Japan, and advice around international marriages. They offer legal advice related to these processes.
Administrative Scriveners may also be referred to as Immigration Lawyers, Gyosei-shoshi Lawyers, or Certified Administrative Procedures Legal Specialists.
Licensed Gyōsei shoshi in all prefectures are listed on the Japan Federation of Certified Administrative Procedures Legal Specialists Associationswebsite [in Japanese].
Where can I find immigration lawyer services in English?
A list of Licensed Administrative Scriveners that handle Foreigner-related matters, catering to English-speakers
*This list was last updated June 2023. If you only speak English, please note that the service level might be different than what is marketed. Please check personally to assess your level of comfort before committing to service agreements.
For the full, updated directory, visit the Japan Federation of Certified Administrative Procedures Legal Specialists Associations website, Member Search Page.
The Inspiring World of Salad Gardens: A Guide to Growing Fresh and Healthy Everyday Meals
I used to be so frustrated by salads. They seemed to be embraced only by those who had already achieved a level of health and fitness that I could never fathom. I didn’t really have great healthy eating role models at home when I was growing up. Dinner vegetables used to consist of those budget frozen bags of carrot cubes, corn, and peas, which had been boiled to the point that they were mushy and all the bits took on the same cardboard-like flavor.
It wasn’t until I was almost 30 that I took on a personal nutrition challenge and finally was pushed to figure out how to make salads work for me. All of a sudden, my weight became more manageable, my skin looked better, and from that point forward, I felt like I had a better sense of my own internal nutrition gauge. I started being able to hear what my body was telling me – if I was dehydrated, lacking fresh food, or out of balance in some other way. It was a pivotal point for my personal health, and I attribute a lot of that to my new favorite food. SALAD.
But when I moved to Japan, everything turned upside down. I was escorted into the cafeteria lunch program from my employer. I was excited to try foods and flavors with cultural and regional significance, but there was an unexpected problem that came with my new culinary adventure.
The lunches were high calorie with a generous serving of rice at every meal. The importance of rice is greater than what makes it to the bowl. The dried grasses are used as mulch and roofing, rice bran is cooked with fresh bamboo shoots to remove bitterness, and the water from cleaning rice can be used as a natural detergent. It is a culturally significant resource, but when I started eating it on a daily basis, my body protested. I got puffy, bloated, sad, and uncomfortable.
It is a strange position to be in – I was eating the same thing as my coworkers, but my body was not happy. I started taking probiotics to ease my digestive transition, but it only helped so much.
Perhaps it is due to generations worth of digestive practice. My Scandinavian ancestors ate potatoes and baked bread, but Japanese peoples’ ancestors have been evolving along-side rice-centric diets for even longer. I wanted to do my best to acclimate to Japanese culture, but fighting centuries of biological training seemed like too big a battle.
So there was one thing I decided to hold on to for my personal health – my salad lunch habit.
The local store stocked lettuce irregularly. It was an hour drive to the “fancy” grocery store that had a handful of options. But the salad staples I had grown to love and look forward to were nowhere in sight.
So after gaining permission to turn an overgrown weedy side yard into my new garden, I started growing everything I needed for salad. Growing your own salad garden is the best way to get the highest quality salad to your exact liking.
My passion for salad might be to the point of being a bit silly, but growing a salad garden has given me a huge amount of joy, therapy, and nutritional health. So I hope to share my experience and thoughts with others in hopes to inspire others to gain the same benefits.
Salads Gardening and Joy
Salad gardens can be incredibly inspiring.
Salad gardens are truly inspiring, and their beauty is undeniable. Just a little bit of effort can beget an invariable rainbow of veg. Imagine the vibrant hues of red, orange, and yellow-stem chard, the deep purple kale, and whimsical nasturtium leaves that resemble lily pads floating on water.
The colors and textures of these garden gems are a feast for the eyes, transforming a simple patch of earth into a living Monet, colors amplified in the glistening with dew drops. But the inspiration goes beyond mere aesthetics. Growing and eating in tune with the rhythm of the seasons becomes a nearly spiritual experience.
Witnessing the transformation of dirt into nourishing food that sustains life is awe-inspiring. It reminds us of the interconnectedness of all living things and our roles in the ecosystem. In addition, salad gardens offer a meal of beauty that surpasses what can be found in a supermarket.
The variety of plants, the everyday creativity involved in integrating what’s available, and the integration of edible flowers can create a visual and culinary tapestry that is both delightful and unique. Each meal becomes a work of art, inviting us to appreciate the beauty and abundance of nature’s bounty. The looks and feels are just the start.
Salads and Health
Eating salad is arguably the best health habit you can adopt.
Incorporating fresh vegetables and greens into your diet has numerous health benefits. Salads are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which support digestion, boost the immune system, and promote overall well-being.
By growing your own salad garden, you have complete control over the quality of the produce you consume, ensuring that you and your family enjoy the freshest, pesticide-free ingredients available.
Foods from a garden are not only incredibly fresh and flavorful, but they also offer a higher level of nutrition compared to their grocery store counterparts. The moment a vegetable is harvested, it begins to lose nutrients. This process continues during transportation, storage, and the time it spends on supermarket shelves.
In contrast, when you grow your own fruits and vegetables, you have the opportunity to pick them at the peak of ripeness, just moments before they are consumed. This means that the vegetables retain more of their vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which are essential for maintaining good health.
Additionally, garden-grown vegetables are often grown using organic or sustainable practices, eliminating the risk of exposure to harmful pesticides and chemicals.
By spending time outside, you can get some moderate exercise and be exposed to natural light, reinforcing our circadian rhythms.
By cultivating your own garden, you have the power to nourish yourself and your family with nutrient-dense, wholesome produce that truly supports your well-being.
Check out these impressive salad facts:
Improved nutrient intake
Salads are typically loaded with a variety of vegetables and leafy greens, providing a wide range of essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants .
Regular consumption of salads has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. The high fiber content, along with the presence of heart-healthy ingredients like leafy greens, nuts, and olive oil, contribute to cardiovascular health .
Many salad ingredients, such as cucumbers and lettuce, have high water content, contributing to overall hydration levels in the body .
The abundance of antioxidants found in vegetables and fruits can help promote healthy skin by fighting oxidative stress and reducing the risk of skin damage and aging .
Consuming a salad as a meal or as part of a meal can help with weight management due to their low calorie density and high fiber content, promoting feelings of fullness and reducing overall calorie intake .
Salads are rich in fiber, which aids in digestion and helps maintain a healthy digestive system. Fiber promotes regular bowel movements and can alleviate constipation .
Reduced risk of chronic diseases
The combination of vegetables, fruits, and other nutritious ingredients in salads has been associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and hypertension .
The presence of certain nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins, in salad ingredients like leafy greens and seeds, may support brain health and contribute to improved mood and mental well-being .
There can be no arguing that making salad your go-to daily lunch choice is a great habit to adopt!
According to permaculture design experts, salad and herb gardening should be close to the zones most often occupied by humans. This is so that they can be easily accessed and enjoyed on a daily basis.
Salad gardens are a joyful component of permaculture design. Permaculture is a sustainable approach to gardening that aims to mimic natural ecosystems, promoting biodiversity, and minimizing waste.
By incorporating salad gardens into your garden, yard or patio, you create a symbiotic relationship between plants and the environment. The diversity of plants in your garden attracts beneficial insects and pollinators, contributing to a thriving ecosystem.
Salad gardens are a practical addition to any permaculture setup, providing a continuous supply of fresh produce throughout the growing season.
Always at Peak Freshness
Growing salad is also highly practical. One of the significant advantages of having your own salad garden is the ability to fresh pick your ingredients.
When you pluck leafy greens and vegetables straight from your garden, they are at their peak freshness and flavor. Unlike store-bought produce that may have traveled long distances and spent days in refrigeration, homegrown salad greens are less likely to wilt or mold quickly. By eliminating the lag time between harvest and consumption, you ensure that your salads retain their crispness and highest possible nutritional value.
This practicality not only saves you from the disappointment of finding wilted greens in your fridge but also reduces food waste, allowing you to fully enjoy the freshness and vitality of your garden-to-table salads.
Planning your salad garden
Start with the salad.
Before you plan your garden, my recommendation is to take some time to think about what kinds of salad you want to eat. You might even want to take a week or two to research salad inspiration, try out new flavor combinations, and decide on what kind of veg you want to start growing on your own.
How to compose the perfect salad.
Through a few years of practice, I have devised a strategy for a great salad that is nutritious and sustaining. The greens and vegetables will be great for your health. The harmony of something sweet, something from the allium family and a dressing will make your flavor experience interesting. Nuts and protein make it filling and will sustain you until dinner. And the eye candy is just another opportunity to bring joy into our lives.
Kale, chard, arugula, spinach, beet greens, watercress, nasturtium leaves, shredded green or purple cabbage…
But to be honest the best salad is the one you have. So look at what you have on hand and get creative.
The most basic pattern to devise a delicious salad pulls inspiration from Samin Nosrat’s SALT ACID FAT HEAT. Start with what you have, then fill in the flavor blanks.
How to build a salad garden
This might be intimidating, but it’s great to start small! Even if you don’t have the space or ability to create a fully self-sufficient salad garden, growing your own greens or amendments can still create a huge amount of satisfaction.
Small is ok!
Whether due to intimidation or lack of space, starting small is ok! Use what you have available. You would be amazed at how far just a few plants go. You also don’t need borders, beds, or any fancy installations to get started. That’s the magic of growing food. You put seeds in dirt and that’s essentially it!
Sidewalk borders, next to the driveway, under larger plants, behind sheds… all of these places have potential for salad production! A salad garden doesn’t have to be a perfect rectangle. You can place a variety of plants around your property or weave salad plants throughout formal landscaped areas. Harvest time feels like time to forage!
Mulch & matter.
Compost is great and it doesn’t have to be high-tech! Depending on your vulnerability to pests, kitchen scraps can go straight in the ground. Raked leaves, grass clippings or wood chips can be used as mulch to keep moisture in the ground and reduce dirt splashing onto leaves.
Locations can be fairly flexible. Use what you have! Be it patio pots, driveway edges or an expansive plot of land, you will learn what works as you go.
I started slowly by adding few edible plants to my balcony plant collection.
The sun and water requirements will depend on what you want to grow, so follow the instructions from the seed package or from your local nursery. Consider using raised beds, containers, or even vertical gardening techniques if you have limited space.
Prepare the soil by removing any trash, large weeds, rocks, or debris and amend it with organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, to enhance its fertility.
Next, consider the layout and arrangement of your salad garden. You can create designated rows or plant in a more informal, intermingled style. Utilize the principles of permaculture by incorporating mulch layering, companion planting, and natural pest control methods to support a little ecosystem.
You might choose to start by sowing a variety of salad greens, such as lettuces, spinach, and arugula, as the foundation of your garden. Keep your seedling moist, watering your garden regularly, keeping the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Finally, monitor for pests, diseases, and weeds, and take necessary measures to maintain the health and vitality of your salad garden. With care and patience, you’ll be rewarded with a lovely harvest.
A basic tool selection to get started.
The most important thing you need is determination! After that, your tool needs will depend on the scale and your vision. The most basic tools will be:
Either a big bowl or packable containers
To ensure consistent ongoing harvests from your salad garden, try this harvesting technique: start by harvesting the outer leaves of leafy greens such as lettuces, spinach, and kale, rather than uprooting the entire plant. This method allows the plants to continue growing and producing new leaves.
Harvest leafy greens when they reach a size that is suitable for consumption, ensuring they are still tender and flavorful. For herbs, regularly pinch off sprigs and leaves, promoting bushier growth. As for vegetables and fruits, harvest them when they reach their peak ripeness, usually indicated by vibrant colors and firmness.
Seeds to Consider
The sky is the limit, but don’t be afraid to start modestly! I have a habit of buying more seeds than I use… but it’s my joy, so I don’t regret it! 🙂
*Pro-tip for those buying seeds in Japan from Rakuten: Rakuten works a bit differently. In Japan, you are more likely to need to pay for shipping. I’ve had good luck with the seller, Gardener’s Shop Ivy. If you buy all from the same seller, you only pay shipping from one seller.
When it comes to meal prepping salads for the week, there are a few strategies to ensure freshness and convenience. Begin by washing and thoroughly drying your salad greens after harvest. I like to soak my greens for ten to fifteen minutes in cold water (I learned this trick from downshiftology). There tends to be some sand or insects that alway fall to the bottom of the soaking bowl. It’s always satisfying to see!
I like to use a salad spinner or wrap them up and shake them with in a clean kitchen towel to remove excess moisture, as wet greens can become soggy and mushy when stored.
Next, separate your ingredients and store them in airtight containers or a large, covered bowl. It’s a good idea to keep the salad greens separate from other ingredients like fruits or proteins to maintain their crispness.
If you are assembling individual meal prep containers, separate the greens from toppings and protein on top. I like to put one fold of paper towel at the bottom of a container to absorb water drops and keep the humidity stable.
Avocados or dressing should also be packed separately, then add them just before serving to avoid sogginess. If you are packing fresh avocado, keep the pit in or squeeze some lemon on top to avoid browning.
Store your prepared salads in the refrigerator, and they will stay fresh and ready to enjoy throughout the week. This method not only saves time but also ensures that you have healthy, homemade salads readily available whenever you need them.
And if you are like me, you might even find yourself staying consistent with your salad habit not only because it’s satisfying, but because the prepared food is better eaten than wasted.
I really hope my salad story reaches and inspires someone to create their own salad garden. Please drop a comment and let me know if you got any new ideas!
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). Vegetables and Fruits. Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/vegetables-and-fruits/
Rolls, B. J., Ello-Martin, J. A., & Tohill, B. C. (2004). What can intervention studies tell us about the relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption and weight management? Nutrition reviews, 62(1), 1-17.
Wang, X., Ouyang, Y., Liu, J., Zhu, M., Zhao, G., Bao, W., & Hu, F. B. (2014). Fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Bmj, 349, g4490.
Slavin, J. L. (2013). Dietary fiber and body weight. Nutrition, 29(3), 411-418.
Popkin, B. M., Armstrong, L. E., Bray, G. M., Caballero, B., Frei, B., & Willett, W. C. (2005). A new proposed guidance system for beverage consumption in the United States. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 83(2), 529-542.
Aune, D., Giovannucci, E., Boffetta, P., Fadnes, L. T., Keum, N., Norat, T., … & Tonstad, S. (2017). Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality—a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. International journal of epidemiology, 46(3), 1029-1056.
Stahl, W., & Sies, H. (2012). β-Carotene and other carotenoids in protection from sunlight. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 96(5), 1179S–84S. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.112.034819
A system of agricultural and social design principles that seeks to create sustainable and self-sufficient ecosystems by mimicking natural patterns and processes.
A protective layer of material (such as straw, leaves, or compost) applied to the soil surface around plants to conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature.
Flowers that are safe for consumption and often used to enhance the visual appeal and flavors of dishes, including salads. Examples include nasturtiums, pansies, and marigolds.
The practice of growing different plants together in close proximity to promote mutual benefits, such as pest control, nutrient sharing, or increased pollination.
Decayed plant or animal materials, such as compost or manure, added to soil to improve its fertility, structure, and water-holding capacity.
The process of planning and preparing meals in advance, often involving the assembly and storage of ingredients to make mealtime more convenient and efficient.
I remember well the first time I took a Japan trip. I had brought a pair of hightops. What a mistake! As I visited temples with my host, I was so embarrassed to hold her up while I unlaced my shoes. Not the best shoes for Japan! Temples, museums, homes, and many locations require you to take off your shoes. I should have selected a better pair of backpacking shoes. Slip-ons are the best choice for a stress-free experience traveling or living in Japan.
I’ve personally been wearing Allbirds shoes almost exclusively since 2018, so I feel confident recommending them as my favorite shoe source.
https://shop.allbirds.com/bitsii-in-inaka← Click my link for a free pair of socks with your purchase of shoes or apparel (excluding underwear or socks). Offer will automatically be applied at checkout if socks are added to your cart, just for our community. Thank you, Allbirds!
Allbirds’ Tree Loungers are my favorite shoes for backpacking, weekend trips, and to be honest… every day here in Japan.
I’ve owned a few styles of Allbirds shoes and my favorite are the eucalyptus fiber styles (tree loungers, tree pipers, tree breezers, etc). They are breathable and I prefer the aesthetic.
These shoes are light as a feather
I like to keep my luggage to a minimum when traveling but my Red Wing hiking boots are just too heavy to bring when I’m trying to cover a lot of territory, let alone an international trip. it is important to keep your footwear as light as possible. Allbirds shoes are known for their lightweight design, which is achieved by using natural materials such as merino wool, eucalyptus tree fiber, and sugarcane. These materials are not only light but also breathable, making them ideal for hot and humid environments.
In addition, Allbirds shoes are designed to be minimal, with no unnecessary bulk, which further reduces their weight and enhances their performance. The tree loungers (of eucalyptus fiber) are my favorite travel shoe – easy to slip on and off at airport checkpoints, and they flatten and pack well inside luggage. Japanese houses and sometimes museums feature a genkan area where you will be expected to switch from shoes to slippers. Having a pair of shoes that is easy to slip on and off is imperative for low-stress travel in Japan.
Washable backpacking shoes
I think we’ve all become a bit more conscious about what kind of icky things we trek home: dirt and germs. Most Allbirds shoes are washable, which means you can easily clean them using a washing machine or by hand. Just slip out the soles and pop them in a net laundry bag, then air dry. This feature is particularly useful for extending the life of the product, keeping them looking good for longer.
Traveling can be a physically demanding activity, so it is crucial to wear shoes that provide adequate support and cushioning. Allbirds shoes are designed with comfort in mind, featuring a soft interior that hugs your feet and a supportive sole that absorbs shock and provides traction.
Best shoes for English Teachers in Japan
When I worked as an English teacher in Japan, I also used Allbirds as my indoor shoes. I had two pairs – I preferred eucalyptus fiber slip-ons for the hot season and wool sneakers for the cold season. The minimal design in a neutral color worked great for both everyday and ceremonies, paired with a black suit.
Are There Any Downsides to Allbirds?
Yes, Allbirds has received some criticism. Due to their more eco-oriented material choices, Allbirds tend to wear out a bit quicker, looking a bit slumpy. They are also on the expensive side.
And when it comes to shoes for Japan, another thing Allbirds might fall short on is being waterproof. You won’t make it out of a puddle dry in a pair of tree loungers!
That taken into consideration, I haven’t found another kind of slip-on shoe that combines comfort with sustainability the same way. Toms don’t have the same support. Crocs are a form of proprietary vinyl. If you have another suggestion, please drop a comment!
Finally, Allbirds shoes are an excellent choice for backpackers and travelers who are mindful of their environmental impact. Allbirds is a company that prioritizes sustainability, using eco-friendly materials and processes to make their products. For example, the merino wool used in Allbirds shoes is sourced from farmers who practice regenerative agriculture, which reduces the carbon footprint of the product. You can read more about their sustainable programs here:
In conclusion, Allbirds shoes are my ultimate recommendation as the best shoes for living and visiting Japan because they are lightweight, easy to slip on, washable, comfortable, minimal and sustainable. These features make them a practical and ethical choice for anyone who enjoys exploring the outdoors. Whether you are a seasoned backpacker or a beginner, investing in a pair of Allbirds shoes can enhance your experience and help you step lightly.
https://shop.allbirds.com/bitsii-in-inaka Click my link for a free pair of socks with your purchase of shoes or apparel (excluding underwear or socks). Offer will automatically be applied at checkout if socks are added to your cart, just for our community. Thank you, Allbirds!
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An opinion on the role of teaching English in Japan.
I get messages from people all the time who say:
I want to move to Japan but I don’t want to be an English teacher.
There are so many people who have decided that they want to *move to Japan*, and the easiest way to do it is to get a job teaching English. But there is hesitation to do that for a ton of reasons. Many people aren’t interested in teaching. Maybe there are concerns about the work environment in Japan, or concern that the work doesn’t contribute well to a resume.
Listen. I get it. But people work really hard to find any possible other route to satisfy entry requirements for Japan. This kind of bums me out. So please let me tell you why. I’ve got three big fat reasons why I think you aren’t too good to pursue teaching English in Japan.
Point 1: Your success in life isn’t defined by this job.
To younger prospective English teachers:
For younger people considering teaching English in Japan, maybe you have read some articles online about how taking an English teaching job can be career sabotage. There is no path for upward mobility, there is a salary cap, and future prospective employers will wonder why you were messing around while you could have been getting a serious internship. Yeah. I’m not going to argue those things.
But your experiences can also be what you make of them. If you come here and spend your down time playing video games and drinking with other English teachers, then yeah. They have good reason to judge you for messing around when you could have been doing something meaningful.
On the flip side, you could come here, become fluent in Japanese language and fluent in the culture itself. You could become an invaluable part of grassroots organizations and gain a superstar reputation for being a stand-up member in your community. You could earn stellar references and experience, making you a stand-out candidate for positions seeking international experience.
I’ve seen people who transition from English teaching to rockstar work positions, such as being an America-Japan liason for companies like Starbucks, or landing a dream job as an editor for a manga company.
As a young person considering how their resume looks, the job itself isn’t the determining factor. It’s both how you do the job and how you tell your story about it.
To”older” prospective English teachers:
For that quote-un-quote “older” audience, I’m spilling the beans on what has been up until this point my biggest internet secret. At the age of 33, I started teaching English in Japan.
While this is often the job of choice for recent college grads, every once in a while you find someone like myself, for who-knows-what-reason, decided that well into their adult years, they would move to Japan. And while there is potential for this kind of job to become really valuable for the college grads, this was unmistakably career sabotage for me.
Yeah, I had some cheerleaders who were telling me it’s ok to take time away. I’d still be clever enough to pick up where I left off when I “finish my sabbatical” (hah!). But once I got out of my industry, it was pretty obvious that I could never bring myself to go back. Because I had removed myself from an industry that didn’t align with my values. My life is irreversibly no longer career-centric.
Before being offered my job in Japan, I had been brainstorming different ways I could make a living in America. I longed to end my work day with enough thinking power left to be functional. Should I try to start waiting tables? Can I be a security guard? How can I make a living income in America while being able to use my brain for my own purposes?
Well, I’m proud to say that Monday through Friday, I now clock out at 4pm. And more importantly, I decided my value and success would not be determined by the traditional ideas of what an impressive resume should be.
I decided that rather than try to impress the prospective bosses of the world, I wanted to impress 10-year-old me. The kid who dressed up as Sailor Jupiter for Halloween and dreamed about being an English teacher in Japan when she grew up.
I think she’d be pretty stoked to see what I’ve been up to.
Point 2: Teaching English in Japan can be a gift to foreign people.
This comes with the disclaimer that there are many different kinds of experiences and environments to be found here. That’s pretty much the same as every other country/state/region, right? There are also many ways an individual is prepared to receive challenging situations. I am speaking here only from my own lived experience and impressions.
Teaching English in Japan with the JET program will get you the red-carpet treatment.
As a foreign person, chances are that you are going to need a lot of help once you get here, especially if your Japanese language ability is anything less than brilliant. And if you can get into the JET program, they hold your hand through everything you need to get here and get your life together. I got an apartment, a bank account, and a hanko stamp. I didn’t even know that was a thing, let alone that I needed one. They give you online language courses, there are optional JLPT grants, multiple support communities possibly including from your departure region, the alumni association, your placement region, and more.
Quality of Life
And while I had some questions about how good the salary is, here are some quality of life benchmarks. I:
Can afford to live in a spacious single family home by myself
Recently bought a decent used car with only 70k km (~40k miles)
Can afford to travel domestically and internationally every few months
Don’t worry about grocery store or restaurant prices
Can buy new clothes without concern
Never worry about the cost of healthcare
Am done with work at 4pm everyday
Not everyday is flawless. But dang. Teaching English in Japan sounds like it can be a pretty decent job, doesn’t it!
Yes, you too can live like an inaka king for the low, low price of being an English teacher.
As far as the salary goes, there are a few other factors to keep in mind. Quite often, there will be a great deal of free time during the day. Other entry level teachers might be making less money, and they are working harder than you are. So did you earn your higher salary? There is something to be said for leaving the comforts of one’s home country and dealing with the inevitable home sickness and culture shock. But for anyone who has had a job before, no. You aren’t earning the higher salary. The generous salary strikes me more as a gesture of appreciation towards foreign relations in general, and has absolutely nothing to do with the difficulty (or lack thereof) required by this position.
From moving assistance to the more-than-livable salary, this job has honestly felt like a blessing. While it’s not something I will do forever, I very much appreciate that this opportunity was available to me.
Point 3: One of the secrets to finding success in this culture is doing what other people want you to do.
Importance of the Group
You’ve probably heard about obligation parties. Say what you will about them, the fact that it’s called an obligation [anything] should be a clue that there are many expectations placed on people here through work, neighborhood, sports team, family, friends, etc.
And at a bigger scale than that, at times, some Japanese person’s whole life seem to be steered by a force besides themselves. I’ve met a TON of Japanese people who work in a field completely unrelated to their college major. And it’s not because they went to college for one thing and then changed their mind.
From what I’ve been picking up on, there is a different dynamic for picking up the slack. What I mean is, as a Japanese person, if there is a job opening or you somehow are escorted into a professional position, you take it. It’s not due to lack of determination or lack of self-actualization. It’s because people are so tuned into the good of the group that when there is work to be done, someone will probably do it.
Yeah I’m gonna be IN Japan but I’m still gonna do my own thing.
Now you might be thinking, why does that matter to me, a foreign person who plans to live my life the way I want to?
It matters because: if you can’t get into the group-wellbeing mindset, you aren’t going to thrive here. Or if you do, it probably won’t be doing it in the most culturally sensitive way.
Authentically adapting to a new culture is going to require you to do some things that feel uncomfortable to you. In Japan, you might be asked to compromise on some of your independent desires.
When someone tries to do something in a new way, it causes problems. This can be a huge pain in the side. As a creative, it has literally been my business to think differently. This is a place of tradition, where things are done the way they have been done for a long time.
According to the book, Japan Unmasked, the way things are done isn’t just a tradition. It is equated with morality in the roots of Japanese culture.
And maybe you’re like me and you really thrive when you find the sweet spot between what you love doing, and how you can be useful. Then you get in the flow and it’s awesome! And so it’s makes sense to dream… how can you bring your own unique talents to Japan! Maybe you even have some insight on Japan’s challenges and pain points, so you’ve thought of some new ideas about how you can bring a breath of fresh air to the issue!
You’ve got ideas about depopulation, work culture, or whatever other problems you’ve prioritized as Japan’s biggest issues, and your ideas might legitimately be brilliant.
But the reality is that this country works completely differently than western countries. And you will require help, time and effort from other people. And they will help you because that’s how people work here. And you will continue to impose your needs on the society here. And without any ill intent, you will be a burden to other people.
And it’s ok to be a burden, IF you say thank you and you give back. Not in the way you want, but in the way the recipient wants. Because in life, the most sincere gifts aren’t the ones you want for yourself. They are the gifts that the other person actually wants and perhaps is straight-up asking for.
But to know what someone wants, you have to listen. Guess what. Japan clearly wants help speaking natural English from English speakers. That’s why the government gives JET ALTs the red-carpet treatment. Japan wants help with English. It’s not just the government. A lot of Japanese people honestly want to get better at English and appreciate the contributions English teachers make.
The funny thing is that when I was a designer, I was a great designer. I won awards, juried panels, and had beautiful projects. My clients thought I was smart and cool. And yet, I was still kind of treated like disposable labor.
But here, I came in with laughable Japanese skills, minimal experience teaching children, but I have been treated by my coworkers and neighbors with dignity. They call me sensei and they value my presence. More than in any other destination I’ve been to, people have been friendly and warm to me. I very quickly felt adopted by Japan.
This is a society that values the good of the group. This group, aka Japan, wants help with English. Trying to swim against the stream before you even get here should be a bit of a red flag. If you don’t want to cooperate with what Japan wants, maybe this country isn’t a good fit for you.
Teaching English in Japan: worth the consideration.
Again, this is just a reflection based on my personal experiences. There are many different kinds of situations that people can land in and many different ways to receive them. So take everything I’ve said with a grain of salt. But what do you think? Did I change your mind about teaching English in Japan? The JET programme applications open and close on an annual basis. If you’re reading this during the down season, it’s a great time to keep studying Japanese or strengthen your application by doing an easy online TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate course such as Mytefl’s 120-hour certificate. I personally completed Mytefl’s 120-hour online course, and I was happy to have a bit of an introduction into TEFL, a refresher on English grammar, and the added strength for my JET application.
Whatever path you chose, I wish you the best of luck!
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Japan Unmasked: The Character & Culture of the Japanese
Understanding Japanese culture is crucial for those interested in Japan. While Westerners have long analyzed unique aspects of Japanese culture, few truly comprehend the underlying beliefs and values that shape Japanese thinking and behavior. In "Japan Unmasked," author Boye Lafayette De Mente explores the social, cultural, and psychological characteristics that define modern-day Japanese culture, seeking it's true essence and role in the global community.
Are you searching for an authentic and off-the-beaten-path travel destination in Japan? Look no further than the Sadamisaki Peninsula (佐田岬半島) in Ehime prefecture. This place is a scenic, remote gem that remains unknown by many tourists. Here are some highlights, plus a one-day and two-day itinerary, allowing you to experience the rare beauty and rich culture of this unique region.
The Sadamisaki Peninsula, Ehime Prefecture, Shikoku
The Sadamisaki Peninsula is a captivating area located in the westernmost part of Shikoku Island in Ehime Prefecture, Japan. This peninsula was condensed in 2006 from three towns into one municipality called Ikata, stretching approximately 25 miles (45 km). It follows a straight line from near Yawatahama Port, extending westward.
Separating the Seto Inland Sea to the north from the Uwa Sea to the south, the Sadamisaki Peninsula offers a unique blend of natural beauty and breathtaking coastal landscapes.
At its tip lies Cape Sada, a national park renowned for its scenic splendor, while the surrounding area boasts the Uwa Sea National Park.
Discover the mesmerizing Sadamisaki “Melody Line” on Route 197, adorned with cherry blossom trees, adding a touch of magic during springtime. There are three locations along this main highway where a musical road has been installed, providing visitors with moments of a whimsical tune as they drive. Prepare to embark on an unforgettable journey where mountains meet the ocean, creating an idyllic destination that captivates visitors.
Ehime prefecture, located in the Shikoku region of Japan, is often overlooked by travelers due to its less-frequented status and absence from the Shikoku pilgrimage route. However, it is precisely this lack of tourist crowds that make the Sadamisaki Peninsula an enticing choice for those seeking authentic experiences. If you’re interested in immersing yourself in the diverse regional flavors and personalities of Japan, this is the place to be.
Getting to the Sadamisaki Peninsula
There are a few transportation options to reach the Peninsula. If you prefer air travel, you can book a flight to Matsuyama Airport, the region’s closest airport. From there, you can take a connecting train from Matsuyama to Yawatahama Station. Plan ahead to reserve a car to pick up once you arrive at Yawatahama Station. Alternatively, if you opt for a direct journey by ferry, you can take a ferry directly from Beppu to Yawatahama Port or Oita to Misaki Port. Misaki Port offers e-bike rentals.
Cape Sada Lighthouse: Marvel at the iconic Sadamisaki Lighthouse, Japan’s westernmost lighthouse, offering panoramic vistas of the sea and Kyushu in the distance. The lighthouse is about a 20-minute hike from the parking lot, with an additional observatory, photo spot, abandoned salt farm and prewar historic remnants to be found.
Sadamisaki Melody Line: Drive along Route 197, famously known as the Sadamisaki “Melody Line,” and marvel at the cherry blossom trees that scatter the mountainside. Take leisurely drives along the coastal roads of the peninsula, relishing the scenic views of the surrounding seascape and mountains dripping with mandarin oranges.
Natori Stone Wall: On a slope overlooking the Uwa Sea, there is a skillfully piled ishigaki stone wall, which is also called “the stone wall in the sky.” It holds tiny painted rocks left by locals and visitors. Inaccessible by cars, this is a scenic walk in a unique area characterized by oddly luxurious ocean views and empty houses.
Densozen-dera Temple: Lovely old temple with monthly zazen (Japanese guided meditation) sessions. Sit in lotus position, chant with the group, and have an authentic zen Buddhist experience when the Priest beats you with a keisaku. Yes, you read that right.
Seto Kazenooka Park: Striking panoramic views of the windmills down the peninsula. Picnic tables and toilet building on-site.
Michi-no-Eki (Yawatahama Roadside Station): If you come here via the Ferry to Yawatahama Port, stop by the roadside station. If the timing is right, you can see a bustling fresh fish market with local catches, souvenirs, and intensely buttery cremia ice cream from the cafe chouchou.
Kamegaike Onsen: Newly rebuilt facilities. Affordable hot spring with sauna.
Red Wing Park: Named after Ikata town’s sister city, Red Wing (in rural Minnesota, USA), this park has a steep multi-level roller slide down the side of the mountain. BYO cardboard slide to go super fast, but be careful.
Garanyama Mountain: the highest mountain on the Sadamisaki Peninsula (413.6 m above sea level) the mountains of Kyushu and Shikoku can be seen from it’s observatory. The mountain also has a secret and magical Buddha cave.
Dandan roadside station: Huge variety of locally grown mikan mandarin oranges and sweet potatoes. The small window sells sweet potato “steak” fries and sweet potato ice cream, plus some extras.
Moon Beach: Camping and BBQ area with a noteworthy crescent moon shape coast. Shop at the nearby Hana Hana for seafood, and bring your own grill. Toilet building on-site.
Suga Park: A small park with a shrine, abandoned pool, and tiny quaint lighthouse in the Mitsukue neighborhood. Shop at the nearby Kawada neighborhood grocery store for picnic food items. There is a building with toilets and running water in the park.
Coming soon: a new construction Folk Museum in the Seto area, overlooking both the ocean and sea.
Local food specialties
Jakoten: Minced, then fried fish patty
Mikan: Mandarin oranges
Shirasu (whitebait): Immature fish, raw or boiled
Satsumaimo: Sweet potatoes
Seafood: Sea bream, sea urchin, lobster, and more from local fishermen
Enjoy an affordable and comfortable stay at this renovated Showa-era kominka guesthouse in the quaint Futanazu neighborhood. The guesthouse has a noteworthy mosaic tile bath. The guesthouse also acts as a community club house, hosting seasonal events such as a music festival, local foods for take-out, and hinamatsuri (doll festival). Pick up sweets from the local confectionary. (google maps)
Experience the slow life of Ehime at this unique lodging option. Extremely affordable for large groups. This cabin-style accommodation overlooks the ocean. （google maps)
Indulge in traditional Japanese hospitality at a ryokan in the Misaki area, providing a genuine cultural experience complete with seafood and baths. The fish is so fresh that one guest noted, “The seafood is straight from the boat.” (google maps)
The Sadamisaki Peninsula in Shikoku, Japan, is a hidden gem too often missed by foreign tourists. By following these one-day or two-day itineraries, you can immerse yourself in the authentic seaside landscapes, savor delicious regional cuisine, and experience the tranquility of the countryside.
With fewer tourists and a lack of catering specifically to foreign visitors, Ehime offers a genuine and unfiltered Japanese experience.
Whether you choose to explore for a day or extend your visit, the Sadamisaki Peninsula promises to leave you with lasting memories of a truly unique Japan travel destination.
Embrace the opportunity to discover the real Japan and create memories that will last a lifetime. Until next time, happy travels!
Preparing for the Challenges of Life in Rural Japan
Living in Japan can be a unique and exciting experience. But it can also come with its own set of challenges.
Moving to a foreign country is difficult on it’s own, an the challenges of living in rural Japan can be even more pronounced. So let’s talk about the tough stuff, particularly from the perspective of a foreigner.
One of the biggest challenges that people may face when living in rural Japan is the language barrier. While it is possible to get by with just basic Japanese knowledge, living in rural areas can present additional challenges.
Many people in these areas may not speak English or any other foreign language. This can make it difficult to communicate with others, including about high-stress topics such as medical issues or legal matters. Additionally, regional dialects and unique accents can make understanding Japanese even more challenging.
The Japanese language is considered a Category IV language according to the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) language proficiency ratings. This means that it is a challenging language for English speakers to learn. Their description literally says Japanese is a “Super-hard language… exceptionally difficult for native English speakers.” It may require approximately 88 weeks or 2200 class hours to reach a professional working proficiency level.
This is due to the complex writing system, multiple levels of politeness, and unique grammatical structures. It requires dedication and consistent practice, for English speakers to become proficient in Japanese.
The seemingly endless supply of Google Translate Follies may seem like an opportunity to interject joy in your everyday. But it gets old.
Learning the language itself is a major undertaking. And the lack of language competency can lead to immense frustration. Daily mistakes all add up.
This might be misunderstanding a closed road sign or being unable to understand important paperwork by one’s self. There is isolation in being unable to have meaningful, nuanced conversations.
The language challenge can snowball, causing more extraneous issues.
Limited Access to Goods and Services
Another challenge of living in rural Japan is limited access to goods and services. While larger cities in Japan have a wide variety of shops, restaurants, and entertainment options, rural areas are different. This can be particularly challenging for foreigners who are used to having access to a wider range of conveniences. For example, finding specialty ingredients for cooking or certain types of international cuisine may be difficult or impossible.
This was one of the first things I noticed upon moving to rural Japan. I can be a bit particular when it comes to what products I like to use. As there are no boutiques or more specialty stores in my area. Options for things like shampoo or deodorant at the local supermarket aren’t my taste. While online shopping at amazon.jp and Rakuten are possible, the products are more limited and the shipping fees are generally higher.
Transportation can also be one of the challenges of living in rural Japan. While the country has an extensive and reliable public transportation system, many rural areas may not have as many options. For example, there may be limited bus or train services, and taxis can be expensive. Owning a car may be necessary in order to get around.
But driving in Japan can be intimidating for foreigners due to differing traffic laws and regulations. In the grand scheme of things, getting used to driving on the opposite side of the road can be straight-forward. Learning the entire Japanese language in order to understand traffic signs is a heavier challenge.
There are agreements between Japan and some countries/states that allow foreigners to obtain a drivers license without re-testing. If you live outside of one of these areas, the testing processes can be cumbersome. People often opt to take multiple attempts at driving the practice route. Some driving centers have limited scheduling availability or a first-come-first-serve system. The drivers license application and interview requires paperwork, time, and a generous fee.
While used cars in Japan are often clean and affordable, finding and obtaining a car is a bit more challenging. It can require the assistance of a translator. You might not be able to test-drive a used car or see a history report. Acquisition may require getting a residence status certificate from the town office, providing proof of parking, and transferring bank funds.
Living in a rural area can also lead to social isolation. In smaller communities, there may be limited opportunities to meet new people. This is especially pronounced for foreigners who may not be able to speak Japanese fluently. Rural areas in Japan may have more traditional values and customs that can be difficult for outsiders to understand. This makes the isolation even more pronounced.
Moving from urban to rural areas in Japan can be challenging, even for Japanese natives. Rural areas place a high value on teamwork, as it is essential for the survival of small communities. Additionally, the social system in these areas is organized by age and gender. This can lead to a sense of obligation for younger people to fulfill favors and requests. As rural populations continue to age, this dynamic can become even more burdensome for young people.
English counseling, therapy and mental health support is harder to come by. Counseling from Japanese people may “miss the mark” on the techniques used in western practices. The value system that advice is built on is completely different. Unfortunately, in times of crisis, useful help might not be easy to find.
If you are in Japan and in crisis, please check the TELL website for resources.
Japanese Countryside Housing
Finding suitable housing can also be a challenge when living in rural Japan. While housing is generally plentiful and affordable, it can be difficult to find accommodations that meet Western preferences. Many older homes in rural areas may not have modern amenities, such as central heating and air conditioning. They may be less well-insulated. In fact, you can bet that there might be no insulation at all. Additionally, it can be difficult to find rental properties that allow pets. It may be completely impossible to find properties accessible to people with mobility disabilities.
There will be many adjustments to get used to in Japanese homes. This might include extreme coldness in winter, old-fashioned plumbing, and an *exciting* (read: sarcasm!) variety of insects that may be large, frightening, poisonous and cause property damage. Yee!!!
Finally, cultural differences can be a significant challenge when living in rural Japan. Foreigners may find it difficult to navigate social situations and customs that are unfamiliar to them, and that is just the beginning. Japanese culture has a strong emphasis on group harmony. While this sounds nice, it at times can come at the expense of the comfort and safety of the individual. Foreigners coming from a country that values individualization, such as the USA, may find this realization shocking and disturbing.
Straight-forward customs like gift-giving are an important part of Japanese culture. Additionally, some rural areas in Japan may have more traditional customs and values. These may clash with Western values and expectations. The approach to discipline, roles of women, and general style of thinking can be puzzling. Regarding the disappointment many foreigners experience, it’s not usually a question of if, but a question of when.
There is a happiness rollercoaster curve to the culture shock and adjustment phases when moving to a new country. After immediate elation, many people experience a severe and obvious dip in overall happiness and satisfaction. This is usually when someone will choose to head back to their home country. They choose to be back in a place surrounded by friends, family, and where they can manage their lives independently.
Those who stick it out may not agree with everything they see or hear. But there is a general acceptance of the way things are. Long-term residents usually agree that there are challenges anywhere one decides to live. They simply prefer that place to be Japan, and they have meaningful personal reasons to support that realization.
Challenges of Living in Rural Japan: Worth It?
Living in the Japanese countryside can be a rewarding and enriching experience. But it can also come with its own set of challenges. From the language barrier to limited access to goods and services, transportation difficulties, social isolation, housing issues, and cultural differences. There are many factors that people need to consider before making the move. Those determined to make things work will find their way through it all. The wise will anticipate a fair serving of mistakes and challenges along the way.
Escaping the Chaos: Embracing Serenity in Japan’s Countryside through Intentional Living
In recent years, intentional lifestyle has become a popular trend in Western culture. It involves simplifying one’s life and making conscious choices to focus on what is truly important. A unique place where one may pursue intentional living is the Japanese countryside. Let’s look at what intentional living can look like in rural Japan and explore if your life priorities might find in the inaka.
Intentional Lifestyle in the Japanese Countryside
Japan is a country that is rich in culture and history, and its countryside is no exception. The rural areas of Japan are known for their picturesque landscapes, charming villages, and traditional way of life. For many Japanese people, living in the countryside is not just a matter of geography; it’s a way of life that is deeply rooted in their cultural heritage.
One of the key aspects of intentional living in the Japanese countryside is the concept of “satoyama.” This term refers to the traditional landscape that surrounds rural communities in Japan. Satoyama is a unique ecosystem that combines forests, fields, and human settlements. The idea is that these different elements work together in a mutually beneficial way. For example, farmers use the forest to collect firewood and cultivate mushrooms, while the forest provides a habitat for wildlife and helps to prevent soil erosion.
Another important aspect of intentional living in the Japanese countryside is the concept of “mottainai.” This term is often translated as “waste not, want not,” and it embodies the idea of using resources wisely and avoiding unnecessary waste. In the countryside, this means being mindful of how we use natural resources like water and energy, as well as being careful not to waste food or other materials.
Imagining your own future
Designing an intentional lifestyle involves first identifying one’s priorities and values. Here are some questions that individuals can ask themselves to understand what kind of lifestyle they want:
What do I value most in life? Is it family, the environment, relationships, career, personal growth, spirituality, or something else?
What brings me the most joy and fulfillment? Is it spending time in nature, pursuing a hobby, volunteering, or something else?
What are my long-term goals? Do I want to start a family, build a successful career, or travel the world?
What are my strengths and weaknesses? What skills do I want to develop, and what areas do I want to improve?
How do I want to spend my time? Do I want to work a traditional 9-to-5 job, or do I want to have more flexibility in my schedule?
Where do I want to live? Do I want to live in a bustling city or a peaceful rural area?
What kind of community do I want to be a part of? Do I want to be surrounded by like-minded individuals or people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives?
By asking these questions, we can gain a better understanding of our priorities and values, which can help us to design an intentional lifestyle that aligns with our goals and aspirations.
So, what might intentional living look like in practice in the Japanese countryside? Here are a few examples:
Growing Your Own Food
One of the most common practices in the Japanese countryside is growing your own food. Many rural families have a small plot of land where they grow vegetables, rice, and other crops. This not only provides a source of fresh, healthy food but also reduces the need to rely on expensive and environmentally damaging industrial agriculture.
Another common practice in the Japanese countryside is preserving food for the winter months. This involves techniques like pickling, drying, and fermenting. By preserving food, rural communities can ensure that they have enough to eat throughout the year, even when fresh produce is scarce.
Using Renewable Energy
In recent years, there has been a growing trend towards using renewable energy in the Japanese countryside. Solar panels and small wind turbines are becoming increasingly common, as people look for ways to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and take advantage of the natural resources around them.
Recycling and Reusing
In the Japanese countryside, recycling and reusing are taken very seriously. Many communities have strict recycling programs, and people are encouraged to reuse items as much as possible. For example, old clothing might be repurposed as cleaning rags, to mend baskets, or in traditional weaving.
One of the most important aspects of intentional living in the Japanese countryside is the sense of community support that exists. In rural areas, people often rely on their neighbors for help with tasks like farming, childcare, and home repairs. This creates a strong sense of social cohesion and mutual support that is vital for a healthy and sustainable way of life.
What makes an intentional lifestyle special in the inaka?
Depending on your priorities, there are unique aspects about living in rural Japan that allow people to create truly beautiful, meaningful lifestyles. Here are some common lifestyle values and the unique experience for each as found in the inaka.
For those who prioritize family, the Japanese countryside can provide a peaceful and safe environment for families to grow and thrive. The slower pace of life can also allow for more quality time spent together as a family. The close-knit community in the countryside can also provide a support system for families, with neighbors looking out for each other and offering help when needed. As it is common to have small class sizes in rural school, you need not worry about your child getting enough individualized attention ever again.
The Japanese countryside offers opportunities to connect with others, whether it be through participating in local traditions or volunteering at local organizations. The sense of community in the countryside can also lead to more meaningful relationships with neighbors and friends. Living in a smaller community can also create a sense of accountability, encouraging us to maintain positive relationships with those around us.
… depending on what kind you are looking for, hah! While the countryside may not offer the same career opportunities as a city, it can provide a unique opportunity for individuals to pursue their passions, hobbies, or freelance work. For those interested in agriculture, the Japanese countryside offers a chance to cultivate the land and participate in community-supported agriculture programs. Additionally, the slower pace of life can allow individuals to focus on personal growth and development, which can lead to career opportunities down the road.
For those seeking to pursue online or remote work, the low cost of living will allow your money to go further. When I started my online business, I felt that it was a low-risk venture because I was living in the Japanese countryside. If I didn’t make much money, the low rent, home-grown food and national healthcare meant I didn’t have to worry about my own survival too much.
Living in the Japanese countryside can be a catalyst for personal growth and self-discovery. The slower pace of life and closer connection to nature can provide a space for introspection and reflection. The countryside also offers opportunities for individuals to participate in local traditions and learn traditional crafts, which can be a source of personal fulfillment. Immersion in a non-native language, navigating a new culture are also sure to provide both challenges and opportunities to grow.
The Japanese countryside has a rich spiritual history, with many traditional Shinto and Buddhist shrines located in rural areas. Living in the countryside can allow individuals to connect with their spiritual beliefs in a deeper way, whether it be through participating in local festivals or visiting local shrines. The closer connection to nature can also be a source of spiritual inspiration and growth. Even in the inaka, there are lovely Japanese Gardens to be found where one can absorb nature and fill their spirits.
Overall, the Japanese countryside offers unique opportunities for individuals to live intentionally and pursue their values and priorities. By embracing the slower pace of life, connecting with nature, participating in local traditions, and engaging with the local community, individuals can create a fulfilling and intentional lifestyle in the countryside.
Real Japan: Authentic Tradition embedded in Nature
When most people think of Japan, they envision bright lights, crowded streets, and the buzzing energy of Tokyo. They imagine the whimsy of anime and kitschy mascot characters. However, many are also curious about a Real Japan, the kind portrayed in old Ghibli movies that is rarely accessible to foreigners and tourists.
What is the Real Japan?
At its core, the idea of the “Real Japan” is an attempt to access a deeper and more authentic understanding of Japanese culture. It is the idea of a culture unadulterated by western values. “Real Japan” is a mission to understand Japanese tradition and culture in its most authentic form.
Now, it’s old news that the rural population in Japan continues to get lower and lower. Compared to other countries around the world, the average rural population in a country is around 40%. In 2021, Japan’s rural population was around 8%, and recently the trend has been to lose about one percent every year.
This is a major issue for Japan, but that is beside the point of this article. Some of the complaints that people have about the countryside include the feeling of isolation, distance from airports, and distance from amenities.
But that isolation is the exact aspect that preserves some cultural practices. In that way, perhaps the Japanese countryside is where that idea of a “Real Japan” is still alive.
When I moved to the Japan countryside, I quickly realized that things were not going to be as accessible as they once were. As an American expat, I was accustomed to having every hyper-specific, ultra-niche product at my fingertips, (and with free shipping). But suddenly here in the inaka, I was an hour’s drive and an hour-long train ride away from a tiny airport, with every TV channel in a language I didn’t understand, and daily necessities that were strange and different. Isolated by both locations and experience.
At first, I wondered if I had cut off my own lifeline. But I soon discovered that this level of remoteness was unexpectedly rewarding. The key was to approach the experience with openness and without specific expectations.
Inaka lifestyle highlights
People sometimes ask me about the amenities and resources available in the inaka. Can you walk to a grocery store? Can you take a train to an airport easily? Is there a kids’ reading time at the local library? The answer to these questions is often an easy no.
But these questions miss the point. There are bigger and more important “metrics” that are abundant in the Japanese countryside, which I have found to be unexpectedly and amazingly rewarding.
Real Japan’s Indirect Benefit
Affordability is one such metric. Housing has been my biggest financial “win” in the inaka. I was able to find a house with a $0 price tag for myself, and I’m not a unicorn. I know two other people who have found free housing, and many who have incredibly low rent. The affordability of shelter is unmatched, especially when compared to the skyrocketing housing prices in North America.
But more than that, when money isn’t a worry, doors open. The freedom to invest in hobbies, get in touch with spirituality, or lead a simpler life is within reach for driven and creative individuals in the Japanese countryside.
Nature is another factor that sets the Japanese countryside apart. Living in rural Japan is a deeply grounding experience, surrounded by the natural world. From unique landscapes with mountains, rivers, and ocean views to locally sourced seasonal food, natural festival themes, hot springs, visible night stars, nature folklore, and endless nature to explore, the Japanese countryside offers an opportunity to get back in touch with our senses. Daily life is more relaxed: better for both the body and mind.
A Fulfilling Lifestyle
Experiencing Japanese Society
Fulfillment is a third and perhaps most important aspect. I was once part of the rat race, and I knew that spiritually, I was running on fumes. Even after quitting my corporate job and transitioning to part-time teaching and freelancing, I just didn’t feel like I could recover. But when I arrived in the Japanese countryside to take a simple teaching job, I discovered a community that held different values. They welcomed me with open arms and helped me when I needed it. There were small local events and group efforts. While navigating a new culture has its challenges, both wisdom and science tell us that people are happier and healthier when they are a part of a team; something bigger than themselves.
Sometimes moving to a new country can have it’s own honeymoon phase, which can crash and burn. But the honeymoon phase might be enough to get a person back on their feet if they truly believe that rural Japan is a meaningful direction for personal development.
Experience Real Japan in the Japanese Countryside
There is a possibility that I’ve just been lucky. I found what I needed here. But “Real Japan” does exist, and it offers a unique and rewarding experience for those who are willing to approach it with openness. Living in the Japanese countryside can be a win-win if it is a good fit.
If it isn’t quite right for you, I hope my story is a simple reminder that there are many options on how we can lead a beautiful, intentional life. If it is for you, I wish you the power and determination to create your dream lifestyle here.
Creating an Intentional Lifestyle in the Japanese Countryside
If you had asked me a few year ago if I would be writing a blog post about slow living from the edge of Shikoku island in Japan, I certainly never would have believed it. It is true, that saying “wherever you go, there you are.” But I also believe that there are some places that are better aligned with our individual goals, needs, and personalities. I found my place here in rural Japan.
Slow living: the first draft
There is no official definition for slow living. In some ways, we might need to define this for ourselves. This is a contextual practice and one that might need training and practice. Is slow living possible in the city? Maybe so, but that would probably look much different than my efforts here in the inaka. For me, it’s still an in-progress definition, but right now this means:
Working at my pace
Being able to act in line with my values
Spending more time in nature, in gardens, looking over mountains, hearing sounds of nature
Prioritizing foraged, home-grown or locally sourced plant-based foods
Prioritizing fished, hunted, trapped and locally sourced animal proteins
Mottai-nai (waste-not-want-not) practices, including the assumption and upkeep of an abandoned home
I cherish the feeling of stepping lightly. My goals for the next few years will be to take this further by strengthening our sustainable food practices and sharing methods with others. I also dream of the day when I can go to bed early and wake with the birds. Maybe if you keep tabs on this blog long enough, you’ll see me get there. 🙂
For now, here is my story:
I’m a lucky lady. None of this would be possible unless I had landed in Shikoku and found myself with a great community and a great house.
Garyu Sanso (臥龍山荘) is a historic villa with mossy Japanese garden in Ozu, Ehime-ken on Shikoku island in Japan. I enjoy the peaceful scenery of the Japanese gardens. This one is extra special. There are the things you would expect: rolling moss, manicured trees, traditional vignettes.
This Ehime garden is special because it manages to be just a bit more magical and whimsical than any other Japanese Garden or park I’ve visited thus far. Maybe it’s the funny animal statues sprinkled across the property. Maybe it’s the repurposed item throughout: grinding stones amongst the walkway stones or old roof tiles used as planting borders.
While not revolutionary when seen individually, the overall effect is whimsical and lovely. It’s a feeling that only can be expressed here in Shikoku – where creatives can work with a bit more freedom outside of the stricter organizations in Kyoto or Tokyo.
In my opinion, this is one of the most underrated gardens in Japan and a top recommendation.
Questions Answered from the Bitsii in Inaka YouTube channel.
I’m surprised and delighted to have this much interest on the channel. I was planning on doing a Bitsii Q&A video, but decided to answer questions here instead. We can keep on track with Japanese Countryside lifestyle/house updates on the channel. 🙂