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.
Read more > Cost of Living in Rural Japan
A Life in Nature
Where Culture Meets Environment
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.
Not Without Challenges
Moving to a foreign country can be highly emotionally taxing. From new environmental risks to a difficult language, Japan is no exception. See also: The Challenges of Living in Rural Japan.
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.