Kominka, the Japanese countryside

The Case for the Kominka: Part 2

In the last part of this series, I introduced the Japanese countryside (in brief, or I would talk about it all day), and some of the arguments for living here. Hopefully, it got your attention.

In the last part of this series, I introduced the Japanese countryside (in brief, or I would talk about it all day), and some of the arguments for living here. Hopefully, it got your attention.

Most likely, it probably didn’t need to; the countryside gets romanticised everywhere, and the Japanese version of it, doubly so. If anything, I think my job is to tell people what they can actually get out of this life, and what to be ready for. Speaking of which…

This article will deal with all the potential troubles of living in small, remote areas. Since I’m running through a lot of potential pitfalls, it might end up looking a little demoralising. Please don’t take it that way; this article is not meant to be a list of why you shouldn’t move to anywhere but a big city. Rather, look at it as a kind of checklist. If you can handle, or have a solution to everything on the list, you’ll be just fine, but it’s my job to make sure you’re informed going in.

The big one, of course, is distance. In the previous article I mentioned that with public transport, and Japan’s odd relationship with distance, it’s easier than you might think. I stand by that, but it’s still distance, and not exactly trivial. If you have a car, wonderful, that’s going to simplify things enormously. If not (and really, even if you do), buses and trains pick up the slack, but it’s not as frequent as in big cities, and obviously cuts into your freedom a little compared to a car.

his can affect shopping, too. You might have a supermarket or two to a town, and probably a convenience store and a few small family-owned shops, but there isn’t exactly a rich variety unless you catch a train (or drive) to the nearest cities. Either you make your peace with this, start traveling for more exotic shopping, or start making heavy use of online shopping: Rakuten is a useful one within Japan. Amazon works too, and Japanese shipping in general is extremely reliable. This does obviously cost extra, though.

Overall, it’s not as bad as you would expect, but still a factor to bear in mind. One place where it doesn’t come up, strangely enough, is work… at least, if you work from home (such as any IT jobs that work with this, or translation, or – just as an example – writing about how people need to move to rural Japan). A big part of this is that remote work relies on the internet, which you wouldn’t expect to have good access to in the middle of nowhere… but even rural Japan does better on this than just about anywhere in the world. In short, you’re in good hands.

Next, you have the wildlife. Less city means more animals, bugs and so on, and not all of them are nice. This will vary a lot by the place! You won’t have all of them, nor frequently, and you might not have any of them. Still, when something does show up, you should know what to do, so here’s a quick rundown.

Wasps, hornets: Hold still while they’re around. Don’t get too close to, or poke nests (obviously). Call an exterminator if a nest appears near your house.

Snakes: Again, hold still, don’t sprint away. There are types I’m outright happy to have near the house (because they deal with mice and so on), but before you know them well, assume they’re all venomous. If there’s any trouble, Japan knows very well how to deal with this kind of thing, so the worst case here is a few unpleasant days.

Centipedes: Stay away from them, and either crush them or use boiling water. Nothing else really works. Alternatively, if you’re loud enough they’ll probably slink into a dark corner and never be seen again. They do sting, though, which is something I always have to explain to someone who expects the word to refer to harmless bugs.

Bears: Listen to warnings of ‘kuma’(bear), and don’t go deep into the mountains alone, or at least, not without some kind of noisemaker. Of all of these, this is probably the least likely to come up unless you really are in an extremely rural area.

Spiders: If in a forested area, watch where you walk for webs at face height. Check your shoes before you put them on. If something does get you, it’s probably an annoyance you’ll notice a few hours down the line rather than anything serious, but western Japan does have more dangerous spiders in places. No one is seriously hurt for the most part, though, which goes to show that even in the worst case, Japan’s medicine comes to the rescue very nicely.

Again, you’re unlikely to have to deal with much of this if any, but I consider it my job to make sure you know how to deal with each one if it comes up. The upshot of all this is that living in rural areas, you might, for example, see a family of deer at the roadside or birds everywhere, which is always a nice surprise.

What might actually be the biggest sticking point is language. Japan in general is a difficult country to live in without knowing the language (although it’s getting a lot better about this!), which is why I strongly recommend learning Japanese anyway if you plan to live here at all. Still, Japan’s foreign population – and therefore any move to adapt to it – is mostly urban. You won’t find much English in rural towns, much less any other language, and certainly nobody speaks anything but Japanese (usually in an unusual dialect, but most people will adjust away from the local version of Japanese if they see you getting confused). If speaking Japanese is a major hurdle for you, then I definitely suggest sticking to the cities; you’re still very welcome to keep reading these articles, of course, and between advice for tourists and pretty pictures, they might have something to offer still!

In short, the more remote parts of Japan are more challenging to live in, in their own ways, but very rewarding, and with a long list of benefits that I’m only going to build up further as the series goes on. If everything I outlined sounds manageable, then you’re ready to reap all the benefits of the Japanese countryside.

Part 1

Part 3

Part 4

Owen Kinnersly