Hello, I promised I wouldn’t leave blogging for a long time again, and here I am 😉 I guess as I have gotten older I am reluctant to blog as much as I used to, as when I blog I feel as though I am pouring my feelings and thoughts onto paper in a very meaningful manner, yet in reality I am as sarcastic and dark as they come 😉 However, today, since many people would have just finished their applications to work in Japan and I have spoke to many applicants on online, I felt as though it was appropriate to write another post about life here. Although it is indeed true that ‘ESID: Every Situation Is Different’, it doesn’t change the fact that many are scouring the internet right now attempting to inform themselves of what life in Japan could entail. Thus, here is another deep post about the prefecture I call home: Hiroshima.
When people asked me about moving to Japan in the UK, typically people had two preconceptions. Firstly, that I would be moving to a booming city such as Tokyo, or traditional and elegant Kyoto. It’s commonplace to have this view of Japan if you haven’t visited, I guess before I visited in 2015, I too had these two stereotypes at the forefront of my mind. Thus, explaining the kind of place I would be moving to was a regular occurence. This is because whenever I mentioned Hiroshima, the only thing people could think of was its history. 4 months of living here, I guess I sometimes am taken aback by surprise when I am driving through the city and see the A-bomb dome, I am so used to living here that I forget the historical event that occured in this city…
So what is Hiroshima city like? If I had to sum it up in one word, I would say it is a pleasant city. Hiroshima city is nestled in between lush green mountains and the tranquil inland sea, so you can easily enjoy two beautiful landscapes with ease. It’s calm, but still well-connected with its vast tram network and good links to other cities in Japan via the wonderful Shinkansen and highway buses. It’s a city that is home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites, meaning there is always something interesting to show visitors. Most importantly, the people of Hiroshima are able to simultaneously remain traditionally Japanese and very conservative while also being energetic and outspoken, which to a newbie to Japan like myself, seems very unique. (Much emphasis on ‘newbie’, this could be a completely wrong impression! I’m no expert in regional differences in Japan)
However, once I have taught others about Hiroshima city, the next lesson begins. This is because Hiroshima city isn’t where I reside either, I live in the north of the prefecture deep in the mountains, in what Japanese people call: The いなか (Inaka) – the countryside.
It is a term that many Japanese people and foreigners residing in Japan use in a not-so-positive light. Japan is a country much like the UK where rapid centralisation in urban city centres is the norm. Why would you want to live in the countryside, when you can live somewhere far more convenient? This was certainly the case back home also. Even if you prefer nature over the city, to be able to take advantage of better employment opportunities and transport links, living in a big town was highly sought after. For instance, I used to live in a town of 80,000 which was surrounded by fields and forests, yet you could hop on a train and be at London Kings Cross in 19 minutes. You truly got the best of both worlds and house prises were rising in this town for this very reason. Japan is no different, except the desire to live close to the inner city is even stronger. Consequently, whenever I meet Japanese people when I am travelling and tell them where I live: ‘Inaka?! Wow why would you choose there?!’ I am no longer caught by surprise. I gently inform them that I did not choose to live here, that my fate was decided by an organisation called CLAIR in Tokyo, that I was originally born in London, and that I had never lived somewhere so isolated and small in my life!
However, as much as I adore travelling to Hiroshima city (and I seriously adore other cities such as Osaka, Tokyo and Fukuoka), living in the inaka is so comfortable. 4 months in, I have realised I was really taking for granted many things here, however, after many busy weekends, I had time to relax at home and reflect.
I am grateful for…
Rolling out of my futon at 7:30 and having a 15 minute drive to the office, traffic free, blasting my music.
Walking to my nearest school from the office, and appreciating the beautiful mountains and fresh air that surrounds me.
The kindness and friendliness of every person I meet.
My small, intimate office, that feels like a family.
My local onsen (Japanese hot spring), that I have seriously had to reduce my trips to, even though it’s so affordable.
The sound of the river.
Being gifted various vegetables and fruits on the regular.
My small class sizes that give me lots of opportunities to help and bond with my students.
Stumbling upon beautiful sights such as 1000 year old ginko trees, kagura festivals and monkeys!
The changing of the seasons in this small corner of the world.
However, because, I am British and we are world-renowned at complaining here are a two things I am…not so grateful for:
Bugs. Kamemushi and mukade, unless you start paying rent…GO AWAY (in fact…even if you pay rent…you are still not welcome…)
Distance. I have forged bonds with so many people, and no matter how you approach it, ultimately it is harder for me to see the people I hold dear to me in Japan (and especially those in the UK). But, I am a firm believer that if you truly care about people, distance and time mean nothing.
To be honest with you, I believe that opinions based on locations are dependent on the mindset of the individual. If you are the kind of person who is able to see the positives in everything, anywhere would probably be wonderful. For example, if I lived somewhere like Tokyo, although it is pretty much the opposite of where I live now, I am still sure I would enjoy every moment. Therefore, take my comments lightly if you are considering moving to Japan and leaving the decision of your new home to the government or a company, everywhere is so different, even in the same prefecture. You could be living and working anywhere… moving abroad can already pose a challenge to many, the fact that in most cases in Japan you will have little say in where you will live only exacerbates that, so you must be open minded.
As a result of the random placements the government and companies choose for us foreign workers, there are often many negative stories online of life in Japan and life in the inaka, but to reassure many of you considering to take the plunge, lets just say despite my fear and anxiety before I moved… I feel so blessed and lucky to call Hiroshima’s inaka my home. I hope this blog post is reassuring to you, whether you have just applied, or if you are reading this after finding out you have been placed where you didn’t expect. This time last year I had just written my application to the Embassy of Japan and being placed in Hiroshima loomed on my mind. I had 0 expectations that I would be placed here, as preferences are rarely ever taken into account, so this May, it was a wonderful surprise, and my new life here has been nothing but a joy. No matter how much you research, plan and prepare to move here, life will never fail to surprise you. Life is unexpected, in the most wonderful of ways. I’m no spiritualist, but the Law of Attraction certainly has some truth to it…was this all fate? Or as you would say in Japan, ごえん?
Sophie ソフィ- x