9 Reasons to Live in Rural Japan

Sakura season in Saijo, Ehime

“Inaka” is the Japanese word for countryside and refers to the rural areas of Japan. These areas are known for their high elderly populations, expansive rice fields, and simple lifestyle. During my interview, I was asked about whether I’d accept an inaka placement after living and growing up in Toronto for over a decade. It’s a fair question since many JETs want to be placed in the big cultural hubs like Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto or more unique cities like Sapporo, Hiroshima, or Nara. They might associate inaka life with limited options for social events, entertainment, food, and transportation. They’re right, that is inaka life. But after living in a busy and crowded metropolitan city for most of my life, I was over it. During my interview I told them that my only stipulant is that I am not placed in a cold area. I didn’t have any objections to rural Japan because inaka also equals more nature, tighter communities, and a relaxed lifestyle.

Two years into my placement in the city of Iyo-Saijo, aka the #1 ranked inaka of Japan, I have no regrets. Inakas can vastly differ from each other and some can be truly secluded. I have the sweet spot where I can enjoy the best that rural life has to offer but I am also pretty close to larger cities and their amenities. But I rarely need to venture out of my city because it has everything I could need and below are the many things which make life in the inaka amazing.

1. nature, Peace, & Quiet

For someone coming from city life, I can’t get enough of the mountains, rice fields, and rivers. During severely boring classes, I often look out the window and just enjoy the landscape. I have one school that is surrounded by rice fields and I love it. Even if you’re someone used to nature, Japan can still have many unique experiences to offer such as amazing fall colours, cherry blossoms in the spring, and pristine rivers and lakes to swim in, in the summer.

I also hate crowds and I don’t enjoy that aspect of city life whenever I visit them. Now that Japan is on the map as a hot travel destination, there are so many visitors every year, prior to COVID anyway. This made visiting tourist spots in the larger cities painful, mostly due to the aggressive groups of tourists brandishing their 10-feet-long selfie sticks (you know who you are). Rural Japan on the other hand is still mostly untouched. This means that life here is really peaceful and quiet. Here, I never experience crowds, long line ups during events, or street congestion.

Koi fish pond in Saijo, Ehime
Ishizuchi Mountain
Waterfall in Saijo, Ehime
Forest in Saijo, Ehime

2. Safer

The lack of population density results in a lot less crime. Crime in Japan is really low in general but in rural Japan, it’s pretty much non-existent. In my town, the two major crimes are umbrella and bike theft. It seems strange but we don’t need much in the inaka and those two things are hot commodities. Strangely enough though, when there is any other crime here, its national news level worthy. But that’s for another post…
9 Reasons to Live in Rural Japan - A Hassan.- jet programme
Ishizuchi Mountain and flower wall in Saijo, Ehime

3. Festivals & Cultural Immersion

There is no shortage of festivals in all of Japan. This is just to say that you won’t be missing out in rural Japan. Regardless of where you end up, there will be multiple events throughout the year because the Japanese love to celebrate the seasonal changes, crop season, and pretty much every event you can celebrate under the sun.
JETs tend to come to Japan and automatically gravitate towards the foreign community already established in their cities. There’s nothing wrong with this since Japan isn’t easy to navigate without a good grasp of the language and culture. But for those who want the full experience, the inaka will give it to you. There are very few other foreigners to depend on and the people in rural Japan rarely speak English. This means that you have to fully immerse yourself in the culture, learn the language, and still struggle to explain to the convenience store clerk that you want a refund for a lost bus ticket. That’s a true story. The experience wholly sucked but I still appreciate that I was able to do it.
Sakura season in Saijo, Ehime
9 Reasons to Live in Rural Japan - A Hassan.- jet programme
9 Reasons to Live in Rural Japan - A Hassan.- jet programme

4. Local Relationships & Tight Knit JET Community

In the larger cities, there are so many people and they’re so busy that building relationships within the community can prove difficult. Not in the inaka. Foreigners are so few and rare here that everyone is curious about you. You’ll often have people approach you as you go about your daily life, just to ask where you’re from and what you’re doing in their little town. At this point, the three Japanese words that you know will floor them. They have very low expectations of us.
Rural JETs also tend to be tighter knit through sheer necessity. We literally don’t have anyone else. This can be difficult if your JET community is made up of opposing or antisocial personalities. If you get lucky and end up with cool people though, you can band together and become the local ALT gang.
JET Programme ALTs in Saijo, Ehime
Sakura season in Saijo, Ehime

5. Sweet Students & Few Schoools

Having smaller classes (25 students per class at one school) has made it much easier for me to get to know students. Living in the inaka, you’ll see your students around town A LOT. I initially thought this would be a pain but I don’t know what rock star lifestyle I thought I’d be living here, that I wouldn’t want my kids to witness. It turns out, I live a very basic life and having my kids shout HASSAN SENSEI at me when I’m out and about is usually the highlight of my day. The students in the larger cities tend to be used to foreigners and I doubt they’d run around town shouting my name in Tokyo. Not to mention, in smaller towns, its less dense, so less schools close together. This usually results in rural based ALTs being placed in less schools than city based ALTs. 
9 Reasons to Live in Rural Japan - A Hassan.- jet programme

6. Unique Social Life

It’s true that in rural Japan there is a lot less entertainment. Like in my city, there may be no malls, limited restaurants with even more limited hours, and very few activities to do. The truth is though, you just have to get creative with your ALT gang. I’ve gone from being a city living mall dweller to a small town living river dweller. I haven’t become some kind of river hobbit like those words make me sound. It’s just that every small town has its social spot, whether that’s a bar, mall, etc. In our case, it’s the river that runs through our town. So a lot of our social outings involve picnics, BBQs, slack lining and hiking. You have to work with what you’ve got. Finally, no matter what corner of Japan you end up in, there is karaoke.
Saijo, Ehime
9 Reasons to Live in Rural Japan - A Hassan.- jet programme

7. Unique Restaurants & Local Foods

Having a limited number of restaurants with limited hours shouldn’t deter you from still being a foodie in rural Japan. Just like all the other aspects of rural life, it’s not worse, it’s just different. This means that you’ll find really amazing restaurants in mountains, in outwardly shabby buildings, and more often than not, they’ll be random holes in the wall. The good news is that you’ll be a very unique and welcome presence in their establishment and they will often remember your orders, that you like two sugars for your tea, and give you special perks on the house. This is inaka for “I love you”. 
Not to mention, the food in rural Japan tends to be local and fresh and cheap. This also means that they might not always have what you’re looking for and that the things you buy need to be eaten quickly before they can go bad. This part took some getting used to because I come from a household that buys an entire week’s worth of groceries at once. In rural Japan, you buy less, buy more often, but nothing can be done about it. Just roll with it.
9 Reasons to Live in Rural Japan - A Hassan.- jet programme

8. Cheap Living

I cannot stress how cheap it is to live in a rural town. I live in a family sized apartment, complete with two bedrooms and a full kitchen. My subsidized rent is 29,000 yen a month and I don’t pay for water because my town has an unlimited supply of fresh mountain water. I kid you not. This is a fraction of what those in larger cities pay. Similarly, bills, food, clothing and other life necessities are super cheap too.
9 Reasons to Live in Rural Japan - A Hassan.- jet programme

9. Transportation

Within a small town, everything tends to be super accessible. You’ll need nothing more than a bike to get to most of your destinations. Unfortunately, I live on the one main island in Japan that doesn’t have bullet trains. I’ll be honest, that bites. Furthermore, my city doesn’t have an airport so I always have to travel 2-6 hours domestically before I can even begin the international leg of my journey. If you are coming to Japan to travel and you’re placed in the inaka, it will be a struggle. In the end it balances out though because this is where you rural life style savings save your butt. 
Mountains in Saijo, Ehime

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