Apple Country

Stories of rural life as an ALT in a northern Japanese fishing town.

Life in another prefecture..?


I just read 24 Things That Will Make You Re-Consider Your Entire Existence, and while I do love killing my brain with impossible questions about the universe and beyond, questioning my own actions from the past is far more tortuous.  I know how simple it would’ve been to say something different or choose the other option, but I’ll never know how that would’ve turned out.  (Prime example: not saying “Let’s try again!” back in November when the first piggyback didn’t work…)

Last week the cold Aomorian weather got me contemplating what life would be like further south of the country.  What if I hadn’t decided to put Aomori as my preference as I had done right at the last minute?  At one point I’d been considering Shimane, which is completely the other side of Japan, right at the southern tip of Honshu.  I made the mistake of looking at their JET website just now – beaches, islands, surfing, snorkeling… Sometimes it’s hard not to feel bitter about living where I do and compare it to other JETs’ lives and experiences around the country.  But then again, most people only shout about the things worth shouting about.  And in a way, I do the same thing – I take photos of beautiful scenery and anything that I think people back home might be interested in looking at, because I doubt anyone wants to see photos of the inside of an office.

How do I know somewhere like Shimane hasn’t got half of what Aomori’s got?  They’re both two of the most rural prefectures in Japan, so the lifestyle probably wouldn’t be that much different.  Living in a big city like Tokyo would be fun and I’d never be short of things to do, but would the cost of living hold me back from doing them?  Maybe I wouldn’t feel like I had a place there. Fukaura’s not exactly the most glamorous place, but it can be remarkably beautiful.

Saw Mt. Iwaki looking especially fine on my Sunday stroll last week

Mt. Iwaki was looking especially fine on my Sunday stroll last week

Living in a small town means I get a lot of attention, and even though I get tired of being stared at and pointed at, sometimes people express their curiosity in a way that reminds me how some people here might never have travelled even as far as Tokyo in their whole lives.  Part of the reason I’m here is to reduce the stigma towards foreigners in Japan, so the locals are bound to be interested when they see me roaming the streets with my ridiculous hair as I take photos of their jumbled up front gardens and the mountains they’ve seen every day of their lives.

Fukaura definitely scores points for incredible scenery and I’ll never live anywhere like it again, but its isolation does make me appreciate more where I grew up; I’ve been spoiled my whole life by living so close to the buzz of London, and just as easily being able to retreat into the countryside, but only now do I realise how lucky I was.  I was close to so many things and didn’t take full advantage of them.  Not just places near my house, but other parts of the UK and Europe.  Driving 15 minutes to a friend’s house used to seem like effort, but now I’ll drive over an hour to see someone without thinking about it.  A train to central London took 40 minutes, and the nearest city to me here takes 2 hours by train, even though it’s actually more like going to Kingston.  A 3-hour drive to university was only considered worth doing twice a year, but now if there’s an event on the other side of the prefecture, I’ll happily drive that far in one day!  Ain’t no mountain high enough…  I imagine in most cases of “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”, it’s too late or too difficult to go back to what you had.  But as this is only temporary and I hopefully didn’t break Surrey’s heart too badly by leaving, I can go back and see it through the eyes of an old Japanese fisherwoman with the vitality of a 23 year old, so I can do ALL the things.

However I’m trying not to miss home too much, as the two years I’ll be in Japan is nothing compared to the rest of my life in the UK (unless its course changes dramatically and I go to Australia, marry a surfer with freckles and tousled hair and spend the rest of my days hanging by the beach, which I’d actually be quite happy with).

So anyway, I may have the occasional rant about where I am, but to tell the truth I do actually like it here!!  I’m even starting to enjoy winter… I’ve realised that wishing it away won’t help so I’m embracing the next two months of snow.  I was going to write about my coping methods in this post, but it’s getting quite long now.  I’ve had this one as a draft for about two weeks but keep having more to add, so I’m gonna try more frequent but shorter posts from now on.  またね!

6 thoughts on “Life in another prefecture..?

  1. Excellent read Nel

  2. Well, the grass is probably greener on the other side, on account of all the snow! Just remember how muggy and sweaty it’ll be down south when you will be basking in perfect, sunny weather. Is the lantern festival on soon? That looks brilliant. Great read. And I think Surrey will be happy to see you – just give it some warning! X

  3. Thanks for the great read and brilliant photo. Lou x

  4. Hi Ellen, your latest post reminded me of a cartoon I saw years ago. There was a circular field, divided into three identical sections by barbed-wire fences. In each section there was a cow, and each cow was poking its head through the barbed-wire to eat the grass in the next section. The caption was, “The grass always looks greener on the other side.” Grandma.

  5. Yeh…always fancied an Australian surfer with the tousled hair….but hey ho, Milford beach beckoned instead 😀 Great read, lots of love. Sheila x

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