Many teachers have visions of what their life will be like when they move to Japan. For some, this may be a traditional village in the mountains. For others, flashing neon lights and bustling train stations fulfill their dreams. Other teachers have no clue where they may want to live. When I was first asked about my preferences on where I wanted to be placed, I didn’t have a good answer. I’m glad now that I didn’t end up in the countryside because it doesn’t fit my personality well.
While many teachers don’t have the luxury of being picky about their location, here are four things to consider before requesting a placement or accepting an offer.
Japanese language ability:
It is much more difficult to survive in a small town without much Japanese compared to the big cities. Tokyo, of course, is very tourist and English-friendly. You can find help at the city offices in English, view governmental websites in English, and are generally more likely to come across English speakers.
However, even in the regional cities, English is used. I lived in Sendai, and the signs and transport systems all had English. The city had an English email newsletter, and important notices included English. There were many universities nearby, so many international students studied abroad, and many Japanese students were interested in English.
So, for convenience, if your Japanese ability is low or non-existent, a city might be better for you. On the other hand, if you want to improve rapidly, living in the countryside and being forced to use Japanese is the best immersion technique, although big cities have more language schools, exchanges, and meetups.
Ability and willingness to drive:
In the big cities, a car is rarely needed due to good public transportation. Tokyo, for example, has dozens of train and subway lines, as well as an extensive bus network. In fact, owning a car in the cities can be a pain due to traffic and lack of parking. To buy a car, you first need proof of having a permanent parking space. This can be expensive, even if you can get one at your apartment. Of course, if this doesn’t deter you, a car is a nice way to get out of the city for a weekend and can be very convenient for travel.
In the more rural areas, a car can become a necessity. In fact, many schools require it so you have a way to get to work. It’s also needed to get to the supermarket, the train station, or to meet friends. Even when I lived in a city of 120,000 people, not having a car was a problem. I either had to walk or bicycle–sometimes over an hour–or rely on the city bus which came infrequently and ended service at 8pm.
Basically, if you aren’t able or willing to drive, the countryside may not be the best place for you. However, if you enjoy having a car and want to take drives through beautiful scenery, you might prefer the more rural areas.
Some hobbies are more suited for city life, while others can more easily be done in rural areas. In the countryside, hiking and photography opportunities abound. Of course, these can also be done if you live in a city, but you might have to travel further. Conversely, social hobbies, like sports, gaming, or cosplay, are easier to do in cities where you can find a group of people with similar interests.
Two different personality types thrive best in the countryside. First, people who enjoy quiet and need some alone time might prefer the rural areas. The cities are crowded and can be very overwhelming. Being on the train during rush hour can be a panic-inducing activity for some. Personally, I get cranky walking around Tokyo because everything is so packed and it is hard to move around. The countryside is definitely more relaxing and peaceful! Second, people who are social butterflies and can easily make friends can do well in a small town. They can get to know everyone and become part of the community.
People who find it more difficult to meet new friends, but need more social interactions might prefer cities because there are more social groups and meetup activities. For example, Tokyo has hundreds of events every week, and many people come alone hoping to make friends. I’ve found it really easy to talk to people and get to know people at these types of events, which range from drinking parties to walking to tours to flower arranging workshops.
Basically, the countryside is great for people who enjoy nature, quiet, and a slower pace. Cities are better for those who want many social activities and convenience. Both can be great experiences with the right mindset, and I believe that people can be happy in either place. But before you make a decision, it is worth considering which is the best place for you!