Before moving to the countryside, I remember some people sharing their concerns: are you sure you’ll be okay in the countryside? Won’t it be boring? Isn’t the countryside inconvenient?
Among many of the people I talked with, it seemed that there was a basic assumption about the “inaka” (countryside), which is that it is boring, inconvenient, isolating, and a good place to retire, but not a good place for young people to live long-term.
Pictured above: a picnic spot near to a local ski resort.
This idea is sometimes reinforced by the media, as well as by city-based workplaces that desire to keep young people overworking and hustling for as long as possible, before they realize the full extent of what they are missing out on in the rural areas. However, this is changing! The Japanese government is now offering incentives for people to move to less densely populated areas!
The longer that we’ve lived in the countryside, the more I’ve grown to love it.. and I feel that it’s a good time to share answers to the questions that are most-asked by my city-dwelling friends, such as just what does fun look like in the countryside, and why would young people want to live there?
My husband Masashi and I live in a rural area of Hyogo, and there are no train stations in sight for a good 40 minutes or so (by car). The farthest mainstream grocery store is also about 45 minutes away. Our home is located in the deep “inaka”, surrounded by mountains and forest.
It is true that having fun can take more initiative in the inaka than in the city. In the city, it is easy to hop on a train and find a date spot or a new cafe. However, the country life is so rewarding!
Some of the reasons that I think that country life is attractive to young people include that there is more time for family, a greater connection with nature, and a slower, healthier pace of life.
One thing that is very important to Masashi and me is the amount of and the quality of the time we can devote to family. In the city, it was not unusual for Masashi to come home from work at past midnight. I also worked mandatory overtime, and when I came home, I was exhausted. We knew that this was not a healthy family lifestyle.
Even so, I continued to experience a great deal of pressure from my workplace. In addition, I experienced illness, including pneumonia (that led to temporary partial hearing loss and damage to my right eye), fevers, chest pains, high blood pressure, flaring joint pain, a traumatic miscarriage, and a number of other issues. The doctors said that I needed to decrease my stress. Masashi and I decided that work would not take a priority over our family or our health. It was time to break free from the culture of work-worship, and forge a different way.
After moving to the countryside, within about one year, my body recovered significantly. Since moving, I have rarely caught colds, my allergies are far less severe, and I have much more energy.. and despite the initial challenges of starting our own business, Masashi and I both have a better work-life balance. We are able to create a company (and a home) that reflects our values.
Pictured above: my mother-in-law joins us for a family hike.
It is also amazing how we used to take the simple things for granted. For example, I love taking the time to cook a delicious meal, shopping for food without feeling rushed (in the past, it was a less enjoyable chore that cut into my only “free time”), walking in nature, and appreciating the changing scenery, day by day. When life is slower, there is more time to appreciate what we have, and to be content.
Rural areas are also havens for introverts and artists. In the city, it is much harder to have the time or energy to create, when there is constant stimulation everywhere, including a barrage of sights, sounds, and advertising. In the country, there are fewer distractions, and more opportunities for reflection and creativity. Despite switching to the “slow life”, both Masashi and I have been able to cultivate ideas at a much more rapid pace from our rural location.
In the country, we also feel that there is more freedom. Large properties and houses are available at low cost, for purchase or rent. There is more space to breathe, and live.. to be free. You can even have a dog, or two or three! Rural life does not feel cramped, suffocating, or small, like we often felt of our Yokohama apartment. Living costs are also much lower. Not to mention the fresh produce that is available!
In addition, in the countryside, it is possible to be as old-fashioned, or as modern as you like. For those interested in homesteading and farming, there is ample opportunity to learn skills and tend gardens. However, it is just as easy to work from home on the computer with high-speed wifi. Or, why not a little of both? You can stream Netflix, and harvest home-grown tomatoes.
I also find it amusing when city-dwellers say there is “nothing to do” in the countryside. For those who are used to constant entertainment and over-stimulation, it is true that the country life might take some serious adjusting. However, it is possible to have just as much fun in the country, and often at a much lower price tag.
Here are a few of our favorite activities, and their price ranges.
Picnics near the local ski resort (especially when the autumn leaves change colors!). Price: Free (for most seasons).
Going on forest walks to see what flowers are in season. Price: Free.
Hiking. Price: Free/ Low (depends on the area).
Eating lunch at the bell tower located at the top of a mountain – it is also a great place to see the stars, when it is open on some nights. There is a small cafe, or you can bring a picnic. Price: Free/ Low.
Swimming in the river in the summer. Price: Free.
Going to the local apple farm, where they offer apple-flavored ice cream, and sell fresh apples (which make delicious pies!). Price: Low.
Drinking coffee and reading books at Once Upon a Time, our cafe-style community space (opened Sep. 1st, 2019!). Price: Low.
Having lunch at Cafe N827, a 46 min. drive away (they have great beverages!). Price: Moderate.
Hosting dinner parties with friends. Price: Low.
Family night: board games, card games, or a movie in. Price: Free.
Enjoying pancakes at Michi No Eki, a 20 min. drive away (there is also all-you-can-eat blueberry picking nearby!). Price: Moderate.
Pictured above: a delicious bento lunch we shared.
Other fun events in our area include fireworks shows in the summer, seasonal flower gardens (sunflowers, roses, etc.), summer camping retreats, and winter skiing.
There are also other cafes, shops, and amusement parks (such as Taiyo Park) that are nice to visit every now and then, if you don’t mind the extra drive.. and if you want to learn something new, there are plenty of classes available, too. A 45 min. drive away, there are music classes for almost any instrument, from the violin to the ocarina. Closer to home, Masashi and I offer a small studio for voice lessons. Or, if you prefer something more athletic, there are dance classes such as hula, or martial arts.
On the other hand, if you prefer to spend time more quietly, there are several libraries within driving distance. There are also various music events, craft workshops, cultural festivals, and seminars held throughout the year. Our area also offers a community cafe event once a month, where locals meet up over breakfast.
Although there may be fewer options for eating out or shopping in the countryside compared to the city, there are far more opportunities for deep conversations, taking in the moment, and being fully present.
However, the countryside is not lacking in entertainment. You may just have to look for it a little harder.
You won’t have to look hard to see that there is beauty, freedom, and joy in a rural life.
Do you live in the city or the countryside, and what do you like about your home?
Please leave a comment below.
Photo credit: Hannah Haruna