Top Reasons I Returned to Akita
Until January this year I lived and worked in Tokyo and Yokohama. In Tokyo, I worked in Jiyugaoka and Shinjuku for an Eikaiwa and I also did some part-time work in Asakusa and other areas. The trains came every ten minutes, the stores were plentiful, the bright neon lights were flashing, and I just...hated it! Well, hate may be a tad to string, after all Tokyo is super convenient and there are lots of people to meet, places to go, and things to do, but there are a lot of aspects about living and working there that made me want to get out of the city. I’d studied abroad twice in Japan before moving over to work. I went to Waseda University and it was ok, but before that I studied abroad at Akita International University (国際教養大学) and ever since then, no matter where I go in Japan, and no matter how much I like, say, the forests in Kobe or the jungles of Naha I always found myself going back to wilds of Akita.
When I was working in Tokyo, I had to commute 1.5 to 2 hours one day EVERY DAY! By the time I got home after midnight (since my Eikaiwa was open late), I was so exhausted I just passed out in bed. This was bearable for the first few weeks but a real drain as the months went by. In Akita, my commute time is 4 minutes. No joke, I just leave my house, walk down the street, and walk into my workplace. No train, no bus, just me own two feet.
When I had to commute to work everyday, I had to fight/rush for seats or stand for an hour hoping for a seat. In a packed train car. In summer with broken air conditioning. Yet somehow the seat right next to me was always vacant. People would look at the "Gaijin Seat", then me, and decide they’d rather stand. I get their reasons, but it still hurts. People in Tokyo also seemed far colder to me than in Akita. In Akita, people aren’t used to seeing non-Japanese people, so they’re more curious. In Tokyo, people just seemed to regard me and other foreign workers with a cold indifference.
I still remember an incident that happened on the train between Yokosuka and Misaki-guchi that sums up my commuting experience in the Kanto region. I was sitting on the train, and a drunk man came stumbling onto the train. He was super wasted and crashed into the four-seat priority-seating area. The passengers near him got up and left, and he threw up all over the floor. I was a little uncomfortable at first, but I saw he wasn’t moving, so I got up to check on him. He wasn’t doing good, let's say that. I was a little panicky and started asking other passengers on the train what we should do, but everyone ignored me, except one old man who said in very harsh words, "You don’t have to help him."
Well, you know what Ojisan? Yes I do! I ran up to the conductor and told him what happened, but nothing happened. I tried to prop the guy up, but no one came until I got station staff at the very last stop to come.
Things like that just don’t happen in Akita, at least not that I’ve seen or experienced, but they happen almost everyday in Tokyo. I’ve seen people in Akita rush over when someone falls off their scooter, even me when I fell off my bike, but in Tokyo they won’t even give you the time yah fell.
Akita is beautiful, the mountains, the forests, the plains, the rivers and snowfall. When I wake up in the morning and look to the east I see pointed mountains rolling in wispy clouds like an old scroll painting. If I look west, I see the sea of Japan and rolling, lolling azure waves out to the Oga peninsula, the seat of the old gods, the Namahage. I look north and seat snowy mountain tops, I look south and sea Mt. Chokai, Akita’s Mt. Fuji. When I step outside, even in the city, I hear birds singing in the day and frogs in chorus at night. I’ve seen deer here, and schools of fish, and once the odd fox. The streets aren’t crowded, the trains aren’t full to the brim with passengers, and the air even tastes better.
When I worked in Tokyo, when I woke up in the morning and looked east, I saw steel and concrete. West? Concrete. North? Steel. South? (Binbon) steel and concrete. There were no birds singing, none that I noticed, no animals save for the pets people keep on leashes, and the occasional small park could never make up for the hectares of cold grey. It too often reminded me of the Shelley poem "Ozymandias". Incidentally, “Kings of Kings” in Japanese becomes 「王の中の王」. Don’t you just love the kanji balance? If you’re ever wanting a new fun way to study Japanese, look up a poem or story in English you like, then the Japanese translation, and compare the two.
Erm, right, anyways, back to the environment. Maybe since I was raised in the countryside I have an affinity for rural areas, but the landscape in Tokyo was too bleak for my tastes. The noise was also a bit of a problem, and I’m not talking about people talking. Trains running, cars driving, and machines operating all culminate in a cacophony of sounds that can at times be overwhelming. Worse than that, was the light pollution. When I was in Tokyo, when I looked up at the night sky, it was hard to make out the stars, but In Akita I can see them every night. These might sound nit-picky, but for me seeing the stars, breathing fresh air, and listening to birds singing are all precious things I don’t want to live without.
Tokyo is a huge city with lots of famous global and national companies. Paradoxically, this ends up meaning there are no job opportunities, especially for foreign workers. Well, none outside of a few niche (and stereotypical) sectors. Sure, you can find ANOTHER English Teacher job, but do you want to be an English Teacher forever? For some of you the answer is yes, and I don’t mean to devalue your specific passion; however, I’m not an English teacher: I’m an engineer who dabbles in translation. I tried applying for literally, not figuratively, hundreds (173) different engineering job adds in Tokyo, but most times I wouldn’t even get an email response to my application. On the rare chance I’d get an interview, I’d be lucky if I got a "we regret to inform you…" phone call after.
So many people are scrambling to get a job in the big cities in Japan, that the rural prefectures, like Akita, are having trouble filling jobs that they need filled. Especially in the rural prefectures there just aren’t that many foreigners period. Many smaller companies want to hire foreigners with Japanese skills to diversify their companies and possibly branch out more in foreign investitures, but lots of people are cajoled by the allure of Tokyo and miss that chance. I applied to one company in Akita and got accepted almost immediately. When they said they’d get back to me in two weeks, they meant it. I’m not a contract worker either, I’m an actual full time employee.
Sounds strange to me that that's something to brag about, but in Tokyo most jobs for foreigners were contract "part-time" work, even manager positions at Eikaiwas. Since I’ve started working here I’ve been training with electric circuits and programs and finished a few translation projects, like translating a contract agreement with my supervisor who has 20 years experience in translation. I have health benefits with company housing and when I say housing I mean "A House", not just a dinky little apartment. I’d never be able to get a house in Tokyo; thats just unthinkable.
I’m not a city-mouse. I’ve lived in cities, gone to school and worked in cities, and I can’t say I don’t enjoy visiting Kyoto or Tokyo on occasion. After reading this article one might come off with the impression that I hate Tokyo and everything about it. I dislike lots of things about Tokyo, that's not up for debate, but some of my favorite shrines and cherry blossom spots are there. I love the restaurants and museums and the backdrop of Mt. Fuji, but visiting a place and living there are two totally different things. If anything I wrote here strung a chord with you, I’d suggest trying life and working in a rural prefecture. It can feel lonely at first, but by-and-by the people here will support you and there are more opportunities than you think. Just takes passion, patience, and time.