How to Survive Living in a Small Town

August 9th, 2012By Category: Travel

If you choose to go teach English in Japan, you’ll most likely end up living in a small, rural town for your first year. Experiencing the Japanese countryside is an amazing thing, as I consider it the ‘real’ Japan. Every foreigner in Japan should live in the countryside at least for a year. It allowed me to learn a lot of Japanese and to see a more traditional side. Some foreigners choose to live in rural Japan for several years, and I can see why. However, I’m a city girl at heart, and small town living presents a lot of challenges for me. Even though I’m moving to Osaka in a few months, I feel so sick and tired of my location, and knowing I’m leaving makes the wait even more difficult. Here’s a survival guide for living in rural Japan:

Fill your free time

You’ll be spending A LOT of time in isolation (more than you would ever expect), so be prepared and find a lot of hobbies. All that free time is great because you get to use it to be as creative as you want and to work on personal goals and projects. Writing, running and baking are my favourite activities. Also, thank goodness for the internet and an unlimited amount of music, movies, and information.

Learn Japanese

Learning Japanese is so much easier when you live in a rural area, because most people don’t speak any English. When I travel to big cities like Osaka and Tokyo, I always get addressed in English, which is annoying because I don’t get to practice my Japanese. I try to study a lot at home, and I always get excited to go out and run errands so I can practice a few simple things.

Make Japanese friends

Even if you live in a small town, you’ll most likely meet tons of other foreigners, mostly English teachers from other programs. I was so surprised to meet so many of them in my small community when I first arrived. It’s nice to have them around, but if you only hang out with them you won’t learn anything about Japanese culture. Japanese friends are so important, and even though it can take a lot of time to get close to them, they’re the most open-minded, kind and generous people you’ll ever meet. Plus, you can do a language and cultural exchange and pick up a lot of new expressions and understand customs. I’ve had the most interesting conversations with my Japanese friends.

Have some foreigner friends

Hanging out with some fellow foreigner friends is equally important, when done in moderation. Having people you can relate to, speak English to and rant about your job/living conditions is always nice and comforting. Since you’re here without your family, your foreigner network often becomes your support system. I choose to avoid big foreigner gatherings (I hate them so much, as they can be very uncouth) and instead hang out in smaller groups, or one-on-one.

Don’t date within the community

Just don’t. Unless you want to have a very public, painful, and humiliating breakup, and feel like you’re on the cover of a gossip magazine… because people will be talking. If you do choose to date someone who lives in your small town, be aware that when you break up you’ll always see them around and know everything about their life, which will make it so difficult to move on. It’s a bad idea.

Take frequent trips

The best thing about living in the countryside is that you save a lot more money, therefore get to escape more often. Taking trips is vital, and having at least a small getaway planned every month is key in order to keep your sanity and have things to look forward to. Even though trains in Japan are pricey, there are a lot of ways to travel on a budget: buses, youth hostels, and cheap, delicious meals. I’m an expert now.

Love your job

Some days, the most exciting part of your day will be to go to work, so you might as well love your job. Even on horrible days, you have to face the little ones, and as dreadful as it sounds, the kids always put a smile on your face and are so heartwarming. I always try to make my lessons more creative and play a lot of fun games to make my kids happy (and behave), and to keep myself in good spirits at the same time.

Indulge in your area

Find something that is specific to your area, as each region in Japan has a specialty. In my prefecture, udon noodles are famous, and we have a lot of natural beauty around us, as it’s such a rugged area. We have tons of temples and shrines, beaches, and mountains. I love to go hiking, and we are also blessed with the exquisite Ritsurin Garden.

Do your own thing

Just do your own thing. I cannot stress that point nearly enough.

Stay couth

It’s not really a word, but it’s the opposite of uncouth.


Author of this article

Vivian Morelli

Vivian Morelli hails from Canada and is a journalist based in Tokyo, where she writes about culture, fashion, food and music. You can read her Japan musings at

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