Living in Japan: The City vs. The Sticks

I went for an early-morning run today and couldn’t help to notice how beautiful the trees, lining the streets of Tsukuba, really are. The leaf colors around Tsukuba are so vibrant. Those deep red, bright yellow, and striking, orange-hued leaves that are so characteristic of Tsukuban fall, are always so relaxing.

Coming to terms with finding new employment and a new apartment hasn’t been so easy, because I have been in Tsukuba for nearly three years now. But it’s quite possible that I will have a chance to stay here. I guess the big question is, should I?

Tsukuba isn’t exactly what I would call a country town; although I hear that between just ten and fifteen short years ago, it was. The Japanese government put a lot of money into developing Tsukuba and making it the place it is today. I would say that Tsukuba is one of those towns that hasn’t quite decided what it wants to be yet. In the center of the city (Tsukuba Center) there are lots of restaurants, a large shopping center (MOG), the Tsukuba Express Line, and about a 15 minute bike-ride away, you can find the largest mall in the Kanto area (IIAS). However, if you take a bike ride away from the shops and stores, to the outskirts of Tsukuba, or towards Mount Tsukuba, it kind of looks like you jumped into a Japanese time-warp. There are rice fields and lots of green. There are old-style houses, farms, and all things countryside. It’s really nice to live in a modern city that’s enveloped by it’s humble, small-town beginnings.

I live in a city that’s an endearing mix of the city-life shopping, and peace-and-quiet of the country. But what if your city is more clearly-defined? Which is better? Living in the “true” city (like in Shibuya or Shinjuku)? or Living in the “true” sticks?

Well, both have benefits. Living in the city means having a lot more options of what things you can do, you have cheaper & more accessible transportation, more schools and classes in close proximity, and even more job opportunities. The sticks give you a peace and quiet, beautiful scenery, cleaner air, (possibly) a closer relationship to the people in your town, and bigger apartments for less money.

Both also have downsides. The city can be a lot noisier, apartments can be significantly smaller, and it can be a much faster-paced life (but some people are into that). The “true” sticks can be uncomfortably quiet, it can be hard to find the things you want to do, it’s a slower lifestyle (some people like that, too), and people WILL stare at you more (because maybe it’s not as common to see foreigners in the country).

Ideally I would want to live in a place just like Tsukuba, one that gives me the comforts of both styles of living, and allots me the opportunity to go the the “true” city or country relatively easily.
However, if I had to choose between the pure sticks and the pure city. I would have to choose the city, because there too many things that I would want to see and do. I do like cool restaurants, movie theaters, television stations, etc.

If you had to choose between strict country living and strict city-life, which would you choose? Why?

Please leave your answers in the comments section…I’m curious to know.

Until next time,

Donald Ash

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  • Ryan McGuinness

    I hope to live in Nara City when I come to Japan, which to me seems a lot like Tsukuba; in that it seems like a quiet city in the countryside.

    Having lived in the countryside all my life, I would love to live in a city that is peaceful!

    • Donald Ash

      Nara? That’s one of my favorite places in Japan!! and you’re absolutely right…it reminds me so much of Tsukuba. Only the people were much more open (not that the people of Tsukuba aren’t, I just felt super welcome in Nara).

  • Sean Patton

    A good insight into the differences of the two options! I’ve been looking at apartments offered by a foreigner-friendly realty company (Best Estate) and they have some decent small apartments in the sticks for far less than their Tokyo listings (far less than apartments even here in Canada). Hachioji seems to be a common location. It’s about 40 minutes from Tokyo via train but seems to have a mix of countryside and city-like amenities. Have you seen much of that area or have any information about it?

    • Donald Ash

      Hey, thanks for posting Sean. I’ve heard of Hachioji, but I guess there are many of those cities that are 40-ish minutes range outside of Tokyo that strike a good balance between the city and the countryside. Anybody been to Hachioiji?

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