Lifestyle Narratives

A switch to a rural lifestyle in Japan’s inaka has long been considered a ridiculous notion. The thinking goes that it spells professional death because of the Tokyo=Business truism. Then there are the bears

The millions of abandoned houses aka akiya in that supposedly dangerous countryside further compound the matter. Akiya have had a Scarlet Letter branded upon them for some time. The narrative suggests they are worthless garbage heaps just waiting to collapse and are categorically a bad investment.

We contend that the popular narrative of life outside of the city is a good deal more complex than is generally accepted. There are many factors that go into determining a “successful” lifestyle. Perhaps first and foremost is the individual or group’s own conceptualization of it. But because of this Metro narrative, even if your idea of The Good Life lies outside of it, it’s gravity is so strong that in all likelihood you’ll find yourself drifting back towards the city.

Call It A Hunch

My hunch about 6 months ago was that if this whole binary narrative were nullified and I were able to pick and choose my own way about it through careful research and consideration, a new, integrated approach would be made possible that yielded considerable dividends, be they financial, quality of life, or otherwise. So far? I’m pretty happy with the results, and after about half a year of it, with the cherry blossoms blooming, and the fiscal year rolling over yet again, I find myself reflecting a bit on what piqued my curiosity in the first place, and it really boils down to one thing: novel experience.

The idea is nice, isn’t it? Living liminally in the space between Megacity and more humble climes. Daydreaming is easy enough, though, and the fact of the matter is that actually starting the journey of extricating yourself from the metro area can be a considerable undertaking, what prevents so many from getting out of the gate. Japan is, after all, a country, and countries are large, complex creatures that aren’t easily understood at a detailed level – even if you were serious about leaving the metro area, where would you go, and how would you find it? There’s so much information and so many opportunities out there it’s understandably difficult to even get started.

Restaurant lifestyle

The Task at Hand

Happily enough, it’s not actually that daunting of a task. There are many ways to acquaint yourself with Japan’s countryside. Personally speaking, I only throw my hat into the ring for those which sufficiently buck accepted notions of “professionalism.” Said simply, usually it’s at least a little dirty, sweaty, and dangerous. But that’s not the only way!

Perhaps unsurprisingly, weekend excursions are great for exploring Japan’s rural communities and finding a place that resonates with you. Keep in mind that if you stick only to established vacation areas, you’ll get exactly what you paid for: an experience that doesn’t reflect much of reality. This is fine, but if your goal is to explore options for lifestyle updates with more fresh air, greenery, and relaxation, we recommend that looking to the periphery.

Anecdotal Evidence

Now, I’ve had my fair share of “peripheral” experiences. Here are some highlights.

  • I built a hidden network of tree houses in Shiga, Kanagawa, Chiba, and Iwate prefectures. Unfortunately, because I haven’t tended any of them over the years, I bet they’re all totally overgrown and unrecognizable now.
  • I hitchhiked to Fuji Rock without a ticket on a whim, wandered blindly through the woods of Fukushima for a day and slept rough on the shores of Lake Inawashiro, stayed up all night in Niigata City, got on the wrong train for the last leg of the journey and ended up in an exceedingly rural village in Yamagata with exceptional sushi, arrived at Echigo-Yuzawa station in torrential rain, bussed it to the Fuji Rock grounds with Roxy Music and got them to give us 3-day full-access backstage passes, and slept rough again by the river, in an abandoned tennis court, and a final location that I’ll leave to your imagination.
  • Multi-day track bike treks in extreme weather are a favorite of mine. Urban camping is a wonderful way to extend your trip by days if not more. Just don’t be a nuisance.
  • Did I mention I spend a lot of time riding empty trains to empty houses in empty reaches of Japan?

But I imagine going fully feral as I tend to isn’t what many are looking for. Fortunately, there are less extreme resources to assist you in meaningfully exploring rural Japan over a few days. WWOOF, Workaway, The Inaka Project, municipal programs, social innovators, and esoteric mobile apps are all useful. It won’t surprise you, but we also provide unique inaka packages for those interested. There’s a cornucopia of options out there that will give you decent exposure to non-metro life.

Farming Lifestyle

Through WWOOF (Willing Workers On Organic Farms), members trade their physical labor for room and board across Japan. I’ve been a WWOOFer for many years, and have been extremely lucky in having only outstanding experiences. That is not a guarantee, however. If you want to explore WWOOFing opportunities, exercise due diligence with your hosts.

Workaway is similar to WWOOF, but with money involved. At once unfortunate because, well, there’s money involved, it’s also a good incentive for the hosts to be hospitable. I haven’t myself used the service, but I hear considerably fewer complaints from participants than with WWOOF.

Local Lifestyle

The Inaka Project is an initiative that is hyper-focused on opportunities in Saitama prefecture. They offer participants the chance to engage in run-of-the-mill rural activities such as rice harvests, mochitsukuri, and various farming experiences. It offers a pretty low barrier to entry for those a bit timid about getting out there. Not my favorite, but to each their own.

Municipal programs are a gamble. In a perfect world, you’d be looking at the opportunity to live in a traditional house, get to know the locals, and receive a monthly stipend for promoting local attractions. This is rarely executed well and I wouldn’t recommend the current iteration.

Organized Initiatives

I’m rather pleased with what MyMizu has been up to. In addition to their main activities providing The People with clean drinking water, they also host clean-up events around the Kanto area. These are a wonderful way to explore new locales, safely meet new people, and contribute to a better world. Major respect.

Adam Fulford and Fulford Enterprise work with the village of Nakatsugawa, Yamagata, curating corporate retreats, educational lifestyle activities and more. Adam’s is a unique offering of guided, intensive immersion, and if there’s someone out there with a more hands-on offering than his, I certainly don’t know of it. Highly recommended.

I found Randonautica through some spooky tech article headline about apps that harness the power of ley lines or power spots or whatever. I’m no believer, but I there is something interesting about this app: it randomly generates goal points on your device’s map. Instead of just saying to myself that I was going to wander off somewhere, the app tells you to. Genius.

Our Humble Offerings

As for Akiya & Inaka, well, we’ve got goats you can take pictures with, but in return you have to dig some holes in the ground and then go have dinner or beers on the beach with us…

That’s being a bit facetious. Since our inception, we’ve started working with local municipalities in developing small scale group experiences. This takes many forms and, to be honest, is a breath of fresh air. Too many opportunities out there touted as being a great way to discover inaka fall into the same category of rehashed educational retreats. I guess if you’re the tired and world-weary type, this might be attractive, but not to us! We like excitement!

To that end, we’ve helped parties set up lodging and activities in desired areas and with much fanfare. Fishing trips, wine tours, farming excursions, if you’ve got an itch you need to scratch, we can probably assist.

It’s a Lifestyle Thing

Let me be the first to say that we don’t expect anyone to jump up and say, “Oh my god! Yes! It’s me! I’m the person who wants to buy a house right now!” That person is relatively rare, though appreciated in their own way.

What we’re interested in is opening up the wide world of pretty excellent lifestyle experiences that lie all around this country. If that happens to pique your interest in further exploration, perhaps with a property search in mind, great. If it doesn’t, that’s cool, too. Either way, if we don’t contribute to the evolution of the inaka narrative, that probably won’t be as common a conversation as it could be. 

We’ve had decades of ineffective inaka promotional campaigns that have demonstrably failed at affecting any meaningful change in the dominant metro narrative. It’s about time Japan, and not just Tokyo, got its fair shake at things, and we’ve seen and experienced the pantheon of means to create a much healthier, and much more diverse landscape for the benefit of all. 

So check out those suggestions above, or get in touch if you want something a bit different. I know I can always use help on my latest shack in the woods.