Small town in the Boston suburbs, Age 0-18:
Like: (mostly in hindsight): Generally quiet, nice schools, low crime, not a bad place for a kid to grow up. Close enough to the city for easy commuting, far enough away that all the houses had yards and not too much traffic.
Dislike: It was still a small enough town that getting anywhere in life (unless you were opening your own restaurant or hair salon) meant going somewhere else. My father was (and still is) well-known there, so other than a brief brush with TV fame my senior year of high school, I was always going to be his kid to everyone there. Plus, there was the matter of it having 3 gun shops, at least a half-dozen liquor stores, and not a single book or music store (still, pretty low crime).
Cambridge, Massachusetts, Age 18-23:
Like: Bookstores everywhere, a huge community of people my age that I finally felt like I belonged in, generally good times as a college student. Elsie’s, Tommy’s, Pinocchio’s. Easy to get around without a car (easier, in fact).
Dislike: I really liked being a college student there, so after graduation it was hard to walk around there without some major nostalgia-induced blues (probably aided by the fact that I’d been dumped by my girlfriend, and had no full-time job or idea of where my life was supposed to go). Even last year, ten years later with a lot more personal and professional success under my belt, it still felt sad being there again. Like I had missed something that I could never get back.
Hamamatsu, Japan, Age 23-25:
Like: Beautiful town (small city, actually) on a great beach. Small enough that you could take off by bicycle in any direction from the city center and see rice fields and green tea farms within about 20 minutes. A friendly gaijin community, a gaijin-friendly Japanese comunity, and a huge Brazilian population with great restaurants and clubs. A sizeable subset of the female population that was very gaijin-friendly (including my future wife). By the time I left I’d built up a name for myself in the community so that teaching offers were coming to me on a weekly basis.
Dislike: Teaching was really the only job option for a foreigner, unless you got married with a Japanese and started your own school, bar or restaurant (which a few friends of mine did). Teaching was fine, but it didn’t feel like a career, so I had to move. Also, neither the internet nor Citibank had arrived there yet, so no internet shopping for things that couldn’t be found locally, and no credit card to pay for it if there were (a Japanese bank that issues a credit card to a foreigner that’s been here less than 10 years is a rare thing). This meant taking an occasional 90-minute train ride to Nagoya to buy books, and a 3-hour trek to Tokyo to buy a computer. Due to internet spread and general growth, the shopping and entertainment options have expanded greatly, so I wouldn’t mind living there again, although the job opportunities are still limited.
Suburban Machida, western outer Tokyo, Japan, Age 25-28
Like: It’s a nice, quiet suburb with lots of parks, and forests, mountains and rivers aren’t too far away. Downtown Tokyo is reasonably close, and Yokohama (better in many respects) is even closer. Machida city itself is great place full of shops and restaurants of every type. Not much that can’t be found there. Plus, it’s far enough away from the big city that rents aren’t completely unreasonable.
Dislike: Not much, really. My fiancee, however (she moved in with me from Hamamatsu about a year after I moved), absolutely hated it, as her job (which she also hated) was a 90-minute one-way commute. Plus, she’d lived downtown for several years before moving back to Hamamatsu, and wanted to be back in that life as soon as possible.
Sangenjaya, western downtown Tokyo, Age 28-33
Like: Very much a town that never sleeps. Along the 10-minute walk from the subway station to our apartment, I once counted over 50 places where you could get a prepared meal. The place was just as lively at 2am as 2pm (although still very safe; traffic was the only hazard), and no matter how late I was at the office, there were still plenty of restaurants and grocery stores open where I could grab some dinner. Lots of fun things to do right there, and Shibuya was only 5 minutes away by train.
Dislike: It was expensive to live there. Our apartment was smaller than our old place in Machida, and in a much older building, but cost two-thirds more. It’s also not much of a place to raise kids, and that’s what we (now married) were getting ready to start doing.
Minami-Senju, North-east of downtown Tokyo, Age 33-34 (present)
Like: We caught this neighborhood at just the right time. Before we got here, it was government housing and industrial wasteland, nothing but rows of gray apartments, empty spaces and warehouses. Our building was one of the first private condos to come in, and already there was land being cleared for shopping centers and schools. Soon after we signed the papers (about 2 years before the building was finished and we could move here), everyone who’d been saving for insanely expensive homes an hour away from the west side of Tokyo suddenly noticed that there was a perfectly good area only a 5-minute train ride out of the downtown on the east side for half the price. Now, new places are going up everywhere and the land prices are rising, but we got in first and we’re fully paid for (heh, heh!). Anyway, what I like: Despite its proximity to downtown, it’s a very suburban neighborhood where everything seems to have been built with young families in mind. We’re right next to the Sumida river, and there’s an ongoing project to build more and more parks along the flood levees that has turned out beautifully with plenty of walking and bike trails. We’re right next to the old Ueno and Asakusa districts, and I can get to work either with a 20-minute direct train ride with no line changes, or a leisurely bike ride by the river. Plus, I have an incredible view from my balcony (10th floor), which includes Mt. Fuji rising over the entire city.
Dislike: Unlike Sangenjaya, this town definitely sleeps. The shops and restaurants are all closed by 10, and even the convenience stores (which are 24-hour everywhere else) close at 2am. Our building is right next to a train freight yard, which gets a bit noisy at times (the trade off is that watching the trains and trucks is kinda like having a huge model railway set, plus the trainyard is important enough that my view is safe from developers). There’s also the nagging worry of whether the anti-earthquake measures will be enough when the big one hits. Also, my friends in Machida are now 2 hours away, so we don’t see each other much anymore.