Where's a good place to live in Japan?

I’m currently applying for a position in the JET Programme for next year. For those who don’t know, it’s essentially a position teaching English at a junior or senior high school in Japan. The application allows me to pick up to three prefectures that I’d prefer to be placed in if possible. Therefore, I’ve been doing research on good locations in Japan, but city and prefecture websites don’t quite tell me what I’d like to know, specifically what the city is actually like. Most sites just present tourist-targeted info which focuses on old castles and beaches and the like.

Therefore, I’m asking any Dopers who’ve lived in Japan for good places to try. I’m looking for:

  1. A fairly small prefecture. I don’t want to live in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, or any other highly urban city; I’d prefer something a bit more suburban, but not completely rural. A prefecture with medium-sized cities that are still fairly modern, in other words. I have to have my internet. :slight_smile: (I saw the other thread on Tokyo on the front page, but unfortunately it’s not much help to me. I wouldn’t be able to stand living in such a huge city.)
  2. Something in central to south Japan. Anything south of the Tohoku region would suffice (Tokyo on down, more or less), but Tohoku and Hokkaido would freeze this poor Tucsonan.
  3. A prefecture that touches the ocean. It’s not strictly necessary, but I would love to work oceanside.

Currently, I have as possible choices Shimane, Mie, and Shizuoka. I’d welcome any other suggestions, and what I might expect in the prefectures I’m currently looking at. If any Dopers could help out, it would be greatly appreciated.

If you apply for JET and ask for placement in a lesser-known prefecture, you’re almost sure to get it. I did one year in Mie and out of 100 JETs there, there were only two requests for placement.

I really like Mie, and when I was there it had a very good reputation in the programme, although that had a lot to do with the people who were there at the time.

One of the problems with Mie, is that it’s large and quite varied. If you’re in the south, say around Owase or Kumano, you have the beautiful Pacific Ocean at your doorstep - litterally, but you’re also hours from anywhere interesting socially. There are quite a few lonely people over there. The jackpot, as far as Mie is concerned is the area around Ise, as it’s fairly central and yet close to the sea. In the north, you’re either in the backpocket of Nagoya (Kuwana) or in the most polluted city in Japan (Yokkaichi).

I really like Nara, which is another place I lived in. No sea, alas, but lots and lots of really old stuff. Osaka and Kyoto are easily accessible for weekend entertainement and shopping. That is, unless you live in the southernmost tip, around Yoshino, or, worst yet, Totsugawa. Those places are breathtakingly beautiful, but they’re also some of the least-densely populated and least accessible areas of central Japan.

Hyogo can be pretty nice too. In all likeliness, you won’t be in Kobe but close enough if you’re lucky. Osaka is very close, but you also have nice mountains in the north. Some very nice residential areas too. A good place to live.

You might also want to give Hiroshima a try. The sea is no problem there and even though Hiroshima city is biggish, it’s got a really nice feel to it. I personally wouldn’t mind living there.

I’ve only zipped through Shizuoka on the Shinkansen, and I’ve never been to Shimane, so I can’t be of much help there…

tsubaki lives in Matsuyama, which I think fits your criteria. I haven’t seen her around here (this board) lately so you might try e-mailing her.

I haven’t been too impressed with the places I’ve visited. I guess Wakayama seemed OK, I think you can find a suburban/rural place to live along the coast and not too far from Osaka (say, 1 hour by express train).

I’ve been to Shizuoka over a summer, and I liked it. It was a little hot during the summer but not too bad, and you can take the train to and back from almost any part of the main island in a day if you feel like being touristy elsewhere. Lots and lots of tea is grown there, so if you go to a rural area, you’ll probably see mountains covered in tea bushes…

The big, big problem with Wakayama is that although it’s a great place for camping, hiking, etc., the odds that you’ll end up living around Shingu are way too high to take a chance. Shingu’s an okay place, but it’s also several hours away, by slow and infrequent trains, from civilization.

I completely forgot about Matsuyama. Definitely a nice place that fits your criteria. Good seafood, nice city, thumbs up.

I didn’t realize you only get to pick prefecture preferences, not city/town. Good point.

Yeah. As one of the JET coordinators told me, it can be a little tricky with placement–the broader your specification, the more remote places you’ll be put. One guy who put down no placement preferences at all in his application, so I was told, ended up being shunted to the northernmost tip of Hokkaido. I could easily see that happening with a prefecture that has a lot of remote locations in it. Not being able to select a city sort of makes it tricky, which is why I’m putting a lot of thought into this.

I’m leaning toward Mie, since I like the look of it, but if I had any chance of going to Izumo in Shimane, I’d go for it. It looks like an absolutely beautiful city. Matsuyama in Ehime? That does look very good. I may have to replace Shizuoka with Ehime. I can tell I’m going to be juggling this up until I send the application in. :slight_smile:

Thanks for the replies so far, and I’d love to hear more input from others.

I lived in Osaka for a year, and liked it a lot. You say you don’t want to live in a large city, but remember that the suburbs near any sizable city are BIG. They go on for miles and miles, like any large American city. My neighborhood was quiet and residential (thoough my apato was indeed a rather cramped affair), but I was a 20-minute train ride to downtown Osaka.

Kyoto is rather large, great for tourist stuff, tons and tons of shrines and temples to see. Kobe is a great little city, very senic and completely recovered (at least cosmetically) from the earthquake back in '95. All three cities are within about 30 mintues of each other.

A friend of mine taught in Himeji, about and hour west of Osaka by train. Great little town, maybe 100,000 pop., with the best castle in all of Japan right downtown.

The thing about rural Japan is the very real difference in “westernization” of culture compared with larger cities. Many Japanese in small towns have never even seen a foriegner, as tourism isn’t very easy in Japan. If you don’t look Asian, you’ll get stared at. Mostly by children and old people, but in a small town you’ll be a highly admired–but totally bizarre–curiosity. It sounds amusing and it is…the first 5 or 6 thousand times it happens and then it can get a bit annoying.

How’s your Japanese? If you’re looking to totally immerse yourself in the language (and it AINT easy! dont’ get me started on Kanji!), I’d reccommend a small town because the English curve drops drastically in small communities. Oh yeah, and the internet access, too. But just wait til you see the cell phones over there…they’ll blow your mind!

I’m going back to Japan to teach early next year, to Tokyo. I’ve thought about small towns, but I need the hustle and bustle for now. As you can tell from my post I’ve got a love/hate thing going on with the place. Have fun.

I knew a guy on JET program about 10 years ago in Aomori. They treated him like royalty. Gave him a car, big apartment, and really took care of him. Aomori by the way was a great place to visit - dunno know about living there.

Not only that, but Japanese suburbs are often, almost always, ugly. And a tad depressing. Then there’s the kind of smaller city like where I am right now. It’s not really urban, and it’s not really rural. With the inconvenients of both and the advantages of neither. Concrete and cars all around and no social life.

My favourite places are either big but not huge cities like Kyoto, Kobe, Hiroshima, Matsuyama, etc. or clearly rural areas. Suburbia is very drab.

There was a rumour that Aomori also has/had the highest suicide rate for JET participants. If you like to pepper your existence with a little city life once in a while, Aomori is probably not a good place for you.

What you get for accomodation varies greatly, and though it’s true that people sent to the boonies tend to get big and cheap places that’s not a rule. I met a girl who lived in Ashiya, a somewhat posh city right smack in between Kobe and Osaka. She had a two-storey house with a garden that was large enough to accomodate a 30-person BBQ, for which she paid next to nothing. On the other hand, I had a good friend who lived in a remote valley and paid quite a lot for a dirty ground-floor one-room appartment.

I’ve seen similar reports about JET suicides, but rather than prefecture-specific, they were rural-specific.

BayleDomon, to answer your question more accurately, we need more information about your personal preferences…

I’m originally from Pittsburgh, and I’ve been quite comfortable for the past twelve years living in Kyoto.

I worked in Osaka for my first six years, commuting two hours, one-way, daily from Kyoto… and I am convinced that living in Kyoto has been the right decision.

You’re from Tuscon… but have you ever spent time in the southeastern U.S. in the summer? Do you enjoy HOT and HUMID weather? The locations you have listed will provide you with such summer “delights”. If you want a rough indication of Japan’s climatic conditions, just take a world map, and “slide” Japan latitudinally east or west until Hokkaido lines up with Maine… then you’ll have a rough climatic match…

If you want to live in a climate like Tuscon’s, … stay in Tuscon.

Washington, D.C. has pretty much the same climate as Kyoto, year-round…

When the cherry blossoms are at peak in D.C., they’re at peak in Kyoto during the same week.

Coastal locations are not necessarily as picturesque as you might imagine…

Jetsam and flotsam found on beaches here are seldom messages in bottles or lovely driftwood…

Imagine spending a year in some village in Appalachia… with no shopping mall, no movie theater, no library, no video rental shop, and the convenience store (singular) closes at 8:00PM, and everybody spends their evenings watching FOX TV… or its equivalent… is that what you want to do with your year in Japan?

Please don’t misunderstand… the above is NOT an indictment of the rural way of life in Japan or anywhere else… only a snapshot.

Please post more questions and preferences so that we can advise you more precisely.

Thanks again for the advice. I greatly appreciate the replies, and I know my preferences are kinda vague.

I don’t actually like Tucson all that much, I’m just used to it. :slight_smile: I’m a native Californian, which is mostly why I want a seaside location–I miss being on the coast. I don’t care about the Kodak value of the beach–heck, I don’t even really like being on the beach. I just want to be near it.
I understand it can be humid–anyone who thinks an island would actually be dry would need to be smacked–but I’ve looked at a sampling of yearly temperatures for a few prefectures, and they really don’t seem too bad. Going very far south, I can guess that it’d get pretty sticky, but I would expect the middle of Japan to be fairly mild, given that the north half gets incredibly cold. There’s got to be some temperate climate, right? …Right?

I do know some Japanese (and believe me, I can sympathize about the kanji. I’m happy if I can even remember one when I look at it), but not enough that I could slide into a fairly remote/small town. There’s a point where the motivation to learn Japanese becomes motivation to, well…shall we say…go stark raving mad due to the simultaneous necessity and inability to cope. I want to join JET to push my limits, but I’m wary of pushing them too far. The notion of JET suicides is a sobering thought.

As for other preferences…it’s hard to pin down exactly what you’re looking for, gluteus maximus. I like cities like San Diego, my hometown. I prefer to be in out-of-the-way towns that still have modern connections. I don’t want to fight massive crowds on a sidewalk, but I would like to be able to walk into a department store and the like. The reason I turned to the SDMB for opinions and knowledge is that most websites tell me only about the tourist spots in a city, which are usually old shrines, castles, beaches, etc., and generally very little about the everyday businesses and shops in town.
I primarily want a place where I’m certain I could get an internet hookup. I’ve never attempted a change in my life like this before, and knowing I have a link back to the US would make it that much easier to bear. I’m sure that’s not as much a problem as I fear, though.

I heard the same from the JET coordinator I spoke to. Most people, especially in larger cities, tend to end up with a small apartment right over the train station, but it really depends on the city one gets placed in. She also mentioned one JET participant who somehow got an entire boy’s dormitory to himself. About 17 rooms, all his. I wouldn’t expect to get that lucky, but wow.

Well, at least it wouldn’t be different than what I’m used to currently. Although if I didn’t have a net connection, I think I would go crazy in that situation. :smiley:

Really, though, part of why I want to do this is to break my current sedentary habits. I want a place that’s close enough to civilization that I can go out and to a mall, the movies, the arcade, or anything else I might choose to do. The problem is that I absolutely cannot stand large crowds, which is why I’m trying to avoid the larger cities as much as I can, not to mention the better chance of getting what I want if I pick lesser-known prefectures.

And, to contradict myself immediately…does anyone have experience with Chiba that they could give an opinion on? I’m considering that as possibly the biggest city I’d look at, but I’m really quite leery of cities with over 600,000 people in them. With Japan’s size, density is an issue, but it’s ultimately looking like one I can’t avoid.

I have some friends who moved to Chiba two years ago and I have been up to visit them a few times. For all intents and purposes its really just an extension of Tokyo city - great if you are after the suburban experience. On the upside, you’ll be super close to the theme parks such as Disney Sea World.

I lived in Osaka for many years and really enjoyed it - like any major city in the world it has something for everyone. However, I recently moved to Kobe and feel compelled to put in a plug for that fine city. Kobe is a city big enough to have department stores that will stock your favourite cheese/wine/CD’s etc, but not so big that the streets are gridlocked at 5pm. As the city is wedged between the sea and the mountains, you can live pretty much anywhere and have some nice ocean or mountain views (if you’re lucky). There are also some beaches, notably Suma and Maiko, that are very accessible and have nice clean water and sand. For your winter sports, the ski fields are only a few hours drive away.

This message has been brought to you by the Kobe Tourism Development Corporation. Make your beautiful human life.

Actually, there isn’t a huge difference in climate between Tokyo and, say, Hiroshima. Maybe a few degrees. Temperatures are misleading as it often feels a lot hotter, or colder, because of the high humidity levels. You need to go into the mountains to get temperate climates.

I don’t have any statistics at hand, but I vaguely remember it as being about around one suicide per year. If you consider that there are, what, over 5000 participants, the suicide rate is actually fairly low.

Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya are definitely not for you, then. However, places like Kyoto, Kobe, Hiroshima, Matsuyama, or Fukuoka fit the bill. You need to remember, though, that because of the nature of the programme, you’re not likely to be commuting in jammed-packed trains, regardless of where you live.

Ibaraki Prefecture might be nice, as it’s dotted with places in the large town/small city range, and it has a long coastline with some decent surfing beaches. It’s also not too long a ride from Tokyo (it technically counts as part of the Kanto region) if you want to spend a day in the city.

I never did JET, but I have one amusing horror story from a woman who did. She’d lived all her life in the Orkney Islands, way out in the remote reaches of the North Sea, and was sick of it. When she signed up for JET, she listed Tokyo as her first choice and told the interviewer “I want a city. I want crowds, I want anything that’s not a fucking rock surrounded by hundreds of miles of ocean! I want TOKYO!” And, much to her delight, she was assigned to Tokyo.

Miyakejima, to be exact. A tiny little island about a hundred miles offshore, completely secluded from the rest of Japan. But, technically, part of Tokyo.

But don’t worry about getting sent there, BayleDomon, there was a volcanic eruption a few years back and the entire population was relocated to the mainland. Nobody lives there anymore.