I love Japan. The moment I stepped off the plane 11 years ago, Japan stole my heart. Korea may have stolen my stomach, and a great deal of my sanity but Japan will always have my heart.
It’s easy to forget that behind the glitz and glamour, the technology and temples, and the geisha and sushi that there is another, calmer Japan. I spent 4 years in rural Japan, living amidst the rice paddies and the fishing boats. Life progressed slowly (the speed limit was 40 km/hr!), and peacefully. I returned last week for a quick visit before I head back to Canada, and was amazed (and a little relieved) to find that very little had changed in the time I’d been gone. I still remembered how to get around, my favourite restaurants were still there, and the local spa still sold fireworks.
I used to live in Amakusa, which is an archipelago extending out from Kumamoto prefecture. After travelling by plane, train and automobile, my friends and I decided to camp on a beach that was just down from one of the high schools where I used to teach. Could you find a more beautiful campsite?
Japan’s population is declining rapidly, and it was evident on my island. Both of the high schools I taught at are closing this year. When I lived in Amakusa, there were 5 elementary schools in my area. Now there is only 1, and its class sizes are very small. My homestay family seems to be trying very hard to increase the population but it’s an uphill battle. There are very few young people around. Everyone goes to Tokyo.
And so it was a bittersweet return. It was incredible to see old friends, and revisit old haunts but what will happen to my island? Already rice paddies that in my time were green and productive, are dry and unused.
So if you’re going to Japan, and you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary, let me recommend Amakusa! 😀 Here are a few photos to tempt you.