One of my co-teachers told me today, “Living in this town is like living in Japan on hard mode.”
Having only been here for about a week and a half, this made me pause and think. She’s not wrong. I’m in the small city of Toyohashi, which is south of Nagoya, and even then my apartment is about 2 miles south of “center city”. So I’m basically in Japanese suburbia.
Which, don’t get me wrong, isn’t a bad thing. Things are relatively quiet at night and I don’t have to worry much about pick pocketers targeting tourists, or really tourists at all for that matter. I can hear the train and train crossing alarms from my apartment, but thankfully they stop sounding off at 10 pm on the week nights and around midnight on the weekends. Although for the past few nights, I have heard mysterious singing coming from somewhere outside my back balcony. The other night I heard the Sound of Silence, but in all Japanese. It was a haunting tune, cool but very random.
The downsides to not having tourists aplenty is that there is very little English around. In places like Nagoya, Tokyo, and the larger destination cities, they cater to the tourist more. More things are translated and some of the staff in shops and restaurants speak some English. Here, not so much. I envision a lot of gesticulating and blindly nodding in agreement in my near future. But I did’t move abroad to live in a place like the one I came from, where’s the fun in that? Sure, I love the big cities, but smaller cities have their own charm. People get to know you, people recognize the lost looking foreigner walking in circles trying to follow her GPS to work…
But I’m lucky in that there is just enough English on menus and food labels so I’m not completely lost some days. There is also the basic necessities one requires in life; a 24 hour grocery store, dollar stores, arcade, and a Mega Don Quijote (more on that one later, but if you need a US equivalent, think if Ikea, Walmart, Target, Giant, and a dollar store had a baby). There are also restaurants where you order from a vending machine and give the ticket to the waitstaff who will bring your meal out to you. Limited interaction required, perfect for an introverted foreigner!
So I do agree with my my co-teacher, living out here as a foreigner isn’t the most glamorous or easy, but its also not the complete styx of rural Japan (that might give me a nervous breakdown.) I’m lucky that the bullet train makes a stop at the local station and that there are numerous other local trains to get to neighboring cities. The city of Toyohashi itself is cute and walkable with some interesting restaurants I’d go back and try out, and there must be a karaoke bar up there somewhere (a city isn’t complete without one).
I’m still adjusting and getting settled, but things haven’t scared me off yet, location wise at least. My goal is to pick up enough Japanese so I can brokenly stumble out my order when I go out to eat. So one week down, and here’s to many more filled with awkward encounters and getting lost in translations!