"The city is a place to sit, and the countryside is a place to stand. Living in the countryside is lively and fun!" That alternative to conventional wisdom comes from Matt Ketchum, one of two Americans running a consulting company on rural living. He and his business partner Parker Allen talk about the appeal of country life in the first part of the program. The latter section introduces an NHK WORLD-JAPAN program from the Culture Crossroads series, "BOSAI: Be Prepared - Earthquake! Tips for Staying Safe." The twelfth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake in March serves as a reminder to review your earthquake action plan.
Living in Japan. Hello everyone, and thanks for tuning in to our show. I'm Ruth. And I'm Stuart.
Living in Japan is a program for international residents in Japan now or in the future.
We share hints and tips to make the most of your life.
Now, Ruth, we both have the great fortune of visiting various parts of Japan for business and also for pleasure. Yes.
But both of us live in this big metropolis, Tokyo. Have you ever thought about moving somewhere less populated?
Yes, I have. I'd actually like to try Yonezawa in Yamagata Prefecture. It's laid-back. I think I'd enjoy living close to the land, eating the food from the field, and leading a healthy lifestyle.
Sounds great. Actually, I have a house in Yamanashi Prefecture. It's kind of like a second home. It's really old, though, but it's near farmland. My family grows vegetables there. It's our little haven of relaxation. Now I thought some of our listeners might be interested in putting down roots outside the cities, so we've invited two experts to join us today who know all about country living.
Wow. Sounds fun. Let's get started.
HINTS FROM SENPAINow it's time for our main section, Hints from Senpai.
Senpai is a Japanese word for someone who has more knowledge or experience. Every single show, we welcome a senpai or some senpai who can tell us how to do things better.
Indeed we do, and today's guests are two Americans, Parker Allen and Matt Ketchum. Both became interested in Japan as teenagers and have lived in Japan for more than ten years. They met in 2016 as colleagues at a company, and in 2020, they started a consulting firm on rural living. Wow.
Now today's theme is finding delight in country life. Nice.
Parker and Matt, welcome.
Hey, thanks for having us.
Thank you so much.
When I think of country life in Japan, I imagine pristine landscapes and traditional houses. What do you two like about it?
For me, I mean, I'm a musician, so the sound of the countryside is great. You can kind of focus in on, you know, the sound of the bamboo or the waves or the wind or the birds or, you know, many many other things, like the monkeys jumping on your roof or something like that.
And where do you live?
One of my main places in Yugawara, Kanagawa. It's one stop up from Atami. Kanagawa Prefecture.
Yeah, right. Yugawara is a pretty great place. I'm on top of the mountains and near the beach, so, which is kind of an odd or maybe rare combination. There's mountain climbing, there's bouldering, there's surfing, there's kind of… you can do pretty much everything that you kind of want to. Great.
Well, how about you, Parker?
So, I actually have a second house in Ogawamachi in rural Saitama Prefecture. Nice.
And this is not a super old house. It was built actually in 1988 by a former Japanese race car driver. And this is really massive Japanese house and an amazing Japanese garden. Oh, that's my favorite.
And the cool thing about this garden is this guy went around Japan and hand-picked his favorite rocks. I'm not talking about like little rocks, big rocks. That's very special.
And my kids love to climb on them. That is brilliant.
I think we've had great experiences in the countryside, but we have to remember that the Japanese countryside on the whole has a huge vacant house problem. And one of the reasons why we started our consultancy, Akiya & Inaka, is because we saw all these opportunities in the countryside, and we saw the akiya problem, and we saw this sort of stigma of living in the countryside, and we wanted to do something about it.
Exactly. And I think a lot of us really feel that the Japanese style homes are so cool, right? And one of the factors behind the problem of vacant houses in Japan is inheritance, right? People may end up owning their grandparents' house, for example, somewhere where they visit visited when they were small. They feel sort of nostalgic about it but not ready to totally take care of it or live in it. And they think, how am I going to sell it? What should I do? So, it sits there unoccupied for so long. And on the other hand, folks from other countries may value the things that have been left there as part of the story of the house. As part of the history of this beautiful house.
Yes. And Japanese people tend to want it left empty. They want everything gone. And throwing stuff away is expensive. Right.
However, non-Japanese, myself included, see potential. "Hey, I could use this." "This is a very beautiful scroll." "This is a very nice flowerpot, washing machine, refrigerator. It's free. Awesome."
What kind of things have been found in these places, Matt?
One of my favorite anecdotes is something like 40 different bottles of the umeshu, plum wine. Wow.
Yeah. That had been made over the course… I mean, that itself is the story of the house. Thirty years' worth of booze on the floor. But there's also, you know, sort of more furniture style things. Horigotatsu is one of our favorites. The sort of low table with the floor dug out that's heated. Oh, I love that.
But hanging scrolls, I think, are great. You were commenting earlier about how sort of the Japanese style of house is more attractive than non-Japanese style houses. And one way to kind of bring out that essence, of course, is to use. And then, of course, there's furniture. There's a lot of stuff usually from kind of Showa eras, sort of 1970s. It's kind of retro, like funky.
Love it. Okay, and you two are consultants, you're not real estate agents. That's right.
So how exactly do you support rural living?
So, when we work with clients, everything first starts with the search, because most of our customers don't have a specific place that they want to be. However, they have some kind of idea of what kind of characteristics of an area and a house they would like to have. It's really like a lifestyle consultation. And from there, we, of course, have an initial conversation. We ask our clients to fill out a questionnaire, and we conduct meetings with them to understand what they're looking for in a Japanese house in the countryside. And then, of course, the hard work starts. We have to look through the immense number of listings really across the country. We work from, you know, Okinawa to Hokkaido, and often starts with thinking about what they want, picking a place that meets clients' criteria, proposing that area to them, and then we go into the search process. Right.
Okay. So, after that, if customers find a house that sounds promising, you guys go with them to see it too?
Exactly. We actually inspect the house together with the client. We're looking for something wrong with the house because we work on the client's behalf.
That's a really important point. So, I've had many of my friends show me the blueprints for a place they're thinking about buying, and I would be like, "Oh, have you checked to see if there's a water pipe coming into this place?" And they're like, "Oh, you can check on that?" So, it's…I think what you guys are offering is so important to help people make wise choices, you know, as well as they can. There's going to be a situation where you're not going to know unless you move in. But to really help them figure things out before it starts is great. As much as we can.
So, what kind of places are popular?
I mean, you can probably imagine a few of the types of spots, you know, ski resorts. Nagano has always been a very popular place, Karuizawa and things like that. But, you know, also seaside spots. The Shonan coast, usually like Kanagawa, basically the coast of Kanagawa, the far side, what, the east coast of Chiba, Kujukuri, Minamiboso, places like that. And then also, you know, there's a lot of people who are kind of looking for a place to just calm down, be quiet, and you know, maybe near the forest, you know, maybe near some farming areas and things like that. So, really, it's kind of across the board what people are imagining and what we're able to find for them. Yeah, I see.
And I'm sure that those are great locations to have a second home or a place like you said, relax and refresh, but I imagine the locations may present some practical problems. Parker is there anything like that?
Most definitely, and the places that we recommend are different depending on how the client wants to use them. For example, if you want to live near the ocean, you really have to think about the issues with living near the ocean. You know, obviously, houses near the ocean tend to age faster. You need to paint them more. There's more maintenance, and, of course, a lot of people worried about tsunamis and typhoons. And another thing is, at the end of the day, whether our client is living in Tokyo or living overseas, they have to think about getting to the property. Right.
So, if there's a certain airport or they live in a certain place, where they look is oftentimes going to be dictated by the proximity to that property and their dwelling or the airport that they're going to be arriving at. Yeah, true.
Today, Parker and Matt are here with us talking about the pleasures and the perils of rural living. Now, for me, much of the appeal of the countryside is the people who live there, the commitment to the local culture and the things that they cherish. What can newcomers do to fit in, especially newcomers from overseas?
There's one thing that's quite important, I think, and usually it's finding kind of the local nice person, for lack of a better word. Usually in a rural community, I mean, everybody's pretty much nice, and that's all fine and good, but there's usually somebody who can kind of show you the ropes. Discovering them can be a little bit difficult, but you know them when you find them, and once you get that, that's kind of your in. So, you know, maybe that's not the best piece of advice, but keep an eye out for that person, that special someone. That's great. I think that's a great piece of advice. Yeah, absolutely. Parker.
Fantastic. Now, I totally agree with Matt, and also the first thing I did when I got my house in Ogawamachi is I met my neighbors. And you meet the neighbors, you exchange niceties, and you'll find, you know, that a couple of them are extremely friendly and they'll help you out and they'll chat you up, and you'll really have a nice little connection right next to your house. In addition to that, really, just seeing the city, the town, you know, going around, walking around, wandering. Get lost in the countryside. One day I was in Ogawamachi, and I just kept walking. I found these trails. I had the totally wrong shoes, but I actually, I climbed up a trail to the top of a mountain that I didn't even know existed, and I went up the top of the mountain because there's this awesome park there with like, a roller slide and a viewing deck, and it's just this beautiful place. And I had no idea about this trail.
And you wouldn't have found it had you not got lost. Yeah.
That's the best, brilliant. New discoveries. Yeah, absolutely.
I really think that what you both said is totally true in the cities as well. And for even people like me who've been living here 35 years already, I'm sure you both have a tip that I could start using from tomorrow that would help me get along with my neighbors just in general, in Japan. Is there anything that you could give us, Matt?
Yeah, really just, you know, pursue your passions, find a hobby. It's as simple as that. With regards to myself in Yugawara, I boulder, I mountain climb, I surf, I dive, I do all these things. That's just a great way to meet people. Just get out there. Just get out there and do it. Don't be scared. That's great. How about you, Parker?
Personally, I love making local connections with my community, whether I'm living at home in Tokyo or at my second house in Ogawamachi, you know, really connecting with people. And I also love matsuri, joining the local festival, carrying the shrine, and drinking from 9 a.m. Japanese ceremonies are awesome. Yeah, absolutely.
I've noticed in my community, saying "good morning" to every single person I pass has been good. "Ohiyo gozaimasu," "konnichiwa" to everybody like aisatsu is good.
It's really important 'cause I've done that for years and years. I've been living in the same place now for about 20-odd years. Now everyone's like friendly, of course.
So that's a really important thing. Brilliant. Parker Allen and Matt Ketchum, thank you both for joining us.
Thank you for having us. Excellent.
Thanks so much. This has been great. Thank you.
GOOD TO KNOWNow we move on to Good to Know. March 11th is the twelfth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. So, it's an appropriate time to introduce a television program about what to do in a quake.
The program comes from NHK WORLD-JAPAN. It's called "BOSAI: Be Prepared - Earthquake! Tips for Staying Safe" from Culture Crossroads. You'll learn the first things to do, how TV and smartphone alarms work, and the correct way of dealing with different situations.
For example: if you're walking on the street or riding a train. So, they give you the different examples of what to do in different situations. That's brilliant.
The reporter in the program experienced an earthquake simulator. I've tried one of those too. It's frightening. It's horrible. We set ours to the maximum intensity of level seven. Wow.
And it was horrible. I had a better understanding of being and experiencing that, of how the people in the worst-hit places must have felt in 2011. Now, some city halls and other sites hold events with earthquake simulators. You can ask around and try and experience. I really, really recommend you do that. Now, Ruth, is there anything you keep in mind for earthquakes?
Well, I'm always thinking about the danger of fire 'cause I know that in Japan, there's so many wood buildings, so I'm always worried about fire in regards to like, what I'm wearing. In regards to what you're wearing? What do you mean by that?
So, I've learned over the years of being here that a lot of clothes are very flammable. So, for instance, stockings, like when you're doing business and I'm wearing stockings, they're called panty stockings in Japanese. But when you're wearing those, those are actually extremely flammable. So, when an earthquake happens and you have to evacuate, you're supposed to take off your stockings, and also not to wear high heels all the time. Maybe have pumps, like, they have these flexible pumps that you can put inside your bag and keep those in case you have to run or whatever.
That's a really good idea. Now, the thing about earthquakes, of course, is you never know when they're going to strike. Right.
So, what I do is I wear an undershirt and undershirts with my pajamas just in case I have to make a quick escape in the middle of the night in winter or something like that. And then also I keep a pair of shoes that are easy to move around in near my bed.
That's smart. And also, like, filling a go-bag with food. And I often keep, like, little snacks in my purse that I carry around just in case I got stuck somewhere and needed something to eat. And that go-bag, keeping it near your door so when you leave it's right there. Yes.
Yeah, those are all really good tips.
The program we're introducing from NHK WORLD-JAPAN lets you check your know-how with a quiz. So please do watch it.
You'll find the show on the NHK WORLD-JAPAN website. Click "On-Demand" and search "BOSAI: Be Prepared - Earthquake! Tips for Staying Safe."
Please do. Highly recommend it.
ENDINGOkay. On a happier note, we'll all be looking up at the cherry blossoms soon. Yes, I can't wait. It's so close.
It is great. I hope you all enjoy this uniquely Japanese landscape with its wonderful cherry blossoms.
Wherever you may be, you're always welcome here at our show. Yeah.
You can listen to this show on our website too.
Go to the NHK WORLD-JAPAN website, click "On-Demand," choose "Audio" and find "Living in Japan." And if you want to tell us anything or even ask us anything, please don't hesitate to get in touch. You can send us a message through our website. See you next month. Living in Japan. See you, everyone. Bye.