Okay, okay… I admit that the “Real Housewives” title riff has been swimming around my mind for quite some time. Yamanashi is the Japanese prefecture that I have been living in for one month and a half. Yamanashi has a ton of mountains, a relatively low population, and it is famous for growing peaches and grapes. Luckily for me, these plentiful grapes translate into a delicious variety of wines and there are numerous vineyards scattered about the region!
Yamanashi prefecture has dozens of towns and small cities, but I don’t live in either. I live in a real-life village, Doshi-Mura, with a staggering population of ~2,000 people! Inaka basically means “country” or “rural” in Japanese and my village is as inaka as it gets. Being the only foreigner in a secluded area in rural Japan comes with quite a few quirks.
1.) Your neighbors might show up at your apartment bearing fresh veggies from their front yard garden. The day after I moved into my new apartment, I clumsily stumbled out of my door, narrowly avoiding a collision between my foot and a bag of cucumbers and tomatoes that my elderly neighbor harvested and left on my doorstep. I made a salad with these veggies and ginger dressing. The tomatoes were a revelation - I sat staring at them for several minutes thinking about the rich complexity of their flavor. The GMO-fed products I used to buy in Florida supermarkets tasted like flavorless blobs in comparison!
2.) Everyone knows everyone. Many people in my tiny village have the same surname, “Sato.” I can call on “Sato-san” to answer a question in any of my Junior High classes and create utter confusion because there are at least four students with that shared surname strewn about the room. This small-town vibe often prompts me to proclaim that I live in the Twin Peaks of Japan. When I had first arrived to town, I took a long walk on the village’s main road and spent the next three days fielding questions from everyone who had driven past me about what I was doing, where I was walking to, and why I wasn’t driving in the ridiculously hot weather. As the only foreigner in Doshi (to my knowledge, at least) I draw a ton of attention to myself just by existing. Most of the time I am more than happy to be the foreign novelty. Though, when I’m confusedly reading a hiking trail map upside down, sweating buckets on the side of a country road I would rather not be noticed.
3.) Prepare yourself for some interesting driving experiences. I come from the land of flat, wide roads so when I saw the size of the streets in Japan I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how not one, but TWO cars were meant to co-exist driving the opposite way in such a tight quarters. A few days ago I took the wrong turn out of a friend’s apartment complex and (I swear) I had to do a 50-point turn to avoid two gaijin traps –“foreigner” traps that are essentially uncovered deep drainage basins – AND a rotund orange cat.
The other alien concept for me was mountain driving. I have to drive for 30 minutes up, over, and down a mountain to arrive at the nearest grocery store. Initially, I sat in the passenger seat with my supervisor as he zoomed down the tight turns and winding passes to get into Doshi Village. My heart thrilled with fear as I imagined myself making the same voyage on a semi-regular basis. The first time that I drove the mountain road I did it completely alone with white knuckles and thinly veiled panic. Alas, what was once a terrifying prospect is now a consistent part of my weekly routine. One evening, I was listening to dreamy lo-fi music and felt comfortable enough with my newfound mountain driving skills to spend the journey admiring the verdant green hues of the forest and the way those colors blended with the milky white mist draping the mountains. I had my window cracked and the scent of the air was that of a distant, but inviting bonfire. Suddenly, I realized that I was no longer frightened of driving my tiny, white Nissan Cube up and down these magnificent mountains and that made me feel pretty dang liberated.
4.) Life will be a bit more inconvenient, at times. I get bummed when friends in a neighboring city are all planning a midweek dinner excursion that I can’t attend. When you are living in a remote area of a foreign country I firmly believe that you need to escape every once in awhile to avoid getting too stir-crazy. I usually just crash on the futons of my very kind, city-dwelling crew. Though, I must say that it is hard to miss the commercialized glamour of urban settings too much when I am surrounded by so much natural beauty right at my doorstep.