The care and feeding of boyfriends (in rural Japan)
August 8, 2011 7:36 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend is coming to visit me in Japan. Yay! Help me help him not die of isolation, culture shock and boredom.

So, I've been living in Japan for a year and on a recent trip back to the States I managed to hook up with an old friend who I've had feelings for for a long time. Yay! Now we're in a long-distance relationship, and he's planning to visit me in the fall for 4-6 weeks. We'll spend one week in Tokyo when he first arrives (probably the last week of October), and then it's back to my place, where I'll be returning to work. I live in a very rural area and I'll be taking the car to go to work, so he'll be on his own during the day.

He's not terribly concerned about this; he works only a part-time job now, and he says that his days at home consist of job hunting, cooking/eating, exercise, and maybe some TV or video games, so he doesn't see how this will be any different. I'm a little more worried, however--6 weeks is longer than some exchange programs, and I think he'll miss his friends and family, will feel isolated out in the countryside, will maybe even start to resent me for being busy with work all day while he sits around bored. I moved to Los Angeles to be with my last boyfriend (who had a budding career while I was unsuccessfully job hunting) and basically went batshit crazy, and of course I went through the adjustment process when I moved to Japan myself, so I know that of which I speak. I love him a lot and I don't want this to put undue strain on our relationship. Plus I want him to enjoy his time in Japan!

Anyway, I have two questions: Is this a completely stupid idea and should I be changing the parameters of the trip? If not, what can I do to help keep him from feeling isolated?

I'm thinking along the lines of things I can have available for him in the apartment, ways I can help, activities to suggest as well as how to suggest them (I know having something to work on is great for stuff like this but I can't, nor do I want to, say "hey honey, since you're just sitting around all day you should maybe like get a hobby or something").

Some more details: My apartment is pretty spacious, and I don't have roommates. He'll have his laptop, Nintendo DS, camera, and my bike. The following things, in order of distance, are bikable from my place: some convenience stores, a pharmacy, various small shrines and temples, an onsen, a park, a supermarket (6km), train stations (6.5km). From the train stations he can get to some nearby towns for day trips. I also have a pretty good network of expat friends--most of them work the same hours as I do, so they can't keep him company during the day, but at least he'll get to talk to and hang out with people who aren't me.

Your suggestions are appreciated :) Help me make this a fun experience for him!
posted by sunset in snow country to Human Relations (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Could he drive you to and from work each day so that he'd have the car during the day to get out of the house and explore on his own?
posted by decathecting at 7:40 PM on August 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'd encourage him to plan a week trip on his own either to somewhere in Asia or around Japan. He should make use of this opportunity to travel and it'll break up the trip a bit.
posted by whoaali at 7:46 PM on August 8, 2011

Maybe some under-the-table work as an english tutor would be a possibility in your area. Ask around for some leads. When I was in Japan, tutoring kids and hanging out with the moms afterwards made me feel a bit like I was part of the family, which helped a lot with homesickness and missing my own family at home - the moms would often feed me a homemade snack in exchange for additional english conversation.

There are also possibly free Japanese classes available through the local library he could take, which would introduce him to other people. He might be able to sign up for other classes like Kendo or Aikido, or a Japanese cooking class.

Or he could teach himself how to cook Japanese dishes (my favourite Youtube Japanese Cooking Class is Cooking with Dog.) He can go find the ingredients and make them at home. Help him write out the characters, then he has to figure out how to find the ingredients in the store - a lot of "matching symbols" and sign language with exceptionally helpful people who don't speak english, it's a fun challenge :)
posted by lizbunny at 7:50 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I spent a few months -visiting, and not working- in rural Japan. Definitely get him to drive you to work as there's so much to see in the countryside that would be impossible to get to without a car. He can also drive to the local markets and buy interesting fresh food for dinner (and you probably will need to shop every couple of days if you have a typical mini fridge). Also nthing the English teaching. I taught a 2-hour class once a week to cute little kids (and was paid handsomely for it!) that involved simply singing a bunch of songs with them. Also, if he has the car, he can spend the afternoon lounging in an onsen while gazing at an aesthetically pleasing mountain view. Etc.
posted by lulu68 at 10:07 PM on August 8, 2011

Could you clarify where you are? Which prefecture are you in, and how far are you from the larger cities? Also, does he speak any Japanese at all?

My first suggestion would be to involve him as much as possible in your classes, etc. You won't be able to bring him to school every day or anything, but for example, I bet your school will be doing a Culture Fair in the first week of November. You can totally take him to that, introduce him to the teachers you're working with, the students you're teaching, and so on. Try to get him involved with the community so that he's not just "that weird foreigner". By the same token, if you're stuck at home in your apartment with him all the time, you'll be a weird foreigner too. So take him out, go to whatever events you can, and try to involve yourself in the culture together. If you two just hang out in the apartment, it'll be hard for him to get out on his own. On the other hand, if you introduce him to people in the community, he'll be able to go out and about without being too much of a fish out of water.
posted by tau_ceti at 10:17 PM on August 8, 2011

How comfortable is he getting around by himself? Particularly in rural Japan, there isn't much English on the signs at all. So if I were visiting, I'd actually be pretty nervous at first about biking/training around without help. This may sound silly, but when I lived in Japan and had people visit, I actually wrote out some sentences on a card for them saying "I am lost" or "I need to find train station X" or "I need to call phone number X" and I think that made them feel better. But my recommendations for him depend on how ambitious a traveler he is. Does he just want to hang around your place and play Nintendo? Or does he want to see the countryside?

For practical matters, you could get together a list of local festivals to go to, definitely the two of you, but also ones he might make it to during the day. Having a specific thing-to-attend might be more motivating than just "go to town X and walk around". (I like "go to town X and walk around", but not everyone does.)

Activities around your apartment are harder, but I love the idea upthread of cooking Japanese dishes. Just the experience of biking to the grocery store and cooking new stuff could be exhilarating/exhausting, in a good way. Other things to have around the house might be subtitled Japanese TV or movies, or even a simple "learn Japanese" workbook. I like Japanese for Busy People. There's also a kana version of that.

My work actually discouraged us from driving, so I was fed all sorts of possible misinformation on how it's a bad idea to let newcomers drive in Japan. But if he's from the States/other countries where you drive on the right, it could be tricky. However, driving lessons might be fun for you to do together.

TL, DR: What does he want to get out of the trip? How adventurous is he? Maybe he wants to learn some Japanese phrases, go to the grocery store, cook some meals, and that's it. Maybe he wants to take long day trips into the countryside. The visitors I had were very different in their tastes.
posted by lillygog at 5:04 AM on August 9, 2011

I'm not sure if you mentioned how much your boyfriend travels. Is this his first trip abroad?
What does he want out of this trip? Does he just want to sit back and relax, or is he excited about seeing Japan?

Memail me if you want to talk more, I'm from Japan.
posted by xmts at 7:46 AM on August 9, 2011

As long as he's used to biking, and has a decent sense of direction, exploring by bike/getting to the station to explore by train should present a great deal if things to do. During this summer vacation I've gone out on several four and five hour bike rides, and I've gotten to know the area where I live much better.

Aside from long rides, you'll need to give him options to prevent boredom/feelings of being overwhelmed. One thing you might do is create a list if things you think he might enjoy in your area. Don't make it a short list, make it more of a page of options. Put things you've done and enjoyed on the list, along with things you think he might like. Without knowing where you are, it's difficult to give any specific examples, but nearby temples, museums, short hikes, interesting stores, places to eat for lunch are always good.

One last thing, which I did when friends came to visit for my wedding, is to make a card/piece of paper that has simple Japanese phrases on it, as well as your address and the phrase for asking a taxi driver to take him back to your place if he gets lost. Make sure to explain to him that taxis are stupid expensive and only for emergency purposes. Still, worth having.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:20 PM on August 9, 2011

When I first traveled to Japan, I stayed with my sister in a small town on the Noto Peninsula. There was only bus service to and from the town, although the next town, Hakui, had train service into Kanazawa.

I didn't speak the language, I could not read, and had very little money. I couldn't shop or do anything at all.

I spent most of my days riding my bike (I brought my Kona Explosif with me from Canada). My sister was a JET, and so I got to know the other JETs in area. I ended up going to a lot of house parties. I eventually hooked up with a girl from Tennessee in the next town (Nanao), and visited her a lot (it was a 90 minute ride over the mountains).

I also looked for work, and traveled to Kanazawa, Kyoto, and Kobe (and used up most of my limited funds).

So what's your boyfriend going to do?

You could try inviting him to your school to participate in clubs. I'm not sure how happy your supervisor will be if you openly declare you're shacking up with someone (you could always say you're engaged to be married).
posted by KokuRyu at 5:31 PM on August 9, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions so far!

I don't know how much it helps, but I'm in Niigata Prefecture. Boyfriend took 4 years of high school Japanese but claims not to remember most of it; I think just brushing up on katakana will help a lot for menus and such, though. He's been on short trips to Mexico and Canada before but other than that this is his first international trip. He is also very much the sit-at-home-and-play-Nintendo type, which I have no problem with; I just don't want him to get lonely!

The phrase card is a great idea, as is the cooking (which he likes). KokuRyu hit the nail on the head as to why I'd prefer not to bring him to school with me, but I am planning on bringing him to my English conversation class, and I'll probably mine my contacts to see if I can introduce him to someone who could hang out on weekdays. He's also expressed an interest in fishing, so I'll look into that. Any other suggestions are welcome! Thanks!
posted by sunset in snow country at 7:44 PM on August 9, 2011

Do mind me asking where abouts in Niigata you are?
posted by KokuRyu at 10:00 PM on August 9, 2011

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