What locations in Japan would work for me?
November 12, 2006 7:29 AM   Subscribe

I need to choose my top three choices for locations in Japan for the Jet Programme. Can you help me choose something that meets my needs?

I am in the process of applying for the Jet Programme and have been researching madly for my top three choices for prefectures or cities that I would like to teach in. Given the abundance of choices and overall beauty of Japan, I'm tempted just to leave it random; but there are certain needs I have for the location, so if any of you are familiar with Japan it would be very helpful if you could give me suggestions. I'm going to make a list of my needs, and while they may seem to describe an idyllic and impossible location, if a location fulfills some or most of them, that's fine too.

1) Weather: Seasonal or tending towards the warmer climate. I am from Canada, and I've decided that it would be easier to adapt to this relocation if it wasn't one of the extremes (too warm, too cold) and where I could go through the familiar seasonal changes.

2) Arts: I am an Art History undergraduate, and one of my pressing reasons to see Japan is to be able to interact with the contemporary arts scene. So whether I am in quick transportation distance to a major arts location (for example, Toyoma was about 3 hours to Tokyo by train), or whether I am in one, either way it would be great if this could be accessible (even if only on weekends).

3) Outdoors: I am a very athletic person who loves hiking, swimming, etc! So I would love to be positioned in a mountainous region, a coastal one, or just generally qualified as a place where outdoors activities are common. This is why I was considering Toyama prefecture since there is lots of camping/hiking that goes on.

4) Rural/semi-rural: I would prefer to be in travelling distance to a city, but far enough away that I get a sense of the rural areas of Japan, even if I'm in a small city/village area. Hopefully this would also be qualified by a lower cost of living since I would like to be able to save as much as possible for more travelling!

5) Food accessibility: I am a major health nut who is often found lurking in the organic/sugar free aisles of the grocery store. As such I eat brown rice, brown bread, etc. I know that Japan is very different though still has plenty of fresh vegetables and healthy foods - but I've heard that in more remote areas there is less of a chance you could buy things like rye breads or other such choices. This category is kind of lax though, since I am well aware that Japan is not the same as Canada and will be completely different, so many adjustments will have to be made regardless.
posted by valmonster to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Unless things have changed, I don't think they really pay much attention to your location picks in the JET program. Getting too specific will just make you seem picky, and less desirable.

I don't know much about the contemporary arts scene in Japan. I imagine that a number of small towns probably have local scenes that grow out of their craft traditions (eg, Mashiko for pottery). If you want to get into Tokyo regularly, hope that you're on (or very near) a shinkansen or tokkyu line. When I lived in the sticks, I was not, and taking the train to Tokyo was not practical. But the bus system wasn't bad.

Almost all of Japan is either mountainous or coastal, so you're pretty much covered there. Even in Tokyo, there are plenty of outdoors clubs, and it's easy to take a day trip out to the country, climb a small mountain, and get home before dark. Or you can become an urban hiker and walk the Yamanote line.
posted by adamrice at 7:44 AM on November 12, 2006

Rural/semi-rural: I would prefer to be in travelling distance to a city, but far enough away that I get a sense of the rural areas of Japan, even if I'm in a small city/village area.

If you live anywhere on the belt between Tokyo and Osaka, then basically you will be living in a city or a suburb (by Canadian standards). The whole stetch has joined up into one long continuously settled megalopolis with not too many spaces in between. Generally speaking, the rural areas of Honshu are in the mountains.
posted by dydecker at 7:52 AM on November 12, 2006

It's pretty tough to get brown bread even in Tokyo. You have to know where to go to find it. Casual supermarkets and bakeries don't sell it.
posted by dydecker at 7:57 AM on November 12, 2006

I've never been to Toyama, but it has a bit of a reputation for being a bit out of the way and behind the times. To get to Tokyo you need to change trains once (ie pay twice)? A little bit hard to get to. The really nice scenic bit of that part of Japan is between Toyama and Tokyo (ie the mountains) so if you lived in Toyama City, you'd still have to travel to go hiking or skiing.
posted by dydecker at 8:28 AM on November 12, 2006

There are actually a lot of rural/outdoorsy areas in northern Kyoto, which is basically a hop, skip, and a jump from anywhere in the Kansai region. Arashiyama in particular is very nice, assuming you go north of the tourist trap part of town. As a bonus, the Kansai region tends to be humid and not very cold at all (although people do tend to panic about even the smallest amounts of snow, as a result).

Also, Osaka has a pretty strong youth culture, which I would imagine would be rather closely linked to the arts. Shinsaibashi and Umeda are really cool late at night on weekends -- all the stores close and all of the independent merchants and entertainers come out.
posted by DoctorFedora at 8:43 AM on November 12, 2006

I heard from the JET representative from the embassy here in Washington that if you put down your hometown's sister city in Japan, your chances of getting that choice are higher than they might otherwise be. Take that advice for what it's worth, but seeing as how they ask you what you "consider" your hometown to be, you could put down whatever you'd like. (I just noticed it's written in the application guide on page 15 -- contracting organizations may also make requests in this regard.)

You stand a nearly 100% chance of NOT being placed in Kantō (Tōkyō, Yokohama, Saitama, etc.) or Keihanshin (the greater ̄Ōsaka-Kyōto-Kobe artea). If you really want to go there, try to get hired by one of the private eikaiwa schools like NOVA/, Aeon, or GEOS.

By the way, Toyama (and most other places along the Sea of Japan coast) get a ridiculous amount of snow. The worst is in Chūetsu in Niigata, but Toyama still gets its share. It may not be as bad as it was last year (at least four meters of snow fell) but thanks to the mountains and the moist air from the Sea of Japan, there's a lot of snow.

If you want warm weather, I recommend Kyūshū, perhaps somewhere in Nagasaki or Ōita prefectures. They're fairly close (two hours or less by train) to Fukuoka, the major city in Kyūshū. You might also try Wakayama (south of Ōsaka) or Mie (west of Nagoya and southeast of Ōsaka). Obviously, prefectures are big places, and you might get put way down on the south coast of Wakayama -- making it difficult to get to Ōsaka quickly. But as you know that's the way JET works...! Check out some of the local JET community websites for more.

Good luck!
posted by armage at 11:02 AM on November 12, 2006

Oh, and FWIW, it is indeed three and a half hours from Toyama City to Tokyo Station by special express and shinkansen. It'll run you ¥11,300 (about $100) one way. I recommend using Hyperdia (pronounced "hyper-die-uh", as in diagram) to check distances between stations and how many times you'll have to transfer to get there.
posted by armage at 11:07 AM on November 12, 2006

As armage points out, Toyama gets quite a bit of snow each year. That said, it's one of my favorite parts of Japan... indeed, it's kind of "behind the times", but in reality, pretty much anywhere in Japan outside of the big population centers is "behind the times". There are still some decent-sized cities out that way (such as Kanazawa)... and, like you mentioned, the REALLY big cities are just a few hours away, on the other side of the mountains.

Anyway, given your geographic criteria, just about anywhere in Japan would work with the exception of Hokkaido and the Ryuku Islands. Kyushu has an inviting climate... I don't know much about the progression of seasons down that way, however, as I've only visited in the Summer months.

You might take a look at the Tōhoku region of Eastern Honshu. It's a pretty rural area, but Sendai, the economic center of the region, is a VERY cool town (in my opinion, at least). There are plenty of mountains nearby, and you'll be far enough north to experience four solid seasons. At the same time, you'll be on the warmer Pacific side of said mountains, so the Winter won't be too bad.

As for your lifestyle criteria, I can't help much. Obviously, the arts scene will be big in the major cities (Tokyo, especially). I'm sure the various mid-sized cities spread throughout Japan will each have a scene all their own, but it might not amount to much. I believe Matsumoto (another cool town) has a good scene, but other than that, I don't know.

Of course, in the end, they'll stick you where they want to stick you. Chances are, you WILL find yourself in a rural area... the only question is, "How rural?" If that's what you're looking for, though, you're probably in good shape.
posted by jal0021 at 12:16 PM on November 12, 2006

I just want to point out that Kyushu might not be as good an idea as some think. The weather is certainly nice, but people there speak a nonstandard Japanese dialect, and if you're going with the intention of learning Japanese I'd look elsewhere.
posted by matkline at 12:24 PM on November 12, 2006

What matkline says is true to an extent, and will be true in just about *every* rural area; that said, hyōjungo (standard Japanese) is spoken or understood by just about everyone, and people are generally willing to repeat themselves if you don't understand the first time.

The places with the most difficult-to-understand Japanese dialects are southern Kyūshū (especially Kagoshima) and Tohoku (especially Akita, Iwate, and Aomori). Also, older people have much thicker accents than younger people, no matter where you are.

I found this website chronicling some problems experienced by JETs. I don't want to dissuade or frighten you, but I recommend you have a look just to see what sorts of things you could possibly encounter.
posted by armage at 12:48 PM on November 12, 2006

I would second the recommendation of Kanazawa over Toyama as a place to live on the Sea of Japan. It didn't get bombed in the war so there's lots of traditional architecture. It's also a bit more of a student town rather than industrial center.
posted by dydecker at 12:57 PM on November 12, 2006

Response by poster: I just wanted to stop in and say thanks for all your responses so far! You've definitely given me lots to think about. Given the fact that the application is due on Friday (but I'm handing it in Tuesday), the choices I give will be random anyway, since there's no way to understand fully all of the different regions. Regardless, I'm definitely going to be researching some of the options you've suggested! It sounds like, though, as long as I don't get placed in a major city, there will be ways to work in all of the things I'm interested in. Thanks again, I really appreciate your advice.
posted by valmonster at 3:46 PM on November 12, 2006

Hyperdia did have English, which is a plus, but really poor Station-name input. Most locals tend to use transit.yahoo.co.jp. All jpn but will atleast give you close-name options if you don't get it precise.
posted by lundman at 5:18 PM on November 12, 2006

Wherever you pick, be sure to give a reason that you picked that place, i.e. the reasons you gave us. That way, they might put you in a completely different place that meets your needs but that you don't know about. On the other hand, they may decide that you need to try something new and put you in a place that is exactly the opposite of where you requested. Of course, the placement people really care a lot more about their needs than yours and they're not going to put a lot of thought into pleasing you. However, they do want you to stay for the length of your contract, so they will try to put you in a place that won't freak you out and make you leave. For that reason, they will try to give you access to stuff that makes you happy, to some extent. For example, I went on and on in my application and my interview about my love of urban architecture and how my dad is an architect and so on, and they ended up putting me in Saitama, very close to Tokyo.

It seems certain to me that you will get most of your wishes here, because they describe pretty much all of Japan except for the largest cities which no one gets because they are the most requested and there are too many private companies there providing AETs. As for rye bread, you're going to have to bring that with you unless you land in a major metropolis, where you can buy it at import stores for exorbitant prices.
posted by donkeymon at 3:14 AM on November 13, 2006

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