Living in rural Kagoshima
This is my third year living in the Kagoshima countryside, down at the bottom of the Osumi Peninsula; and I have experienced the best and the worst it has to offer. At its worst, the deep cold of January serves to intensify the sense of isolation and alienation felt by a foreigner living in the Japanese countryside. But at its best the sky is a shining blue mantle that arcs over the animals and birds at play in your garden, and you are enveloped by the warm cocoon of local friendship and generosity that city dwellers can only dream about.
It is impossible to forget the people here. The first attribute you notice is their generosity and warmth. Neighbors who take down your washing when rain threatens, fold it and put it in your hallway. The unexpected (and sometimes anonymous) presents on your doorstep. A bag of potatoes from a farmer you meet in the fields. Green tea served for you in the cool shade of a summer roadside stall by an obachan unable to speak a word of English. You greet her in Japanese, and she will reply with a long string of impenetrable Kagoshima ben.
Even when you are able to have a conversation the results can sometimes be confusing. Once, on a sultry summer afternoon, I fell into conversation with a frail old man leading a large frisky bull down a lonely country lane.
“Where are taking the bull?” I asked.
“To the next farm to stud the cows.” He answered.
“Shouldn’t your son be doing that?” I asked.
He looked at me strangely and said, “Maybe…but it’s probably better if the bull does it.” And stared at me stony-faced as I broke down laughing.
There certainly aren’t many young people to do the heavy work in the countryside. What with the general decline in fertility, and the escape of the 18-45 demographic to the cities, the only people left are a few children and the mass of the elderly. A visit to the local onsen will likely make you feel young and beautiful, because compared to the other people in the bath you still are. The onsen in my town is particularly steamy, and you will be sitting there, wrapped in a cloak of mist, when suddenly the steam will clear, and two meters from you is a being that closely resembles Gollum, all thin and toothless and wrinkled with a few lank strands of hair lying flat on an otherwise bald pate.
But seriously, it is a wonderful place to live. Imagine a warm summer evening at a neighborhood barbecue. Kinko Bay and Sakurajima lie in the distance. A glass of chilled shochu is in your hand and you are listening to and old man tell a vivid tale of old Satsuma. The delicious smell of roasting beef and fresh vegetables fills the air, and you are flooded with the intoxicating feeling of being a part of a beautiful and vibrant culture. On nights like that, it is easy to forget you are two and a half hours away from a cinema or decent coffee, and you would rather be in the Kagoshima countryside than anywhere else in the world.