Yesterday Mizuka and I went to visit our new neighbors bearing simple gifts. Our house is in the center of the village and was owned by the head family of the village until they had financial trouble and had to sell to our previous owners. Almost all of my neighbors are spin-off families of the same household. It's quite a small, tight community. It appears that we have have to join the community. This means semi-annual drinking feasts with the neighbors, help with funerals and weddings and a lot of socializing. Since all of the neighbors have the same last name, they are all called by their role in the community or their job. Everyone seems to know what everyone else is doing and there really isn't any privacy. On the other hand, everyone seems to look out for each other and are always available to help. No one locks their doors and there are eyes everywhere.

One of the women we met was the widow of the man who built our house and cried when she talked about how much effort was made by him and the community in building our house. There seems to be a great deal of history that we're stepping into and Mizuka and I have to be very sensitive not to screw up our entry into this community.

It's quite a shift from the anonymous existence one leads in Tokyo, but it feels like a microcosm of the rather closed community culture of Japan. Comfortable if you conform, but quite difficult if you don't...

26 Comments

Thanks for sharing that with us Joi- it does sound like a unique and enriching experience. I hope you can conform properly ;)

Wishing you every happiness in your new home. And good luck with the neighbours.

It sounds wonderful.

A house is not a home without a cat.

I hope you get a cat ;-)

It would be a bad idea to stealth disco them indeed. ;-)

This kind of thing I could get into to some level. However the whole package that this enviroment seems to have would eventually wear me down and annoy the hell out of me. In the end I guess I am trying to say I like to live the anonymous existence. But good luck could be fun.

Moving to the Japanese "inaka"--you are a brave man indeed! Three visits a year to my inlaws' place is all I can take. Does your new house have that wonderful musty odor? Are all the local businesses closing down for lack of customers?--other than the pachinko parlours, of course. Are half the buildings made out of corrugated sheet metal, with piles of rusted junk piled outside? Is the average age of the inhabitants 55? Does everybody look 10 years older than they really are? As for the "financial trouble" of the village head, did it involve the yakuza and loans by the local credit union? Was the previous owner of your place a gangster.

Good luck, my friend!

You would feel home in the country side in France. I had a similar experience to the one you describe when I leaved in some village in britany (west of France) and I know that it is still really like that in most parts of France, with the bugs as well ;-).

This is a book just waiting to happen. Keep a detailed diary!!!

I wonder how they might feel about your presence though and whether they expect you to be subject to their 'guidence'.

Frankly, I wouldn't be comfortable in that setting: a home of an outsider. A single incident could start snowball into a mountain of trouble in such a place.

BTW, do they know about your blog?

Thank you for sharing, and congratulations for your new home!

Your stories have a certain echo for me, a global nomad re-integrating back into the traditional village, I hope to see them unfold as I wish mine eventually would one day.

I don't think they blog. I know for a fact that I am the first ADSL customer in the whole region. ;-)

At least they all seem like nice people. Anyway, I'll keep you posted. Thanks for all the kinds words.

joi, Our two years in Shinyurigaoka was a bit like this, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think the key is to do your best to be respectful of the customs and mores everyone - but be completely open and humble about how much you have to learn. Then everyone will feel like your teacher and want to help you. In the end though it did wear me down but the walks with tfhe dog to the park where I saw Mt Fuji everyday is a memory that I will treasure for ever. I now walk the same dog in the park in Millhill which is a suburb in London!

One interesting part is to move two highly connected and highly urban people into the country side. After having lived 10 years in Paris we moved in a small city close to Brussels, in front of a forrest. Nothing to do with what you describe however I can say Geraldine lacks the noise, people, dinners and cool places of Paris.

I thought 1h30 away from Paris was an easy move, carreful with Mizuka when you travel around, she might get bored with the countryside too.

Holy shiznit! Look what I get for being out of the loop for so long!

This sounds like a lovely, lovely thing to do at this juncture in your life. I hope the both of you truly get to enjoy the experience in depth.

Best,
A.
limbo

wow! quite the adventure: sounds like the best thing would be to live in a neighbourhood like this that's close to a big city like Tokyo. I doubt such a place exists.

AdamL: I've never been to Japan, but I lived in London and Mill Hill rocks!

What a perfect opportunity to begin to observe the effects of a small, relatively closed community, and then to match those in realSpace to analogous circumstances in digiSpace (small, relatively closed digi-communities). As cyberspace has become increasingly real - being an extension of our reality and experience as opposed to something that is simply virtual - having moved to a physical anti-environment (compared to Tokyo) will give you a unique observational stance from which you will be able to observe effects that were previously hidden from your view.

Joichi--

Point me to where you talked about why you made this move, if you've talked about it before...

I wonder -- what could have prompted you to make such a big change? How can you keep track of your company, keep in touch, and keep everything running smoothly? Don't you need quite a bit of 'face-time', even with IRC, etc.?

How often do you plan on returning to Tokyo, and how long does it take you, usually?

Trevor,

I don't think I talked about this move much before I did it. Wasn't sure how much I wanted to write about my home, but decided it was weird enough that it might be interesting.

I used to drive to work from my home and it would take between 30 minutes and one hour. If you include the 15 minutes on each end of the 1 hour train ride, my new commute is 1 hr-1.5 hours longer each way, but I can sit and read a book or the paper. Not really too bad.

I plan to go to the office 2-3 times a week and work via iSight/IRC/chat, phone and email the other days. Also, it's about 15-20 minutes from Narita airport, vs 1.5-2 hrs before. Since I go out of town approximately once a month, that's a bonus.

And finally, I've become quite friendly with Governor Domoto and have begun to do a lot of work for the prefecture of Chiba so it's nice to be a Chiba taxpayer than a Tokyo taxpayer where I don't I don't really like the mayor.

Our next door neighbor just brought a bag full of broccoli and Japanese daikon. It looks really good. I'm going to have to start remembering everyone's names... It's really difficult. Maybe I should make some home made mayonnaise and eat this broccoli raw...

"I'm going to have to start remembering everyone's names... It's really difficult."

Another Python script ? ;-)

Make a "random faceroll" for your neighbors. . . .

Reading some of the comments expressing surprise at Joi's move, one gets the impression that some people -- who are perhaps not familiar with Japanese geography -- are under the impression that Chiba is in the middle of nowhere :-)


A one-hour train commute to Tokyo still ranks as pretty close by Japanese standards. Chiba is still very much a Tokyo hinterland.


Now, if Joi was a despotic CEO, he'd have taken this opportunity to move the whole of Neoteny to lush and verdant Chiba. He'd then have a short commute, while his employees would be the ones spending one hour in the train reading newspapers or books or working on their Powerbooks.
Isn't the Chiba environment more conducive to outdoor off-site meetings and company barbecues ;-)~ ?

Signed: the undercover Chiba propagandist


Joi,

your new quasi-inaka home sounds like my not-quite-so-new shitamachi home. Luckily because I'm a gaijin, I'm not expected to understand anything so when I do manage to pull off the social niceties and remember the neighbor's names and do the daily aisatsu they seem pleased with me. Its gotten to the point where I look forward to the daily "okairinasai" when I come home from work from the group of old guys who drink infront of the little store at the end of the street.

Joi -

I'll be interested to see if you find parallels between RL community and functional online communities, as MarkF suggests. I've lived in the same small town my entire adult life - despite working around the world - and am continually amazed when the virtual world comes around to adopting systems that work well for us in small communities.

For example: locals in our community tend to be polite, sometimes to a fault. In the summer, when we're overrun with tourists, we find ourselves cut off in traffic, pushed to the back of lines, etc. As I thought about the phenomenon, I realized it had a great deal to do with reputation systems.

I've got a long-term, continuous identity in my community - treat someone rudely and I'll feel the consequences of my behavior for years to come. A tourist is equivalent to an anonymous user on a computer system - there are no consequences if he/she behaves badly as s/he won't likely interact with the community again. On the other hand, very little trust is extended to these "anonymous users", while folks who live here are routinely given access to each other's houses, credit at stores, etc. eBay's reputation system made intuitive sense to a lot of folks who live here...

I'll be very interested to see how this RL community affects your thinking about virtual communities.

Wow, my goodness. I have been very very busy lately and haven't been by in a while. But it is very nice that the two of you decided to take this plunge into a simpler lifestyle. I envy you!

I wish you the best of luck in your new home.

Do you have a garden? If not, maybe you can start one. To me, that is one of the nicest things about living in the country.. having the space to garden a bit. Studies have shown that having a garden extends your life by quite a bit.. ;)

Hey Chris. Yes. We will have a garden. We will have both a tradition Japanese garden and a vegetable garden. ;-)

Omedetto on your move! I haven't been around much, really busy with lots of stuff. But I'll be in Yachimata for the oba-san computer & TP class every few weeks, so will mail you and see if our timing every matches...

I'm jealous of the big garden you'll be able to create, and of the long trips into the city with a book or 6!

Congratulation...

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Joi Ito recently moved from the big city to a small community. It's quite a small, tight community. It appears that we have have to join the community. This means semi-annual drinking feasts with the neighbors, help with funerals and... Read More

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