Mar 5, 2018
The good, the bad, and the snowy: Living in Niigata Prefecture
I'm convinced that it doesn't matter where you live, you'll have things you love and things you hate about it. I've lived in three places so far in Japan. One was a fancy Tokyo apartment right amongst all the fun things to do and see, but our neighbors were super loud and inconsiderate (think "piano sandwich" or "elephants at a rave" and you're on the right track). The next was at a military air base, which gave me the best of both Japan and America in the one spot - but was constantly noisy and required me to have an ID card to get on and off base. Misplace the card, you've got to jump through hoops to get back home! Now, I'm living in the Japanese countryside out in Niigata Prefecture, and there are both pros and cons to living here too. I'm going to try and provide the three biggest pros, and the three biggest cons in my eyes to living out here.
It's heaven for nature lovers
I love being out of the house. I love cycling, hiking, just appreciating nature in general. When I lived in Tokyo, this was something that I struggled with - I enjoyed trips to places like Mt. Takao or Mt. Mitake, but sometimes the city would just feel like it stretched on, and on, and on… it had a tendency to feel suffocating.
That’s not a problem out here though. I’ve got nature at my doorstep. Rice fields are literally at the vacant blocks at the end of my street (granted, they’re covered in snow right now) and whenever the weather permits it I’m always out walking or cycling with my little family. There’s plenty of amazing spots nearby to go skiing or snowboarding if winter activities are your thing, there’s a river that runs through our town for water activities or fishing - it’s just blissful not having to make a special trip to enjoy nature like we’d do when living in Tokyo.
It's a super safe place to raise your kids
I think this can be said about Japan in general - I remember the first time I saw kids alone on the train and my immediate thought was “oh lord, they’re lost - where are their parents?!” but soon came to realize that’s just the done thing here.
Out in the Niigata countryside though, my comment about it being a safe spot to raise your kids pertains to the lack of traffic in general. As I mentioned in my last point, we’re an outdoorsy family - we like getting out and enjoying what nature has to offer. My daughter is three, and she has a balance bike that she’s currently learning how to manoeuvre. We’re able to take her out and let her cruise around and practice in the streets around our house, and we’re lucky to encounter one or two cars within an hour. Obviously, I’m not saying that you should leave your kids unattended (we’re still out alongside her watching like hawks!) but there’s something pretty reassuring about the limited traffic. Even when cars do pass by, they give you such a wide berth, slow down to a crawl, and even bow to seemingly indicate they’re sorry for getting in your way. Another pro for living in the sticks - people here are just awesome. Slower pace of life, maybe, but people are on the whole more patient, especially when it comes to families with kids.
Quiet. Peace and quiet.
I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever been a natural city dweller. Some people thrive with the bright lights, noise, and constant go go go that a city provides, but I like to think I’m an old soul at heart that appreciates the peace and quiet that the countryside brings. No traffic noise. No aircraft noise like we had at the military base. No piano keys being plonked that invade my space and my thoughts. Just pure silence for the most part. Sure, for some people that silence might be deafening, but for me it’s heavenly.
It snows. A lot.
Every time I tell someone I’m from Niigata, their first reaction tends to be “oh - how do you like that snow?”. And it’s a valid point. They don’t call it snow country (or yukiguni) out here just for fun - it’s meters and meters of snow, for months on end. We’ve had snow since November, and it’s finally easing off now that we’ve hit March - but it can be painfully isolating. I’m a stay at home parent right now, and if there are days when I can’t get out for a walk because it’s just bucketing down, I feel like I’m under house arrest. I always tell people “snow’s fun, until you have to live with it for months”.
If you want certain shops, you're gonna have to travel
Don’t get me wrong, it’s no big deal for certain things. We’ve got a supermarket, multiple convenience stores, a couple of hardware stores, a giant drugstore, a great family restaurant - so for the most part we’re pretty much sorted. However, when it comes to things like clothes, I like shopping at places like H&M, Uniqlo or Zara, because I feel like they’re just more my style than some other Japanese stores. My nearest H&M is in Niigata City, which is still a solid hour on the shinkansen, plus the added expense that comes with catching that kind of train. If you’re a shopaholic, you might find living out here in the sticks can be a little challenging (there’s always online options though, right?!)
Making friends is a lot harder than I thought
When I lived in Tokyo, making friends was easy, even for my introverted self. There were loads of expats everywhere, and even people from Australia - so I never really felt like I wasn’t at home. Now, it’s probably a lot easier to connect with people if you speak fabulous Japanese (and kudos to you if you do!) but for me, I’ve really got to hope that someone speaks English to get a friendship up and going. My neighbors are for the most part all much older than me, and the snow that I mentioned above also makes it tough to get out and be social when you’re a stay at home parent.
Anyone else live in Niigata, or potentially moving here? What are your own personal pros and cons?
After spending the last several years in the beating heart of Tokyo, I will be spending the next three in the countryside of Japan. I adore this country and all it has to offer - and I'm always learning more and more about life here as I go along! I try to update my blog daily - and my husband also writes on City Cost as "genkidesuka"!
hi, we're gonna moving here in oktober with kids from another country. it would be great if u share with us ehat should we know about living here , and what kind of things we have to take. thanks. by the way my husband gonna study as magistrant over there. sorry for my english
@mam hi there! is your husband going to study at the international university of japan? do you know yet if you plan to live on the campus or off campus? it was hard for us to find a house over here that was off campus, a lot of people live on campus but i think there are only a limited number of family units and i do think they are fairly small. one of the biggest things i would recommend is to have cold weather gear. the winters here are long and very snowy, so having footwear as well that is good for snow/rain is very important. what country are you coming from? houses here in japan are typically a lot smaller than many other countries so bear that in mind as well. we like it a lot out here and people are very friendly! please let me know if you have any other questions!