• Cory Howell

Why We Stay: Life in Rural Japan



The past eleven months, I’ve been living and working in Japan.


Friends and colleagues have asked me if I’m extending my contract, if I’m staying longer than a year.


When I tell them I’ll be moving on, that I have to work on other things, they usually give me the same puzzled look that says: But why would you want to go? Why would you want to live anywhere else?



In the early days of spring, I was running along the rice fields by my apartment.


The path takes me through farms, along the riverside, ends at the beach.


Halfway through, I found my rhythm. The fields were empty, so I took off my mask for just a moment–my only time maskless in COVID-terrified Japan–and breathed in the country air.


A warm spring breeze drifted over the paddies, and I could smell the earth, the nearby salt water, the growing crops.


And I realized why people stay.



Japan is urbanizing, country towns and villages are shrinking, or disappearing altogether. It’s the same in the US, in plenty of other countries.


When people in Japan move, they're often embarrassed to speak their hometown accent–to mark yourself from anywhere but here is somehow shameful.


We go to cities for culture, for opportunity–but is the move fracturing something else?



Kei Fukuyama has been my manager during my time here.


He's looked after me at work, taken me out to eat, paid for drinks when we went out with coworkers. We’ve gone to the public bath together.


On my last day, he took me out for croquettes at a local butcher. The croquettes are fried to order, passed over the counter in paper bags shining with grease.


As we stood out on the street eating silently, I was searching for the words to say thank you.


These croquettes are crispy, he said.


Yeah, they’re good, I said.


We went back to work, and finished the day.


And I left.