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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Neighbors and the Neighborhood

Tsukahara is located between the cities of Beppu and Yufuin in Oita prefecture on the island of Kyushu. Actually, Tsukahara is part of the town of Yufuin since it’s merged. Tsukahara consists primarily of two communities: Tsukahara and Tsukahara Highlands. The older and established area is Tsukahara. This is the heart of the community. The newer area is the highlands. This community consists of many vacation cottages and tiny home based businesses. The area is located further into the hills and is elevated by a couple of hundred meters. The elevation of our home is 700 meters or 2500 feet. The elevation has its advantages and disadvantages. In the colder months, it can be very cold and windy. Two nights, we experienced winds of over 80 miles an hour. I was glad we were in a log home that had withstood many ferocious storms. The neighbor told us that thunder is incredibly loud at that elevation. The Tsukahara does get snow, but from what I have seen in some pictures, it’s not a lot. It is very beautiful when it’s covered in white. The advantage of being elevated is in the summer. The winds cool the higher elevations creating a pleasant escape from the hot and humid conditions of the lowlands. Tsukahara is only 45 minutes from the ocean. This fact also helps in cooling the area to a moderate temperature.
An important aspect of living in Japan and a reason why I chose to live there are the people. I’m not talking about the people that live in the big cities. I’m focusing on the people that live in the countryside. Over the years of traveling to Japan, I have experienced some of the most incredible hospitality, anywhere. There is something special about people caring for each other. I’m not sure why I’ve only experienced this magnitude of hospitality in the Japan countryside. Perhaps, it’s the culture that makes the difference. Having grown up in a half Japanese family, I can understand some of the uniqueness of the culture. I understand why it’s important to respect your elders and to respect each other’s place in society. I realize that Japan is a small country and in order to get along you must be part of the community. It is important to establish trust and to never betray that trust. Betray that trust and it would be difficult to ask for the time of day. Maintaining a level of trust is not an easy task. Certain protocols must be observed. Some of these rules and procedures are known only to the most experienced Japanese. I don’t pretend to know even the simplest of these rules. That’s why I married a beautiful Japanese woman from Oita. Unfortunately, she often makes mistakes, too.
What does all this mean? I walked the Tsukahara highland neighborhood just about every day with Erika and the neighbor’s dog, Sakura. During those walks, I encountered various neighbors, each with their own special form of hospitality. One neighbor even offered to help me find a job. Another neighbor offered to help repairing our home. Another neighbor invited us to eat sweet potato baked in an open fire, fueled by the fallen leaves of autumn. Another neighbor filled us on the controversial topic of which side of Mt. Yufu is the front. Of course, our side is! We were welcomed by a neighbor who used to rent our home. Yet, another neighbor had wondered if we finally moved in. We were past our 10/10/10 deadline and he politely reminded us of the fact. Why are all of these encounters so special? In the 49 years I have lived in the U.S.A., I have not met nor was I greeted by as many neighbors as I was during the brief 3 weeks in Tsukahara, my home. I’m eager to return the hospitality and help a neighbor whenever I can. I was able to walk our closest neighbor’s dog when the owner had to stay in the hospital. I even had a chance to visit our neighbor in the hospital before we left for the U.S. I never would have done that here. Maybe, my attitude is changing. I’m beginning to trust people and I like the feeling. Tsukahara is not some place special, Tsukahara is a special place. The community transformed me in just the short time I was there. I wish I were there, now.  George

2 comments:

  1. Just found your blog today and am really looking forward to reading backward from 2010. My wife and I moved out to a small village in Nagano seven years ago, and I had similar reaction to the way the neighbors are cordial and we know everyone. My wife (Japanese, from the city), on the other hand, has grown to hate it and paranoid about even going outside for a walk or a jog because the next day someone will say "I saw you walking yesterday. Where were you going?" Of course they are just trying to be friendly and make conversation, but she he thinks the neighbors will be gossiping about her and making up their own stories. It has gotten to the point where she does not leave the house much and we are probably moving to Nagoya where she can be anonymous again.

    I have not yet read many of your recent posts, but I hope there are some that reflect on how you felt about country life when you first came, compared to now, and if both you and Erika feel the same about it.

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    1. Welcome and thank you for stopping by. We've been here for almost three years. I think the "honeymoon stage" has passed and reality has set in. I've opened my eyes to a few things, but my initial impression about living here remains the same...I love it! The level of friendship has declined dramatically with our next door neighbor. After a few surprise visits through our back door, we decided things were getting out of hand. We are on a "hello" basis and that's all. Our home is secluded from everyone else. That really helps in the privacy department. My ability to speak the native language is poor and that helps to keep our privacy also. As long as I welcome everyone with a big smile, I'm good to go. Sure, they are probably talking about the gaijin who can't speak the language after three years. It's okay. We have made friends in Tsukahara that share our same interests. They know that we are straightforward. If we like them, we let them know. The same is true the other way around. Erika is from the countryside and she can't stand gossip. The funny thing is...she knows just about everyone around here, so if there is any gossip, she'll be the first to know. It's kinda like fighting fire with fire. As far as moving to Nagoya to become anonymous, good luck with that. Japan is a small place. I think the only way to escape gossip is to find another country.

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