On another note, I realized that although I have blogged faithfully about many interesting places and adventures in Japan, I really haven't said so much about my town, Okuizumo. So here we go.
Okuizumo was only actually formally established about ten years ago. At that time it was two seperate towns, Nita and Yokota. Actually even before THAT Nita and Yokota were a bunch of seperate towns too. So, there you go. Okuizumo is located in Shimane Prefecture, Japan's second least populated prefecture, second only to our neigboring Tottori. I'm from Indiana, which isn't considered a particularly large state by American standards. But Indiana's land mass is actually 14X the size of Shimane. Are we getting a clearer picture of "countryside" now?
The town is famous for three things- Nitamai (rice) Nitagyu (beef) and Tatara (steel). And finally I've found out why those things have come to be so prosperous here. Rice and beef go hand in hand. Big, healthy cows poop a lot and make excellent fertilizer for the rice, chock full of nutrients. Also, the clean water running down from the mountains provides a lot of fresh spring water full of minerals which is great for cows and rice plants alike. The water also has tiny granules of iron known as iron sand, which is perfect for making fabulous steel. So thanks, mountains.This is my house as seen from Google maps. I live in a section of Nita known as Ai. It's a pretty rural community, tucked away in the mountains. As you can see if you walk outside my aparment all you can see pretty much are rice fields and hills. It's very beautiful.
And here is my apartment. My apartment complex is full of students from the local community college. Before last April it was super quiet, but the new freshmen who have moved in now occasionally have parties it seems. And I think my upstairs neighbor has an illegal cat, as I hear it howling some nights. Japan car is the cute blue on in the middle. We have a parking lot out back, but I'm just too lazy to park behind.
This is Ai Shokuhin Center, which literally translates to Ai Food Goods Center. It's a tiny grocery store that's just a two minute walk from my apartment. I can buy most of my daily food goods here, from tofu to soy sauce to sake. Yum. The staff here are very friendly and I see a lot of parents from my schools and sometimes kids from Ai Elementary.
But if I want anything fancy like paper towels or cinnamon I have to go to Thanks. For those of you who read katakana you will know they write it as "Sankusu" and the locals pronounce it as such. Sigh... It's in Minari, about 10 minutes drive for my house, and is like a big, ghetto K-Mart.
Minari is like the downtown of Nita, and as such has many important places. Although each little section of Nita has its own post office, including Ai, they are mostly useless as they are closed most of the time. So I usually go to the Minari branch. I have nothing but good things to say about the postal system in Japan. Postal workers are kind and polite and helpful. When I bring packages in they will give me bubble wrap, extra boxes, and help me box everything nicely. They suggest for me the cheapest shipping methods and also tell me when it will arrive. Also, I still can get mail on Sundays. There's nothing like hearing the doorbell at 7 o'clock on a Sunday night and opening the door to a friendly postman with a package for me. Plus, the postman here ride cute red motorbikes. Beat that.
Also in Minari is my bank. I have nothing but bad things to say about my bank. It's called the Sannin Godo Ginko, and although I know Sannin means the region of Japan where I'm living and Ginkou means bank, I have no idea what Godo means. And quite frankly I don't care. The office hours of this bank are from 9 am to 3 pm every weekday, not open on weekends. Yup, that's right. Smack in the middle of my work hours. And in Japan, even the ATM's have operating hours. This ATM is only open until 7, like everything in Okuizumo, and will charge you a fee if you use it from 3-7 pm. I can only withdraw money from a Sannin-godo ATM and this branch is only located in this area. So when I travel I have to withdraw a bunch of money and pray. Also, there is no online banking and the savings accounts do not accrue interest. Really, I may as well keep my money under my mattress.
All complaints aside, Okuizumo is really a very lovely town with lots kind people. Check this river behind my apartment where many locals go fishing. As I'm nearing the end of my stay, I'm starting to get a little sad to leave this place with so much beauty and history. It's been an up and down ride, but all in all I'm very glad I came.
And Hey! I'm not quite done yet.