When I first came to Japan, I lived in rural Japan. And it was a completely different experience to living in the big city. One that is not often seen by tourists or even people who have lived here for a considerable amount of time, but well worth the time and energy to see.
In my personal experience, I felt like I made closer friends in the country side and people tended to be a lot more giving and trusting. I was definitely invited into a lot more homes and had a wider variety of experiences in the countryside.
That is why I have always recommended going out to the countryside first if you plan to stay for a few months in Japan. You will get a much richer experience. Even in Kansai, where people are famous for being a lot warmer, it can seem a little cold sometimes. There are a lot of times in Kansai, where I can’t really be myself. But, I never really had that feeling in the countryside.
Manabe Island seems to be one of those places that somehow manages to captures that feeling of small town Japan so well. It only has about 230 people, and really isn’t famous for anything other than being a random island in the inland sea of Japan.
In recent years, French tourists have been flocking to this tiny little island because of a brilliant French artist/anthropologist Florent Chavouet’s cool little book appropriately named “Manabeshima Island Japan.”
Florent has managed to capture this little slice of Japan beautifully with his illustrations. It’s funny because he manages to catch all the little details of a rural place like a isolated island with only 230 people. I found myself reading about some of the characters that reminded me of the rich culture that you can find out in the countryside.
Florent took a lot of pains to capture a true snapshot of what it is like to be inside some of these little nooks and crannies of Japan. He spent 2 months on the island cataloging all the notable places, experiences and characters and it really shows. I especially liked the fold out map included at the end of the book that you can post up on your wall after reading the book.
The best way to experience a place is to visit it of course and see it for yourself. But, this book gives you a peek at a place that might be too out of the way for you to work into a short trip. Overall, I found it an enjoyable read worthy of a post-JLPT relaxer while you wait for your test results to come in.
You can pick it up at Amazon (US)