Actually, coming here was a twist of fate so to speak – we never planned on it, but we consider ourselves blessed that it eventuated. Mandy and I were working in Toyota city, in Aichi prefecture. Yep, that’s the place famous for the Toyota automobile company. That year, our recruitment company lost its contracts with the local Board of Education to a competitor. We were worried about what would happen next.
Our company’s manager gave us three options: resign from the company and take our chances with the incoming company; look for another job in another place with another employer, or stay with the company and go to a rural town called Matsusaka. We had never heard of it, but we liked the idea of living in a rural area. Hence, we moved to Matsusaka and have never regretted it. So what's so good about this place you ask. Lots.
Situated on the east coast of Honshu (the main island), between Nagoya and Osaka, Matsusaka has a temperate climate. It rarely drops below zero degrees Celsius in winter, and almost never reaches forty degrees Celsius in summer (the highest temperature in 2014 being thirty-six degrees Celsius.) Surrounded by the sea on one side, mountains on the other, and blessed with numerous rivers, the city has a very natural environment. There are many large, grassy parks and recreational areas for families.
Something else the city is famous for is Matsusaka ‘Momen’ – Indigo Dyeing Cotton. Many goods are made with this unique, blue-striped fabric, and its production dates back over five hundred years. Many consider Matsusaka Momen a national treasure.
The city's population is just over 167,000 people. The folks in Matsusaka city are very warm and friendly. Interestingly, the area near Matsusaka castle used to be a samurai community, back in the 1800's. The city has tried to preserve that historical atmosphere, as evidenced by traditional cobblestone streets, old-style buildings, and with exhibits in local museums. Sadly, Matsusaka castle is little more than ruins these days, but even that has been preserved as much as possible, and visitors and residents can still tour the site and its gardens, and view the rock walls at the base of the castle.
When Mandy and I first moved here, it was spring, and the castle grounds were emblazoned with Cherry Blossom trees. We walked along the castle walls, and gazed out over Matsusaka city, just as the Daimyo (feudal lord) Gamo Ujisato and his samurai did.
The castle was actually built in 1580 by Gamo Ujisato, who was the son-in-law of the powerful warlord, Oda Nobunaga. At the time, Matsusaka was covered in pine trees, hence the city's name, which literally means 'slope covered with pines'. Matsusaka became part of Mie Prefecture in the Meiji restoration period (1868 – 1912).
The city was officially established in 1889, twelve years after a fire destroyed Matsusaka castle, and effectively modernized in 1933. The surrounding areas of Mikumo, Ureshino, Iinan and Iitaka (where my wife and I live) officially became part of Matsusaka in 2005. Railways, highways and a seaport make Matsusaka city easily accessible.
The local ferry takes passengers to Centrair (Chubu) Airport in Nagoya in just forty-five minutes, and also visits other surrounding cities and towns including Tsu (the capital of Mie), and Ise (south of Matsusaka). Ise, just an hour away by car, is the location of the country's second-oldest and yet most famous Shinto Shrine, Ise-Jingu. (Ise is also quite well known for its Ise-ebi – Japanese spiny lobster, as well as its beautiful beaches.)
My wife and I live in what may be referred to as a 'garden of Eden', a traditional, mountain village in the Iitaka area of Matsusaka. It's a typically rural area, with lots of rice fields, green tea fields, farms, mountains and rivers. Our home sits under open skies, right beside a river, and surrounded by mountains on three sides. We get to experience all four seasons here in their full glory. On the Gold Coast in Australia, for example, we never enjoyed the sight of cherry blossom trees, autumn foliage, nor snow of course.
In spring every year, many Cherry Blossom trees bloom in Japan, and the street on which we live is lined with them. In fact, we are lucky enough to have one in our back yard. The river becomes our 'private beach and pool' in summer, and a large number of fireflies light up the night sky. Autumn is an explosion of color, with all the changing leaves and different-colored trees, and we usually get a good snowfall each winter. Not having experienced snow in Australia, a good snowfall brings out the child in us both.
The neighbors look amused to see two foreign adults throwing snowballs at each other and kindly smile at our poor attempt at building a snowman. The local children are much better at it and like to show us how. We also enjoyed skiing for the first time here in Japan. Snowboarding is something that we yet have to try, hopefully in the near future.
All year round we can see monkeys and deer (and the occasional snake!), hawks and black kites floating in the sky, fish swimming in the crystal clear mountain river, and a myriad of delightful insects, both beautiful and annoying (stink bugs, wasps). The butterflies are glorious, the dragonflies amazing, and the hornets/wasps leave us alone. During our very first summer here, we managed to get a dragonfly to perch itself on our raised finger and stay for at least a few minutes. We feel very close to nature here.
Soon spring will come around again, which we are really looking forward to, although my favorite season is summer – Matsusaka beef on the barbecue, beer in hand, warm sunshine and swimming in the mountain river! It’s simply divine.
Have a great week, and best wishes.