One Year in Shiga

It’s been a year since we moved from Kyoto to Shiga- probably the most wonderful year of our lives. I don’t mean to criticize Kyoto but, let’s face it, moving from an apartment in the middle of a city to a house in a “rural” area can only be a good thing, right? It’s kind of like that, except this isn’t just any “rural” area.

Shiga Kenmin

(Note Kenmin = residents). Last week, I gave an interview to a magazine that was compiling stories about people who had moved to the prefecture. The interviewer asked what I thought was the best part of living in Shiga and I told him, the people. Technically, we live in a city. By my American sensibilities, we live in a crowded suburb. But, the feel is definitely rural. The grandmother who runs a small shop opposite our house always stops us to ask about Nina and smile at her. When we went away for a couple weeks, our neighbors watered our vegetables for us. The Neighborhood Association president once saw me walking to the train station and stopped to give me a lift- even though it was well out of his way. Shiga is that kind of place. And that’s just our neighborhood- I could go on for pages about some of the other wonderful people we’ve met here.

I should point out that I knew it would be that kind of place. I lived here as an exchange student in high school, and I never forgot my host families’ kindness or the way they interacted with the other people they encountered each day. They were the kind of people who stop by roadside farm stands to talk to the farmers (I lived in a slightly more rural area then). They were the kind of people who kept in touch, even though I moved seven times over the next dozen years. So, I knew this was the kind of place where I wanted to live.

Marking the Occasion

The morning before our one-year anniversary of moving in, it was raining hard enough that I decided to take the bus to the train station in the morning, rather than walking. When I got to the bus stop, there were six people in line already, all wielding umbrellas. I despise umbrellas- I think they’re a social menace, nearly on par with smoking in public- but that’s a subject for another blog post. Suffice it to say, I treat umbrellas like a threat, whether open or closed, and I give them as wide a berth as possible.

Anyway, I was the only guy in line without an umbrella. I had a coat and hat and, for me, that is good enough for the few minutes I have to wait for the bus. I could see about five more people approaching the bus stop line behind me, all wielding umbrellas, as well. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched the closest one, black and about forehead-level, creep closer and closer. Suddenly, it lifted up to cover my head. I turned toward the bearer, and found myself confronted by a wrinkled grandfather, whose ear-to-ear grin was all the more infectious for his missing front teeth. He didn’t say anything, just kept smiling and nodded when I thanked him. My thoughts on umbrellas aside, he was going out of his way to be kind, even though I’d never seen him before.

Shiga is that kind of place. The perfect sort of area to make a home.

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