About to move to Ishikawa? Congratulations! You’re on your way to one of the most culturally rich and naturally beautiful areas in Japan. Living off the beaten shinkansen track might seem daunting at first, but the Ishikawa JET blog is here to help you prepare.
Living in Ishikawa
The Scramble in Katamachi, Kanazawa
Ishikawa Prefecture is famous for its natural beauty, delicious food, and traditional cultural arts and practices. Kanazawa (population just over a million) is the largest city in Hokuriku after Niigata and has all the conveniences of a mid-sized city, plus really awesome food and art scenes and a fun bar district. Once you move away from Kanazawa in any direction, apartments and offices will give way to rice fields and bamboo forests. Depending on where you live, your lifestyle could be modern or rustic, and your cost of living high or low. Whether you’re in a city or in the country, the people around you will be curious about you and eager to help you get settled in and learn about your new home.
A more rural Ishikawa scene.
Because Ishikawa is on the opposite side of the country from most hubs of international business, other foreigners might be a rare sight. Kanazawa, Komatsu, and Hakusan City have attracted more foreign workers (especially from Brazil and the Indian Subcontinent) in the past few years, but are still nowhere near as diverse as Tokyo or Osaka. While English signage is par for the course on roads and in tourist areas, prepare for limited English in shops or stations. On the other hand, also be prepared for locals to seek you out as a conversation partner or just for tips on everyday English. Organizations like IFIE in Kanazawa and KIA in Komatsu can help connect you with services in your native language.
If you’re curious about a specific area of Ishikawa, the Ishikawa JET Resource Wiki has a guide to the three main regions, including listings of famous sights, restaurants, cafes, gyms, and import and department stores.
In some ways, it’s harder to find a place that feels more Japanese than Ishikawa. Kanazawa is often called “Little Kyoto” and the main street in the Higashi-chaya district is Japan’s most photographed. Tourists flock to Kenroku-en and Kanazawa-jo, but you can find traditional gardens and interesting historical sites throughout the prefecture. Every region has its specialty crafts, from Wajima Lacquerware in the Noto to Gold Leaf in Kanazawa to Kutani Porcelain and Kaga Yuzen silk in the south. Onsen resorts also abound, as do shrines and temples.
Kenrokuen in the fall…
…and in the spring!
If you look at a map of Ishikawa, you will notice that it has a lot of coastline for its relative size. The fishing industry is very big here and the seafood is amazing. Local specialties include zuwai gani (snow crab), buri (yellowtail), and hotaru ika (firefly squid). The Noto and Kaga regions also have their own specialty heirloom vegetables. Kanazawa is a foodie heaven, with a restaurant-per-capita ratio higher than Washington DC. If you are concerned about radiation after the Fukushima disaster, be at ease–local produce is very easy to find all over the prefecture and points of origin for meat, fish, and veggies will all be clearly marked.
Regional foods at an onsen resort breakfast.
Ishikawa is at a midpoint between the Kanto and Kansai regions of Japan, so you will see traditions from both areas. Many of your Japanese coworkers will not speak Tokyo standard textbook Japanese any more than you speak slow, standard textbook English. One of the most noticeable differences is the substitution of や (ya) for だ (da) at the end of casual sentences. The ubiquitous そうですか (sou desu ka) and そうですね (sou desu ne) become そ～うなんや！ (so~u nan ya!) or ほ〜なんや！(ho~u nan ya!). There’s a guide to heavier dialect here, if you want to impress your coworkers.
What to Expect and How to Prepare
Moderate to heavy snow and slush is common from December to the end of February.
Ishikawa’s climate is infamously wet in all seasons. In the summer, it’s hot and humid. In the fall, it’s cool and rainy. In the winter, you can look forward to rain, snow, and everything in between. Spring is nice, but can be windy and (say it with me) rainy. If you have a rain coat and rain-proof shoes you like, don’t leave them behind–the same goes for winter coats and boots, too. As a rule, people tend to dress up in Japan and to dress conservatively in Ishikawa. If you are tall, broad shouldered, large-footed, or curvy, you will have difficulty finding modern styles that fit you, so be advised.
You can read some helpful previous posts about what to wear to your first day of work and what to wear to outdoor school events here. An Ishikawa-specific post on what to pack is forthcoming, but in the meantime, check out the packing list at Surviving in Japan Without Much Japanese.
Because Ishikawa is fairly traditional, gestures like bringing omiyage for your office will go a long way. If your hometown has any edible specialties that won’t be ruined by the heat and humidity, bring plenty to share with your office, landlord, or neighbors. Generic candy from your country or small things like postcards and keyrings go over well, too. These gifts aren’t a requirement, however, so there’s no need to stress if your hometown or country isn’t replete with individually-packed snacks.
One thing that often surprises newcomers is Internet availability, and not in a good way. When you arrive, your apartment will probably not have Internet. The wait for Internet installation can be a month or longer, and if you want wireless, you will probably have to set up your own WiFi router. Also, public WiFi has not yet caught on in Japan. Cafes or shopping centers may appear to have WiFi, but more often than not it is restricted to cell phone carriers or very specific devices.
The Ishikawa JET Blog and the Ishikawa JET Resource Wiki have several years’ worth of resources for incoming JETs. We’ve compiled a list of helpful links from the past to make your preparations a little bit easier:
Your First Day in Ishikawa
Understanding Cold Medicine
Kanji for Everyday Living
Home Goods Sales and Bargains
Cut Your Summer Electricity Consumption
Housekeeping in the Heat
Ecora Recycle Center How-To
Preventing Tatami Bugs
☆Ishikawa Cookbook Project☆
Tips for JETs With Food Restrictions
Finding Nutrition Information
How to Dress: Your First Day in Ishikawa
How to Dress: Field Day
Language Study Resources
Read the Kanji
Veteran Ishikawa JETs, did we forget anything? Please let us know in the comments!