Ben McCracken, the JCMU Resident Director in Hikone, absolutely loves his life in Shiga – and he thinks that you will too! Read below to find out why he far prefers living in Hikone versus living in Tokyo.
Recently, JCMU English Language instructor Chris Garth and I went to Tokyo to promote Kokunai Ryugaku (JCMU’s in-country study abroad program for Japanese students) and JCMU’s new semester long intensive English program, SPACE. It was a pleasant trip, but it really made me see the benefits of living in Hikone. I’m in no way discounting the experience of going to Tokyo for a visit. I think it is important for students coming to Japan to see as much of it as possible. I just feel our little corner of Japan has some real benefits. Here are my top five things I love about Hikone compared to Tokyo:
- Japanese Immersion
Everywhere Chris and I went in Tokyo people seemed ready and eager to speak to me in English. For some people that is a great relief, but if you are interested in studying or improving your Japanese, the ability to use English for almost every situation can really set you back. Hikone is a place where I can immerse myself in Japan to whatever level I want. I can hang around with fellow native English speakers but I also have the option of strictly using Japanese. Most people in Hikone and Shiga in general do not speak English. I am often forced to use Japanese, which is great for helping me develop new vocabulary or to use existing vocabulary in a new way. Surely there are parts of Tokyo where English is not available, but with the increase in tourism recently and the build-up to the 2020 Olympics, it seems everyone is doing their best to get as much English practice as possible.
- Nothing beats the view
Tokyo is one of the world’s biggest cities, with lots of tall buildings, famous landmarks, and people. That can be fun and exciting for a while, but it does get boring seeing similar buildings and urban sprawl. I found myself longing to see our beautiful lakeshore and the mountains that ring Shiga Prefecture. Every day in Hikone there are beautiful sights to see. The sunset over the lake and mountains is one of my favorites! I also like the fact that I can look up at any point in time and see a 410-year-old castle standing guard over the city.
- Outdoor sports
I do not know how anyone who loves the outdoors survives in Tokyo. It is true, there are many parks and the running around Yoyogi Park with hundreds of other runners is fun, but I would rather go to beautiful nature locations and not have to deal with the crowds. For me, a triathlete and outdoor enthusiast, there really are not many places better than Hikone. I can swim in Lake Biwa for all but the coldest months of the year, there are bike paths going for miles in both directions along the lake (also great for running), and there are mountains and deserted wilderness areas within minutes from JCMU just waiting to be explored. Shiga also has some excellent hiking trails and mountain climbing. For cyclists in Japan, the Biwaichi, or ride around the entire lake, is on everyone’s bucket list.
Of course Tokyo was the capital of Japan for hundreds of years, but did you know that Hikone was almost the capital too? If the battle of Sekigahara had gone the other way, meaning the Toyotomi side not the Tokugawa side would have won, it is likely that Hikone could have been named the new capital. Hikone is just brimming with history. You can walk the same ground once patrolled by samurai and enjoy a Japanese garden once reserved only for the lords of Hikone. Hikone is more than just Hikone castle; it is also a castle town where you can walk streets that have not changed much in over 400 years.
- You can walk straight
I may be nitpicking here, but I noticed it is almost impossible to walk in a straight line in Tokyo. There are always people, and it can be difficult to get around or enter a shop due to the crowds – especially in the popular wards. This is especially true in places like Harajuku on the weekends. It also frustrates me to no end to be constantly dodging people and tripping over luggage when I go through some of the busier stations. Hikone is a much smaller and close-knit community that is far less crowded. I like that I can go for walks or runs along the lake without constantly looking out for people.