I recently visited Japan's northernmost village of Sarufutsu in Hokkaido to give a lecture at the invitation of the local education board and other parties.
The population of Sarufutsu is about 2,800. The village facing the Sea of Okhotsk is famous for its scallops, but has no rice paddies since it is beyond the northern limit for rice farming. Not many vegetables can be grown there either, and I was told that local agriculture mostly consisted of dairy farming.
The straight road connecting the village and the city of Wakkanai attracts many bikers from across the country. Despite cloudy weather on the day I was there, I saw numerous motorcycles with license plates from different parts of Japan, including some from the Kansai and Kyushu regions.
Nature lovers would die for the local scenery, but the place is by no means convenient. The only supermarket in the village has closed down, and villagers now depend on small shops and traveling retail services.
Winters are harsh, and after short-lived summers, there are a lot of foggy days. I thought to myself, "It must be difficult to live here."
I noticed that the 50-something mayor and the other village government officials were all very energetic and cheerful. Locals who'd gathered at the village's community hall where the talk was held, too, were all smiling and chatting before my lecture. Many of the Sarufutsu residents seemed to know each other.
The lecture ended successfully, and as I sipped tea after the event I asked one of the officials, "This is such a lovely place, but you must find some things inconvenient. I saw no restaurants or convenience stores on the way here. What do you do for lunch?" to which the official replied, "Most people go home for lunch. All the officials live close to the village hall," adding, "I think most villagers do the same."
I was taken aback. Without even realizing it, had I come to think that leading a rich life meant having many shops and entertainment facilities around, and that somehow life was lacking without them?
True, this village may not have 24-hour convenience stores, bars or a cinema complex, but villagers spend plenty of their time with their families and get to live in a fantastic natural setting. Neighbors know and support each other. There is no reason that such a life shouldn't be rich.
I was ashamed of thinking that life in this village was inconvenient, and promised to myself that I would come back, and to stay a bit longer next time. (Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)