About a month ago, I saw this video, “The Anime Countryside,” for the first time:
It’s very good and extremely worth watching. A free-form rambling mood piece that floods you with warm feelings of rural Japan, as seen from the perspective of an American outsider looking through bits of nerd media. This is one of the long Youtube video essays that makes me yearn to make videos of my own.
I love it. “The Anime Countryside” is the kind of thing that would have made me yearn greatly to live in Japan. Not to visit, but to nestle up in some small town and go biking around farms and stuff. It would have put stars in my eyes when I was younger.
Then, suddenly, I remembered something important… I actually live in rural Japan. I’d lived in a huge, low-population seaside mountainous city for three and a half years. And what the heck have I done all this time? Not explored it enough, that’s for sure!
Sure, I’ve gone on plenty of long walks, but there’s still so much I haven’t seen in my city! Yeah, it’s horrible snowy weather for 4 months each year, but that ain’t no excuse.
Just from the places I HAVE been, it’s baffling to me how little I’ve really explored. It’s beautiful here! But, about a week after watching the Anime Countryside video, I decided to change that and take a massive walk across my city.
On April 16th, 2022, I did exactly that.
Exploring the Anime Countryside Myself
I decided to walk the entire distance from my house to the city center of Mutsu.
Some images, for scale:
This is roughly the path I took, with some random detours thrown in every now and then. Because when I see some random interesting side path, I take that random side path. It’s one of my main weaknesses as a human. So this near-5 hour walk turned into a 7-plus hour walk, thanks to a couple breaks I took plus too many detours. Whoops.
This is about the normal route I drove to and from work back then. It was all very familiar to me… But this was the first time I’d be walking it, first time experiencing this slice of anime countryside all up close.
I started a bit later than I planned, at about 9 AM, rather than 7 AM like I hoped for. This wouldn’t have been much of a problem, except last bus back to my house was kind of early…
The last vestiges of winter were still around in plain sight. Middle of April, and still haunting me. Winter 2022 was one of the worst on record for this area, I’m told, and I sure felt that every time I had to shovel my driveway…
Most of my first hour was across an isolated farm road. Not much to see here, just endless woods, and a few farmhouses here and there.
Personally, I find rural decay to be a little beautiful, sometimes. Sad, but sad in the way that keeps me going. It’s a lot more alive than the sanitized, over-designed urban density you’ll get in a lot of Japanese cities. Rural decay is the kodama of humanity, those last traces of towns and neighborhoods losing the war of attrition for population and culture.
Ooh, look, a beautiful seaside farm.
Ooh, look, a roadside beach that’s not maintained whatsoever. Green algae everywhere!
And a lot of trash…
As you can see, once you’re this far out in the middle of rural Japan, you’re no longer in a public transit wonderland. They run these buses for students, for elderly on errands, and for absolutely nobody else, because if you aren’t done by 5-6 PM, you aren’t getting home.
These small neighborhoods dotting western Mutsu are so nice to me. They’re filled with history, filled with buildings kept up as well as possible for decades past their use-by date, filled with people who love where they live. The people here probably have a lot more connection to their neighborhoods than I ever did to anywhere I’ve lived.
And, like I said before, I gotta make a lot of detours.
Not only did I explore some depopulated neighborhoods, I also got to wander around a local fishing dock. That’s the main source of income for places around here, you know. My town is famous for its scallops, but I’m not sure if this neighborhood is the same.
Later, as I kept walking, I found newer buildings. More neighborhoods that felt like expansions of Ominato. That’s the part of Mutsu that’s most densely populated, because it has the Japanese Self-Defense Force naval base, and so there’s a bit of sprawl with families living a little further out. It’s not just farms. Even if it’s mostly farms.
I also spotted some good boys. The anime countryside would never be complete without plenty of good boys.
I got so many amazing views of Mount Kamafuse, as well. I’d say that, thanks to being right up against the Mutsu Bay, it’s quite possibly one of the most photogenic mountains in all of Japan. Almost anywhere you can snap a picture, it just pops out in the distance. The giant radar dish at the top makes it unmistakeable.
As the walk went on, I started to regret a few things. For one, I was a bit underdressed. I thought it’d be a nice spring walk, but it was a bit too cold and windy for my tastes, and as the sun set I could really feel my regret. For another, my legs were starting to kill me. I anticipated this, because I’m not a moron. But gosh, once it started being a lot of uphill climbs, my calves cried out in pain. Humans weren’t supposed to walk this long. Actually, they were. But whatever.
The rural density of Ominato appeared before me. Here was this big old town. Big for Mutsu standards, anyway. I don’t know if my photos can properly convey, but this part of Mutsu is absolutely crammed together. There’s almost no space, just buildings and places where buildings used to be.
Of course, being the middle of nowhere rural Japan, even this place is filled with lots of decay, like this car that’s been abandoned here for probably over ten years. Look at those wheels!!
It’s honestly beautiful.
I also a few times stumbled upon the ruins of a collapsed building. I don’t think anyone was living there when it happened, but abandoned buildings falling to ruin is a tragically common sight around here. The winters are heavy, and a lot of places simply can’t survive if nobody is actively keeping up and shoveling the snow.
Later, I got into the Odaira neighborhood of Mutsu, which is a lot less dense, but still pretty big as far as the city goes. Which means more beautiful sights of apartments and houses and the stuff left behind by humans of the past.
As I walked further and further, I discovered, oops, I’m definitely going to be too late to take the bus back home. So I contacted a coworker who was nice enough to drive me to a restaurant and then drive me home afterwards.
Finally, I reached my coworker’s house. For good measure, I went and did the most reasonable thing any blogger could do, and touched grass.
This is what all the cool kids are doing, right?
So, I ate some amazing curry to replinish all the calories I burned all in one fell swoop. Then I went home and slept for the entire next day because I was too tired to do anything else.
I got to explore the anime countryside in my town, and I’m forever grateful that I managed to do it before I moved away. I’ll most likely never live somewhere that rural ever again, so it was part of a nice last hurrah. Thanks to hazel’s video, I got to see Mutsu in a brand-new light.
Before then, and since then, I’ve gone for plenty of walks, often around really rural places, and just as often around extremely urban ones. I really just love going for long walks and exploring the parts of town that might go unnoticed by everyone else.
How about you? Do you like going for long walks?
Hey, I wrote a whole book about Madoka Magica, my favorite anime, and its influence on the world and on my life. Please check it out!