How’s the weather?
Unlike some parts of Japan, Shimane truly experiences all four seasons.
Beginning with the arrival of the new JETs in the latter half of the summer, it’s generally very hot and humid. Temperatures in July and August usually hover at 35-38°C (95-100°F) with high humidity, although this will vary; towns up in the mountains often feel less humid than more coastal areas.
However, it quickly becomes the rainy season; this means relatively warm temperatures, but – you guessed it – lots of rain, especially as it approaches October and November. Autumn is a favorite season for many, bringing warm, sunny days and long, cool evenings. In November, the trees turn vivid shades of red, orange, and yellow.
Winter starts in December, although the real cold hits in early January, bringing with it snow, cold northerly winds, and grey winter days. The first snow usually falls in mid-December and continues intermittently until early March. Up to a meter of snow can fall in the mountain regions, though less usually falls closer to the shore. Japanese homes do not have central heating, and possess minimal insulation (due to the summer heat), so winter can be quite cold (but you can learn tricks to deal with it).
When spring arrives in March/April, the cherry trees come alive with bursting blossoms and beautiful colors. This new life coincides with the start of the school year, and brings renewed enthusiasm to students and teachers alike. It’s a great time of year when everyone shakes off the winter and heads outdoors.
How many people live in Shimane?
Shimane has a population of 689,817 (October 2017) with a population density of 103 people per km² (similar to Austria). Compare this with the national average of 348 people per km² – or Shinjuku’s 5,868 people per km² – and you’ll get a good sense of why people refer to Shimane as rural.
Despite this, Shimane has three ‘urban centers’ spread along the coast, containing 60% of the population: Matsue, Izumo, and Hamada (by car, you’re never more than two hours away from one of them). Matsue and Izumo have cinemas, malls, fast food, and a small but active nightlife. Hamada is smaller in comparison, but still boasts a wide selection of business and facilities.
Do you have natural disasters?
While nowhere is totally safe, Shimane is relatively-earthquake free and has no active volcanoes. Typhoons also have a tendency to wear out before they reach Shimane. That said, the more mountainous areas of Shimane can see heavy snowfalls, which can make for dangerous driving conditions.
What’s it really like living there?
The honest answer is that, it all depends on you. Even if you’ve been to Japan before as part of a study abroad program, Shimane is a very different experience.
The way of life in Shimane – especially if you’re coming from a large city – is much slower, and can take a while to get used to. It can also be frustrating at times not having access to some of things you enjoyed at home. But often, after your first few months you’ll find you’re not missing those things as much as you thought you would.
And there are more than a few benefits to living the Shimane life:
- It’s cheaper. When compared with the cost of living for big cities like Osaka, living in Shimane is very inexpensive. JETs here generally find themselves with a decent chunk of their paycheck left over at the end of the month, which opens up lots of opportunities: you can use this to save, pay off loans, or to travel during the holidays and weekends.
- The people. People in Shimane are overwhelmingly kind and welcoming. Most of the prefecture is made of small, tight-knit communities who are excited to welcome their newest CIR or ALT to the fold.
- Other JETs. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the JET community here is extremely close. It’s also extremely cosmopolitan–we’ve had Americans, Irish, Australians, South Africans, Jamaicans, Finnish, Koreans, Kiwis, Kenyans, Chinese, Canadians, French and more in the last few years. We also have a very active AJET team who are always planning events.
- Nature. Shimane is beautiful, a mountain range rolling into the sea. Being in the heart of Japan, we really do get all four seasons, and the countryside is the perfect canvas. Shimane is an outdoor adventurer’s dream: hiking, camping, skiing, scuba diving, swimming and canoeing, all practically in your backyard.
- Time. We often hear from friends in Tokyo that they “love it… but it’s lonely; everyone is either too busy to meet up or they live 3 trains away.” The irony of living in the countryside is that it gives you more opportunities to hang out, not less. And the extra hours you save by not commuting free up your day to learn new hobbies, play new sports or just have fun with friends.
How hard is it to get around?
Shimane is one of the parts of Japan that relies heavily on driving; unless you live in one of the big cities like Matsue or Izumo, you’ll be hard-pressed to make the most of your time here–or even get to work–without a car. With all its mountains, Shimane also has a number of narrow, windy roads that can be daunting at first. It’s worth checking out our resources on traffic safety, Japanese road signs and what to do in an accident.
That said, don’t be nervous about the idea of driving in Shimane. Outside of the urban centers like Matsue and Izumo, traffic is almost non-existent in most of the prefecture, and it’s a beautiful place to drive through.
In terms of getting further afield, it’s worth checking out the travel section. Shimane has three airports, Oki, Izumo and Hagi-Iwami, all three of which are small and handle domestic flights. For those located closer to the Hamada area, Hiroshima airport is also relatively close and hosts international flights to several destinations in Asia. From Hiroshima, you can also catch the Shinkansen, which is probably the most comfortable way to travel within Japan.
What do JETs do in their free time?
One of the benefits to being such a rural prefecture is that there’s plenty of outdoors to go around. Depending on the season, hiking, cycling, skiing, canoeing and camping are all popular with Shimane JETs.
Between your local communities and Shimane AJET events, there are usually plenty of opportunities to try a new outdoor hobby; many of us take up outdoor activities as a new hobby while in Shimane, so beginners are generally in good company.
Obviously, exactly what’s available will vary depending on where you’re placed. However, Shimane is a very drive-able prefecture, so it’s pretty easy to go places on the weekends.
Aside from outdoor adventuring, JETs have taken up other hobbies as well, from taiko to calligraphy, or language lessons.
Local communities also have their own festivals and events throughout the year, and you can generally find out the schedule from your supervisor or community center.