August 17, 2011

JAPAN: Couple opts for simpler country life after retirement

TOKYO, Japan / The Asahi Shimbum / Social Affairs / People / August 17, 2011

By MAKIKO OBA / Staff Writer

KOMORO, Nagano Prefecture--While many city-goers talk and dream of retiring in the country, Ryosuke and Chisato Tsukamoto actually did so, and today, their small two-story house in the rice fields offers a view of Mount Asamayama.

They moved here in 2008, leaving their former residence in Tsuchiura, Ibaraki Prefecture, where they had lived for 30 years.

Ryosuke Tsukamoto and his wife, Chisato, relax in their house in Komoro, Nagano Prefecture, which commands a splendid view of Japanese oak trees. (Makiko Oba)

Despite the gloomy weather, their living room was sunny and bright when I visited their home.

Huge glass windows occupy the south side of the living room, through which the trees beyond their vegetable garden were visible.

"With the wall area being so small, I am worried about an earthquake," smiled Chisato. But in fact the couple, who had studied the location before purchasing the land, knew there was no active fault nearby.

Ryosuke, 64, worked in Tokyo as a police officer until retirement. He said he did not seriously plan his retirement, and just thought he would start to think it when the time came.

On the other hand, Chisato, 60, had longed to live in the country--a dream she cherished as she leafed through country life magazines at a bookstore she worked part time.

"I dreamed of growing vegetables in the garden in front of our house," she said.

Chisato Tsukamoto takes care of vegetables and herb plants in the garden. (Makiko Oba)

In Tsuchiura in Ibaraki Prefecture the couple borrowed a plot of land to grow vegetables for their daily use.

A turning point was when they joined a tour to visit the English countryside in 2005, in which Chisato encouraged Ryosuke to go along.

The couple spent 10 days in tiny villages in the Cotswold district in central England.

Ryosuke was impressed with the villages to the extent that he declared to the members of the tour group that he would live in the country.

"I thought I should make it a successful move since I am making such a big decision," he said.

The Tsukamotos planned to move to a country home, selling their home since their three children, aged 36, 33 and 31, had moved, respectively, to Tokyo, Fukuoka and Toyama prefectures.

Nagano Prefecture seemed ideal in light of several factors they deemed important: convenient access for their children to visit them; an abundance of hot springs, which Ryosuke loves to go to; no natural disasters; a sunny climate; and easy access to medical facilities.

They spotted five to six potential locations from magazines and visited those sites before they settled on their current home.

They purchased a 260-tsubo parcel (one tsubo is 3.3 square meters). They asked an architect they had met on the England tour, who is based in Yamanashi Prefecture, to design their new home.

They were invited to his house, which the architect had designed himself.

They liked his home's big glass windows and country-style interior and wood exterior, and agreed with his philosophy that one should live a simple life after retirement.

The house also should be comfortably sized so the couple didn't lose track of each other inside.

To downsize, they donated their piano and hand loom from their former home to the local community hall.

Chisato said she did not regret abandoning the items she would often use -- playing the piano and weaving are her favorite pastimes.

"I am the kind of person who gives up things without any regret," she said.

Ryosuke threw out suits and work-related items. Pictures and school project from their children's school days were sent to them.

"I first thought our children would feel sad if their home is no longer there," Chisato said. "But unexpectedly they encouraged us to live as we like."

Ryosuke said, "We started over again from scratch, and wanted to make this work without worrying about another alternative."

So, Ryosuke tried hard to mingle with locals in his new neighborhood and become part of the community.

Soon after they moved in, the couple made courtesy visits to more than 10 households scattered throughout the community and attended a neighborhood association meeting.

They also participated in such community duties as "michibushin" road repair and "shikaoi" harmful deer eradication efforts.

Asked how they liked their community, they both agreed they did, saying they are 95 percent satisfied.

Ryosuke now teaches kendo to local children on a weekly volunteer basis, while Chisato works part time at a cafe operated by a local nonprofit organization near JR Komoro Station.

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