Hioki-city where I live has many wonderful traditions, great hot springs and delicious (and healthy) food


Before I write more about the topic, let me introduce myself first. My name is Muhamad Syukri Bin Ghazali. I come from Pahang Malaysia. I am married with 2 children. 13 years ago, I studied in Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto for about 4 years.

I had graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Bio-Technology and began working in Japanese Company in Malaysia as a translator; or in Japan it is called "salary man". It was all about 8am to 5pm routine jobs. However, after 10 years, I thought that salary man life was just enough for me, and I began to dream of new adventures abroad.

A senior of mine was on JET Programme (working as a Coordinator for International Relations) at the time and I kept following his facebook where I got a lot of interesting information about working in Japan. So I began to set my sights on the Japanese archipelago and applied for the JET Programme.

Praise to God that I managed to get the job as a Coordinator for International Relations (known as CIR) in Hioki City. Hioki is a city located in Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan. As of Feb 1, 2016, the city has a population of 50,154. And the total area is 252.99 km².

Although Hioki city can be considered as a rural or countryside area, but I love living in this city. I love it beyond anything I expected. The nature, the people, the culture, the food -- it was bliss. Just how much do I love it?

Let me count the ways:

4 seasons life

I think the people here (Japanese) really know how to appreciate the all 4 seasons. I was born and grew up in Malaysia, where as you know, Malaysia is a not a 4-season country. It has pretty much only 2 seasons: rainy and dry season. So when I moved to Japan, I was entranced by the showers of cherry blossoms in spring, the beating sun and the lively festivals in summer, the changing colors of the leaves in fall, and the biting cold of winter. All these experiences to me are very special and adorable.

What makes these seasons really great, though, is that the Japanese have gotten their appreciation down to an art. In the spring and fall, almost everyone makes the trip to a good spot to see the cherry blossoms (花見) or the autumn leaves (紅葉). Granted, much of this is simply an excuse to sit around drinking on a blanket in the park with friends. Japanese summers are very hot and can be almost unbearable with their humidity especially in the southern region like Hioki City, but this doesn't stop the people here from enjoying themselves! Throughout the summer there are festivals and firework shows (花火) all over the areas, and you can see some girls (and some guys too) walking around in yukata (summer kimonos) with fans tucked into their obi (waistbands). While in the winter, even though here in Hioki City has no snow festivals but the people here especially housewives know exactly what fruits, vegetables and fish are in season at exactly what times of the year, so they can prepare the freshest and best-tasting meals for their families.


Politeness & Friendliness of countryside (inaka) people

I couldn't get over how amazingly polite everyone was. People went out of their way to be helpful. While getting lost looking for a school where I should teach one day, an uncle (ojisan) walked me all the way to the address to make sure I got there. The colleague who gave me a dozen of kaki fruits (persimmon) when I told I love persimmon. The auntie (obasan) who visited me at hospital everyday for about 1 month just to confirm my conditions. The neighbor who regularly gave my wife the fresh vegetables from her garden. The old couple who just smiled at me and my family while we ate at their sushi restaurant and gave us a thumbs up every time we said oishii  ("delicious" in Japanese). The colleagues who always put chocolates and Japanese cookies on my working tables even when I was outstation. Everyone was just helpful and genuinely friendly. I really appreciate their kindness.


Hioki has many wonderful and unique traditions

Needless to say that Japan has rich of unique cultures and traditions. There's nothing else like the Japanese tea ceremony, or the art of putting on a kimono (yes, it is an art!). Then there's Japanese calligraphy, flower arrangement, martial arts, haiku ... And the list goes on. For me, Japan has so many nice ceremonies and art forms that really help you to relax and appreciate the beauty of the simple things in life.

Then of course there are all the festivals (お祭) and the great firework shows (花火) in the summertime! In Hioki city where I live now, there are plenty of wonderful local traditions and matsuri such as Yabusame (Japanese Archery), Myouenji Mairi (March of Satsuma Samurai), Seppetobe (Planting Festival - jump in paddy mud), Izaku taiko odori (traditional folk dance with drum), akimatsuri(autumn festival), Yamankan no kyouen (lantern festival) and many others.

You really have to experience these things for yourself to appreciate them though, so I highly recommend you try them out if you ever get the chance!

Delicious (and healthy) food

Sushi, soba, udon, tendon, ramen, okonomiyaki, nabe, mochi - I could entertain you for hours with stories of my favorite foods in Japan. Most traditional Japanese foods don't use meat/pork (a huge bonus for meat intolerant people like me), use plenty of vegetables, and are very "light." Although sometimes I feed not enough when eat Japanese food, but I feel much more healthy and energetic. Food makes a big difference.

Sushi is one of the things I am most looking forward to eating while in Japan. After all, Japan is the birthplace of sushi. Even the worst sushi I had was still as good as the average sushi I've had elsewhere in Malaysia. The local fresh sushi is so good. It makes you cry tears of joy. The flavor, the soft texture, the moist rice -- ohh it's heaven.

Fukiage Onsen

Honestly speaking, I'm not a fan of bathhouses. Sitting around naked with a bunch of people isn't my thing. I gave the Japanese onsens a try, but there were just too many naked men for me. However, I did venture out when they opened first thing in the morning to have them to myself. And sometime, I use a family onsen (kazoku-buro). I have to admit: sitting in a hot bath with a little waterfall near you is pretty damn relaxing. I think I am going to miss this onsen when I am back to Malaysia.

Peaceful lifestyle

Living in the countryside like Hioki is maybe boring for some people but not for me. I feel very peaceful living in here. I just love this way of life. I've lived in incredibly rural parts of Malaysia and loved how relaxed people seemed to be. The same seems to be true in here. Even my working contract will expire in August next year, but I am also thinking to stay a bit longer because there is still plenty of experience to enjoy here.