Publication Date: March 2002. Feature. Page: 18
Commuting beyond the Fringe
A beach house close to verdant forests at an affordable rent doesn’t have to be a
California dream. You can have it in Japan now.
By John R. Harris
Wake to birdsong and rich forest-floor aroma drifting in the open window. As the sun peeks over the trees, sip
coffee on the verandah of your spacious western-style home. Ponder whether this is the week to pick the mikan in
your garden and if there is ¥150,000 in the rent-payment account. Grabbing laptop and thermos, hop in the car for
a pleasant 15-minute drive through tree-lined country lanes. Look! A heron in the rice paddy!
Park one minute from the station (the space costs ¥4,000 a month) and find your usual seat on the limited
express. On the tray table in front of you, fire up the laptop with its wireless modem. Pour a cup of java while your
e-mail downloads. So what if the train costs ¥2,000 each way? This relaxed commute is often the best part of your
All too soon, the quiet hour is over. You’re at Tokyo Station, a ten-minute stroll from your office.
Believe it or not
Fantasy? Not for a small but growing cadre of Tokyo gaijin who have discovered the joys of “commuting beyond
We are not just talking distant suburbs with fractionally more greenery and rents lower than Setagaya. And
this is not about the dreary exurban marches of Saitama, where garish pachinko-parlor lights reflect in dilapidated
This is real life in full-on green, natural environments—forests and beaches that would make people in
Oregon green with envy.
Amazingly, a few such places still exist within commuting range of Tokyo. Even more amazing is the puzzle-
ment this notion provokes from many Japanese: “Why would you want to live all the way out there?” Get a
detailed map of the wider Kanto area. Draw a circle representing a 100-kilometer radius (60 mile) around Tokyo
Station. Now look for the green bits that survive in the shadow of the world’s largest city.
South of Tokyo,