Local Japan: Warabi in Saitama
Three stations north of Tokyo on the Keihin-Tohoku Line lies the small town of Warabi, just into the mountainous prefecture of Saitama. I came to Japan from England in the summer of 2016 on an English teaching programme and I was instantly whisked away into the difficulties of finding accommodation under huge time restraints. I worked closely with the Global Trust Network; a foreign friendly real estate company based in Shin-Okubo. I soon discovered the joys of house hunting in Japan; receiving the many rejections from non-foreigner landlords, 8/10 in fact. I was taken from town to town, apartment to apartment in the blistering summer heat with the cicadas screaming in my ears just desperate to find a suitable place when finally we discovered the perfect place on the boarders of Tokyo and Saitama.
Situated on the West side of Warabi (the station has a west and east exit), in between Warabi, Toda and Toda-Koen stations (both of the Saikyo line) sits my third storey 2DK, 71,000JPY apartment. I absolutely love my apartment; it is spacious, has a separate bathroom and WC, a huge kitchen/dining room, two large rooms (one bedroom, one living room), plenty of storage space and a long balcony. I live alone but like space and appreciate silence so this area suits me perfectly. I live opposite a retirement home and am surrounded by many family houses. All the amenities I could ask for are within a 5 minute walk; 2 combinis, 3 supermarkets, 2 huge department stores, the post office headquarters (open until 7pm compared 5pm everywhere else), police station headquarters, hospital, hair dressers, parks, temples, and so much more. I moved into a shell of an apartment so was happy to discover a huge IKEA and Nitori just 20 minutes away in Shin-Misato, both of which deliver cheaply.
My place of work is only 20 minutes away and I can be in the centre of Tokyo in 25 minutes plus the walk to the station. It didn’t take me long to settle into my new surroundings. I have only met one other foreigner here who helped me with lightbulbs in my hour of need, but the locals are all very friendly, patient with the language barrier and extremely helpful. The ladies at the supermarket know me now and will stop for a chat when I’m shopping (one lady spent half an hour explaining about Japanese fabric softener to me), the young guy who owns the local bike repair shop always bows his head when I walk past each day as he’s covered in grease and bike parts, and I look forward to my monthly hair cut at the barbers where I can practice my basic Japanese on the friendly staff who now know my usual style by heart.
I come from a small ‘local’ town in Suffolk, East England, and Warabi isn’t far off the same sense of homeliness. I am quite a curious individual and will often go on lengthy walks to explore my surroundings and in doing so have discovered many temples, shrines, parks, and a Pizza Hut that delivers (useful for dinner parties). There are many map notice boards dotted around pointing out all the local points of interests, one of which I followed one day only to find a plethora of old and traditional buildings and family run shops. I am quite the avid Pokemon Go player and whilst walking around on one of my many explorations, I decided to use the in-game map to find new locations and to my surprise it worked. I found a huge family park with a water feature and a large Buddhist Temple. Google Maps has also given a helping hand when finding what’s on offer locally.
On weekends I will often walk past local events but have yet to participate, I also receive junk mail in the post depicting local events and festivals. I spend most of my time in the city and I would say this is the biggest flaw of living in Warabi. All of my friends live closer to or in the centre of Tokyo so I spend most of my time travelling to and fro. It can be quite costly each month but it’s a small price to pay having an apartment 3 times as large as most of my friends.
I appreciate community and that’s exactly what Warabi is. I see the same kids each morning walking to school, some brave individuals will smile whereas most just stare in awe. I notice the same commuters each morning who will give a slight nod and the old man who brings daily flower offerings to the Kappa statue at the mouth of a beautiful stream on his way to the station. Trash collection is on Mondays and Thursdays and I’m greeted by pyjama clad residents rushing to dispose of their unwanted items before they too leave to start their day. I love watching the elderly walking and chatting away to their old and grey dogs; one lady brings a wagon for her Beagle when his legs have had enough. My next door neighbour even came round shortly after new year to bring me an offering of Mikans to welcome in the new year. I feel welcome, accepted and relaxed in this community; I follow the rules, keep to myself and I am left to my own devices.
On a rare occasion, I required urgent assistance, when I was taken ill a few months back; the pharmacy around the corner went above and beyond to help me in my hour of need and without me asking, printed off an English diagnosis and instructions on how to use each medication provided. This is the side of Japan foreigners don’t often hear about because it’s so unheard of in our own societies.
I have yet to explore the east side of Warabi but from what I have seen and heard, it is a bit more lively in terms of the shops and amenities on offer. I personally prefer the relaxing feel to the west side. The biggest pro to living here would be the cost of living for the size of apartments on offer. Foreign friendly places are hard to come by but unfortunately that is the case all over Tokyo and Saitama for the time being. Warabi is a safe and quiet area with great access the best of both worlds – the hustle and bustle of the mega city and the historic and explorer friendly countryside of Saitama. The Edo town of Kawagoe is only 30 minutes away on the train and it offers one of the most beautiful historic towns in Japan. The Keihin-Tohoku Line from Warabi line links directly to Yokohama, whereas the Saikyo Line from both Toda and Toda-Koen links to Shinjuku in just 20 minutes, so the access from here really is limitless.
Tokyo has so much to offer but it can be a bit too much for some people living in a tiny apartment amongst all the noise and chaos. For those who wish to live within 20 minutes of the city but want to see and experience ‘real’ Japan, Warabi is a great place to start. It’s accessible, it’s friendly, it has all you’ll need for a calm and happy life here in Japan, and it will give you the win-win situation you may desire situated right in between urban and rural Japan.
I would say that after 10 months of living here, the small cons are massively outweighed by the huge pros. I feel like a member of this community and despite living alone, I don’t feel alone. Warabi has all that you could ask for considering its location. I wish more people would know about this place and that more information was offered to foreigners moving to Japan. Tokyo isn’t the be all and end all; there is so much to the Greater Tokyo Area than simply Shibuya and Shinjuku.