The week before I pried myself away from New York and moved to Japan to teach English, the New Yorker carried a tourism advertisement for the rural island where I’d be heading:
“For travelers who have seen and experienced Tokyo, Kyoto, and other hot spots in Japan, and who are inclined to venture off the beaten path, Shikoku should top the list of must-see travel destinations…”
An acquaintance who’d previously worked in the same area where I would be living described it in blunter terms: “You’ll be in the middle of bum-fuck nowhere.”
Both are accurate descriptions. My prefecture is the second poorest in Japan and boasts the highest rate of beer consumption. The school where I work uses fax machines, and I can hear the icy-clean rush of a river from the classroom windows. The bullet train can’t slide through the mottled-green mountains that surround me, so it doesn’t venture onto my island at all.
But here in my isolated little city at the tip of Japan, an unlikely fashion trend has emerged. Nearly every day, I see someone sporting a sweatshirt that says NEW YORK CITY, or BROOKLYN in bold letters across the front. In one wonderfully specific moment, I spotted one that read PARK SLOPE.
And there are times when I miss those places, deeply and acutely. It’s easy to become cynical in New York. Like many, I ache when I’m in the city—but I’ve found that I ache more when I’m away from it. On the days when it throbs, a glimpse of one of those silly sweatshirts provides more comfort than I’d ever imagined could come from any article of clothing….especially one on the back of a stranger.
Earlier this year, Shikoku ranked 35th on The New York Times’ list of “52 Places to Go in 2015.”
Off the beaten track, indeed. But New York is already there.
Johanna Mayer is a freelance writer and pie baker currently based in Kochi City, Japan.