I want to swap the Tokyo Metro for a buffalo taxi

By Mac Salman

I have lived in the bustling city of Tokyo for 14 years but this autumn, I decided to have a complete change of scenery and head down to the islands of Okinawa in Japan’s deep south.

After a couple of days on the main island, which is called Okinawa Honto, I went to Ishigaki Island. I noticed that the pace of life is much slower than in the big city. 

From there I visited Iriomote, Taketomi and Yubu Islands. 

The primary way to get to Yubu is by water buffalo taxi. I have never seen one of those in Tokyo! 

Taketomi is a lovely place, with some of the last remaining traditional Ryukyu villages. I found a beautiful post office there. 

For my last week of the trip, I based myself in Ishigaki Town. Diving most days, I would return to have dinner in one of the many eateries that feed the locals and tourists in this rather dilapidated but charming town. Very quickly, I felt that I was somewhere where everyone knew my name. 

Depopulating Tokyo

Having experienced a slower pace of life for a few days, my mind went back to the statistics I had been reading about the changing population of Tokyo.

In September 2020, more than 30,000 people moved out of the capital, while the number of people moving in fell to 27,000. It was the third straight month this shift had occurred. Of course, coronavirus was to blame.  

On my final day of diving, one of my fellow divers, a Tokyo-based lawyer, told me that he had made inquiries to get an apartment in Ishigaki Town. He said working from home meant he could work from anywhere. 

In Ishigaki, he could dive whenever the weather was great and he especially likes it when there are less tourists around. Whenever he needs to, he could fly to Tokyo for a weekend of concentrated culture. 

Time to move south?

Maybe it was time for me to consider such a move myself? 

The trouble is that in my line of work as a tour guide, I need the city. And not just any city; I need Tokyo, which I consider to be the world’s greatest metropolis. 

I feel I would be lost without its profusion of art, sport, cuisine and culture. And I don’t just need it in bursts, I need to be there with my finger on the pulse. 

But who knows how I will feel in, say, ten years from now? The pandemic has provided me with an opportunity to think about the future in a way that I had not really considered before.