Japanese Vernacular: I-Turn, U-Turn, We all Turn!

I’m sure most of you have heard of a u-turn: that thing drivers do when they want to go back the way they came fromーsometimes on a road where such actions are both illegal and dangerous and pedestrians almost pay for this misdemeanor with their lives. Ahem. Forgive the dramatic explanationーit’s the direct result of almost getting run over by a u-turning taxi driver in Osaka, twice. Not only did he run a red light and swoop by me as I was crossing the crosswalk, but he came back for me a second time when I was almost on the other side thanks to his u-turn! Adventurous for sure, recommendable? Not quite.

Anyway, today’s u-turns, related “i-turns” and “j-turns” have nothing to do with literal traffic. Instead they describe a rising trend among young Japanese people who aren’t willing to sacrifice everything in their lives for their jobs.

 I-Turn? U-Turn? Why Turn?

i-turn u-turn j-turn o-turn

Before sink our teeth into this topic, here’s some handy vocabulary to get us started:

脱サラ The Datsu-Sara

A combination of the kanji character 脱 (だつ/datsu), which means to remove, reverse, undress or free oneself from, and shortened form of the katakana word サラリーマン (salaryman), which a basic term for any kind of office worker. The datsu-sara is, as it describes, a salaryman who’s escaped from the rat race and has moved onto doing something different. Lots of ramen shop owners/workers are datsu-sara, and you can find them on farms, in shops, running their own businessesーanything that frees them from what they didn’t like in their old life. These guys (and girls!) are the most typical u-turners, i-turners and j-turners.

Uターン: The U-Turn

Those who were raised in the countryside go to Tokyo or other larger cities for uni and work, only to return back home later on are u-turners. This is becoming increasingly common among mid-career professionals, who are looking for a safer and more familiar environment to get married in and/or have and raise children. The main reason for their return is a change in priorities and a higher quality of life outside of the rat race.

Iターン: The I-Turn

I-turners are those who have been raised in urban and city areas and move out to the countryside for the first timeーeither because of a job transfer, or more recently, as a lifestyle choice. (For example: YJ, being a Tokyo boy, would be an i-turner if we ever moved to Okinawa. <- I can dream, can’t I?)

Jターン: The J-Turn

People who have moved to the city and then moved back out to the countryーbut somewhere else other than where they are originally from.

Oターン: The O-Turn

Describes those that tried to do a u/i/j-turn, but were unsuccessful, and returned back to city life and the life of a salaryman or office lady.

What This Means for Japan


With a low birthrate and even lower immigration, Japan is expected to feel the effects of a decrease in population. This is already an issue in rural areasーas in many other countriesーyoung people head out of the big city and don’t come back, leaving villages and small towns to slowly die out. The u-turners, i-turners and j-turners may be a welcome injection of fresh faces into the countryside, as more people decide that the traditional corporate life isn’t for them. While it’s probably too early to say if this is a lastingーor even statistically significantーtrend, it’s been in the news enough recently to gain nationwide attention.

Ama in Shimane Prefecture started its own revitalization campaign, leading to a surge in tourism to the remote island area. Also, in the last 10 years, Ama has invited, encouraged and supported about 437 i-turners (in their 20s, 30s and 40s both with and without accompanying families) who have moved thereーthe majority of whom have stayed. With a fresh perspective on Ama’s wealth in resources and potential appeal to tourists, i-turners and native residents have worked together to stimulate the economy themselves.

Several areas in Hokkaido have been dealing with their own rapidly changing demographics by inviting longterm visitors and promoting conferences and other events in the area in the summerーHokkaido’s cool summers are a welcome respite for Honshu’s muggy and hot sweatfests.

Koichi Prefecture on the island of Shikoku is also taking advantage of these trends and launched a cheesy (but in a good way!) campaign to encourage i-turners and j-turners alike to consider the area for their escape from the daily grind. Check out their funky video featuring governmental employees in sunglasses, singing, dancing and more!

Final Thoughts


As mentioned, it’s hard to say if this trend will continue, but I can’t see it being a bad thing if it does. Tokyo is overpopulated anyway, and there is so much more to Japan than its capital city. I’m a great supporter of rural areas getting more attention and being able to stimulate the local economy themselves. I hope this will continue, and hopefully lead to a shift in priorities for both companies and the population in general.

What do you think about this trend? Would you rather live in the city or the countryside?

11 responses to “Japanese Vernacular: I-Turn, U-Turn, We all Turn!”

  1. Hilary says:

    I loved this post! I’m back studying Japanese again so I can read your posts when I need a break and still call it studying. 🙂 I loved the video! Seeing a whole crew in sunglasses and a hug… Wow! Two stereotypes blasted there. 😀 I agree that raising kids in Tokyo would not be for me, even though I’m a city woman. Our last place in Canada was downtown. I loved it for the convenience but it wasn’t always great for kids. Now we are in suburbia and it’s the opposIte… a little too quiet sometimes. There’s always give and take, eh? I would love a balance. I saw a really interesting article a while back in the JT about a rural community that was reinventing itself. I can’t recall where…maybe it was one you mentioned? I admire that type of innovation!
    Hilary recently posted…Pukupuku Tai – a sweet, fish-shaped, Japanese treat

  2. Yocelyn says:

    I’ve never heard of the terms before. They make sense when you think about the letter/turn visually. Looks like this summer I’m doing a U turn…then hopefully J turn to study in uni some more. 😛

    I grew up in the countryside so I’m found of the easy pace life. I moved to the city to try something new. I don’t hate it…but I don’t love it either. I hate having neighbors so close to me. XD

    Tony has always been a city boy. When he went to visit my town he couldn’t sleep at night because of the crickets, roosters, and dogs howling. He believed my house was possibly haunted at one point. -.-

  3. Steph says:

    Wow very detailed and very interesting article. A thought a lot about it too. I am convinced that it is very difficult to have a well-balanced life in Tokyo and I certainly don’t want to stay forever here. Except if run your bussiness with your partner in life, I have the impression that too many frustration will accumulate. I am curious about living in Fukuoka for example. I think Tokyo is great when you are not in relationship. One of my friend married a Japanese, they stayed a few years and went to France because they were worried about a family life in Tokyo. Honestly when I am visiting countryside I have the impression that people are happier there!! Would you like to stay forever in Tokyo?
    I think I am feeling good in the sento also for this reason, it is like a peace area far away from over-all Tokyo’s life.
    Steph recently posted…Inari-yu

  4. Marta says:

    Interesting! This is not happening in China yet, the movement is still from the countryside to the cities. The countryside is very underdeveloped! Young people prefer to have a job in a factory in the city than staying in a small village.
    Marta recently posted…The Maiji Grottoes

    • Ri says:

      Yeah, I can see the attraction of the cityーor at least larger towns, compared with the complete countryside. It’ll be interesting to see if China ever makes the same change… But I guess it’ll be a long time away.

  5. I like to think I have the best of both worlds. I live in a town on the outskirts of a larger city [well, if you can call a place over 80,000 small] so I can go to the city whenever I want but I love that I don’t need to deal with the noise, traffic, and crowds so notorious in bigger cities. However, I still enjoy the conveniences – there are two supermarkets less than 500 meters from my house, for example.

    I think the same trends are emerging in Taiwan as well. Several people have given up city life to return to their hometowns and some city dwellers have moved to the countryside for a easier, more balanced life. My husband would be considered a [nearly] U-turner as we don’t live very far from where he grew up.
    Constance – Foreign Sanctuary recently posted…Goats & Flowers – The 2015 Changhua Flower Festival in Xizhou, Taiwan

    • Ri says:

      It really does sound like you have the best of both worlds! I like that ideaーbeing in a quiet place, but still not too far from all the action. 🙂

      Interesting to hear that there may be a similar trend in Taiwan, too. I’m curious to see how it develops. ^^

  6. Nina says:

    I really liked this post! I think not being in Tokyo isn’t a bad thing. I really enjoyed my study abroad experience there but im planning on going to Nagoya once I return to Japan. People always give me crap for not wanting to go to Tokyo but each to their own. I like how Nagoya is still a city but nowhere as big as Tokyo, it’s more spaced out :] Big cities are nice but not sure if they are my cup of tea, but neither is rural lol.
    Nina recently posted…Mini Trip to Cancun.

    • Ri says:

      Thank you! ^^
      Yeah, Tokyo is so big, and yet I only ever seem to spend time in my little corner of it. Dealing with tons of people just to get to another side of the city is no fun. 😛
      Nagoya sounds great! I definitely wouldn’t mind OsakaーI used to live there and looooved it. Big city feel in some ways, but not at all in others.
      Nagoya does seem better balanced size wiseーdefinitely not countryside and not crazy-big like Tokyo either! ^^

  7. This was informative, I haven’t heard the terms before! I used to think that living in a small town was pointless, like I would never find work and happiness until I moved to a big city. While I still think living in a big city must be nice, having a Starbucks in waling distance and cafes and boutiques and what not, I am coming to really enjoy my rural place.

    It could get more rural and I’m not sure I would be okay, but since I am not too far from Sendai, I feel like I get the best of both worlds. The city is there when I want it, and damn, does going to Tokyo feel like a treat lol.

    H and I actually lived in Tokyo briefly at the same time (though we had no idea of each other), but I’m glad he has settled back here, near his birthplace. Career-wise, he isn’t a salaryman so I don’t foresee him leaving the business for the city! To be honest though, the city seems uncomfortable to start a family, so it’s not surprised people are looking for other opportunities.
    Miyagi Mermaid recently posted…Sailor Moon and Valentine’s Chocolate

    • Ri says:

      I’d only learned of the terms recently, but it seems quite commonーeven when YJ and I were looking at jobs in Okinawa (always dreaming of Okinawa, haha!), they added a special section in the job adds: “ideal for j-turners or i-turners, college graduates, etc” That’s when I realized it’s quite “set”!

      The convenience is mostly goodーthere are a couple of restaurants and coffee shops I wouldn’t want to live withoutーbut I lived in a really rural place before and a lot of the bonuses win out over what I’d miss in Tokyo. (Well, it’s easy to say that now!!)

      Oh, interesting how you and H were in Tokyo at the same time! Much easier to meet in a smaller townーanother bonus I guess. I wouldn’t want to raise kids in Tokyo. A friend was saying how the choice in schools is better etc… And I guess maybe junior high upwards it may be a better option, but for small kids, nooooo. I’ve seen the trouble women have commuting with their younger kids, getting squashed. The dirty looks people will give if someone has the gall to bring a pram/baby carriage on board and take up space… It’s just needless stress. :/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

%d bloggers like this: