An elder lady friend at work was telling me about her experience working in a Tokyo office. She’s from Saitama, which is just 20 minutes north of Tokyo. Anyway, she was telling me about the 1980s, when she was an OL (Office Lady). Her co-workers called her Imo-nechan (芋姉ちゃん), she laughingly said. She explained that Imo-nechan is a very rude way of saying country bumpkin, and here she was being referred to as a country girl who grew up either planting or feeding on (sweet) potatoes. I found the story rather amusing since she wasn’t from a town or village but a bigger city, Urawa. She said, 「浦和の出身なんだけどね～」 which means “I was from Urawa but still…”
I’ve heard many stories about how people from Tokyo make fun of people from surrounding prefectures like Saitama, and how Saitama people then like to take it out on people from Gunma. Like this same lady said that, “Still in Saitama we’re all people. In Gunma, only 60% of the population are people, the rest are saru” (猿, which means monkey). And then that, the people in the Gunma cities will insist they are the 60%, and that the people in smaller towns and villages are pure saru. This statement made us all laugh. It was a really bad joke, but everyone in the office that time found it extremely funny.
Before coming to Japan, I wrote to an urban-dwelling friend about teaching in a smallish town here. I got a reply saying, Good Luck because you’re going to be dealing with little sarus. This still makes me laugh. It just never gets old. I guess that because Japanese people are all ethnically the same, they have to differentiate themselves, somehow…
Country bumpkin in Japanese is inakamono (田舎者, someone who lives or grew up in the countryside, sometimes shortened to inakamon).