When I was in Kyoto for the first time, I met my friend Ian. Ian had been travelling Japan primarily by staying with farmers and working on their farms. The idea intrigued me, but I already had my plans to travel to various cities.
More recently, having been staying around the Kyoto area again and looking for some work, I found myself with a couple of weeks before I could start at a hostel in Osaka. It occurred to me that I should take a pop at doing some of this farming business.
Following Ian’s advice, I used a programme called WWOOF Japan, which connects volunteers with small, organic, homely farms. I was applying at short notice so I emailed a number of farms, but I actually ended up having to turn down a lot of offers. People are keen for volunteers!
I found a place in the Gifu prefecture, nestled in the most mountainous part of Japan between Kyoto and Tokyo. The farm was run by a couple who seemed nice and had four cats, so I was sold.
The day rolled around and, after a number of trains, I arrived in Tanigumichi Station and was met by the Tadas. They were immediately warm, pleasant and funny. This set a precedent for an incredible two weeks spent on the farm.
This was very much rural Japan. Other than the couple I was living with, I didn’t speak to another English Speaker for two weeks. I was constantly surrounded by gorgeous scenery and at night there were no sounds of traffic and sirens, only the croaking of frogs and buzzing of insects.
Most days we woke up for breakfast at 6:30 and headed to the farm at 7:30. I’d work for three hours in the morning and three in the afternoon. Other than those hours and pleasant mealtimes sat together, I was left to my own devices. With no internet access, I actually found it a very peaceful to catch up on some reading and writing.
The work I did was varied; picking and planting, tilling fields and building netting, picking and slicing weeds, tying plants to guide poles and helping out in any way I could. Sometimes the work was hard; on the first day, I helped shovel compost and using my muscles for the first time in months under the Japanese sun left me with sweat pouring from my brow.
Nonetheless, the work I did felt paltry in exchange for the wonderful hospitality and incredible traditional food I was given in exchange.
I had a wonderful time with these amazing people. They are friendly and funny, passionate and knowledgeable about organic, sustainable farming, phenomenal cooks and all around brilliant. And best of all: four brilliant and cute cats with distinct and lovable personalities.
I cannot say nice enough things about this wonderful couple. I will remember my time in their home and on their farm forever.
In the end, my only regret was that I didn’t join WWOOF Japan sooner and spend time on farms in between all my other city trips. Seeing a very genuine, rural side of the country, living among the beautiful countryside and eating organically was highly rewarding.