So we made it! Jonny and Sarah did the Simple Life (Japan Style).
For the first time in almost four months, we did a real, honest, hand’s-dirty, week’s work in the blossom filled basin that is Azumino; an agricultural area of apple fame in the Japanese Alps. With not a shop nor a temple in sight, we picked flowering buds until our thumbs were raw for seven, whole, regimented days (valuable preparation for the real world).
Needless to say it was somewhat of a shock to the system to have such a routine. But in a good way. Not only was it refreshing to be inhale the cool country air of picture-perfect, real-life Totoro-land (a whole other side of Japan, although we didn’t see any cat buses), it was a good time for some proper traveling induced reflection.
Why? We were WWOOFERs. Nothing canine, this bizarre acronym stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms. It was always going to be a part of our Japanese itinerary – to live with a family and work their land, in return for food and a bed. We were treated with kindness, even though our Japanese language skills shamefully failed us and Jon was even presented with a birthday cake on our last evening. Oishii!
Obachan’s (grandma) ever varying cooking was a highlight. As was the hyperactive antics of the two year old ten pin bowling fanatic – the youngest member of the six-person family. Little Towa was awesome. He bowled all he could, with the poise of a pro. When denied his ball,he would roll dinnerware across the floorboards, and when energy levels were low, he’d watch the sport on Youtube. What a dude.
So when not setting up skittles, strike after strike, our days went a little like this:
6.40: Breakfast, which usually consisted of the last night’s tasty leftovers. It’s amazing how quickly you adapt to eating dinner for breakfast.
7.15: Housework for half an hour. Jon got the short straw, donning lovely little blue rubber slippers to mop the bathroom each day. My job was to sweep the tatami mats.
8.00: Off to the field! Here we’d thin the buds tree after tree, ready for them to grow into giant, juicy Fuji apples (they’re the size of grapefruits in this part of the world). We’d pick and pick and pick until the relieving melody of a familiar hymn tinkled across the skies announcing tea-break time for all the land (a sound that came to mark the numerous chapters of the day). With the six or so other workers, we’d gather round on upturned apple crates, sipping hot black tea and munching on rice crackers.
12.00: Back to the long dining table for the ravenous sounds of ramen slurping. Lunch was a feast, the ramen or soba always accompanied with tofu, miso soup and crunchy pickled radish. Speedy washing up would follow every meal.
13.30: More picking…
15.30: We’d hear the cry of ‘Jon-Saaaaan, Sarah-Saaaaan, game over!’. Like school children, we’d be released to wash off the dirt of the day and recover our sun-zapped energy in time for dinner at six. Apart from the first two days when the picking was substituted with box-painting and peeling vegetables, we worked under skies of never-ending blue.
We did have a day off from the routine which was suprisingly exhausting and usually found us asleep by 9.30pm. A perfect Sunday was spent hiking in the New Zealandesqe alpine mountain resort of Kamikotchi. We walked an entire day hand in hand, alongside ice-blue river water, the occasional monkey and bamboo forest, with an wonderful sense of freedom.
We snaffled a good amount of e-numbers on that trip too, after the diet of brown rice and beans (which was all absolutely delicious but the wholesomeness needed a little bit of a sugar kick from time to time). With no shops in the locality of the farm, our only access to unnatural foodstuffs was one of the glorious banks of vending machines, a ten minute walk away. I think the vending machines of Japan deserve their own separate post to be honest. All I will say is, AMERICAN PANCAKE FLAVOURED HOT TEA IN A CAN. We discarded that can before going back to the farm.
So depite being so different to anything we’re used to and at times a little bit of an endurance test, life on the farm was great. Welly good in fact. Whilst I won’t say that I’ve been fully converted to wholesome healthy, rosy-cheeked country living (testified by my recurring shopping anxiety dream), the workings of an almost self-sufficient family and an organic farm has been inspiring. I can’t wait to tend to our own little patch of earth.
With Twickenham beckoning in just over two weeks, we are fresh and ready to make the most of it. Starting with a long-awaited beer.