Meeting up with mum

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On April 19th, after leaving my latest WWOOFing spot in Gunma prefecture, I took a long and rather stressful drive into Tokyo city and had a wonderful dinner with my old Japanese teacher from high school. We caught up over a delicious Italian meal, and then I found myself driving right across the city to find my rest stop for the night. In fact, I drove right over the Shinjuku crossing – one of the busiest stations in all of Tokyo! Thank goodness it was late on a Sunday evening and there wasn’t too much traffic!

However there was good reason for my craziness [and it was indeed craziness to drive through the big complicated roads of Tokyo] – I had to get closer to Narita airport so that on the morning of the 20th I could go and collect my mum, who had just flown in from Australia! Continue reading

What a WWOOF in Gunma

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My most recent WWOOFing was a little unusual though thoroughly enjoyable experience with a young family in the rural town of Takayama, in Gunma prefecture. The parents (34 and 30 years) lived with their two young children (1.5 and 7mths) in a lovely little wooden cabin just around the corner from their mother & father = the grandparents’ place, where an elder brother also lived. The whole family seemed very close and were incredibly friendly. Both the grandparents and the young family are farmers; the latter grow all certified organic produce, and they sell their wares at small markets and stores around the local area.

The reason I say ‘unusual’ about the experience is that there was unfortunately not a lot of work to do during the week I stayed with them due to a fair amount of rain. Winter is only just ending in this region, and although all the snow has melted, there is still a chance of frost in the weeks to come. As a result, most of the season’s planting is yet to be done. And with a reasonable amount of rain around the time I arrived, the fields were still too wet to plough and plant. Continue reading

Japan’s Top 3 Gardens

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The other day I managed to get along to see my third of Japan’s best three gardens: Kairakuen in Mito city, Ibaraki prefecture. I would have to say overall that it was pretty disappointing compared to the other two (being Kourakuen in Okayama and Kenrokuen in Kanazawa, Ishikawa pref).

While I have no doubt that season and weather must have an impact on how one perceives each garden and the overall experience, having been to Kourakuen twice in different seasons I can also say that for a really top class garden, that shouldn’t make that much difference. And in essence, at Kourakuen it doesn’t – partly because they have such a huge variety of different plants and flowers, so that there is something interesting to see (and in bloom) at nearly any time of the year. In addition, it is a large sprawling garden with a large pond and many meandering paths. Continue reading

Oh My Goshikinuma!

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One of my very few ‘must-dos’ on this trip was to visit a private art museum in the middle of nowhere in Fukushima prefecture that has a huge collection of works by Dali – my favourite artist. I’ve been wanting to visit this gallery for several years, ever since I first read about it by chance in a magazine. So as I made my way southward from Miyagi, I headed through the mountains and valleys of northern Fukushima to the small onsen town of Akiu, just beyond which is the museum. There was still a fair amount of snow in these parts, with some ski resorts still operating (right through until the end of May!!), though the roads were perfectly clear. Continue reading

Visiting my foxy kin

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For today’s weird and wonderful adventure, I hit up the Zao Fox Village in Miyagi prefecture. Though I’m generally not spending a lot on this trip in terms of entrance fees, and this seemed a little steep at 1000yen ($10), I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to visit with my namesakes.

DSCN0637Having read up a little on the village previously, I knew that there was an area in which you could roam freely with the foxes, and this section did not disappoint. While there are many foxes in cages too (for example young pups still growing, as well as injured/sick foxes), there are also a huge number roaming freely in the large enclosed area in which visitors can also enter. In fact, they apparently have over 100 different types (species) of foxes at the village, which means an amazing array of colours and cuteness.

You are explicitly told not to touch the foxes, and you can throw them some food (available for purchase) from a designated raised platform, but to be honest, just wandering around with them and watching them interact in what seemed a very natural way was quite adequate for my tastes. Continue reading

Volunteering in Minamisanriku

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One of my key goals for this trip was to do some volunteering in the tsunami-affected areas of Tohoku, and a few days ago I finally made that a reality. Unfortunately, despite huge amounts of rebuilding work still to be done four years on from the March 2011 disaster, I found it surprisingly difficult to find information about any volunteering opportunities online. As such, I had all but given up hope of being able to make anything but a monetary contribution, when I hit on a couple of new Facebook groups and put out my feelers one last time for any available opportunities. As it turns out, I got a good response, with three possible options. However, by this stage of the trip, having previously been unable to find anything, unfortunately I had only a couple of days available in my schedule (between WWOOFing stints) to be able to volunteer; this ruled out two of the three options, which required a minimum week-long commitment.

So, I contacted the third suggestion – a non-profit organisation called OGA for Aid, which I could see from their website, undertakes a number of different initiatives and events in Minamisanriku – one of the worst-hit areas in Miyagi prefecture. Though there were no events on during the time I would be visiting, I received a reply saying that I could help with the Miyagi Green Farmers project, doing some farm/field work. Since I’m interested in growing vegetables and have some experience in that area, this seemed right up my alley! I checked out the project in more detail on the website, and got the impression that I would be contributing to help local farmers get back on their feet. Continue reading

WWOOFing at Kurikoma Kogen

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For my most recent WWOOFing experience, I spent nearly 3 weeks at the Kurikoma Kogen Nature School, in northern Miyagi prefecture. After a short trip down to the coast of southern Iwate, it was time to head back up into the mountains, where there was plenty of snow still remaining. In fact, that day I arrived it was snowing heavily; we had to load my bags and so forth into a sled and pull it along the ‘path’ to the house – about 200m away from the car park!

The cozy living area of the house

The property has a number of buildings used for various purposes, including for guests and students to stay in; however since it is still the winter season, the only people (staff) on site are the Tsukahara family. So ‘Tsuka-chan’ and ‘Sugacchi’ live with their 2-year-old son Kenta (‘Ken-chan’) in a hand built log cabin, which has a warm and cozy atmosphere in the main kitchen/living/dining area thanks to a wood stove, which is kept burning constantly during the colder months. Continue reading