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

WWOOFing with the Watanabes

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So my first ever WWOOFing experience was with a family in Kochi prefecture who live high up in the mountains and run a small cattle farm. The Watanabe family were super kind to me from the beginning and I spent a wonderful week with them – learning all about taking care of cows and about life in a small mountain village. In fact, I don’t think you could even say they live in a village; while there are other houses around on the same mountain, it would take you around 5-10 minutes to drive between each one!

The Watanabe's house, high up in the mountains

The Watanabe’s house, high up in the mountains

View from the Watanabe house, looking over the valley

View from the Watanabe house, looking over the valley

On day one I arrived just before lunch and after some initial chit-chat with Mr. Watanabe and his daughter Tomoko, we were tasked with feeding the cows. The food consisted of some chaff, a small amount of salt, okara (tofu lees) and gluten, which we doled out separately to each cow, followed by some fresh cut mixed vegetation (grasses, weeds and the like). Then Tomoko and I headed up the road to the family’s log cabin, which also serves as a minshuku (Japanese bed and breakfast type inn) whenever guests book it, especially in the warmer months. Since there are no guests now (coming into winter), the family just use it as a lunch place, since it’s much closer to the farm than their actual house.

So Tomoko and I prepared lunch and then Mr. and Mrs. Watanabe (simply called ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ in Japanese) came to eat with us and relax for a while. Since it was our first real time together, we all had a great chat about all things Australian and Japanese. In the afternoon while mum and dad went back to the farm, Tomoko and I made yuzu (a type of tart Japanese citrus fruit) jam. After a short break for yuzu tea (made with some of the jam mixture and hot water), we too went back to the farm, and I helped mum scooping up cow pooh for about the next hour. And all this on the first day!

By then it was dark and time to head back to the house for baths and dinner, which we all enjoyed together (the food; not the bath!). Mr. and Mrs. Watanabe senior (‘grandma’ and ‘grandpa’), who are 90 and 95 years old, respectively, also live at the house, though do not participate in much conversation due to their old age and poor hearing.   Continue reading