Triggered by boredom and maybe stress, my friend and I planned for an impromptu trip. I know that sounds convoluted, but the trip was mostly unplanned. First we were thinking to do the trans-Siberian railway, but I pulled away because it would require considerable amount of resources in terms of money and time. That route is still in my bucket list though. My friend N is into organic farming, and she heard about World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) from someone she knew. It’s an organization that connects growers (hosts) with volunteers looking to expand their life experiences in new places. WWOOF. To be connected, both parties need to be registered in the country’s WWOOF organization.
N suggested WWOOF Japan, and she picked Hokkaido as place to start. What? Hokkaido? I would never say no because it’s in my top list for places to visit in Japan. And it would a totally new traveling experience – staying with the locals for a week (the duration can vary) and enjoying the nature in slow pace. So, we signed up for a-year membership, contacted potential hosts to ask if they would accept us, and bought the flight to Hokkaido.
We landed in a small town in Hokkaido. Our host, W-san picked us up in the train station. ‘Konnichiwa,’ he greeted us. I remembered he was wearing a T-shirt with some Thai characters. N who is Thai asked him if he knew what was on T-shirt. He didn’t know, but he later found out. It was about 10-15 minute drive to his house. Along the way, there were a lot of rice fields and almost no one around.
His house is on the foot of a mountain, and in front of the house, there was a flower garden. When I was little, that was how I pictured my dream house would be. His house looked quite westernized, and inside was even better. It looked very rustic and homey. N and I were totally mesmerized. Thank God we were there.
The first night got even better. There was a Japanese girl who was also WWOOFing there, but it was her last night. We had a FEAST and everything was homemade. For N and I, it was like coming from a posh restaurant made by a skilled chef. We wondered if every dinner was going to be like that. Although it did not, every meal was always delicious and satisfying. We were also introduced to W-san’s small family. There was his wife, his mother who we called obaa-chan (grandma), and his two dogs. He also has a teenage daughter, but she was going to school in a different town.
We stayed in a small lodge in the mountain made by W-san himself instead of staying in his house. Yamagoya 『山小屋』was what he called it. Inside there was a bunk bad attached to the wall and the roof, some chairs, notes and other basic stationery, a small portable stove, a cooler, a sink, and a clothesline. There was also a compost toilet outside, which uses soil to cover things up. To our surprise, the toilet was pretty good except that we sometimes had wild imagination, such as spiders and weird insects would come out and bite us. Nothing like that ever happened though.
There was no water and electricity in the lodge, but we were welcomed to shower and charge our phones in his house. We always had our breakfast in the lodge and were supplied with milk, white bread, eggs, butter, honey and jam spread. I know it would sound exaggerating but every morning when we had our breakfast, we never got tired of what we had. The honey was from the bees he was raising, and the rhubarb and haskap berry jams were from the produce he grew. All natural and organic :)
We usually went down around 9 am to help out. W-san would tell us what to do and equip us with necessary tools and protective garments such as long sleeve coats and rubber boots. On one day we might harvest some potatoes, and on some days we would help him out maintaining the mountain’s walking paths. We would take a break at noon time for lunch and continue a couple more hours. In the afternoon, he might ask us to walk Ken-chan, an old mountain dog Obaa-chan found ten years ago. We also had a chance to go cycling around and went to catch sunset.
If I were to write everything down, it would be really long, but some of the best highlights were going mushroom picking in the woods, having fresh and sweet edamames (the sweetness decreases over time after being picked), and cooking our country’s food and meeting W-san’s friends.
I am so grateful for W-san’s and his family’s generosity although we actually did not help much with the work at all. I saw a man who was passionate about what he was doing, willing to take strangers in and share his experience and life with them although he did not receive much in return.
~each encounter is really a blessing!