Published: November 17th 2006October 27th 2006
Vik and Koji slogging away while I (uncharacteristically) take a break to record the moment and hurl up Sho-chu behind a tree.
Arinko Farm is not yet a reality, but Masako and Koji are working on it. They have a patch of land (0.7 hectares) on a hillside surrounded by a bamboo forest overlooking mostly rice fields and the outskirts of the small town of Shimaisobe. It is beautiful scenery and when the wind blows you can hear the gentle clatter of the bamboo. Its all very calming in an inscence and bead curtain kind of way.
Masako has a big interest in Permaculture and Ecology and wanted to build a small farmhouse on the land they purchased. Planning permission arrived while we were there. (My being there and the arrival of planning permission are in no way linked - its purely coincidence - I hold no sway with Mie Prefecture local government). Construction won't begin on the house until next year, but for the last two years they have been working the land (which was all bamboo forest) into vegetable patches(sweet potato, onion, several varieties of cabbage, daikon - white winter radish, peas, carrots etc.), areas of orchard (varieties of orange, apple, persimmon etc.) and areas of wild planting (herbs, strawberries, mint, etc). They want to get as near to self-sufficiency as
Married Rocks at Futami
Apparently the rocks are husband and wife.
We arrived in time to dig up satsuma imo (sweet potato) and carrots, and to plant several types of spring onion. Also, Masako likes each WWOOFer who visits to plant a fruit tree. I planted a Maikan (Japanese Orange) tree and Vik planted a persimmon one.
We worked roughly from 9:30 to 12:00 with a 30 minute break, then two hours for lunch (occasionally three if it had been a tough morning and we needed a siesta) and then in the afternoon from 14:00 to 17:00 - though sometimes not even that much.
It doesn't sound like a lot of work (and to be honest it wasn't!) but it felt like it in the heat and with the mossies. Vikki found that wearing a burning mosquito coil was the best solution to that particular menace.
We stayed in the guest room in their house, which was a rented house 10 minutes from the field. Every morning we'd meet them downstairs for breakfast at 8-ish watch a bit of international news (and I mean international - we watched the German, Spanish, French and Japanese news - though nothing could match the warm feeling in my heart as BBC News
Millions of candles...
These stretched for miles at Naiku temple... there were even some floating in the river.
24 appeared on screen) and we'd head to the field in the car or van.
At lunch, Masako or sometimes Koji, would prepare something like rice balls, or stir fry or soup made from the previous nights dinner. It was always very hearty and left us needing our siesta! It was also extremely healthy... the Japanese believe in getting all food groups into a meal, so it isn't unusual to have rice, boiled egg, vegetables, fruit and of course, fish...
At dinner Masako went to town (by that I don't mean that she left the house while the rest of us ate - I mean... oh forget it!). She seemed to enjoy making us traditional Japanese meals so that we could try something new every day. And every day she'd push the boundairies that little further so we progressively got more daring with our "try" meals. So we had sashimi (raw fish), nabe (a pot of boiling soup that you cook your own bits and pieces in), sushi (we rolled our own rice balls and seaweed)... The meals were mammoth and we felt extremely spoiled. What was great though, was that many of the ingredients came from their own land.
The people of Naiku are fire/candle obsessed. Check out this dudes flamin' balls. There were some singed hairs at the front of this audience and as for the bloke with all the hairspray... NURSE!
I took particular pleasure in eating the carrots and potatos we had picked that day.
For me meal times were the best experience. Koji liked someone to drink with, so I drank a lot of Sho-chu (distilled rice wine) which gave me a stinking hangover for the next day in the field. In fact, much to my joy, my Sho-chu hangover seemed to coincide with the hottest and most physical days work we did on the farm. I brought it on myself I suppose - I started drinking the Sho-chu fairly quickly as it goes down much smoother than Vodka and is only (only!) 25% alcohol. I convinced myself that I could knock back loads of these before I'd even feel the effects. Needless to say, when I got to bed I woke Vik up to ask her where the toilet was as I couldn't find the stairs!
We went out for an Italian meal one night so that Vik could have a meal she wasn't too scarred to eat! But Vik began to like the experimenting with food thing and by the end of it
was eating raw egg with the rest of us.
They took us on a
sightseeing day when we went to an exhibition of Japanese traditional painting and printing. We then went to the bizarrest piano concert I've ever witnessed. Masako found a flyer at the bakers for a show she thought she'd like to see. We
thought it might be in the town hall, but it turned out to be a grand piano in someones garage. We sat in the back garden (in a shed attached to said garage) and listened; bemused as an extremely nervous woman rattled through Chopin and Bach while her equally nervous daughter positioned hand painted scenery at the front of the shed stage. There were about 10 people in the audience. I think the others were all family. The piano was nice.
We then went to see a lantern festival at Naiku which is a famous temple near the small city of Ise. Never have I seen so many candles in one place with no children trying to blow them out. The poor beggar that had to light them all was whistling backwards and forwards down the 1km stretch of river and streets like a loony, gas lighter in hand. I bet he thanks his lucky stars they only
do it once a year. It must have taken him most of the year just to position the things.
In return for their kindness, one night Vik cooked a scotch broth! We couldn't get all the
ingredients exactly right, but it was damn close. I'd wanted to do porridge but nobody sounded that enthusiastic and lots of excuses about there being no oats were banded about. My porridge is legendary by the way. At least in our families household... that being mine and Viks household. And really its only legendary because of the way I get it to stick to the microwave.
We also went along to Masako and Koji's English class which is twice a month and is provided free by the local council at a community centre (despite how that sounded, it was not an advert for Mie Prefecture local government - I repeat I have nothing to do with the highly efficient and friendly chaps at MPLG). Bizzarely, one of the two teachers was a young lassie from Edinburgh who said "like" alot and read out and excellent Halloween poem to the class that she'd written when she went guising. The class was really relaxed and we
all just had fun learning about what Halloween is. Honestly, the Japanese think we're all bonkers. Having said that though, there was an old Japanese guy there who was straight out of a movie. He told us how he'd seen Japans deadliest snake on his farm three times this year. The last time he saw it he hit it with a stick and threw it in his microwave. Then he ate it. You really had to see this old guy (must have been 70's) laughing at his own story as he struggled to tell it in English.
The English class experience was completed with a game of "Endearment or Insult". We had to decide whether being called a particular animal/object was an endearment or an insult - then we had to explain the reason for our decision. Seriously, you try explaining to someone why "tool" is insulting or why being called a "monkey" has nothing to do with peeing from trees and stealing crops. The girl next to me spoke very basic English and didn't really understand too much of what was going on. My explanation for why she might be called a "fox" or referred to as "doll" was,
I am well known for my vegetable art (true fact). Here is my representation of Nessie made from Satsuma Imo (Sweet Potato).
in her eyes, both surreal and confusing. She wants to visit Scotland one day but does not want to be called a "fox" as they are wiley (she used a dictionary) and scheming. "Dog" she would accept as they are cute and loyal.
All in all, I think WWOOFing did exactly what I hoped it would. It gave us a truly unique experience that offered us an insight into, not just Japanese culture and cuisine but also into farming and education. Superb and highly recommended.
There are more photos below