Friday, 25 December 2015

My First WWOOFing Experience (Nagano, Japan)

HEY, I'VE MOVED OVER TO: --- see you there ;)

My very first WWOOFing experience was freaking awesome. And since it's so freaking awesome and this is one of my longer posts, I will, for the first time on this blog, put in sub-headings.

What's WWOOF?
For those who don't know about WWOOF, it is basically a work-travel program where you work on organic farms (most of the time) in exchange for food and accommodation. Transport costs not included. For me, I heard of WWOOF a few years back and always wanted to do it in Southeast Asia. However, as you might have read in my previous posts, I was scheduled to be in Tokyo, Japan for an internship. That's why I decided to add WWOOFing in Japan into my travel plans. I also wanted somewhere nearer to Tokyo as I didn't have much money to spare to spend on transport. #poorcollegestudent

I spent 15 days (so not enough) in Nagano, Japan with probably the best WWOOFing host ever. They are a young family of five and have been hosting WWOOFers for more than 10 years I believe. Anyone who's on the WWOOF Japan website would have probably came across their profile at least once and be very impressed; they have nothing but good reviews from other WWOOFers. In fact, they are so popular that they are actually too full to host me next May lol.

Near my WWOOF accommodation, there was an onsen (hot spring) and I would go there after a long work day sometimes. I remember being so nervous the first time HAHAHA cos I have never been naked in front of so many people. But that nervousness disappeared after 10 minutes cos I realised everyone was naked, she has what you have, and everybody's just minding their own business lol.

My farm was also like 2 hours away from Kamikouchi, a famous hiking area in Nagano. IT'S SUPER PRETTY. Will definitely go there again if I get to WWOOF at the same place.

At the very very beautiful Kamikouchi
Eating vending machine food after a good hour of onsen

The Actual WWOOFing
Now I'll just briefly talk about the tasks that I had to do while I was WWOOFing. Do note that the tasks assigned varies with each host and the season when you visit. I visited my WWOOF host family in the second half of September, which means it was fall in Japan. I clearly knew what were some of the tasks available for me to do as my WWOOF host clearly listed them according to seasons on their profile. But not all WWOOF hosts do this, so it might be good to clarify such details with them if you're not a fan of surprises. Anyway, here's a list of what I did:
- Weeding,
- Harvesting apples, pears, tomatoes and chestnuts,
- Packing rice husks into bags,
- Packing fruits into boxes,
- Cleaning carrot field,
- Cleaning work-shed

More tasks that some male WWOOFers were assigned to:
- Fixing the chicken house roof,
- Chopping up firewood

With my fellow WWOOFers at the pear fields

Taking a short break from apple-harvesting

For my WWOOF host, they also had a house rule where everyone has to help with housekeeping every morning after breakfast. They also have a fixed rule on working hours - 6 hours every day except for Sunday (day off). In times of bad weather, the host may suggest to take a day off and split the six hours and be added to your other working days.

On a typical day, we would work for 2 hours, take a 20-minute break, work another 2 hours and have lunch at 12. Lunch break usually lasts for about 1h - 1.5h and sometimes I get to sneak in a short nap haha. After lunch break, we'd work for 2 hours more and so work ends at 3 - 3.30pm everyday. After that, it's totally free-and-easy. Work can be quite tiring, especially for weeding (painful thorns alert) and tomatoes and chestnuts-picking (which involves a lot of bending down) but very calming. My mind has never felt so clear and liberated. There's literally nothing to worry about in that foreign land. There's also something infinitely calming about concentrating on a laborious task. Nothing was bogging me down.

I would want to highlight, though, that each WWOOF host is unique. Some may give you lighter workloads and some more. It also depends on your tolerance for laborious work, of course. WWOOF websites usually have a feedback system where WWOOFers share their experiences with the various hosts, so do look out for those to have a better idea of what's install for you!  

Why WWOOF? (Me trying my best not to sound like I work for them lol)
I later found out this was also why one WWOOFer has been WWOOFing for 6 months and another has done it for the tenth time. Warning: For those who are used to big cities and fake concrete building filled with money-seeking enthusiasts, you can get quite detached from the "real life" that you're used to. While farming, I was also able to pick up Japanese really quickly. 80% of the Japanese that I know now was picked up in the two weeks I spent WWOOFing. So my conclusion is that WWOOFing (speaking only for WWOOF-farming), can be a healthy activity for your mentality.

WWOOFing is also a great way to meet new people of like interests. My WWOOF host family is such an amazing group of people and their kids are so bright and independent. Their awesomeness also seems to attract more awesome people to their farms. Their permanent staff members are such wonderful people. They couldn't speak much English but are always eager to learn. The other WWOOFers that I met there are also such wonderful human beings that are so opened about sharing their experiences. In fact, every single person that I've met in Nagano was nothing but nice to me. Even when I was in the other parts of Nagano, I interacted with so many lovely people that I can't thank enough. A simple ask of direction can turn into an interesting conversation, a stroll down a small street can turn into a random home visit. A miss of the train (that comes every 2 hours) can lead to a virgin hitchhike experience.

#WWOOFing Tips 
* Learn the basics of the dominant language. This is something that I feel that anyone should at least do when you decide to WWOOF somewhere where English isn't the first language. Actually this should be the least you can do when traveling anywhere where English isn't the first language. Trust me, it will be very, very helpful and it's always nice to learn a new language!

* Pack light. My luggage was 24kg but not by choice since I had 2 months of internship waiting for me right after WWOOFing. If I had the choice, I would have just packed a 50+L backpack or a 10 kg luggage. It was hard trying to carry my luggage up the 2nd storey of the WWOOFers house. Also, to me, WWOOFing is a lot about enjoying the simple life and living with just the basics so packing "just enough" will definitely add up to the entire experience!

* Bring something nice from your country. Preferably something useful like stationery-souvenirs or food! My host family loved the kaya that I bought for them!

* Buy your necessities only after touchdown. Especially if you're going Japan because their 100-yen stores will save.your.ass. I promise.

*Weather check! I cannot stress this enough. IMO your level of preparedness of the weather can make or break your WWOOFing experience. In my case, I consulted my host about the weather. Locals know better than whatever you found on Google.

I could share each and every single interaction I had and it would probably take another 3 hours to read haha but each travel experience is unique and it is something that you have to put in effort to pursuit. The conclusion I've reached from my first WWOOFing experience is that I definitely do not want to stop WWOOFing. I want to make this a yearly affair if my finances allow me to. I'm actually planning to WWOOF in Vietnam next year since Vietnamese is kinda like my minor in college. Somewhere in the south. And I definitely do not want to stop traveling. In my opinion, traveling can be one of the best investments that one can make. There are at least 7 billion more of us living on this big, beautiful Earth. Who knows? Maybe we'll see each other at some unexpected place on Earth (perhaps not necessarily in the future) one day.

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