When I said that I would be working on a farm in Japan for two weeks, it bewildered some of my friends. “Why?” they asked. Having been through the experience, I can safely reply them, “Why not?”. The idea sprang when my friend, Guan Chua, asked if I was interested in WWOOF – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Work for 6 to 8 hours a day, food and accommodation provided for. – budget travel for plebeians like me. I still had to pay for air tickets, but always remember we all only live our lives once. I signed up for the membership, and soon was on my way to the Land of the Rising Sun.
We arranged to work and stay at two different farms, each for a week or so. We first went to Canadian Farm, located in Chino, Nagano. I had to find my own way there, with only a phrasebook in hand. (Unlocked Achievement: Finding Your Way in a Foreign Land). First impressions – beautiful pine trees, picturesque landscape, and very fresh air. Serenity.
We worked hard, almost breaking our backs everyday in the field. Harvest Moon is faintly an accurate simulation of farming. Except, carrying rocks around can be really tiring. At the end of the day, there was always dinner waiting for us. We were allowed to cook for ourselves and the other volunteers, but neither of us were confident with our culinary skills. So most of our meals were cooked by another WWOOFer (the name for people doing this), a German girl who will be staying there for 3 months. Crazy, she said she is, and proud of it. Food was great, healthy, and we always ate our fill. But the real cure for all the work was the daily onsen + vending machine ice-cream. Onsen, is the best idea ever, especially on cold days. The ones we went to weren’t for tourists; they’re more like public baths the locals patronize every now and then. That means it was cheap, but it was all paid for by our hosts anyways.
We had two off-days, one was spent climbing the Yatsugatake Mountains, and we conquered three peaks in a single climb. It was during this climb that I realized my body’s no longer young as it was, still young, but it is probably on the way down. That only implied that I should go on more adventures soon before my body gives up.
The second farm was located at Fuefuki in Yamanashi, where Mt Fuji stands. Anns Farm, it’s name, and it’s a peach farm. That meant awesome peach juice or vegetable smoothie every morning. No sugar added, just some organic goodness. Our host here, Naori Takano, was really kind and welcoming. She brought us around, bought us good food (bashimi – raw horse meat), and made sure we ate and slept well. We cleared up quite a deal of weeds on her field, and planted a small plot ourselves! My plot had a polka dot design, alternating lima beans and corn. When we left for Mt Fuji, she gave us a jar of freshly-made white peach jam that she sells online and in her shop, and it was really oishii-ne (I had it with home-made pancakes back home)!
And to mark the end our adventure, we went on a 7-hour ascent to the highest point of Japan, to catch the Rising Sun! It was an easier climb compared to the previous one, albeit very much colder. The view was breathtaking; we saw the 雲海 – sea of clouds.
Being out there, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, giving ourselves a break from the rat race in Singapore, felt really peaceful. It felt different because day to day, we just had to pass time. There wasn’t a rush to accomplish something, to reply emails, to put up with superiors, or to earn money. Back home, we just can’t pass an hour doing nothing, just enjoying the great outdoors or peace at home. We feel guilty doing so, for reasons obscure to us.
The reason why we need an experience like this, is for us to reflect on what we are really doing everyday. Living in a city, living in Singapore, can be quite stressful. We’re so busy everyday, working, studying. What indeed are we trying to accomplish? I’m not saying we’re all disillusioned; we just need to understand that there are things more important than what we’re pursuing in society. Diplomas, degrees, jobs, money, status. They are important, (now that I’m back, I’m trying to put together a steady income again), we need them and we want them. It’s not wrong to desire these material goods and status, but when we are blindly poisoned to accumulate them in excess, more than what we need, we tend to sacrifice the more important things in life – youth, time, relationships, and fun.
We just need to know what’s important, what’s not, and what we are really doing.