My 12 days at T-san’s farm ended as quickly as it started. I went in anticipating only the physical demands of the work, but without expectations and with uncertainty about what I could offer in return during the cultural exchange. I came out of this first segment with greater empathy for farmers; with greater appreciation of DIY projects including sake, bread & yogurt; with greater understanding about my own personal workstyle and character (thanks for calling this out, T-san 🙂 ).
T-san & his wife C-san also reshaped my views of hospitality. I was taught that the most tremendous hospitality comes not from being served the finest foods on fine china, or being taken on the most lavish trips. It’s from the bottomless consideration you give your guest as your nourish both corporeal & spiritual existences, so that when you part ways they’ll carry with them memories of experiences that revealed the heart of the country, and the sense that humans, underneath language and cultural differences, are the same.
It was therefore bitter-sweet to bid farewell, but it was inevitable. It’s these brief yet substantive moments that make a trip meaningful. I, too, hope to one day pay the boundless generosity I experienced forward.
A short plane-ride and bus trip later, I wound up in Hita City. Though officially “city” in title, you’re more likely to feel small-town vibes from this quaint, old area. It’s located in Oita prefecture (Kyushu) and only 1.5 hours by bus away from Japan’s 5th largest city Fukuoka, and its population of ~70,000 live in neighborhoods shared by as many rice paddies as there are human homes. The powerful Mikuma river cuts through it, and its been known to flood surrounding areas during typhoon season. Its lush forests and rich natural resources have afforded the development of its lumber and fishing industries.
The farm itself consisted of the main property, with two homes and some land adjacent to the homes, and some additional fields located further away. The property has been passed along for three generations it’s evident from the sweet-smelling soil that crumbles in your hand–much different than the deadpan that you might see on newer farms.
On the main property sat two edifices. The first was the main home, which had been expanded upon in recent decades to accomodate the 2 generations that currently live there. A separate home, where I slept, was only a few meters away from the original; it was described to me as a guest house but I suspected it may have been a former neighbor’s. It was outfitted with a kitchen, 2 bedrooms, a living room, and a bathroom. The mail was currently received here.
The farmer I-san was the WWOOF host. He’s 67 in age but, as with all farmers, has the vitality of someone 20 years younger. He managed the farming alongside the WWOOFers. His wife on top of food detail, managed vegetable and rice sales.
Unlike my previous WWOOF, I had the fortune of working alongside 2 other WWOOFers for 10 days. Each came with a different background and motivation for WWOOFing.
M-san, from France, was on sabbatical from her job as a translation editor. She was in her late 30s and works at a French television network. As she hadn’t had the chance to travel in years, rather than quit a job she was happy with, she negotiated with her company to grant her a 1-year sabbatical. She was just starting her journey in Japan and planned to WWOOF and do homestays in China & Thailand.
S-san, from Taiwan, was in her late 20s and WWOOFing to simulatenously travel and to seek her next job. She knew it’d be something hands-on but wasn’t clear on her direction. She’d be spending 3 months in Kyushu to work and travel.
Here, I’d be offered an experience that contrasts vastly from my prior one.