So, yet again I’ve been a bit behind with blogging but that’s okay because now you’ve had more time to catch up with my my blogs if you’ve been busy!
And if you’re like one of our friends who has noticed my output has slowed down in the past few months well as we’ve previously been in Penang for 6 weeks, you don’t really do much to warrant writing about. However you lucky devils, I’m concocting a post on our favourite food in South East Asia/Asia.
Japan is a country where we’ve visited twice and really enjoyed both times – each time you discover a little more about this mysterious country that is more than the Tokyo you know of.
We’re spending a few months in Japan and this time we wanted to learn about it from a less touristy perspective so we looked into WWOOFing – Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms for some of it. In essence we help hosts with what they do at their place, we get to know them, learn more about their culture and vice versa and we get accommodation and food.
Our first couple of weeks was an amazing experience in Takayama, a place where we’ve visited before 7 years ago! It’s north-west of Tokyo and up in the mountains. We helped out at a small family farm, learning to weed (amazing the different types of weed there are and the ways they grow deep into the soil or along the top of the soil), learning to plant seeds, repot plants, set up tomato planters, harvesting, packaging vegetables for sale and selling them at a market.
A view of the place around where we were WWOOFing.
Picking mountain vegetables called warabi for selling.
Picking peas for selling
Setting up tomato poles. Prior to this, we weeded/got rid of the previous crop in this whole polytunnel.
We moved a lot of logs, maybe about 3 walls worth via a pick up truck. Team effort from the rest of the family.
It was a hot day and hard work moving hundreds of logs so we had a nice ice cream break! Everyday we had 2 breaks, it was great.
Planting small plants.
I got trusted with this! And I didn’t maim or kill anyone, I did come close to killing a butterfly but it flew away.
Mochi (sticky/glutinous) rice planting using a machine.
Planting sweetcorn, it’s delicate work.
We did a lot of weeding. A lot. If I had to pick a favourite weed, it’ll be the one where the roots skim across the top of the soil because that it’s easy to pick out.
Look how nice it is afterwards! It’s funny, our host father showed us where and what to weed and once we got started he quickly disappeared and did work with the big machinery instead…. Chris was jealous.
More weeding. I actually started to dream about weeding.
Packaging vegetables for selling. Chris wasn’t that great at it.
We sell! It’s so nice to sell the proceeds of your work.
We also learnt more about speaking Japanese and the culture from our hosts who we called Okasan and Otosan (Japanese for mother and father). Other members of the family included a goat called Yuki (pretty tempermental, some days she’ll love nothing better than a scratch and other days, she’ll just headbutt you) and a fat cat called Rai, he’s pretty cute.
Yuki the contrary goat.
This guy has no class sometimes.
Meals are amazing and lots of fresh vegetables courtesy of being next to a farm. I’m now disappointed if meals do not have at least 5 dishes to choose from! Okasan and Otosan’s style is pretty interesting, we had japanese food, chinese food, italian food (spaghetti bolognaise, english/american food like pancakes). Japanese food is more than just ramen and sushi. It’s kind of like how British food encompasses food we’ve acquired from other cultures.
Ooh, if you love mochi like me – I saw how mochi is made. Below are 3 types, green, white and salty bean. The green stuff is coloured naturally with a green plant called komugi. The steamed rice is put into a bread maker like machine – it has a paddle and keeps mixing it until it turns into a ball and then you roll it out.
It was also Chris’ birthday during this period, he got home made cream puffs from our host mother who is a baker!
We had such a good time wwoofing, we got to know a bit more about Japanese culture and learn some Japanese in the process. It’s also very satisfying to work hard on the vegetables that you end up eating, and you do feel healthier. Life in the mountains is good. It’s actually one of my best experiences on this trip and I admit I got a bit teary when we left. We look forward to returning later and eating the tomatoes we planted and the sweetcorn.
I think our favourite wwoofing activities in no particular order are planting seeds, repotting seedlings, eating, snacking and harvesting peas, because Chris says he got to eat them especially the ones he accidentally broke and had to hide the evidence. I hid some evidence too when I botched some packaging cutting. Oops.
Last but not least, our friend Mika (first introduced in Hong Kong post) came when we had free time in Takayama. Rare beef sushi is famous here.
Old style buildings.
Who’s the odd one out?
The next part were our families coming to visit! It was nice to show them a bit of Japan, one of our favourite countries, however we were in Tokyo and it is a pretty densely populated city. I’d say it’s a bloody difficult place to eat together as a family because restaurants are set up for loners who just want to eat and leave asap. It’s weird, do families just eat at home? I don’t know.
Tokyo. It’s more populated than London.
Sensoji Temple. To be honest, we’ve seen plenty of temples in our previous trips. We’re no longer that bothered about them…and when you’re in Japan, you’re never far from a temple.
Akibahara. Sensory overload – lights flashing at you and music blasting out from the shops and shop employees trying to grab your attention. In a city with many people, it can get a little crazy. This area is known for electronics, anime/manga products, arcade places and lots of people hang out here including those who like some company in maid cafes. It’s not so fun just to wander around here, it’s better to come with a purpose.
I do love Japan, look at how many types of tape you can buy! Seriously, this place in Ginza is stationary heaven, They had so many types of beautiful wrapping too drools I could easily spend a small fortune in here.
Tokyo has some more amazing stuff, in this famous kitchen road in Tokyo – Kappabashi, there are a few stores specialising in various kitchen equipment. For instance look at how many types of cookie cutters there are! One shop had about 20 kinds of palette knives! Their baking shops are way better than Lakeland. I need to get a job and earn some money and come back with an empty suitcase.
We also had a day trip to Hakone nearby for a view of Mt Fuji. It was pretty good, apologies for the hazy picture below.
Edo Tokyo museum. It’s really interesting. I recommend its worth going.
A lot of places can just be counter type places, eat and leave.
We met up with Mika in Nagoya, hung out and made gyzozas – Japanese fried dumplings filled with garlic chives, garlic, minced pork, chinese cabbage and seasoning. It’s fun to make dumplings together!
I am the king of pleats.
We out for a day trip nearby to a place by the sea called Gamagori.
There were lots of birds of prey like this one. They seemed fairly tame.
A shrine on the island! These flags are paid for by people/businesses who want good luck.
Interesting observations about Japanese culture including some from previous trips:
- No shoes in the house – you take them off at a lowered section by the doorway. Even Rai the cat gets his feet wiped with a damp towel before he comes in!
- No slippers on the tatami
- Special slippers for the outside balcony area, going into this area without them is bad.
- There are special slippers just for the toilet room. It’s pretty crazy and I admit sometimes I don’t even change into the toilet slippers just for 10 seconds of use. Don’t tell our host parents…
- Japanese bathrooms are a wet room affair – sit down shower with full length mirror and a small japanese tub next to it. If you do have a bath, you wash yourself in the shower thoroughly before hitting the tub as the whole family may share the bathtub. I do prefer sitting in nice clean water.
- We had the futon experience, rolling out our bedding every night and folding it up each morning. I hear though that quite a few japanese people have beds instead of futons. Chris doesn’t really enjoy the futon that much even though he had 2 layers worth. I like the concept of futons – okasan airs the futons once a week outside and thought it was very strange that we do not air our mattresses..
- Dinner time – in Chinese culture, we put food from communal dishes straight into our rice bowl but in Japanese culture you put food from communal dishes onto your ‘personal plate’ and not mix them. One time at our friend’s place, she was shocked when I tried to put some okonomiyaki sauce straight into the rice bowl and quickly got me a small plate for it.
- No eating whilst walking. If you’re getting a snack from a snack shop, then there’s usually a bench to sit on or you just find a quiet alley to stand in. Like below. It’s annoying when you find a nice snack and you want to stuff your face immediately but there’s no good place to do so.
Random stuff to end on.
Lockers for your umbrella at the Edo Tokyo museum. On the other hand, at the airport and some stations I’ve seen free umbrellas for your use.
Stuff to make your nose narrower. Asians…
King Kong is never far away…
I wish to thank everyone in this article and more besides for putting us up in their home, free accommodation, and food. We’re truly lucky to have such great friends and family. Keep it coming guys. Arigato Gozaimasu!
So that’s it for now and covers us up to June 8th.
Before I finish there’ll be an extra special post coming up because drums rolling it’ll be our 1 year anniversary since we left the UK on June 27th 2016! That’s crazy that its been almost a year and there’ll be some thoughts on this and our experiences in the past year. I wonder if and how we’ve changed?