Japan WWOOFing Guide
Japan wwoofing guide
my experience, guide, & tips
What is WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms)?
A farm-exchange where you stay with or at a host's accommodation in any (listed) country. In exchange for housing and meals, you (and sometimes other WWOOFers) work. $40 initial registration fee to contact the hosts, and transportation to/from the farm is not included. A simple Google search of "WWOOF [country] Host List" will bring up the recruiting farms.
I'm definitely not some travelguide camper hiker experienced lady or whatever, but I definitely have some thoughts and tips i wanted to share to first-time WWOOFers and those wanting to farm in Japan.
My partner and I, both half-Japanese Americans, decided we wanted to stay somewhere pretty local and very rural (well, actually I wanted to go super rural and sorry Kai if you didn't but) and it worked out pretty nicely. We stayed with a family of 3, a married couple and their 1-year old son, on the husband's farm "Yusaku's Farm" for 3 weeks in late June into August. In Japan, June-Augustish is absolutely the hottest time of the year. Poor planning on our part. We were on an organic vegetable farm, so most of the jobs we did were harvesting, weeding, watering the plants, etc. for the first half of our stay. The second half we were helping them run their kakigori (snowcone) stand at markets and a festival.
Anyway, my dear friend is traveling to Japan in the upcoming months and is considering WWOOFing for her first time - so here are some notes I came up with to share with her and her friends.
Here are some of my tips if you're 100% an inexperienced country person who's looking to WWOOF in Japan.
find the right farm
research, research, research
I spent a lot of time looking at farms. I had no clue what I wanted, but knew what I didn't. and that narrowed down a lot of options. I didn't want an English-speaking family, to live with other WWOOFers, be an English teacher, or be close to the city. I messaged over 25 farms in Japanese and English and made sure to include that we didn't have any experience. But it worked! Though it wasn't our first choice, we found a farm we ended up loving.
Research the area. Most places will be by the mountains (which means ONSENS!), some places will be close to the city, meaning you might have more industrial labor-intensive work. If you're out in the middle of nowhere, you might have a more relaxed and cozy time. Also note transportation fee isn't covered. It'll be expensive to get from Tokyo to the southern tip of Kyuushu. Oh, and Japanese dialect differs from place to place. Wait - and Jun-July is monsoon season and August is hot as balls.
Make sure you and your host are on the same page about most things, and definitely speak up if you feel strongly about something. For example: Kai & I wanted to practice Japanese while the family wanted to practice English, so we'd have designated "English" days and switch off. Also make sure you look through every detail of the host's profile. You'd be surprised by how many children or other people a single host lives with.
have the right attitude
go in with an open mind
Growing up and living in a city my entire life, the last place I imagined myself living in was on a farm. But after traveling through rural Japan a few years ago for the first time, I realized that if I was going to live anywhere in the countryside it would be in Japan. There was a shit ton of mental prep that went into 1) knowing there wouldn't be AC 2) bugs 3) no wifi 4) bugs. And even with all the mental preparation, it was still a "holy shit" moment upon arriving at the farm.
But seriously - narrow minded, Western minded prick who expect AC, a traditional mattress, vegan/vegetarian/low sodium/seedless fruit/detox trendy meals, or wifi are the worst. Even more dreadful? Those who expect fresh and exciting stimulating activities every day. WWOOFers are there to work, not to fulfill the travel dream and care for baby alpacas while learning to indigo dye hand crafted fabric on a dude ranch once featured in TravelMag.
It's a farm exchange, not an internship.
be mindful of japanese culture
but don't stress out too much over it
No one likes English speaking asshole who assumes every house in the world is equipped with a bed frame and mattress. Granted WWOOFing families are likely to be much more open-minded than your typical Japanese, but not everybody. Don't take advantage of how soft spoken Japanese are! Some other random tips:
Food is to be respected. Especially if your host cooks for you, it's best to at least try finishing your plate or let them know ahead of time if you won't be eating. Also don't stick your chopsticks into your food and leave them there, sticking out of your food.
Lots of Japanese families living out in the country don't see white people on a day to day basis, so don't be surprised if you're white and some strange, relatively awkward comment is made towards you. Especially if it's an old Japanese ojisan - don't worry, he's not going to sexually harass you.
Here are actually some seemingly terrible, but honestly not too bad links to follow up on:
PREPARe FOR YOUR STAY
don't forget natural bug spray
Kai and I thought we packed lightly - 1 duffle bag + 1 backpack each (normal size Nike gym duffle bag, normal size school backpack). But between the two of us, we could've definitely done it in 2 backpacks + 1 duffle bag.
This is my WWOOFing packing list essentials:
Toiletries - toothbrush, toothpaste, facewash, shampoo + conditioner*, lotion, face toner, tweezers, nail clips
Linen - bath towel, face towel
Clothes - 2 loose pants*, 1 nice pant, 1 tshirt, 1 long sleeve, 2 undershirts, 1 nice shirt, 1 sweater, 1 dress, 4 undies, 3 long socks
Other - fanny pack, hat, water shoes*, boots, hair ties, extra plastic bag, sun screen, natural bug repellent, small gift for the host
1 recipe for a big group! I remembered this tip from this WWOOFing list and honestly was a huge lifesaver.
*certain hosts don't allow certain shampoos/conditioner brands, so double check. their house, their rules. also make sure you pack these in tiny containers.
*2 loose pants because 1 is a pj, 1 is for work. you want to be able to move comfortably. legs are the easiest target for bugs when harvesting.
*water shoes like crocs or this. fuck whatever else is on the market - these badboys are #1 because comfort, waterproof, sandals, and NO SOCKS
DEFINITELY BRING FACEWASH! It's a long day under the sun and dirt with bugs and all. Don't risk washing your face with whatever they have. A sweater is necessary because cold nights, and you want to be covered up if you're hanging out at night. Mosquitos will destroy you. A fanny pack or small bag to always have on hand. Hair ties if you're a female, but also maybe if you're a male because rubber bands are just as useful as plastic bags are for dirty, wet clothes. For makeup, you're going to be sweating so much that you'll skip it in the morning. Bring the basics if you need to. Also bring cash for onsens.
If you read most WWOOF packing lists, most of them are much more down-to-the-core essentials. But as someone who likes to feel relatively clean before going to bed, I included some personal nonessential essentials. Here are some other good lists to refer to:
turn shit into gold
This is probably my final and most important piece of advice: turn your horrible fucking experience into a crazy, awesome story. Even if you aren't having a horrible experience, there will be horrible moments. I know this is probably the worst, most generic advice anyone could possibly give you, but it's true. And it works. Especially when you meet your host and the first few days are terrible and you can only see it going downhill - make the best of it, and think this is the only time in your life you're going to have that shitty of a day.
Sleeping on moldy futons for 2 weeks? At least its not the floor, and at least there aren't bugs crawling out!
Picking tomatoes for literally 8 hours straight? Make it a game and see how many tomatoes you can fit onto the palm of your hand while extending only 3 fingers. Also great opportunity to take some farming notes.
Living in a room full of giant disgusting roaches? Well, you're not alone. We did that too. It fucking sucked and there was no way out of it.
Don't expect every single day to be a new, crazy adventure. Don't expect to love all the food cooked for you. Don't expect to have a luxurious lovely bath and not find bugs.
But do expect that without expectations, you'll have a great time.
I'm sure there are a shit ton of more useful, insightful WWOOFing guides out there - but here's my snippet. I was lucky enough to have a wonderful first experience WWOOFing with my partner, and I'd maybe even do it again. There's also a lot more encouraging advice out there like "do it because you want to" and "don't forget you're having fun" and all - so don't forget those notes as well!
And lastly, be friends with your hosts. It's a pretty bold move to invite strangers - foreigners - into their home in exchange for labor. Most hosts want to share this unique experience with you, so definitely don't be shy to be part of their family.
Anyway - I think I covered most of the things I kept in mind during my WWOOF trip, and I ended up having a blast. Let me know if there are any questions!
- Emilia Liu, Champloo