WWOOF Japan – Our Japanese Farm Experience

wwoofing in japanWe’ve always known that we would WWOOF Japan (World-Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms…a.k.a. Travelers willing to work four-to-six hours per day in exchange for room and board), for a variety of reasons. Aside from the free room and board in an expensive country, WWOOFing is a wonderful way to gain access into a culture that would otherwise prove elusive to the average traveler. Ever since watching “The Last Samurai” I knew we had to visit the mountains of Japan, so we searched for WWOOF Japan hosts in the northernmost section of Honshu island and found the amazing Shiratori family farm at the foot of Mount Iwaki. All we knew when we signed up was “Help needed with vegetables, chickens and Gerta the cow. No experience required.” We were two city kids walking into a tilled field of the unknown…here is how we fared.

 

WWOOF Japan

volunteering on a japanese veggie farmShiratori Farm, run by Kat-san (wearing the white hat in the above photo) grows vegetables for 40 local families and each week bundles up his ripest selection for home delivery. Carrots, beets, bok choy, leeks, spinach, daikon, cabbage, lettuce, eggplant, tomatoes, soy beans, and more were growing bountifully in his front yard. Kana-san, in the yellow pants, had been working on the farm for over a month when we arrived so she showed us the ropes when it came to cleaning and divvying up veggies.

 

farming leeksOur first morning was a delivery day so we got right to work pulling leeks and cutting spinach. The ground was freezing, the leeks were slippery, and the dirt was, well really dirty, but it felt so good to get in touch with the earth.

 

japanese homestayOne of our favorite things about our farm-stay was the amazingly fresh food. Kat-san’s wife would whip up the most scrumptious vegetarian Japanese food with whatever goodies we brought in that morning. No cereal for breakfast in this house—miso soup, stir-fry, and tofu were generally on tap after the sunrise shift. It was strange at first, but so much heartier and healthier than Coco Krispies!

 

feeding chickens on japanese farmAfter breakfast, it was time to tend to the chickens by feeding them, changing their water, and most importantly…collecting the eggs laid overnight. Ironically, I’m wearing my Hoboken volleyball shirt emblazon with our team name “When I Say Chicken” (long story). Here’s to you WISC!

 

when to wwoof in japanIt was so amazing to be at the Shiratori farm during fall harvest. The red and yellow foliage made being outdoors each day that much more spectacular.

 

wwoof japanHarvest time also meant that we got to see the vegetables in their finest hour. Massive, ripe, and ready to eat, cabbages like this just make you want to dive right in with a fork and knife.

 

farm and homestay in japanIt doesn’t get any more local (30 meters from farm to table) or organic (no fertilizer or pesticides of any kind). While every meal centered around vegetables, they all managed to have their own flavors and flair. Japanese food is one of the finest cuisines in the world and to have the freshest ingredients home-cooked by a Japanese mama was about as good as it gets.

 

wwoofing japanOur main task of the week was prepping soybeans for next year’s planting season. This is a kind hysterical process that involves you beating branches like a heavy metal drummer until the beans go flying in every direction, followed by a pod-by-pod search for stray beans. We thrashed, de-shelled, and sifted for hours as we talked everything from Japanese history to American music with our new friend Kana.

 

how to harvest tomatoes before winterThe season’s first snow storm was brewing (the mountains were already snow-capped) which meant that winter preparations had to be made, and fast. Snow would crush Kat-san’s homespun greenhouses and the crops within them so he asked us to harvest and cut down the hundreds of tomato plants within. With a sickle in hand, this is me showing my fiercest farmer face. Instead of letting all the unripe tomatoes go to waste we taught the family how to cook fried green tomatoes and they were a huge hit!

 

pine needles in a streamKat-san was very generous with his WWOOFers leisure time—giving a tea break in the mid-morning and long lunch break for walks. Each afternoon we would wander the nearby forests, mountains, streams and orchards. Walking the faint trails behind their house, I happened upon a small eddy collecting yellow pine needles and waited to watch them slip away into the stream.

 

aomori shrinesOn our last full day on the farm we set out for a long walk to the nearby Mt. Iwaki and stumbled upon this local Shinto shrine on the way. Red Torii gates are always the tell tale sign that it’s a shrine—a place of worship for earthly matters (prayers for fortune,health, fertility, etc.) This shrine was surrounded by horse statues (a symbol of a messenger to the gods) swaddled in silk, ribbons, and laden with gifts of apples and candles.

 

short hike to mount iwakiBeyond the shrine was the trailhead to Mount Iwaki. We had been farming with the majestic mountain as our backdrop all week. It was time we paid this snow-capped beauty a visit.

 

best organic farmers in aomoriThere are a variety of ways for travelers to form a deeper connection with local people and their daily lives, but WWOOFing is easily one of the most rewarding and gratifying of the lot, especially for someone who loves to getting their hands a little dirty in the process.

 

For a live look at the Shiratori farm, watch this video of us at work.

 

wwoofing japan photos
See the beautiful images from our WWOOFing Japan photo gallery>>

 

Want to see what was in our backpack (aside from our trusty Lonely Planet) for our Japan trip, and our entire 9 months through Asia? See our full RTW Packing List (with links and descriptions of why we brought each item)
Long term travel coach
HoneyTrek Trip Coach – RTW Planning Service


RTW Packing Video – Technology

56 thoughts on “WWOOF Japan – Our Japanese Farm Experience

  • May 16, 2013 at 9:44 am
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    Huge like!

    Those greens are insane. Wish mine looked like that.

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    • May 17, 2013 at 8:46 pm
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      I know and truly organic! He even made us switch to herbal shampoo for the week so that even his grey water was organic. Keep gardening and as long as it tastes good, that counts most!

      Reply
  • May 16, 2013 at 11:02 am
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    What an incredible experience this must have been! Our family has close ties to Japan so I understand how meaningful this was, for both you and your hosts!

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    • May 18, 2013 at 8:32 am
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      It was amazing to be let into their world and share a little bit of ours. In conversations over dinner, while de-stemming grapes for some homemade wine experiment and bundling veggies, it created a really relaxed atmosphere to get to know everyone. The Japanese wonderful, aren’t they?

      Reply
  • May 16, 2013 at 11:03 am
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    What a wonderful adventure! And more good shots for the scrap book.

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    • June 3, 2013 at 10:10 pm
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      it was quite the adventure…i think we left this part out @KenWeb:disqus but there were these bugs, we called them “stink bugs” that would smell something awful if you killed one, so we just dropped them in coke bottles and they couldnt get out….man that was weird

      Reply
  • May 16, 2013 at 2:53 pm
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    Having known many Woofers in Alaska, it was great to read and see your experiences here in Japan. I think of your many amazing posts, this one might grab a whole new demographic!

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  • May 16, 2013 at 5:20 pm
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    I have never WWOOFed before, but I would definitely consider it. Are Kat-san and his wife vegetarian? I met very few vegetarians in Japan (I’m vegetarian), but there were times I was cooked some very good vegetarian meals over there.

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    • May 18, 2013 at 9:19 am
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      You should totally try it–especially in Japan since you speak some Japanese. The family ate meat but sparingly since vegetables were in such abundance at their place. They always have so many wonderful veggies that need to be consumed that it seemed a crime to eat anything else!

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  • May 16, 2013 at 8:01 pm
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    Loved this post! WWOOFing in either the US or Europe is on our short list of plans for our life post-Korea. So glad to hear about your good experience!

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    • May 18, 2013 at 9:21 am
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      I think we may actually try a little WWOOFing in Europe as well. How amazing would it be to work on Burgundy vineyard or a Tuscany tomato farm?

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  • May 16, 2013 at 8:10 pm
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    We haven’t yet tried WWOOFing, but we just signed up for Work Away and this post as made us think we’ve made the right choice! What a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this looks to have been; definitely not your average tourist experience, but probably all the better in the end! When you are welcomed into a Japanese family, there’s really nothing like it!

    Also, we’re really digging the photography in this post—you really got some gorgeous shots!

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    • June 3, 2013 at 10:09 pm
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      have you guys done any Work Away stuff yet? how is it? the farm was killer, totally not your average tourist japan experience. glad you liked the photos too….especially since i was using my point and shoot most of the time 🙂

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  • May 16, 2013 at 8:12 pm
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    This is a great story, I would love to do this (but not the chicken detail > Napoleon Dynamite “do these chickens have sharp talons ?” “what?”). So healthy .. big lessons here. All the best.

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    • May 18, 2013 at 9:35 am
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      Thanks Jim….trust me when those chickens see you have food they can get “right up on ya” lol. but once you get used to it, they aren’t so bad. Except the one time Anne let one out….then made me catch the thing….(photo in the slideshow)

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    • May 18, 2013 at 9:34 am
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      LOL, love it @facebook-9803248:disqus it was our first time, and we will most certainly be back. Such a great way to meet locals and experience a culture…and all for free 🙂

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  • May 16, 2013 at 8:57 pm
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    You two are not only teaching us how to travel but how to live. Your accounts of exotic experiences are just fabulous! Who else would think to do CSA in a remote part of Japan — a way to connect to the local people, to the earth, and to the Zeitgeist of the region. Wonderful story, and wonderful photographs.
    Peggy

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    • May 18, 2013 at 9:34 am
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      We love you Peggy!!!! CSA in Japan was beyond our expectations, such a unique experience. And huge thanks to you for opening Africa up to us, also in a way that very few get to experience!

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  • May 16, 2013 at 10:33 pm
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    Looks like it was awesome!!

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  • May 17, 2013 at 4:51 am
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    Unfortunately, I’ve never lived with a Japanese family for an extended period of time. Perhaps, I should have – because Japanese would have certainly improved. Actually, I’m reading a book about an American woman who stayed with a Japanese host family.

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  • May 17, 2013 at 7:46 pm
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    What a wonderful experience! I love the shadow picture of the adorable couple kissing 🙂

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    • May 18, 2013 at 9:27 am
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      Awww…thanks Mom. It really was such a unique and rewarding experience. I feel like we saw a part of Japan that not many people ever get the chance to experience.

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  • May 18, 2013 at 5:35 am
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    This looks awesome guys! I did some WWOOFing in Canada back in 2010/2011, and have volunteered at a few other place in South America and Spain in the last year, so I love hearing other volunteer stories from others. Whenever I make it to Japan I definitely want to make it to this place to work, thanks for sharing your experience.

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    • May 18, 2013 at 9:22 am
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      @twitter-255164829:disqus wow, wwoofing in CA, SA and ESP…that is awesome. How was Spain? I take it you speak spanish. Anne actually lived in Seville for a while, she carried us all through South America with her spanish. Yeah you should definitely check them out if you get to Japan….beautiful country.

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  • May 22, 2013 at 7:40 pm
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    Yes I would definitely consider WWoofing. Did you find the farm opportunity above on the website or have you ever just found WWoofing through word of mouth?

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    • June 3, 2013 at 10:07 pm
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      we did this one through the website (by far the best way to find them, cause you can see pictures, read all sorts of things, and know its legit). that said we have heard some other folks that find them word of mouth, but i feel for the $50 its worth it to have them vetted and the farmer know he is going to be reviewed after your stay.

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      • June 4, 2013 at 12:17 pm
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        Ah I didnt realise realise that the website charged, but I guess if you want peice of mind its worth it.

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  • May 26, 2013 at 6:24 pm
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    Thanks for sharing about your WWOOFing experience. I’ve heard mixed reviews, but hope to give it a try sometime soon!

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    • June 3, 2013 at 10:04 pm
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      yeah, we have heard some mixed reviews too…and i am sure sometimes its not the best, like anything. so just research a lot then communicate with your hosts to make sure you are on the same page. then go have a blast, you will love it @emilylofgren:disqus!

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  • June 5, 2013 at 4:22 pm
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    Hello there, your trip in the mountains of Japan seems amazing and I plan on going wwoofing myself this summer in Japan. I just happen to not understand how to see the Shiratori family’s website in English. Could you help me find the magic button to switch it in English or do you happen to have their mail or an other way to contact them?
    Best regards, from France 🙂

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  • May 3, 2014 at 9:47 am
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    Will surely go WWOOF-ing someday.

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  • December 29, 2014 at 5:04 am
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    We’ve never WOOFed but we like the idea, plus having freshly made Japanese food with vegetables straight from the garden would be awesome. Japanese food is one of our favourite ever and since we’ve been to Japan we dream of miso soup and tofu for breakfast 🙂

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    • December 29, 2014 at 12:17 pm
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      It’s 9am and now I am also craving miso and tofu for breakfast 🙂 WWOOF is a great organization and they have programs with a wide range of farming opportunities all over the world. Definitely check it out and thanks for your comment!

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  • April 27, 2015 at 9:49 pm
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    I realize that you were WOOFing in Japan a while back, but i am planning a trip to WOOF in japan for this August-October and have many questions (I have done WOOFing in Costa Rica and France but the language barrier is proving quite difficult with regard to research). How you picked your host. There are 450+ right now in Japan and it is quite overwhelming. DId you pick a region and send a bunch of messages and saw who responded?
    Any help about Woofing in Japan is welcome.

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    • May 22, 2015 at 6:08 pm
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      Hi Lauren, it will help tremendously to pick the region you want to be in and start looking at hosts from there. We were traveling Hokkaido to Tokyo s Ishigaki was a good mid-way stop with beautiful surroundings. Once narrow down the region, we’d recommend reaching out to 5-8 hosts to for best results. Best of luck!

      Reply
  • June 11, 2015 at 11:20 am
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    Hi there! I had a friend wwoof at this same farm a few summers ago – and she loved it! I am going to travel to Japan this fall and working at this farm seems like a great place to start my travels. Perhaps I could email you to ask some more questions. Thanks a bunch!

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    • June 11, 2015 at 12:43 pm
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      This farm and family are amazing. That will be a great way to start our trip. How long are you going for and where are you headed? We’re excited for you already! We’d love to hear more and of course would be happy to answer any questions about WWOOFing or otherwise. Feel free to reach out to us at TripCoach@HoneyTrek.com

      Reply
  • January 2, 2016 at 8:46 am
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    Beautiful photos! Thanks for sharing!! Could I contact you with some questions about the farm? kimikols at gmail .com

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  • January 3, 2016 at 12:17 pm
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    Hi! Can you please post the website of the Wwoofing host? we would like to visit them… Thank

    Reply

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