Friday, July 26, 2013
Churui, Hokkaido WWOOF Trip
Ok, so we got back from our trip a few weeks back and I'm finally getting around to a post. This was our first WWOOF experience (volunteering to work on a farm/business in exchange for food and lodging), and we picked Hokkaido in what we thought was going to be full summer to escape the heat. However, turns out the first week of July is still quite pleasant overall and it wasn't the hideous heat and humidity that defines summer in our part of Japan. The switch got flipped the week we got back.
In any case, the weather was very lovely in the little town of Churui, whose main claim to fame is that it is near the site where a Naumann elephant fossil was found, and it is (I think) the childhood home of a famous manga author (Fullmetal Alchemist if anyone is interested). The climate reminded us a lot of the Willamette Valley, very green.
Hokkaido grows most of the country's fresh produce and there is much more ranching of various kinds. Its history as part of Japan is actually pretty recent, having been "settled" by the Japanese in the last couple of centuries, displacing the local Ainu people. So in some ways it has a similar feel to the "West" in the US, certainly feeling younger than the rest of the country.
We arrived on a Friday night and hit the sack upon arriving home. Mrs. Uragami picked us up at the nearby local airport (Obihiro) and dropped by the local town festival (matsuri) that was in swing, as Mr. Uragami was manning a booth and selling food. She picked up some leftovers for dinner and we drove to their house, which is a combination house/restaurant/meat shop. We were told to be downstairs at 8:30am for breakfast.
Breakfasts were pretty western affairs, as I think she figures it's better off for most people. I would have been happy either way, but we didn't complain. Often we got to sample some of their meats for breakfast with toast, drinking yoghurt and light veg. She's been hosting WWOOFers for 10 years, so she's probably had lots of experience with what people prefer.
After this we gathered up the dishes and washed them (along with whatever was left over from last night's restaurant crowd). Then the day's work really began.
At first, we were tasked with yard work, weeding, and generally tidying up the outside of the place. I manned the gas powered weed whacker, while Kerri and Rowan helped with weeding and window washing. It took me a couple of days to clear all of the property, plus another plot of land (the old house). We would work til just before lunch, when usually we would break for something simple.
Sometimes we got a rest in the afternoon before working in the meat shop, depending on what tasks were available. We did a lot of washing of bloody, greasy buckets and machinery, but also laid out strips of pork jerky on drying racks, extruded and twisted strings of sausages, and cut pig stomachs into bite-sized chunks (which we then ate with lunch, yum!). There wasn't always a ton of work to do and we were usually done well before dinner.
We were asked to cook 3 dinner meals for them, as they like to try different foods. We tried to come up with some stuff they may not have had before, so we decided on stroganoff, filipino adobo and rooshti. We needed a grater for the rooshti, so we ordered one from Amazon.jp hoping it would arrive before the last meal (it didn't, we ended up just making potato, onion and carrot hash). All of the meals were hit, especially the adobo, which I must say was the best I've ever made.
The meals they made for us were excellent, from tempura, sushi, genghis khan (meat cooked on a shield), and some simpler, but very satisfying, fare. In between all of this of course, they occasionally had restaurant customers, which we did not wait on, nor cook for, but we did wash up the dishes. It was fun to use the kitchen facilities.
Rowan helped out where he could, but often he just played outside in the massive growth of some strange plant that we were told got pickled in the spring for food. The Uragami's son also works with them, and his wife would often come over with their two sons, Sosuke and Kesuke. Sosuke was probably around 4 or 5 and pretty much thought Rowan was awesome. Rowan wasn't so sure, but he's always happy to run around with someone. When we left, Sosuke was inconsolable about the loss his new best friend and cried for quite some time. This was actually the day before we left, but he couldn't bear the thought. Rowan was a little nonplussed by the whole experience.
All in all, it was a great experience and I look forward to trying more WWOOF places closer to home (when it gets cooler). I was looking for something that would allow us to see a different side of Japan and spend more time with people in their homes, and also give Rowan an opportunity to experience different kinds of work that he would otherwise never be exposed to. 8 days was a bit long though, I think we would cut it down to 5 max, and usually just a long weekend.
Oh, almost forgot about the onsen that was a 5 minute walk from their house. A real onsen has natural mineral-laden spring water that is super hot. This place was much cheaper than they usually are in our area (only about $5 a person) and we were over there 3 times. The genders are separated, which is good as you're going to be naked. The deal is you first have to scrub yourself raw (and everyone's looking to see how clean the gaijin will get), then you can soak in extremely hot or extremely cold pools of water for as long as you can take it. The fact that genders are separated also means that Kerri has to go it alone, which has always been a bit nerve-wracking. But circumstances dictated that she overcome that issue and she ended up having a good time as she was bombarded with questions by curious locals. Perhaps not as relaxing as it could have been, she nonetheless enjoyed herself.
Well, we don't have any further trips on the calendar, but if we have any thing fun to post, we will.
Posted by Jesse at 1:42 PM