WOOFING AT THE COUNTRY ROAD HOSTEL
My first two weeks of Woofing at Youth Hostel Country Road went very well. I had originally planned to leave on Monday 21st December, but I will finally stay a few more days. I really like Yufuin and Ryo-san offered me to accompany them (him, Tomomi-san and their children) to see the festivities planned for December 23rd in Beppu, at the occasion of Christmas.
Ryo-san and his wife Tomomi-san are very kind. They speak English well which greatly facilitates the exchanges. They are very energetic, always doing a lot of things and tell me a lot of anecdotes about Yufuin or the other woofers before me. I feel them much more open than the Japanese living in the city (it is perhaps because they live close to nature and run a hostel). Ryo-san also lived in Africa for three years and traveled to China and South America. They have three children: Shikie, (girl, 14 years old), Inase (boy, 9 years old) and Waun (girl, 4 years old, it seems to me). The children are resourceful, full of energy and always smiling.
Ryo-San and Tomomi-san have run Youth Hostel Country Road for about ten years. It is the highest hostel in Yufuin, on the slopes of Yufudake Volcano. Surrounded by tall pines and leafy trees, the hostel gives the impression of being the last refuge before the full mountain, especially at night when the lights in colored tones shine like a lighthouse in the darkness. The hostel is very friendly and warm. There are small Christmas decorations everywhere. It has a living room with a bay window that offers a magnificent view of the valley and Yufuin below. The hostel has 7 rooms (3 dormitory style, 4 traditional style) for up to 21 people and has two small onsens. Ryo-san puts music in the living room and onsens: jazz, Christmas music, French or American songs. The more time I spend at the hostel, the more I appreciate it.
Every evening around 8pm, Ryo-san offers a “Night Tour” for hotel guests: going to see the stars, visiting some of the most expensive hotels in Yufuin or going around Yufuin by night. On Wednesdays and Fridays there is also a “soccer” party. Ryo-san brings customers (and woofers) to one of Yufuin’s gyms for physical exercise, ball games and a football game. This allowed me to interact with several guests of the hostel, including Kim Kang Chul, a Korean and Sprite and Mei, both Thai and make me fond memories (future trips to Korea and Thailand?)
Whenever a customer leaves, Ryo-san and Tomomi-san sing the first verse of Take Me Home, Country Roads. Song of John Denver, that also appears in the credits of one of Ghibli’s studio films, If you listen of Yoshifumi Kondo’s released in 1995! The emotion gripped me when I heard them singing for the first time.
The first two weeks, Sen, a young Taiwanese was also woofing at the hostel. Very nice, speaking very good Japanese and a little English, we talked a lot. I really enjoyed working with her. This past week, Sen having returned to Tokyo, another woof arrived, Marco, from Hong Kong. Tomomi-san and Ryo-san are always hosting woofers. I am the 266th person to come!
My work starts around 7am to set the table for breakfast, bring the dishes and take the plunge. The morning is devoted to cleaning the rooms and the hostel (with every day a different thing besides: scouring the onsens, cleaning windows, sweeping the parking lot, making garbage bags out of newspaper …). At 10am we all have break together (Ryo-san, Tomomi-san, me and the other woofer) to nibble some snacks and sweets and chat. From 11am it’s free time. Work resumes at around 6pm. Peeling the vegetables, putting the table, bringing the dishes, taking the plunge to finish around 8-8.30pm. The kitchen is a real mess at first glance but everything is very tidy. Tomomi-san and Ryo-san offer breakfast and dinner. It’s homemade Japanese cuisine. It’s very very good. My only complaint is that almost all meals contain meat, mashed potato salad or pasta.
During my first weekend at the Youth Hostel Country Road, there was a Christmas Camp for the children of Yufuin. The hostel has welcomed 24 children from 3 to 10 years old (it seems to me). The children were divided into four teams each monitored by a leader, including me! I admit that I apprehended a little given my small (very small) level of Japanese, but the weekend it went very well. Obviously the children were very excited and noisy and surprised to find a European working at the hostel. I did not have much exchanged with them but their little faces moved me. They appear both very mature and very young. We did various activities: cooking, making small baskets in boxes with Christmas decorations, writing messages for parents, creating small bouquets and Ryo-san taught them the first verse of Douce Nuit in French (of course the pronunciation was not at the top).
Sounds of Yufuin – Christmas Camp :
Sounds of Yufuin – Christmas Camp – Douce Nuit by the children:
My small team consisted of Takumi, Ryosuke, Sumire (all around 12-13 years old I think) and Yuki (rather 6-8 years old I would say). I do not know if it’s due to the fact that they are Japanese (or that for all the children of the world it’s the same) but I felt them a little suspicious or not knowing how to talk to me in the beginning to finally become much more extroverted and smiling during the treasure hunt that we did on Sunday morning. For a good hour we left (all teams) squat around the hostel to answer some forty questions prepared by Ryo-san. (Fortunately he showed me the way and gave the answers to questions a few days before). My best moments of Christmas Camp come from this moment. I, alone with my four friends, exchanging half-Japanese, half-English, smiling, hand in hand with Yuki-chan, under the sun. I wanted the treasure to last longer and wished I knew better speak Japanese.
The children left on Sunday around 1pm. Sen and I were treated for a day of rest until 6pm (return to work). We went with Ryo-san and his family to Beppu in the evening to do some shopping and eat at a sushi restaurant. This is a recently opened chain offering sushi at reasonable prices. Not being an ultra fan of sushi (yes yes I know, paradox for someone traveling in Japan), I tested different dishes based on sweet potatoes, omelette, meat and salad. It was really good.
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