10 May 2016

Living differently at Goka farm

Volunteering within a Japanese family living in quasi-autonomy not far from Mount Fuji.
Goka farm, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

The little train sinks into the increasingly isolated valleys and I have the impression of sinking into the heart of Japan. Finally, I see Mount Fuji in the distance, an immense magnificent giant which dominates the country with its power. The train drops me off and I meet a French couple, Pauline and Mickael, also on their way to reach Goka Farm. I will spend the next ten days wwoofing with a Japanese family living in a remote mountain valley not far from Mount Fuji. They decided to live independently, trying to depend as little as possible on the government and in respect of nature. One hour of electricity per day, no internet, wood-fired cooking, traditional bath, permaculture, harvesting of natural plants in the surrounding forests, largely vegetarian diet, reuse and inventiveness … A life far enough from mine that I am pretty excited to discover.

The house is a traditional dwelling filled with incredible odds and ends. Tatami mats, sliding paper doors, cooking outside. The Goka family welcomes us: two young adults in their thirties and three young girls. They are all very friendly. The two adults speak relatively good English and the girls are full of energy. Especially the youngest, so cute,  that instantly melts my heart. I am dazzled by the view of the valley. It is so green! Small isolated houses and terraces cultivated by hand. And that’s all. The green nature and the silence all around. I feel like I have been projected into the past. Finally a slightly more traditional Japan. Calm and serenity instantly invade me.

A young woman is already there woofing which leaves a few days after our arrival, and a young American arrives shortly after. I chat a lot with Pauline and Mickael, happy to be able to chat in French and to feel a little less lonely after months of traveling alone. They too come to seek a different life experience, something real, linked to the land.

The days pass at the rhythm of the sun. Morning fog over the mountains. I spend long moments looking at nature around me and I feel like I can hear it breathing. There is something mystical here. My work is divided between helping to harvest the fields, harvesting ferns and bamboo shoots in the forest (it is the season) and helping with the preparation of meals. It is physical while being restful at the same time. With the other wwoofers we learn to prepare rustic but good meals: onigiris (rice dumplings), bamboo shoots and salads, production of noodles and soy sauce, baking bread over a wood fire, monitoring of umeboshis, macerated plums in salt for almost two months.

Our free time is divided between learning traditional techniques: loom, creating jewelry with fire and blowtorch, visiting neighbors, helping the market in the neighboring town and exploring the surroundings. The few inhabitants of the valley all live more or less independently and are almost all craftsmen. I take long walks in nature enjoying the solitude and tranquility. During an excursion I come across a large abandoned hotel. I sneak in, a funny feeling sticking to my skin. All of the things are still there: bowls, glasses, cooking, books, toys, sheets, figurines, soap, shoes … Only dust and a certain disorder testify to the abandonment of the premises. Memories of  “Spirited Away” or images of a nuclear disaster come to mind. Back at Goka Farm I learn that the debt-laden hotel manager has disappeared about five years ago suddenly leaving the hotel behind. Time has no hold here.

My stay in this island of tranquility is coming to an end and after ten days in the company of the Goka family, I return to civilization. The shock is quite severe and I have a little trouble accepting the noisy permanent announcements of buses and trains. Although quite short, I feel like my stay at Goka Farm opened my eyes to something important. I am not sure exactly what yet, but I feel like a new path has opened up for me. A great experience to conclude the end of my trip to Japan and to temper some of the unpleasantness (too much tourism and difficulty of exchanges) which had obscured my vision of the country recently.

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Chapter I. Japanese walkabouts

Mitaka, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Last days in Japan

My stay in Japan is coming to an end and I take this opportunity to stroll around Tokyo and visit the Ghibli museum.

Osaka, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Across the Kansai

Discovery of Osaka and Nara then weekend on Mount Koya-san before returning to TYK to celebrate hanami.

Takayama, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Takayama matsuri

Stars in my eyes at the superb Takayama Matsuri dedicated to the celebration of spring and good harvests.

Kyoto, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Glimpse of Kyoto

For my last day of work at TYK, I was treated to an organized day trip to Kyoto.

Kachigawa, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

In company of Polina

Meet Polina and her family, a young Russian woman working at TYK whom I met a fortnight before the end of my stay in Tajimi.

Tajimi, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Touches of Spring in Tajimi

Second month of work in Tajimi more pleasant than the first and return of the buds and flowers in the trees.

TYK, Tajimi, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Portraits of TYK

Portraits of some of the people I met during my two months of work at TYK.

TYK, Tajimi, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Another vision of TYK

Through twenty photographs, a stroll to discover the factory and its graphic aspect.

Tajimi, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Tajimi and ceramics

Tajimi, an industrial city located in the prefecture of Gifu is renowned for its ceramics. I am working here since the beginning of February.

Naha, Okinawa, Ryukyu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Gray weather in Okinawa

I land on the Ryukyu archipelago of which Okinawa is a part in increasingly bad weather.

Yufuin, Kyûshû, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Wwoofing in Yufuin

A month of volunteering in the middle of the onsen smokes in the small Youth Hostel Country Road.

Yufuin, Kyûshû, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Arrival on Kyûshû

Arrival on Kyûshû, cradle of Japanese civilization, where I will spend the month of December.

Minami, Shikoku, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Minami, facing the sea

On the south coast of Shikoku, the small town of Minami exudes tranquility and a maritime atmosphere.

Tokushima, Shikoku, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

First steps on Shikoku

Arrival in Tokushima on the island of Shikoku, the smallest of the four big islands of Japan.

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