On the path of a meaningful life

Texts, photographs and videos by Claire B.

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Travel dispatches. discovering the world between solo journeys and life experiences.
Creative approach. photographic work and videos.

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
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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

Kyoto, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Six months in Japan

Six months in Japan. Six months of familiarity and strangeness. Misunderstanding and wonder. Contrasts.

Mitaka, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

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Yufuin, Kyûshû, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

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