WWOOFing in Gunma

Okay, I finally made it to my second post and it’s a long one. I’ve been pretty busy lately so its hard to find time to write. Hopefully after I’ve gotten caught up they’ll come more often.

First off, for those of you that don’t know or only know bits and pieces, the reason I’m here in Japan is for an exchange program called World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming (WWOOF). WWOOFing (as it’s usually known as) can be done in around 50+ countries around the world. Most countries have a national program that you can get a membership to. Here’s the premise, straight from the WWOOF website (http://wwoof.org): “WWOOF organisations link people who want to volunteer on organic farms or smallholdings with people who are looking for volunteer help.” In return for the help, the host provides accommodations and food. Its a really great way to travel on the cheap. Where I am now, if I could spend absolutely no money to live here if I needed to. If the word “organic farm” scares off some of you, not all places are farms. Hosts range from small berry farms and vegetable gardens to nature schools, inns, cafés, and outdoor sports centers but most all of them have some sort of organic, environmental, or self-sufficient aspect to them.

The host I’m staying with now makes their money off of allowing people to fish on their property and running a fly-fishing school every once in a while. The Komoriyas are a family of 5 that live in the mountains in Gunma prefecture.

Here’s a map of the prefecture I am in relative to the rest:

Hiro is the father, the one that makes us do all the work. He’s super energetic when it comes to working. Maybe a bit too much cause he gets ahead of himself sometimes. Reiko is the mother and the one that I had contact with when making arrangements. She works in the train station 5 minutes down the mountain from the house. Their kids are Anri, super adorable 6 year old girl, Ryoma, really loud 8 year old boy, and their older sister Karin, age 10. Hiro and Reiko speak enough English to get along. As for the kids they’re all fun to be around even though I have no idea what they’re saying 99.999% of the time.

And when I talk about “us” I’m talking about the two other WWOOFers that are staying here as well. Kevin, who is originally from New Hampshire but has lived in Japan on and off for the past 8 years and has been living around East Asian for the past 20 and Joris, from Holland, who has just come to Japan for the first time like me and is WWOOFing here for 3 months.

Initially, my plan was to teach English in South Korea starting September 2008. Thats a pretty big step, no leap, for someone like me who has never even left the country, let alone taught English. So when I found out about WWOOF I thought that it would be a great way to immerse myself in another culture and prepare for teaching. Now the plan is this: WWOOF in Japan until December, WWOOF in Korea until February, then teach English in Korea starting in March and lasting a year.

Anyway, here are some pictures of where I’m staying. The first one is Yamaneko lodge, the place where WWOOFers stay. We sleep in on the top floor on 3-inch thick futons and meager pillows. The location is really nice. Loads of beautiful scenery around the stream.

And here’s the “bridge” we walk over to get from Yamaneko lodge to where the Komoriyas live. An accident waiting to happen.

This is how the light looks on every clear morning from the porch of the lodge.

Just down the stream next to the little bridge we walk across every morning.

The front of the Komoriya’s new house from the road.

Kevin and Hiro taking a break on the inside

One of these days (I don’t remember which but I think it was the first week), I rode a bike up the road that goes past the house, where the only traffic is that of government workers that ride up and check weather instruments. There are many points where water comes out of the mountain and across the road under a small grate. Usually its a tiny waterfall that spits out of a hole but a ways up, I found this in a miniature grotto. It was one of of those little moments in life that was really special.

We get all of our meals cooked for us, which is really nice. They always consist of rice or noodles with a bunch of other vegetables, which sometimes makes me miss meat. Usually everything is so good though, that I don’t even think about it. I’ve gotten to try a bunch of new foods, which is exciting. Here’s a few:


Natto - Fermented soybeans. A traditional Japanese food but definitely an acquired taste. Smells like a toilet.


Japanese mayonnaise - If American style mayonnaise tasted like this, I think more people would like it. It has an egg-like taste and we eat it with green beans.



Plum wine
- Hiro makes his own plum wine. The one in this container was actually really good.


Japanese Pears - Delicious! I don't like the pears you usually get in America but these are awesome. Sweeter and aren't textured like sand.


Bitter Melon - Like the name says. Not my thing.


Umeboshi - Pickled ume fruits. Also gross.


Mamma Africa's Zulu Peri Peri sauce - Not Japanese, but I still tried it. 9/10 hot like it says on the side. 2 drops was spicy enough. Pretty good too.

Moving on from a very tasty subject to a not so tasty one, if theres one thing that this place has a lot of, its spiders. They say the average person eats about 20 spiders a year. My guess is that I’ll reach my yearly quota with no problem in the time that I’m here. The lodge I’m staying in (Yamaneko lodge) is practically covered in them, inside and out. Most of the ones inside are house spiders but some of the ones outside are freaking huge orb weavers. The one outside the downstairs window was dark gray and about the size of a Susan B. Anthony dollar. Scary…

I got a picture of this one in the new house we’re working on. I found it right above me as I was looking for a place to put a light.

So I think that’s all for this post. I really want to go to bed but I really want to be done with this, so I’m going to stop now and leave more for next time. Should be some more pictures coming up of the surrounding area too.

Daily Observation!

(and yes, I realize this is more like bi-monthly observation)

75% of cars in the cities I’ve been to look brand new and the other 25% is last year’s model. And I’ve been to a lot of small, old towns so it’s not like this is downtown Tokyo I’m talking about. See an old run down house with weeds growing everywhere? There’s likely a shiny new car in the driveway.

Oh and the cars are reaaally small here. Seeing a medium sized sedan here is like seeing a limo in the US.

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4 Responses to WWOOFing in Gunma

  1. Ho-Ching says:

    LOL. Poor Seth? I think i would freak out every day (and night) over the spiders considering how i can’t even handle a tiny jumping spider. (>_>)’ But the place you are staying at sure looks nice. Looking at the pictures makes me think that the air there must be very fresh. But I would be cautious whenever you cross that “bridge” especially when it rains. It looks like it could cause some serious damage. haha.

    I hope you find the food there interesting. If you ever come across junk food you should try some cause they are definitely better than the junk food here – but you probably know that already haha. And if you still can’t get used to natto…try putting more mustard in there. I do that sometimes. It makes it slightly spicier. (^_^)

    And if you ever miss the good ‘ole U S and A, you can check out some SNL skits. (^o^) Goodness they are so funny! *rolls around on the floor* Especially the ones on Hillary and Palin. I will try to upload pictures i took with my cameras. Btw. the pictures I took with my film camera …i have not printed them yet…but i had to take the film out by force so it might not come out anyways. (ToT)

  2. Ho-Ching says:

    oh and you should check this out.

    http://www.justhungry.com/100-japanese-foods-try

    100 japanese foods to try. you’ve already tried a couple on this list…might as well try the rest? lol

  3. John Paul says:

    “Hours of Powers” observation:

    I quite enjoyed the second installment of “Hours of Powers”, as I am sure you enjoy the idea of giant spiders being all around you. Just think of the spider the last day you were in Blacksburg and I am sure you will sleep well 🙂

  4. hoching says:

    oh yeah so i thought i should move my blog from yahoo! to wordpress since it’s easier to use and it looks cleaner. check it out if you got the time. 🙂 http://inkblock.wordpress.com/

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