The WWOOF program seemed like the perfect way to experience Japanese culture from the inside out in a way that simply traveling through the country would not have allowed. There's hundreds of farm types to choose from and the duration is completely up to the participant. WWOOFing was also a great way to extend my month-long stay in Japan for practically no additional cost.
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
After paying a minimal registration fee, you can set up your WWOOFer profile and start contacting host farms that look interesting to you. It's a fairly independent program and participants work directly with the hosts for the entire process. Transportation to and from the host site is the WWOOFer's responsibility, but while on the farm the hosts provide free meals and accommodation.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Before reaching out to host farms, be sure to read their entire profiles and compare carefully. Some may not be accommodating to certain diets or may not even speak English. Others may require you to possess certain skills or knowledge specific to their kind of farm or facility. Even if the profile states something, double check with the host through the messaging system before settling.
My host's online profile listed its acceptance of vegetarian WWOOFers, but my friend had a difficult time finding suitable meals because of their different understanding of vegetarian (for example, soups, even if vegetarian, may have a meat-based broth).
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Each WWOOFer's experience can be radically different depending on the type of host chosen. WWOOF Japan has hosts ranging from wasabi farms to bed and breakfasts, to give a broad idea.
On a typical day, the other WWOOFers and I would have breakfast at 7:30am then start our work day at 8:30am. We would all alternate between working at the cafe and weeding the rice paddies. Lunch would depend on when the cafe would slow down enough to allow us a break, then we would close shop at 5pm and start to prepare our own dinner. By the time we walked back up the hill to our host's home, it was dark out.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
Before arriving at the farm, my biggest concern was whether I would get along with the host. He seemed very friendly through our online messages, but of course reality is always different! I had also read a few horror stories of WWOOFers in other countries, who were surprised to find themselves living in very uncomfortable situations with abusive hosts.
My WWOOFing stay was two weeks in a very remote location (I wasn't sure before going if I would even have internet), so if anything went wrong, it would be difficult to resolve. Luckily, all my fears were for nothing, because my host family was extremely accommodating and friendly!
What was the most memorable part of your experience?
Having stayed in what was essentially the middle-of-nowhere Japan, where the closest store was a two mile walk on a mountain road populated by monkeys, I learned several interesting tidbits of Japanese society.
Our unnamed town had a tiny population of 100, most of who were over 80 years old. Half the homes in the town stood empty or abandoned, which we learned was an increasingly common trend across Japan, with its aging demographic and urban metropolitans pulling more and more people away from the countryside.
The other WWOOFers and I spent our free time exploring abandoned homes, picking flowers for the cafe, and running away from venomous centipedes and aggressive monkeys.