As I wanted to spend quite a bit of time in Japan I decided a 1 month HelpX thingy might help me get a better understanding of the cultural differences as well as practice my Japanese language skills. I’ve been helping out at an orchard in Yamanashi owned by the Nakagomi family. The man who works with the volunteers and helps organise all those things is Kazu. Being that we’re not in the harvest season I haven’t actually been doing much work with farming but just helping out generally with landscaping on a new plot, cleaning, cutting down trees and burning them. I’ve also taken the opportunity to get to know a little more about bicycles as there is a little fleet of them for the volunteers. With my spare time I’ve been going about looking at the brakes and tightening/loosening as needed as well as changing a tyre! Simple stuff but I haven’t done it before so glad to get some practice under my belt.
Yamanashi is a quiet little place, well, where we are anyway. One thing I find hard to grasp with Japan is the prefectures, cities and just the general scale of different areas. What I know is that we are near the Minami-Alps and in the distance you can see Fuji. Just like with previous HelpX placements I’m getting fed incredibly well with lovely food. Lots of rice as a staple but then various other dishes like a miso-soup hotpot, soba noodle soup, tonkatsu with salads and lots of other little lovelinesses (like young asparagus wrapped in bacon!).
One thing I really wanted to do whilst in Japan was go to an onsen, a hot spring bath, but there is are some rules in various onsen which includes no tattoos. By no means is this every onsen but I felt navigating the issue might prove a little difficult with the language barrier. Kazu took me and some other volunteers to a local onsen saying that it was fairly relaxed and whilst nervous at first, especially given one of my tattoos is of a very Japanese style, I noticed most people didn’t really care, and if they did they were politely ignoring their feelings which seems to be quite indicative of their nature. I could hear some of their conversation was about me, the word ‘gaijin’ almost certainly referred to me, but I guess it’s to be expected. On the topic of the word gaijin, a foreigner in Japan, I was also referred to as one when working with some of the local workers, however this time it was accompanied by the suffix ‘-san’ essentially calling me ‘Mr Foreigner” instead of just “foreigner” which I thought was quite funny.
There’ve been a few other volunteers here but staying for a shorter period. First there were 3 girls from Malaysia followed by 2 girls from China. It was quite interesting seeing the different reactions to the tasks we had to do, but mostly they went for it and gave it their all (even if some of them were a little lazy). For the last 2 weeks I was on my own with my thoughts, tv shows, streaming services, podcasts and lots of other forms of light entertainment. I do find it quite nice being alone for periods so long as it’s broken up with social interaction at points!
I’ve enjoyed my time at the orchard. Plenty of chance for meditative work where I could indulge my thoughts whilst I worked through the routine of some simple tasks. Also plenty of opportunity to learn about certain aspects of Japanese agriculture and culture in general which has been fun.
One problem with being alone with your thoughts and watching, reading and listening to lots of other things means you end up making a lot of plans. Plans that will inevitably fall through. But I have mentioned a few of them to friends and am hoping that when I return home we can pursue these goals together as I find it’s always more difficult to do things which only include you as you can push them back indefinitely.
Soon I’ll be meeting my mother and brother in Tokyo. This will be nice as by then it will 6 months since I left home (a good point to meet up if I stay the course of 1 year away), and it would be good to catch up.
The next post is going to be pretty heavy (currently over 3,000 words) and all about some negative aspects of American history. Fair warning it is pretty much all negative but that’s because I’m not looking at the great things that have been done as those have mostly been achieved by the people and not the administration. My problem is with the way America (and Britain) is run and hopefully this post will articulate that.