Life on the Japanese Farm

We had expected that working on the farm might be challenging given that we did not speak Japanese, but we quickly settled in. Takao-san’s English was excellent, so our instructions were clear, and he was full of fascinating stories. We learned his English was so good because he had spent two years in Zambia with the Japanese-equivalent of the Peace Corps. He arrived having not spoken English since high school more than ten years before and left fluent. By contrast Hisami-san and Grandpa did not speak much, if any English, but they still made us feel welcome. And little Mi-chan kept us entertained. She was the most animated person we have met… possibly ever! Eric thought she was just like a real-life anime character. She could be hilariously silly, but she could also go from calm to mad in a single second. This was all the more amusing because we never had any idea what she was mad about.

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Integrated Rice and Poultry Farming in Azumino

The Japanese farm on which we had agreed to volunteer was located in Azumino in Nagano prefecture. We had chosen this farm because we liked the description on the WWOOFing website and the bonus that the woman was a chef. Somehow, besides a bullet point that mentioned “meat processing”, the description did not actually say much about what the farm did, so there was little indication of how we were going to spend the next ten days.

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Escaping to Mountain Villages

The Hida train ride from Nagoya to Takayama was beautiful. The train boasts extra large windows so you can appreciate the view, which we did! The train wound along the river through the mountains where the trees were starting to change to yellow and orange. Also, trains in Japan have a cool feature where all of the seat backs can be moved from one side to the other of the seat so no one has to travel backwards. We think more trains should work this way.

View out the train window
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Castles and Cars in Nagoya

We arrived in Nagoya, Japan’s fourth largest city, under a rainy afternoon sky. We took the Kintetsu train two stops to the Kogane station and walked the short distance to our Airbnb. The apartment was located next to the train line and under the intersection of two highways in the southwest corner of Nagoya, and yet, at $71.50 per night, it was our most expensive accommodation to date. Budget accommodation had proven surprisingly hard to come by in Nagoya. The available hostel options all seemed crazy: we’re talking $30+ per dorm bed, and we think dorm beds only make sense if we are saving real money over other options. Despite its unusual location, the Airbnb gave us our own private space with a small cooking area, and it was perfect for exploring the city.

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Exploring the World’s Largest Metropolitan Area: Tokyo

Our flight to Tokyo from Seoul was very early in the morning, landing at 9:30am. After getting through customs and finding an ATM to take out some Japanese yen it was time to find our way into the city. Tokyo, and we would later discover, Japan in general, has a huge number of trains, all across various train systems. This means that most of the country is highly accessible by train (which is great!), but it can be a bit overwhelming at first to figure out which train you want, and extra hard to avoid very expensive trains by accident. We went to an information desk to get help rather than trying to figure it out ourselves, and we were quickly on our way.

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Three Days in a Jjimjilbang in Seoul

After we returned the bicycles, we ate dinner at a ramen restaurant around the corner and then set off to find Siloam Bulgama Sauna Spa, one of Seoul’s jjimjilbangs. Now that we were experienced jjimjilbang users with two nights under our belt, we planned to spend the rest of our nights in South Korea at Siloam. A lot of jjimjilbangs discourage people from staying multiple nights in a row, but we had read that Siloam allowed it and was one of the nicer jjimjilbangs in Seoul anyway. 

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Bicycle Touring on South Korea’s East Coast

When Ben talked us into going to South Korea instead of China, one of his selling points was South Korea’s amazing biking paths. Eric had told him about our bike trip from Maine to Minnesota, and Ben said we had to bike in South Korea. Some initial research suggested this could be a pretty expensive prospect with lots of people recommending bringing a bicycle from another country or buying a bicycle and trying to sell it later. This all sounded a bit complicated, but then Eric found a bike rental company, Bike Nara, that does one-week rentals, and we were in business.

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