I was apprehensive about this WWOOFing placement, as I knew there weren’t any English-speakers in the household. So why choose it, you may wonder? Simply because I knew which general route I needed to take during my time in Japan (after landing in Tokyo, keep moving west over the next three weeks to Osaka, from where my next flight leaves). And there aren’t many places within that area that a) accept WWOOFers in February and b) accept people who can’t speak Japanese! This family had said they were ok with the language situation if I was, so it was time to dive in!
Thankfully, my host Yoshitsuru DID speak a few words of English, so communication was at least possible. And I made good friends with the cat :) I was introduced to four generations of Yoshi’s family, who all live together in their large wooden house. There’s Yoshi’s grandma, still going strong at 89; his parents (in their late 60s), Yoshi and his wife (mid-30s) and their three small children (five, three and one). It was wonderful seeing them all together, sharing every meal and keeping an eye on the older members’ health. Fit as fiddles, the lot of them! Everyone has a hand in looking after the kids, and all – including Grandma! – help to run the farm that provides their collective livelihood. I was amazed, on day two, to see Grandma busy hoeing one of the vegetable patches, deftly turning the earth as she must have done a thousand times before. It was an inspiring family model – I’ve felt for a long time that if ageing family members can live with younger ones, it can be (depending on the family dynamic, I guess!) a fantastic solution for all.
So, the Hirano family business can boast quite a number of products! Top of the list: they grow green tea. One of many producers in what I’m told is Japan’s most important region in terms of the quantity of green tea produced. The Hiranos’ patch covers several acres, and I believe Yoshi’s father is the main man as regards tending the plants. They also have a field of kiwi fruit trees, several fields of apricot trees, and large areas for growing the root vegetable “daikon” – it’s like a long white radish, eaten softened in stews, or grated and chilled in salads, or shredded and dried as a savoury topping, or pickled with a good crunch :) Yes, you meet daikon pretty regularly in Japan!
They seem to have achieved a superb balance, a very neat dovetailing of home life and work life. Everyone gets up early to work, and Yoshi feeds the ostriches and walks the dog. His wife collects eggs from the hens, puts the washing out and has the two youngest kids at her side most of the day, while she cooks, cleans and lends a hand with other work if she’s passing with a spare ten minutes. Wonderwoman! Meanwhile everyone else attends to the seasonal needs of the farm work until 12 noon, when a siren sounds, telling everyone in the village that it’s time to stop for lunch! Siesta time for Grandma and a lighter afternoon, while the rest of the clan carry on until 5pm (when another village-wide musical fanfare announces that it’s time to relax :) An evening meal together, a little bit of sake for the men and some TV time, and then after 7.30pm people drift off to bath and bed and sleep. I imagine that the days must sort of merge into one, but from what I can gather, their fruit and vegetables are selling well locally, the tea sells well nationally, and all in all the Hirano business is still in great shape after 40 years!
During my few days there I helped Yoshi prune the kiwi trees and apricot trees, which are in bud and sprouting new bits all over the place! I loved the tree-climbing, saw-wielding bit... not so much the wood-clearing-and-constantly-banging-my-head-on-low-branches bit! One day my job was to weigh out, pack, label and box the dried sweet potatoes, which I enjoyed :) There were lonely times, when I just wanted to be able to express myself properly and have someone understand what I was saying! But they’re all truly kind, generous, peaceful people. I feel very lucky to have met them and been given such insight into their lives. But I must say I was glad the little tortoiseshell cat kept me company each night :)