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Wwoofing in Japan:
Milky House, Summer 2002
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The following piece was written for the Wwoof Japan Newsletter, July 2002. I think it gives a pretty accurate idea of what Wwoofing can be all about.

For more information on Wwoofing around the world, click here.

My first Wwoofing experience was in France, way back in the winter of 1997. I don't think I'll ever forget that place: I'd wake up each day with frosty hair and lips frozen together as the shed that I was housed in was so cold! Thankfully, since then I've had much better times on host establishments, both in Europe, and now, Japan.

I met many Japanese tourists whilst working in a Swiss mountain hotel in 1999 and 2000. They'd pass through our resort in their thousands, yet despite being herded like sheep by their guides, they were always extremely polite and friendly: it was this led me to become interested in their home country.

I flew to Japan in the autumn of 2001, and was soon happily settled in central Tokyo. It was the first time that I'd ever lived in a city, and it made for quite a change from my previous alpine home, which had had an overnight population of 30! However, after 6 months I realised that if I really wanted to indulge in my new passion for learning the Japanese language, I'd have to land myself in some crazy farming community where no one spoke a word of English. Also, having done the typical English-teaching thing for a while I was ready for a complete change of lifestyle: enter Wwoof Japan.

Milky House
Me at the wheel of my favourite (and only) means of transport
Country Inn Milky House
Me in my digger

The release of the new list in the spring of 2002 couldn't have come at a better time, and within a fortnight of downloading it I found myself at Country Inn Milky House in Niseko. Located 2 hours southwest of Sapporo, this area sees a huge volume of skiers in the winter, and a similar number of potato farmers in the summer. Milky House isn't actually a farm at all, it's a pension, a family-run guesthouse that has been offering "Active and Relaxing Breaks" for the past 20 years.

My first few weeks were absolutely horrendous. With my very limited Japanese I felt like a complete idiot, not having a clue what was expected of me. Forming friendships with my new colleagues was also difficult; it's hard enough to do so when you speak the same language! Thankfully, Milky House is blessed with not only having an owner who speaks English, but also very friendly and supportive Japanese staff. Their patience continues to be muchly appreciated as I am forever saying, “Wakarimasen!” (“I don't understand”) and then getting my dictionary out.

Everyday is different at Milky House, although we do usually follow a basic pattern: Up at 7.30am to make breakfast for our guests, followed by all the washing up that that entails. Once the guests have taken enough photos of us and checked out, we clean all of the rooms, make the beds, mop the floors, scrub the bathrooms and toilets, water the flowers – it's a glamorous lifestyle you know. It's usually about 12pm by the time that we've completed those tasks. We then have 4 or 5 hours free time, before donning our aprons once more to prepare the evening feast. The owner is a superb chef, creating amazing 6-course meals every night with our help. Sometimes it's Western style, sometimes Japanese style. I don't think I've ever eaten so well before, and I'm really quite concerned about the size of my belly!

England come to town
(I'm bottom left)
England supporters get in the mood at Milky House
Rafting down the local river

Experience is what Wwoofing is all about. In addition to the day-to-day running of this pension, I've been given various tasks. For example, putting up fences around tennis courts, acting as secretary for foreign guests, chain-sawing, erecting a big canopy on the veranda, shovelling snow, avoiding the phone when it rings, accidentally driving over big stones with the ride-on mower, cutting telephone lines with a bush cutter, operating the mini-digger (no accidents as yet, touch wood), painting walls and planting flowers. For a few weeks I taught groups of visiting schoolchildren how to perform a traditional English Country Dance. That was certainly an interesting experience! This summer I have also played a major role in revamping Milky House's online presence. With many guests coming from Hong Kong and Taiwan, the pension badly needed a new English homepage. Having seen my own site, Tame Goes Wild, the owner asked me to make this a reality. With the aid of some translation software and many hours spent in front of the screen, I managed to pull together what you now see online.

In my spare time I've had quite a few adventures. There's been the white water river rafting, the many wild World Cup parties, the hitch-hiking trip around Hokkaido with a visiting fellow Wwoofer, numerous soaks in the local hot springs and expeditions into the Japanese outback on my friends 50cc scooter!

In between all of this activity, I have been studying Japanese for at least 3 hours a day. Having arrived in Japan 10 months ago barely speaking a word of the language, I'm quite delighted at how much I have taught myself. If it wasn't for Wwoof, I can honestly say that my vocabulary would be only 10% of what it is today. Through Wwoof, I've had the opportunity to experience living in a “real” Japanese environment, and believe me, it's a completely different world from the one where you teach English in central Tokyo.

The owner announces that breakfast is ready
Me, teaching traditional English Morris Dancing...

Wherever I've Wwoofed, I've always left feeling better off for the experience. I'd never say that it's easy, but then it's the most difficult things in life that teach you the most!

Happy Wwoofing!

Joseph Tame

The Daily Mumble Archives contain many more tales and photos from my time at Milky House during the summer of 2002.

My photo albums contain almost every photo I took between April and September 2002.

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