What is WWOOF?
WWOOF is an international organisation which allows anybody from anywhere to help out at any host’s place in exchange for accommodation and meals.
Photo: WWOOF Japan
From organic farming, organic restaurants and dairy farms to pensions and nature guide centres, there are many different types of hosts across the peninsula!
As the WWOOF organisations differ from one country to another, I will only be focusing on WWOOF Japan
As a fellow Singaporean, I am pretty sure we share the same sentiments of wanting to take a break from the bustling city life, so why not breathe in some fresh air at the countryside?
Photo: WWOOF Japan
WWOOF also provides great cultural immersion as you will be able to interact with the hosts at a more intimate level and also experience their unique lifestyles. If you are lucky that your host was once a chef, you might even be able to enjoy delicious Japanese home-cooked food every day! (yes I’m that lucky one)
Depending on the host you chose, there may be more volunteers taken in and you can get the opportunity to interact with different people from different countries as well which makes WWOOFing much more enjoyable!
Through WWOOF, you also have the chance to travel to more ‘exotic’ areas in Japan which you usually would not go as a tourist which is definitely an eye-opener. WWOOF is also a cheaper alternative for travelling on a long-term basis. Although you are expected to commit about 6 hours a day, there may be ample time after volunteering work to explore places around there and also a free day every week. I have come across people who ‘hop’ from one host to another, doing WWOOFing for months or even for more than a year!
My WWOOFing experience
It was my second time volunteering and I chose to volunteer at Kanagawa prefecture at an organic vegetable and flower farm for two weeks. I was able to meet a Japanese, Malaysian, and Hong Kong volunteer and we stayed together in a separate house from the host family, hence lesser interactions with the host family but once in a while, our host swings by to drink with us.
The location was really great, as it was near to the beach and we were surrounded by so much agriculture and nature. We could even see Mt. Fuji from there!
Our main work revolves around harvesting white radish, which includes pulling them out, washing them, cutting them and packing them. Our host also tries to rotate and change our work so it wouldn’t be too repetitive and boring.
We started work everyday from 7 am to 10 am and took a 30 minute break before continuing work until 12.30 pm where we would have lunch together.
They also own a shop which visitors can come by and buy freshly plucked vegetables. They can also head down to the fields to pluck the vegetables themselves.
We helped to maintain their strawberry farms too. Plucked the rotten leaves while stealing bites once every while. It’s really the sweetest thing ever!
I mostly stayed at home during my free time sleeping and doing nothing (I love it) but sometimes I visit the Onsen (hot spring) nearby and go shopping for our dinner. Yes we prepared our own dinner but it is more fun than expected to cook with a group! Groceries expenses can be reimbursed from the host family as well. On my off days, I visited hot tourist spots like Kamakura and Yokohama.
To those who have asked me whether WWOOF was fun, my reply would be a yes, BUT it can be tiring (never underestimate the weight of vegetables) and you have to be prepared for a little hardship when adjusting to their lifestyle.
Work can be tough on the farms. Photo: WWOOF Japan
It was winter and the heaters and insulators of a Japanese traditional house weren’t that sophisticated so it was still cold. There was also no heater in the drainage system, except for the showers, so I had to endure the stinging cold water to wash my face and dishes everyday.
But ever since my first experience with WWOOF, I was HOOKED. It’s understandable that Singaporeans may be less tolerant to hardships, but it’s all about adjustment and being able to appreciate the little things you saw, felt and touched, even the stinging cold water, which can’t be found in Singapore.
However, I can’t guarantee you that all hosts can provide you with the experience that you expect. You should read through each of their profiles carefully. Reading the reviews by other volunteers also helps as well. Some hosts may require people who can speak Japanese only, and some only need volunteers for certain periods.
The type of work changes from season to season. Photo: WWOOF Japan
Also take into account the season in which you are going, as the work changes for some hosts every season. Summer was the best season to volunteer at my farm as there will be watermelons and other summer fruits you can enjoy and you get to play at the beach as well. For people who want to escape the heat during summer, you may head north-east to volunteer at cooler places.
I also encourage people to contact the hosts as soon as possible, preferably few months before as the more popular hosts get filled up fast. I was actually turned down by a few hosts before settling on my first and second hosts.
SO WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!
For more information, visit WWOOF Japan’s website: http://www.wwoofjapan.com/main/index.php?lang=en