If you’re looking for a cheap, off-beat way to travel Japan, consider WWOOFing. WWOOF, (pronounced woof) stands for World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and helps connect travelers with organic farms around the world. Travelers volunteer a few hours a day of their time in exchange for room and board.
But WWOOFing in Japan allows you to see the lifestyles of real Japanese people and to witness the Japanese culture first hand, something impossible to do when you are limited to hotels and minshukus. And WWOOFing is not limited to organic farming anymore. These days you may find yourself collecting shitake mushrooms in Gunma Prefecture (see photo), bringing the cows in from mountain pastures in Hokkaido, working at a horseback riding school and learning yabusame (horseback archery from the Heian Period) in Shizuoka, or working at a dog kennel in Kumamoto. There is even an eco village looking for people to help them maintain their electric cars. Yet other hosts are interested in cultural exchange rather than labor. They’ll teach you tea ceremony or cooking, in exchange for help with buying the groceries or cleaning around the temple.
Volunteers can stay from a couple days to a year, depending on the needs and requirements of the hosts. Detailed information on each host and their requirements is available to members.
WWOOF Japan works to facilitate visitors to Japan to get below the veneer of tourism as well as to encourage the Japanese to have new experiences among themselves. There are approximately 170 hosting farms in the list available to members. The list costs US$40.00 and is available as a Pdf file. After you have the list, you contact the hosts directly. Most correspondence is through email, and you can even wait till you are in the country or that particular area before you contact them.
How to become a member
WHOOF Japan is located at Honcho 2-jo, 3-chome,6-7, Higashi-ku, Sapporo, 065-0042
Web: WWOOF Japan
Amy Chavez is author of Guidebook to Japan: What the other guidebooks won’t tell you” She is a columnist for The Japan Times, co-hosts the Planet Japan podcast. Visit her website at www.amychavez.com