Alternative week in remote mountain paddies

 My name is Giuseppe. I am currently a Master student at Tokyo Institute of Technology and I come from Scotland.

I have come to Toyomi to WWOOF with Kentaro Sato and I have stayed here for a hardworking but amazing week. From the start of my summer holidays I have decided to travel around Tohoku, including Sado Island in Niigata Prefecture. I have learnt that Niigata is famous for its rice (and its products like sake) and therefore I have guessed it would be great to WWOOF for my first time in Niigata. Little I anticipated that my experience in Toyomi would be much more than rice paddies.

I have arrived here on a slow train from Niigata city through mountain valleys. The views from the ride have been absolutely breathtaking and I was looking forward to where the train would be taking me. Arriving at Toyomi station felt like I were in the middle of nowhere, yet the remoteness was more like a surprise for me. Toyomi station is located in Funato, a little quiet town with a few dozen residents. Funato is where Kentaro lives, and it’s possible to easily spot that many of his properties have been artistically decorated with murals and vivid paint. In fact, Kentaro is an artist of many talents and he likes to put touches of art literally everywhere.

Working in the fields has been pretty tough, quite a change from my usual (and honestly lazy) student life. I am surprised I have managed to wake up early every day in order to start working at around 5am. I guess I would much rather work at dawn rather than under the scorching sun, when I could rather rest. The heat can often be unbearable here, constantly being above 30 degrees during the day. Moreover many of the bugs can be especially annoying,

In a week I feel like I have learnt a lot about the work that goes into growing organic rice. In fact, manual labour requires great commitment. But in my week WWOOFing I have done much more than just working on rice fields. Pretty much every day Kentaro has tasked me with new types of work. There is a great spot underneath a bridge next to one of his fields, where I have assisted with retrieving two of his boats. The spot is one of my favourites, as Kentaro has an installation of artefacts there and the view over the mountains and Agano River are absolutely calming. The shade by the bridge and wind by the valley provide some much needed cool down. Up in the hills is where Kentaro’s studio is located. He puts much love and pride over his sculptures, and that is where he built himself a wood stove boiler and a bathhouse. Every day after some tough work we would head to the bathhouse to clean ourselves and relax.

During the day, Kentaro has been able to show me the neighbourhood around Toyomi. We have been able to get to the main town Agamachi. There I have sampled sake at a brewery owned by one of his friends and I have viewed many of his sculptures scattered around the town.

The most rewarding part of my experience have been the three meals a day prepared by Kentaro’s loving wife Makiko. She puts much work to prepare us each meal as each one is homemade, varied and different. Not only the vegetable ingredients are great, but she is also a great cook. I love food and I have been greatly enjoying their home cooking. As a student in Tokyo, I have often been eating out and been making lazy foods such as cup noodles. And at the end of the day we would enjoy some nice cold beer to wrap up the workday.

I believe we have fostered a great relationship between the Sato and I. Despite challenges with some language barrier, we have had fun. Kentaro has put trust in me multiple times, and I feel grateful and lucky to feel like I am part of his family.