My journey at Kentaro’s house
For a long time in my life, I wanted to visit a country that impressed me so much, Japan. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much money and I don’t enjoy basic tourist destination with high concentration of people. I wanted to be surrounded by traditional Japanese people who will present their world that I only know trough the few anime I have watched. I also practice Kendo, so I wanted to visit one or many dojos where I could spare with Japanese kendoka and learn from them.
But one day, I discovered an amazing program, WWOOF Japan that allowed to stay at hosts house in exchange of different type of work. After 3 months of intensive work, I fly to Japan.
When looking at profiles, I had few criteria’s:
1. I wanted to do physical work (to train my body and soul, and stay active)
2. I wanted to be as much as possible in the country side. I love nature and I hate high concentration of people.
3. I wanted to be with someone who has a family and/or a great social life to meet many Japanese people and interact with them.
4. I wanted somewhere simple to get by train or by bus. It is my first time in a country where I don’t know the language and I didn’t want to get lost for this reason.
5. I wanted to be in an environment where I will almost never use electronic devices.
I found many profiles and contacted many of them. Some replied to me, some didn’t, and some told me they didn’t have work for me. Kentaro-san was the first to reply to me. When I saw his profile, him and his wife were extremely appealing. Other than my criteria, I chose Kentaro-san house because:
1. The feedbacks were mostly positive about him.
2. He had many pictures that presented his household and the region where he lives looked beautiful.
3. He lives in a respectable way (makes compost, don’t generate much pollution, etc.)
4. His art that he presented were impressive and unique.
When arriving at the airport, I took a bus to Tokyo station. Here, I felt extremely intrusive, as if I was not welcome. While I was dressed in shorts and a small shirt, everyone had costume and serious clothes. I almost regretted coming so far away from my home. People peered at me in a weird way. Fortunately, in the Shinkansen, everything was quiet. After 5 hours of travel (bus, Shinkansen and train). I finally arrived at Toyomi Station where Kentaro-san waited for me. He welcomed me in a friendly way and helped me with my luggage. We then went to his home who was really close to the train station and presented ourselves. I met his wife Makiko but everyone was tired, so we went to bed early. He led me to the house where I was to sleep that was also his museum. He showed his magnificent sculpture that he made, and that were more astonishing one after the other. From owls to cats to woman, it seemed as if Kentaro-san could represent anything in a unique way. He then led me to a traditional Japanese room where I slept on the ground.
The next day, we got to talk to each other properly. After meeting Kentaro-san and his beautiful dog Shiro beside his rice fields, we presented ourselves again before breakfast where I gave my WWOOF permit. Even if the gape in language was big, communicating wasn’t so hard and I must admit that, even if Japanese anime are not representative of the real life, they helped me understand many words and use them as well. After, I was treated to a surprisingly good breakfast with a taste completely new to me. I tasted the amazing rice that Kentaro-san makes in his large fields. It was surprisingly good and was different from any rice I ever tasted. After, we went to work. We reclaimed a piece of earth that we transformed into a big pile of mud. It was hard work, but Kentaro-san always told me to take my time and told me to take many breaks. A student of Kentaro-san, named Koichi, was also helping us. This day, I met political representatives of the Niigata prefecture that made a speech to the village of Funato and friends of Kentaro-san. At the end of the day, we enjoyed an amazing hand heated onsen with a breath-taking view to a waterfall in the mountains.
This morning, I started getting accustomed to the work. We finished leveling the earth and started planting rice in this new field. After, we worked on other rice fields where we planted more rice and we removed unwanted weed. After lunch, Furuta-san helped us and joined us at supper. I was surprised to see the speed at which Furuta-san worked even if he’s 76 years old. I was also extremely impressed by Kentaro-san strength when he lifted a dead tree all by himself. I hope to have such great health when I grow up. At the end of the day, I felt like Kentaro-san and Makiko-san were my temporary parents by the comfort and the love they transpired. The frustration of not being able to make myself understood was greater this day. Even asking for what a word means was sometimes difficult. I hope to learn Japanese faster so that I can speak in a way that Kentaro-san, Makiko-san and Koichi-san understand me.
This day was like an incredible dream come true. After we had breakfast, Kentaro-san, Kohe-kun and me went to the studio located near the human made onsen to cut wood into pieces. I used a chainsaw for the first time and Kentaro-san explained me easily how to use the machine. We also fed the fire which generated the heat for the hot bath. Suddenly, Kentaro-san tells us to stop since 5 new girls came at his home to study the countryside life. We then immediately go to the rice field where we start working. Everyone is given a field to tend to. I then present myself to Yui, Hana, Honoka, Sakura and Kaho, five beautiful Japanese girls, who told me the sport they practice and their age. It seems they are girls of around 14-15 years old. Two play tennis, one plays volleyball (Honoka), one does Kendo (Sakura) and one does tea ceremony (Kaho). I also met their teachers and one who had an average English skill started a conversation with me. I was happy that he did. Then we went for lunch where I met many Japanese people and where we made and ate mochi. It was a unique experience that I will always remember, eating a food that I must hit to cook it! I tried to converse in Japanese with one of the girl to discover that she was half-Japanese, half-Australian. After, we went in a forest where we cleaned the dead trees so that Kentaro-san can use them to heat his house in the winter. Then, we went back to the rice fields where our host told us about our mistakes. The way Kentaro-san explains your mistakes is so calm and gentle that you don’t feel scolded, you even want to improve. At this moment, I felt like I was given a free course on how to create my own rice field. I was filled with joy and worked hard to attain the expectations. I then understood how Japanese people demonstrate their will to reach perfection and the culture behind it. We then led the girls to the onsen place where they cleaned themselves while we repaired some tools to after, enjoy the bath ourselves. After, we went for supper where we ate amazing special Japanese spring roll filled with fish, cheese and/or vegetables. Then, while Makiko-san was cleaning the dishes, we went to a relaxing place surrounded by trees, rocks and a sublime river. We stayed there for a couple of minutes, enjoying the amazing nature that Earth has given us. Then, we went back to the restaurant house where we always eat to be given some delicious ice cream. We then all presented ourselves and explained what we enjoyed of the day. Kentaro-san spoke after each person to give his opinion and thank the students for their remarks. Kaho-chan then treated me to a quick tea ceremony which tasted so soft. I was extremely grateful for this gift and can’t be thankful enough.
Today was another dream-like day. We mostly cleaned the rice fields of the weed all day. At noon, after lunch, we met Kouhei’s family. Kentaro-san explained the improvements Kouhei made by staying at the house. I treated Kouhei and his brother to a coka and we sent them off. Kouhei told he would be back in a week. I also met Ichawara-sensei who helped us by cutting all the grass. We had many conversations which I enjoyed, and he greatly helped me with my Japanese. After taking a bath, we prepared to set off to a store to repair a Makita saw. Then, we went to a school where we trained Kendo. It was an unforgettable experience. I was treated with a lot of respect and curiosity. The kids were excited by my presence and the adults asked me a lot of questions. The training was intense as I expected but the speed of the kendoka was extremely surprising. I can see why Japanese kendo players are the best in the world. I thanked all the senseis and specially Kentaro-san who was the one who allowed me to live this special occasion. I will always remember the face of the kid who saw me and started jumping of joy when meeting me. B& G school.
This day was calm. We started by pouring concrete on some tunnel which directed the mountain water to Kentaro’s bath. Since everyone was tired, including Makiko-san, we ate at a restaurant. The ramen we were served was delicious and the atmosphere was quiet. You could feel the respect that the people had for each other. After I poured concrete again but this time, beside the tomb of Kentaro’s ancestors. Many cracks formed and weed would come out easily from the wholes. At the end of the day, we went for supper as usual and had many laughs since Makiko-san was mad at us for being late.
Today was simple, all I did was cut wood all day. Kentaro-san worked on a tomb he was commissioned to do. We had Tshiro come with us. The sun was strong but we all worked hard. Makiko-san made us some Moroccan food she learned of for supper. In the evening, I visited the shrine and the small local shop. I loved watching Kentaro-san and Makiko-san joke around and fall asleep in front of the TV in the living room.
This day was another simple day. I aired the rice field and picked up the weed that grow in it. Ichikawa-sensei joined us to finish cutting the grass. At lunch, Ichikawa-sensei brought me beer as a gift. I was happy and tasted some salted dry plum. I never tasted something like this before. Then after, Kouhei came back to work with us! We removed many weeds together from a new rice filed to-be. At the end, Kentaro-san and I watched TV while Makiko-san went to buy some goods. When I went to sleep, I was extremely tired, happily, tomorrow is a rest day.
In the morning, all I did was eat breakfast and spend time on my computer. Then I brought home all my shoes that where around Kentaro’s house and walked Shiro at the same time. Then, a friend of Makiko-san who’s a Japanese teacher for foreign people came and gave me a quick Japanese course. I was so grateful and wished I could have learned more but I suppose it would have been too much to ask. After, we had lunch together before Kentaro-san and I left for Kitakata city. We then visited an art museum displaying different paintings and after, an old rich farmer house dating of 1771 that was almost all kept intact. The architecture was extremely beautiful, and the building displayed many famous people of Japan. After, we saw different sculptures made by Kentaro-san including two of them present in front of his high school. To finish, we went to many stores to buy some goods. When we came back, we ate supper with Yoseshito with whom we drank very good wine and had a very good time. Yoshihiko is probably one of the most extraverted Japanese I have met until now.
We started this day early because we had a meeting in a kendo dojo. I was excited to exercise kendo again with a Japanese sensei. I am extremely grateful of Kentaro-san for arranging this meeting. After breakfast, Kouhei and me started working in the rice fields. He finished cleaning the new rice field we prepared yesterday while I started cleaning the one beside it. Then after lunch, Kentaro-san and I went working on the roof of what we could call the “museum” where most of the sculptures of Kentaro-san are displayed and I sleep. We started reinforcing the roof to make it resistant to the winter snow. After getting clean, we left for the dojo who was in Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima. There, I was presented to a traditional dojo made all in wood, which while was small, was alive. At first, we watched the kids train. They were impressive, and the beginners were funny. The parents were watching their kids. After, I trained with young lads (10 to 15 years old approximately). Yamamoto sensei was extremely impressive for a man of 61 years old. He inspired me a lot and made me want to thrive for perfection in the art of Kendo. All the players were respectful like Japanese tradition and made me want to train everyday with them. I thanked everyone properly and thanked again Kentaro-san and Makiko-san for this wonderful gift they have given me again. Then supper was joyful and Kouhei stayed with us later then usual which made me really happy.
Today was diverse with work. We continued working on the roof. It was difficult since we needed to be extremely careful to not fall. Then after lunch, Kouhei and I ventilated a rice field separated from the others. I must mention that everytime I worked in the rice field, I would often stop myself just to look at the amazing view that I had. The nature where Kentaro-san lives is truly sublime, and I wish I could find a way to live in such a calm place forever. Then, Kentaro-san came to bring us to his sculpting workplace where we loaded his truck of all the needed tools and material to build a tomb tomorrow in Koriyama city. I even drove a small vehicle with a lawnmower engine to transport lots of water and sand. At lunch, we ate an amazing omelette made of onion, potato, mushroom and eggs and on the side, sardine. Makiko-san even made us a delicious and light cake that I enjoyed.
As I waked up early to prepare myself to go to the lecture dojo, Kentaro-san came before 4 o’clock to pick me up. I was locking the door and right away went to the car. I was surprised to see everyone (including Makiko-san, Kouhei-san and Furuta-san) in the car all dressed properly to go to the lecture dojo. I even felt a bit ashamed to have forgotten my own suit at home, in Canada. After picking up someone from another town, we went to the small lecture dojo which is in Mikawa village. There, one person would stand and read aloud while the others would read silently what seemed to be a difficult book. After, people would present event of their day life that marked them to everyone that they would have written beforehand. After being back home, we ate breakfast quickly before leaving for a village near Koriyama city. Makiko-san made us delicious onigiri for lunch before we set off. The ride was long and since we woke up early, everybody had a hard time staying awake. It was even harder for Kentaro-san who had to drive for at most 2h30. At destination, we rested a bit in an old traditional house where a lot of object of art were displayed, including Kentaro-san sculptures. The decoration was truly beautiful but after waiting for a long time, we went to a house located further where waited for us the family of the deceased for whom Kentaro-san prepared a tomb. They then led us to the location of the cemetery where we unloaded all the material off the Nissan truck. There, I met two man, Yoshiro and Ryo. The last had a good English skill and I was very happy to converse with him a lot. Making the tomb was a hard task, we had to dig deeply, lift heavy stones and prepare a lot of concrete to assemble all the pieces together. At the same time as we finished our work, rain began to fall, and I heard my first thunderstorm in Japan. After the family thanked us, we left for Funato. On the road, since most of the buildings in Japan are flat, I could witness a scenery out of this world. The misty mountains mixed with the incredible grey clouds were sublime. I felt a calm and relax feeling when seeing the beauty of Japan’s nature. At supper, Makiko-san had prepared us a lot of food, mostly delicious fish. I was really happy and decided to gift Kentaro-san a superman tank top I found in the clothes I brought. Since Kentaro-san would often joke that he is Superman, since his name was similar to Clark Kent, I thought he would like it. He was filled with joy and decided to give me his website shirt in advance. He even signed the shirt which made it an eternal souvenir of my journey at Funato village.
We started the day early by eating breakfast at 7 o’clock. Then, we cut the weed around the rice field to allow a better vision of the water irrigation and the new arts item that Kentaro-san had crafted. An old man I had never seen before came to help us a bit. After lunch, Kouhei and I cut a lot of wood, then, Kentaro-san asked me to flatten some metal boards. Makiko-san made us a delicious supper including macaroni with vegetables and smashed boiled potatoes. Everyone being tired due off yesterday extreme work and travel, we went to bed early to relax to what would be my last day of work at Funato on this trip…
This day was really charged since it was my last work day. First, we went to a house that was destroyed by snow to salvage the wood in it. We had to make two travels and even then, we didn’t even pick up half of what was present. Then we had an amazing lunch before building a new sliding door in front of the restaurant building where we would usually eat. This was a difficult task since we had to pour concrete to level the door to the entrance. After, Kentaro-san, Kouhei and I made a piece of art for my last day of work. On the grave of his ancestors, we surrounded of black rocks some flowers that had grown out of rock fissures. Then at the end of the day, Makiko-san treated us to amazing gyoza and ramen and we drank delicious Japanese wine. After, we took what would be my last onsen at Kentaro-san house for this journey. It was truly amazing. Finally, we all lit some fireworks to celebrate the end of this adventure.
I’m writing this in advance since I will probably not have time after. The plan is to clean the place where I live now in the morning. Then after, we will go to Aizukawamatsu city where I will train in the third kendo dojo Kentaro-san has found for me. I am truly grateful for the efforts he has made.
Arigato-gozaimasu Kentaro-san and Makiko-san. I will miss you. You will always be in my heart.