WWOOF – Getting a Job on a Japanese Farm

Preparing My Journey

Hello, I’m Dan. This summer I am going to Japan to join the farming world of WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and decided to share my story here on JALUP.

Experiencing WWOOF And Japanese Immersion Through Farming 1

I have been planning this trip for quite some time now, and as I sit writing this in a Taiwanese transit hotel, it feels all too real. I have been studying Japanese for approximately 6 months, and this experience is set to be a powerful force in my studies and in my life. I will be in Japan for 2 months, beginning tomorrow, and ending the Friday before I go back to school. I am not going to be studying in the traditional sense, instead I will be doing some JALUP-style immersion!

I found out about the fantastic organization called WWOOF Japan that will get you in touch with host families who run farms and other sustainable businesses. They let you stay with them, eat their food, and experience their lifestyle firsthand. All you have to pay for is a small membership fee with WWOOF Japan and transportation. I will be staying with a host family in a beautiful town in Hokkaido called Biei.

I’m particularly interested in how well I am able to communicate. By far, my greatest strength with Japanese is reading. Every day, I read some form of Japanese, usually manga, sometimes short stories. (Check out Rikai-sama for online reading- it is a useful pop-up dictionary that has the ability to switch between English and Japanese definitions.) I also listen to Japanese speech in the form of recorded radio, TV shows, and podcasts, although my immersion environment really could be better. However, I won’t have to worry about that soon, because I won’t be able to escape immersion!

Arrival and Natural Learning

Experiencing WWOOF And Japanese Immersion Through Farming 2

My experience with WWOOF has lead me to believe that Japan is the ultimate training grounds for immersion method learners. Here, you will face situations everyday that test your abilities. I came here with almost no experience speaking real Japanese. I only really covered reading, listening, and studying with the help of Anki. Now I am able to hold a conversation with any Japanese speaker I run into with little anxiety. After only 9 months of studying, I think things have worked out really well!

Confidence in immersion

My time here has given me a lot of confidence and proved to me that the immersion method of language learning really works. By being in an environment where you have no choice but to use the language to communicate, you inevitably become much better at expressing yourself with it. It is a very interesting feeling to watch this thing you have spent countless hours working on as an abstract project suddenly transform into a real, tangible language that you have to use to be able to survive. Come here expecting to fight a lot of battles; you will be tired, and sometimes it will be really difficult, but in the end you will gain so many levels that you can’t even remember being as weak as you were at the beginning.

Day by day, you watch your Japanese become more and more functional and enjoyable. When I got to Japan, I was probably only approaching level 20; I can now comfortably say that I’ve reached level 35.

Once you have all your basic vocabulary (greetings, common nouns, grammatical words/particles) and kanji down, I suggest coming to Japan as soon as you can and for as long as possible. Getting a part time job in japan is one of the best ways to level up, and WWOOF guarantees you a full-time position for as long as you’d like.

Importance of the host family

I feel extraordinarily lucky to have ended up with the host family that I picked. They are genuinely kind people who quickly treated me as if I was part of the family. It was really sad to leave for Tokyo and have to say goodbye to the life I had become so accustomed to. The mother even said that she felt like she was saying goodbye to her son who was going off traveling; it was all incredibly touching.

I feel certain that I will come back to their place again and stay friends with them for the rest of my life if I can. Their host number is h12364 and their website is here. Check out the mom’s blog here. She writes about various aspects of life at their place and about the WWOOFers who come and visit.

Freedom, Fun, and Friends

They gave us (the WWOOFers) a lot of freedom and the work was reasonable and enjoyable. Every morning and evening we all sat around a table with the whole family, grandparents and all, to eat our meals. Casual Japanese conversation is one of the best ways to improve your skills. When you are talking to a friend, it is difficult not to say what is on your mind, so you have to find creative ways of expressing yourself and getting them to understand you.

The scenery in Biei is unparalleled. I can say without a doubt that it is the most beautiful place I have ever been to. Every day, you can look off into the distance and see fields to the horizon, dotted with forests and surrounded by a ring of mountains. If my family would come with me, I would move to that town without a single regret. Japanese summers are always humid and hot, but in Biei it is comfortably cool everyday.

During the summer they constantly have new visitors and customers coming by, and I met a lot of interesting people from all over the world. It is exciting and challenging to speak to people from other countries like Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Malaysia with Japanese as the only shared language.
As of a few days ago, I am now living in a suburb of Tokyo. I was lucky to meet a family who regularly hosts foreign students in their house, so they agreed to let me do a homestay with them.

I met them at the place I was staying at in Biei by chance. They were one of the customers and a friend of the family. I am glad that I started my journey somewhere peaceful like Biei before jumping into the madness which is Tokyo during the summer, because I had time to build all of my basic Japanese communication skills. If I had come to Tokyo first, I think this experience would have been a lot more hectic. WWOOF is a really great way to get access to Japan’s peaceful countryside that so many foreign visitors miss out on.

Advice for those who visit Japan to learn without attending classes

  • Do some research into where you will be going and what you might want to do in the area. Pack wisely; don’t be like me and pack a bag with little other than T-shirts and shorts when you want to go hiking in Hokkaido.
  • Study a lot before you leave, but while you’re here don’t beat yourself up if you don’t finish your Anki cards and they start to pile up. When you’re in Japan, you can learn a lot more by hanging out with your new friends than you will by reviewing your flashcards.
  • Make a list of the new words that you learn. While you’re here, reading the list is a good way to remind yourelf of them; when you get back, find example sentences for them.
  • Make use of organizations like WWOOF Japan and Couch Surfing to find free places to stay. Don’t be shy when you meet new people. Remember, I’m now able to do a home stay in Tokyo all because I was friendly with someone I met at the inn I worked at in Hokkaido. The more people you become open with, the more you will become familiar with countless quirks of Japanese culture that you would never read about in a book or see on TV.
  • Don’t bring too many reading materials, because in all likelihood you will pick up countless pamphlets, manga, and other books that you probably won’t even have time to read while you’re here. When you’re in Japan, especially for a short amount of time, the highest priority should be meeting Japanese people and speaking Japanese in as many new situations as possible.
  • I found that using Skype to make phone calls and send text messages is a fairly affordable way to take care of communication, assuming that the place you are going to has an internet connection you can use and you have a computer.
  • It is important to be familiar with all of the most common kanji before you come to Japan. Once you can recognize them, it becomes much easier to grasp the meaning of the informational signs and posted rules which are abundant here.

What are you waiting for?

You should all be applying for the WWOOF program . . . right now!

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Just living the simple life on a beautiful farm in Japan.

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WWOOF – Getting a Job on a Japanese Farm — 17 Comments

  1. Sounds exciting!! I kinda wanna do the same some time in my life. I’m looking forward to the updates. (^_−)−☆

    • Nope. All travel expenses are on you. All they provide/are supposed to provide is a place to sleep and meals.
      Still absolutely worth it as those two things are gonna likely be the highest costs of any trip.

  2. I look forward to this. I plan on doing something similar to this in Septemeber and October but through helpx.

  3. It is a really great system. I highly suggest that anyone who can do this, and who considers themselves “Intermediate” (Level 20-39) but perhaps uncomfortable with their conversational skills or feels completely incapable of speaking in Japanese (like I did), jumps on this opportunity as soon as possible. It really works! I would suggest at least 3 weeks, because a fellow WWOOF-san who only came here for one week was really sad to go and I was sad to see her go. I strongly suggest doing something like this as an affordable way to improve your Japanese skills (Level up!).

  4. Have any of you had a look at Agriventure its like WWOOF but they sort out the transport and the visa’s and you get paid to do the farm work when you are in the county. This is what i’m going to do (when i have saved up enough :( lol) the website is http://www.agriventure.com/ have a look!

  5. This sounds like a dream to be honest. I think I will be doing something similar after I finish my MA. Wow.

    You said you worked at an inn? What kind of work did you do there?

    • The majority of the work was helping prepare the meals for the customers, washing a lot of dishes, and doing 2-3 hours a day of various chores required to run a pension with a small farm.
      The chores varied, including work such as howing, cleaning, and harvesting berries. It could be hard at times but because I was surrounded by nice people and had approximately 4-6 hours off each day, it was a really great experience.

  6. Definitively sounds like a dream. I checked Biei out, really beautiful area. I will visit next time I’m in Japan.

    I wish I could do a WWOOF stunt, but I guess I’m too old for that. Do they accept people over 50? Not that I couldn’t do it, I’m really fit.

    • It is up to the hosts who they will accept, but if you say that you are fit I doubt that very many of them would turn you down. I’m sure that the host I mentioned would be glad to have you come help them and would probably find it amusing to get different than usual. Most of the WWOOFers I met were Taiwanese or from Hong Kong, and in general the age range seemed to be 18 ~ 28.

  7. Sounds like you had a lot funner time then I did.
    When I did WWOOF it consisted of 6 day work weeks from 9 till 6. My host lady would drop me off in the middle of nowhere, tell me to fill up some compost bags and she would come back by sundown. Then we would return home, she would cook dinner, then I was allowed 30 minutes on the internet and then went and cooped up in my room by 8:40 were i slept until the next day, rinse and repeat. I booked out of there and catched the first bus back to tokyo on my only day off.
    I have nothing against manual labor, but I guess I was a bit spoiled, as previously when I have done work, I always expect a nice paycheck after the end of all the hard work. With this family, I didnt have much nice things to look forward to after a hard days of work(ok, the food was really good, and the futon I slept on was amazingly comfertable, but still..)
    I guess the only good thing was she did almost always speak Japanese to me, so I was at least able to practice my japanese which was nice.

    Not saying everyones experience will be the same, but its good idea to talk with the host family many times before actually commiting to anything(the most important thing would be to ask for what a typical work schedule is).
    From what I have read, Japanese wwoof is a lot different than other wwoofs in europe, oceania, and americas(where it is usually 20-30 hours of work a week), wheareas Japan the usual seems to be 40 to 60.

    • Thanks for the opposite perspective. It’s useful for people who are considering the process and shows how important the research for a good host family is.

    • Sorry to hear that it didn’t work out as well for you. I certainly wouldn’t have written this glowing report if I had a similar experience.

      My advice to potential WWOOFers is to look very closely at the profile of the host you’re interested in to try and figure out if they seem nice, as well as asking a lot of questions about the work load and type of work.
      Also I found that working at a pension instead of a normal farm also worked in my favor, as there are more people around and a lot of the work consisted of washing dishes rather than farm work.
      I heard from a fellow WWOOFer similar reports of unkind treatment- one of her hosts restricted her time off to days which had bad weather as well as giving her difficult physical labor. Her way of dealing with commitment is to tell the host on the first few days that she is not sure how long she will stay, and after she feels out how much she likes the place she tell them her decision. I might suggest doing something similar. Also, make sure you have a way to access the internet so that you can plan the rest of your trip easily.

  8. Hi Good Day, I already knew basic japanese and I already visited japan but not a WWOOFer.So now i want to try this kind of experience but im curious about the expenses?the fair?is it free? and how about to those visa required country?

  9. Just thought I’d post my experience.

    I did a 1 month WWOOF stint at two places in Nagano prefecture in May-June this year. I had studied Japanese myself for around a year (Kanji 4 years with Heisig… don’t ask) and thought it would be a great way to immerse. Before I went to Japan I quit my office job and got a working holiday visa (but you can do it on a tourist visa, as you don’t get paid).

    Well, it was interesting but the farming was *hard* work. And although the rule is 6 hours a day of work, it is more like 10 hours because I had to help with preparing the meals in the mornings and evenings too. My original plan was immersion and self-study in free time, but actually I found I had very little free time to study, just barely keep up with Anki, and the Japanese I was surrounded with was so full-on I didn’t understand anything. Definitely get speaking practice early, in your home country, even if you only know how to introduce yourself and think you sound stupid! And then I would work in the fields for hours.

    To be fair that was just the first place. The 2nd place was a pension in the mountains, and after a bit of housekeeping and helping with breakfast/dinner, it was mostly free time. So I got a lot of studying done then and also explored the area – but there was a complete lack of people to socialise with (although in the evenings I could speak to the guests, who were middle-schoolers).

    It was definitely an experience and I got to see some areas of Japan for very low cost. *However* coming from full-time employment it did feel a little like… slavery, lol. I know it’s voluntary, but you work many hours for no pay in exchange for bed and food (and you usually get the worst bedroom). You are spending your labour to help the people grow their business. Normally in life you get paid for your work and have the option of saving some of that money for your own benefit. With WWOOF you don’t earn, and you will be spending on transport and sightseeing – so it’s worth to keep that in mind. Of course you’re there for the experience, be that language or culture or learning about farming, but that aspect definitely grated on me.

    So although I joined WWOOF for a year, after a month I decided to go on a language course for 3 months instead, and now I’ve found myself an office job (not English teaching) working for a Japanese company, which suits me much better, and I can afford to rent my own place. :)

    • Adam, thanks very much for the story, you may have changed the course of my life.

      I myself just got a Working Holiday Visa and am quitting my office job at the end of this month to go to Japan in search of a new life (not English teaching). I’ve been learning using Heisig and did the JLPT N4 recently, so our situations are the same!

      I was considering WWOOFing for the sake of immersion but you’ve put me off that idea now, and I think I’ll go for the language school the same way you did. But did you not find that classroom style Japanese did not translate well into real life situations? How useful is it in your job?

      • Hi Diarmaid,

        Sorry for the delay! This blog doesn’t notify when replies are made, and I only just thought to come back and check. So I hope you get this!

        I actually documented most of my experience over at RevTK forums, so feel free to check it out: http://forum.koohii.com/viewtopic.php?id=12062 especially the most recent post I made yesterday.

        WWOOF is worth the experience as long as you know what to expect and it’s what you want to do. Maybe do the language school first? I was also very conscious of finances – school and accommodation is expensive. Going the “not English” route is tough.

        Best of luck with your trip. :-)

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