My Travels North to Azumino: A City Surrounded by the Japanese Alps
Azumino (the view from my window)
Howdy friends, I hope you all have recovered after Saint Patrick’s day. I spied on some of your Facebook statuses and it sounds like lots of you had a great time. I’m glad. I spent my evening with my host family. Instead of beer and fish and chips, I ate fried squid with seaweed, boiled tofu, rice, and cucumber with salty fish. I am very lucky that my host mom is a great cook, holy cow! (or in French “O la vaesh,” bad spelling I know).
I bet some of you are wondering how I went from hosteling in Kyoto to living in a Japanese household. Well, it’s all because of WWOOF. Yep that’s right, I’m a bonafide WOOFer. It stands for world wide opportunities for Organic farming. The premise is that they want people to learn how to farm/work organically and gain cultural experiences to bring back to the US. At least, that’s my take on it. It’s a really cool site, you should check it out.
I’m apart of WWOOF Japan, so I sign in and can see a list of hundreds of families I can live with. I found the Takahashi family in the Nagano Prefecture. Hiroshi Takahashi runs a cafe and rents bicycles in Azumino city. He also has a kind heart and helps disabled children make pottery once a month, which he sets up in his cafe. I mean, c’mon. How could I not want to smell coffee everyday, hang out with kids, and fix bikes? So I contacted him, got the okay, and headed towards Azumino.
Azumino borders the Japanese Alps to the East and has more mountains to the West. Anywhere you look, there are beautiful mountains to see. I picked one helluva spot!
The cafe is super chill and is called Hitsujiya. The word “Hitsuji” means sheep, so there are lots of sheep drawings, art, and pottery. He also sells local art which he hangs up all over. Pretty much, the cafe is frickin’ adorable.
So, with WWOOF you agree with the family that you will help at their farm/cafe/whatever for food and board. On the WWOOF Japan site, it said the workload is a bit more than usual because the work ethic here is more intense than in America. And they weren’t joking. My first day at the cafe, Hiroshi put me to work on his bicycles. I changed the tubing in the pump mechanism, washed the rims, and re-pumped the tires. At first I thought, “psssshht, this is easy. He only has 10 bicycles,” but when I thought I finished, Hiroshi brought me around back and I found 60 more. Whew Nelly, my back was sore that night.
The next day, Hiroshi had me work the cafe as a server. I washed dishes, served tables, and busted tables. I learned some handy Japanese too; “konnichiwa irishaimasu” =hello, welcome; “gochu manwa okimari deska?” = what have you decided to order?; and my favorite “goyo kudi dozo”= take it easy, enjoy! Then on my third day he made me weed his garden, which was filthy! So much trash, weeds, and leaves. It took me all day, but by the end his garden looked spotless. I have gained much respect from Hiroshi after that one!
I’ve been having a great time with my co-workers too. I really like my co-worker Nao-San. She is very spunky and is an artist. She works at the cafe as a side job. The funny thing is that she speaks no English, but we understand one another. Maybe it was that first day where Hiroshi made us fix bikes for 5 hours that bonded us. During our lunch breaks, I speak broken Japanese to her and she instructs me how to pronounce words better. It’s a pretty sweet deal. She also makes me mochi… Mmmm…. Sakura mochi.
I work for about 5-6 hours a day and then I jump on my bike and explore.
The first morning I biked to the mountains near Hiroshi’s house. I found a trail that had signs saying don’t feed the monkeys. Monkeys?! Really? Here in Azumino? Well I guess I’ll go hiking there this week! I walked a bit of the trail and it really reminded me on the old growth forests in Oregon… Except with monkey sounds in the distance, oooo!
The second day I explored a bit of the city, which is not much of a city. It is maybe 4 blocks by 6 blocks. There are a lot of museums in this tiny town, though. I’ll check them out later. Other than that, I’ve been putzing around on my bicycle, embracing the Japanese countryside. I am not ashamed to say that I hummed the Totoro soundtrack while biking. Every corner looks like roads the main character made when looking for her little sis. Also, you all will just have to accept that I’ll mention Miyazaki at least once per post (sorry in advance).
I’ll post about why Azumino is a destination spot for people in the near future. I will be here for 1-2 weeks, so I’ve got time to write more.
Thanks for reading. I really appreciate it. And let me know what you guys/gals would like to hear about.
A shrine near the cafe. Tokoji Shrine is the name. My bicycle is so cute, right?
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