Friday, October 26, 2007
Meet the Tokuhara (徳原) family. Tadashi is father of family, and the one I contacted to work on farm. Is a musician, and spends half his time working around house and farm, and other half teaching guitar and coaching tennis. Etsuko is the mother, and currently stays at home most of time and takes care of youngest child. She also gathers chestnuts, coaches own children at tennis, and does most of housework and cooking. Both are in their mid 40s. Ryoto is oldest child, and only son, 13. Is very talented at guitar, and spent most of time listening to minidisc player and/or playing guitar. Yui is 10, and very social. Likes English class at school, but hesitant to practice with me. Iha is 3, and loves to sing. Probably at stage where still getting used to idea of talking in full sentences, and so talks constantly.. even if makes no sense.
Also have two pets, Pii-chan and Audrey Hepburn. Seriously. Though for first while, thought were calling her Odie (Japanese pronounce like Odori). Yoichi, who lives on 2nd floor of house and was introduced as worker on farm, also has two dogs.. Titan and Concon. Yoichi speaks fairly good English, as he went to University in the U.S.. Is interesting to converse with, as studies Steiner philosophy in German.
Farm was not really your classic idea of farm. Had small (when I say small, I mean size of average back yard) vegetable patch for own use, but main point of interest was chestnut trees and wild grapes. Didn't ever see chestnuts or grapes sold, but gathered that sometimes are sold and grapes made into jam. Also run cafe in winter, were just beginning to prepare to start up. WWOOF organization demands only that the farm be organic, not particularly profitable... and what more organic than gathering wind-fallen nuts and wild grapes?
Main job was to clear paths to chestnut trees, or whereever else grass needed removing. Was given hand mower with large saw blade and sent off into hills. Dad would be sad, mowed maybe football field's worth of pampas grass similar to that which carefully tended back in Ottawa. Darned annoying stuff, too, as was taller than self and tended to fall in face when cut down, covering clothes in fluff. Don't think will be cultivating pampas in own garden someday, bad association now fully set.
Other jobs included... 1) Babysitting on first day during meeting, which didn't go so well, children somewhat nervous about strange gaijin, kept running back to mothers. Managed at least to entertain Iha, who was older than others. 2) Painting large spools. 3) Cleaning shower/bath room, to "pika-pika" shiny clean standards on a rainy day. Own family in shock as recall my usual standard of cleanliness. 4) Shelling chestnuts with method similar to peeling apple or carving wood. 5) Picking up garbage around rather large property, separate trips for burnable and non-burnable.
Family spoke about as much English as I spoke Japanese, so really tried to learn more Japanese. Believe came away with much stronger vocabulary in such areas as vegetable names and things one says to a 3-year-old.. as spent most of time with Iha and Etsuko who were at home most of time. Most memorable were potato = jagaimo, sweet potato = satsumaimo, not allowed = dame, dangerous = abunai and the various conjugations of "to understand"... not to mention OISHII!!!!! (yummy!) which a Japanese 3-year-old seems to say at the most unexpected things. Iha loves sweet potato, which after eating every day for snack I must agree, and also loves natto.. which I didn't feel the need to get used to. Natto is fermented soy beans ("a relative of tofu, so must be good!", says Etsuko laughingly), usually served in small cup along with soy sauce and rather spicy mustard. Hard to imagine more unappealing presentation of vegetable matter. Sticks together like, well... snot. Is mandatory to mix up before eating, making squishy noises and leaving tendrils of slime behind. Taste is... rotten beans, basically. And if add too much mustard, also burns mouth and shoots flames out nostrils. Perhaps I exaggerate, but seriously unpleasant stuff... and many Japanese children beg for it! Have it for dessert! You may think me uncultured for exclaiming so much about natto, but was sort of game for them to feed foreigner natto and see reaction. All good fun, and wasn't obliged to eat again (though seriously did try it hoping would be good, seems like nice healthy snack).
Biggest part of experience for me was culture exchange. First weekend of stay, was able to join family in attending school festival.. something was familiar with from Japanese television. Hadn't realized was equivalent of meet-the-teacher night. Children's role is to create displays and/or run little cafes and/or put on a play and/or just run around having fun at other stations. Teachers' role is to supervise activity rooms, provide entertainment, and put on demonstration classes for parents. Parents' role is to view everything, get a feeling for what child is doing in school. Another point of festival seems to be fundraising for school. People buy little wooden stars at entrance, each worth about 50 cents. Each station then charges certain amount of stars to participate, though usually only when getting entertainment or food.
Own day at festival included such things as making transparent origami star, watching puppet show so different from north american style that hardly felt could give same name, eating at halloween-themed cafe where Ryoto dressed as cat bus from Totoro, particpating in mock grade 2 math class, and watching kids all run to get end-of-day treat of boiled potato and salt. School was particularly interesting as was Steiner, known in north america as Waldorf. Steiner schools (and any alternative schooling) not recognized in Japan, children attending them considered truant, and with that fact is very difficult to transfer between systems. Also have issues keeping population of school intact, even though some families have mother and children move to be able to attend the school while father stays in some other town where can find work. Steiner system in itself a little foreign to me, so noted such things as displays of sewing work (including pair of pants made by Ryoto), small buildings in yard constructed each year by 4th grade class (Yui's class made rabbit hutch, year before made brick oven which was being used to make delicious buns), and math class taught with song.
Other component of culture will take away with me was Etsuko's wonderful cooking. Made fairly traditional Japanese meals, all thoughtfully vegetarian for me, and very healthy. Was difficult at times translating recipes, for many reasons. For one thing, measuring spoons are a different size, and Etsuko, like many good chefs, just adds "dash of this", "pinch of that". For another thing, ingredients come conveniently pre-mixed, in forms am sure will have difficulty finding in Ottawa. Lastly, was amusing troubles in vocabulary.. especially when Etsuko tried explaining things with sound effects like "shuka shuka" for beating egg whites. Anyway, managed with fairly good results in most cases. Have decent array of recipes to add to repertoire, and even got to try making some while was there. Tempura especially fun to make, and chahan has to be one of favourite meals.
In return, introduced family to pancake sunday, as practiced by my family all through my childhood. Made mountains of pancakes for 7 people, and broke out small bottle of maple syrup from collection have been carrying around for gifts (had previously given them fancy maple leaf shaped bottle of syrup, but let them save that for own occasions). All seemed to appreciate, and Etsuko surprised me later that afternoon by recreating recipe with Japanese touch of style. Have never seen such a beautiful pancake.
In all, was very lucky to find this family. Have heard of other WWOOF experiences, and this measures up well. Was easily accepted into family life, and work not too hard and reasonably interesting. Would do it again? Probably, if opportunity arose.