The enchanting organic farm of Setsukeian
WWOOF Period: 1st May to 20th May
I am living each day in Setsukeian with a joyful heart and wake up with a smile in my heart. It is so refreshing the air, and the sound of the birds breaking the silence of the forests in dawn. I wake up between 5.30am to 6.00am as I like to spend some time reading or writing before starting of task. The window in my room looks out to the forest behind. In Japan, it is already bright at this timing.
Schedule here is quite routine. Morning task begins at 7am, either helping in the kitchen to prepare breakfast or cleaning the toilet and feeding the only rooster and hen, checking if mother hen lays any egg for the day. 7.30am to 8.00am is breakfast together with Kei san and Setsu san in the Buddha room (dinning room), followed by washing up.
WWOOFers start working in the farm or indoor from 8.30am to 12 noon, with a half hour break in between. Then it is preparation for lunch and a hearty lunch time together outdoor under the wooden shelther build by WWOOFers. It is really relaxing and comfortable having lunch outdoors. After washing up the dishes, it is work time in the farm or indoor again from 1.30pm to 5.00pm, with another half hour break.
We will have one and a half hour rest time here, take our showers and take turn to use the internet on Kei san's computer. At 6.30pm, we help in the kitchen to prepare dinner and dinner starts at 7.00pm. Dinner is one of the best time as everyone is more relaxed, not worrying about having to rush to work. We also use ozen table set (samurai table) only for dinner and Setsu san will prepare more dishes too. Kei san will share about his farm, his family or his personal life and he likes to find out more about us, understanding our culture and country. I learn much about Japanese manners from Kei-san, who believes strongly in observing greetings before leaving to work in the fields, returning home, before and after meals.
When I first arrived, Juliane the American WWOOFer just arrived in the morning. We got along real well and she has been helpful with helping me in understanding Japanese better. We did different tasks; weeding, seperating ancient rice grains, planting seeds and seedlings, making mochi the traditional Japanese way, helping in kneading bread for Setsu san, working in the rice field leveling the mud beneath the water. The latter is tough.
We worked well together. Before Juliane left after a week, she passed me a crocheted handerchief she made personally while WWOOFing here, togehter with a short letter. I wrote on a 3D card I bought from Taiwan for her. I was touched by her sincerity as she is the first WWOOFer I have worked with thus far, who wrote me something. I will write a card to all the WWOOFers I got to know and to the hosts too.
While Juliane left to pursue her one month course in the famous Kawashima Art School in Kyoto, I continued to work on the farm under Keisans guidance. We worked on the vegetable farm, shovelling earth to make yama or mountains for each young potato plant, to prepare space and nutrients for the roots to grow. Dry straws were nested around the plant and the soil to prevent the soil from getting dry from the sun and discourage too much weed growing.
During one of the breaks, Kei san shared about how he is really happy with his life now. He plays the role of a monk, a farmer, an entrepreneur and a guest house owner. I apologised to him for being so raw in the tasks required in the farm and not being fast and strong enough. He was very assuring and reassure me he appreciates hardwork and focus from WWOOFers and encouraged me that I have been doing fine. He appreciates me working hard and being focused while working despite my petite frame. Having so many years of having WWOOFers from different countries and culture helping out in his farm, he has seen well built WWOOFers who cannot tolerate hard work and the working hours. Westerners value rest time while Asians are used to be expected to work long hours in our society. From his observation, Asian female WWOOFers are hardworking and not afraid of hard work. He however, feels that young Japanese men are lacking in this aspect from the ladies.
His words and patience becomes a driven force in my days working in his farm. Setsusans dedication and deligience in supporting her husband and making sumptous meals for us everyday despite her tiredness... all these motivate me to do an extra mile for them.
Once while helping Setsu san at the garden, she passed me a mountain vegetable she plucked from the forest. It is called hooki, crunchy stem with a tinge of sourness. Very refreshing eaten fresh and raw. We sat near the little stream that runs through their house for a short break. Through Setsu san, I was inspired to pick up cooking. She only started learning to cook and bake only when she turned 50. Age really does not matter. Determination and passion are what make things possible. Many times, during conversations at meals, I found Setsu san a deep woman, with a quiet intelligence. She speaks and understand less English that Kei san, but she tends to understand our intention and mind more. Being a master in vine craft, herself, I feel she is a very humble and low profile woman. Many times, I misunderstood what Setsu san wants me to do, especially when helping in the kitchen. I think I have spoiled some of her dishes or made it not the way she originally wanted. However, she has never lost patience or her cool. Despite being an artist herself, she is not a perfectionist. Thats what makes her generiosity in accepting mistakes and imperfections from someone like me. Much to learn from this lady...
Despite his age, Kei san continues to be interested in learning English so as to communicate with and understand WWOOFers better. He has a dictionary next to him, and together with his magnifying glass, he will search for the English meaning for the Japanese word which he has difficulty expressing in English.
Through them, I sees the spirit of living life through constant learning.
Days in Setsukeien are very enriching and never boring for me. Totally immersed in the beauty of nature, touching the earth and plants everyday... it has a unexplanable effect on me. A quiet contentment. On the last week during my stay, Dave, the Canadian WWOOFer who came a few days after Juliane left, and I got to work on the rice field, planting rice seedling. It is a dream come true for me... planting rice, experiencing being in muddy water, back bent and working for hours planting each fragile seedling. It is tiring but the experience makes me appreciate having rice as our daily staple. It means a lot to me. Each grain of rice is so precious, with much sweat and hard work from the hands that cultivate and harvest them.
I will miss Setsukeien and I make a personal promise to myself to return to this little village of quiet charm again. Setsusan asks of me to bring my mum the next time, to stay as a guest. She reminds me of that again before I make my last farewell to her, after helping her at their stall in the flea market in Kyoto. Matta... We shall meet again, for sure.
The shorter house is where WWOOFers stay, in the upper level. On the first level is where the guest room is.
The window in my room when I first arrived, looking into the forest...
Behind the house, close to the forest are rows of logs where shitake mushrooms grow . . . I got to pluck them with Setsu san and prepare dinner with the large mushrooms.
The mighty trees....
and the tiny plants growing under their shades...
The Buddha room, or the dinning room. I remember Keisan seated there, right in the center of the room while I brought my WWOOF permit form to him for a brief orientation... He is like a Zen monk . . . it turns out he became a monk a few years ago.
the colourful ancient rice
Juliane...we were seperating broken rice grains from the good ones on this good day, outdoor. She is a very talented young lady in arts and a very sensible and easy going person too.
I look forward to opening the metal tin box during break time... not knowing what Setsu san has prepared for us...
Sometimes it is biscuits, sometimes it is delicious cinammon candies....
Believe it or not, it is my first time kneading bread. Here bread is made from the ancient rice grains. I love the bread Setsusan bakes with natural yeast she makes herself. This dough has risen.
Setsu... engraved on the clay stove
Making mochi the traditional Japanese way. Made from freshly cooked ancient white and some black rice, pounded with the heavy wooden hammer till it becomes sticky like a dough. We have it with sesame seed, red beans... delicious! Most of it will be made into a long dough, cut into slices when harden and place in the sun to dry. These slices will be fried to make mochi cookies.
One kind of the mountain vegetables found in the forest. This is hooki, very refreshing as I chomped on it raw, freshly pricked by Setsu san.
Mountain vegetables picked by Setsu san daily early every morning in the forest behind. They have them for their meals and to sell in their shop too.
Warabi, a mountain vegetable we have quite frequently in our meals. Lovely shape.
Sushi rice, chirashi sushi, prepared by Setsu san, garnished with leaves from this plant which I forget the name... taste like basil.
Setsu san sharing about the hordes of fireflies which will come during early July with the guests, Sarsi and Marcel. They are classmates with Juliane in the Kawashima Art School, stayed here for a night to learn vine weaving from Setsu san.
The poem written by Keisan... on the wall at the entrance to the house. Juliane and I helped to translate it into English after his explanation.
When we see a blossoming flower, it gives joy to our heart.
Remember too its roots that helps it grow.
The home of the only rooster and hen... The rooster crows every morning at dawn, about 3ish at times... the hen lays an egg on most day for the family. I will say arigatou gozaimasu to her on mornings when I feed them and collect the egg.
The potato plants... weeding, building yama around it with more earth, covering the soil with straws to prevent it from hardening from the sun and discourage weeds. In organic farms, weeds florish speedily as no chemical is used to prevent them from growing.
The rice seedlings we have been watering daily...
till they grow to about 15 cm tall to be ready for planting.
Dave, the Canadian WWOOFer who arrives a few days after Juliane left. Keisan often refers him as my younger brother. The first rice field of the three we worked on. He is faster than me in planting rice. Nice to have someone who speaks English WWOOFing together. He learn basic Japanese language on his own.
Taken by Juliane...Kei-san fixing his real machine to level the padi field while I watched from behind.
I recieved this picture from Kei-san when he emailed me when I have left his farm and WWOOFing in Asaba Art Square. It was when I was planting the rice seedling in his padi field and Kei-san called out my name and took this shot.
Pictures on the door...
The handkerchief crocheted by Juliane and the note from her. The note reminds me of my dear friend, Nur, who will write a letter once a month to me, leaving them on my desk in the teachers office.
Me on the swing when work ends...The swings were build by former WWOOFers with woods chopped from the trees in the forest. Keisan wanted them for children to play on as sometimes, they have school children visiting them to experience farm life for a day.
And a real pleasant surprise a few days before I leave SetsuKei-en. A parcel from Singapore! My dear little sister, Angelia sent me some snacks from Singapore, a card with heart-warming words and photos of Haley and the twins, Skylar and Paige. I was really touched....
View from the top of the mountains around the little village. The people here are all farmers...
Setsu san at the Toji Temple flea market in Kyoto city on the day I left Setsukei-en. I went to her stall and was glad to see her before our final farewell... for now...
The WWOOFers flag... Keisan asks of every single WWOOFer to write on the large canvas and his WWOOFer book before we leave. He has photos of each WWOOFer developed and pasted on our personal page. He wants to remember every one till the day he gets real old and forgetful.
My words on the flag.... En, which is Yuan in Chinese, means fate. Keisan and Setsu san believe that every WWOOFer comes to Setsukei-an because of fate. They value each encounter and meeting....
I will be back again, to SetsuKei-en.... thank you for the beautiful memories.