Mateja was part of a SCI workcamp last September in Japan. In this post she shares her experience with us.
In September, I put down my backpack at the Kaga railway station, in the Western part of central Honshu, the main Japanese island. After three weeks of travelling around (mainly) big cities, I was craving for some nature and settling down for two weeks.
Soon everybody gathered and we set off on a curved road to Ozuchi, an abandoned village of about ten houses up in the mountains. The village is included in the local cultural heritage, therefore it is well maintained although mainly thanks to our generous and open-minded host Nobo-san who takes care of the fields and is trying to bring people back. We, a group of six participants from Japan, France, Ukraine and Slovenia, were staying in his house, a traditional one, sleeping on tatami, sitting on the floor while eating, having the chance to make fire on irari (an open fire place) IN the house (!), etc.
I have already attended a work camp before, but it was quite a big one, with a lot of people coming and going. This one was different in a way that it gave us the feeling of being a family. It was cosy and we could discuss anything. The Europeans were lucky to have Yuko, our dear translator who was never too tired to refuse a translation. I am afraid we were bombarding her with questions all the time. Whereas Nobo-san never got tired of explaining nor did his curiosity to learn about our cultures never cease. He certainly tried us to experience the Japanese way of life and culture as fully as possible, bringing some typical food or enabling us to put on a real yukata (a simpler version of a more known kimono) and try to dance in it at a local dance festival.
Surely, we were not only eating or trying not to make a fool of ourselves managing the chopsticks. We came to work and we did work. I am proud to say we have harvested all the rice fields in the village and put the rice to dry. We cut the two-meter high grass and chopped it as a fertilizer for the now empty fields. It was a strangely serene experience, being stuck in the mud nearly knees high, with the little frogs jumping around or the tiny crabs leaving the battle field. We also did some charcoal work, went up the river to the wasabi field (which was actually in the middle of a stream), we cleaned a house for a big group from Japan and Hong Kong who joined us for a few days. The last working day, we improved the mountain path while climbing up to a hill above the village.
I must not forget the visit to a local school – there was a hundred school kids waiting for us, eager to hear where we came from and to ask questions. Each one of them came to shake our hands when entering and said goodbye in the end. The staff showed us around the school and we could even join the practice for the traditional dance which we were all soon to be dancing at the festival in Yamanaka.
The most precious part of the work camp was definitely the cultural exchange. The Europeans were astonished by the Japanese breakfast: rice, fish, potatoes, vegetables. The Japanese were bewildered by our unforgivable love for pouring soy sauce over pure rice – a real scandal! Despite all the unexpectedness, surprises and differences between us, it was exactly those various bits that made the whole camp such a rich puzzle. Thanks to the participants Ulyana, Alma, Yuko, Ayaka, our leader Toshi, our generous host Nobo-san and the brief campers from Japan and Hong Kong, I had a great time in Japan. Arigato gozaimasu!