Note to the Reader
I recently stumbled across a short piece I wrote about a farming experience in Ibaraki prefecture via WWOOF way back in 2015. It is endearingly quaint, naive even, in comparison to the hellfire of 2020. It is also mildly prescient for establishing the sentiments we as Akiya & Inaka still hold so many years ago.
This past week, two national holidays occurred with one day between them, which, by Japanese law, renders the intermediary day a holiday by default. This began on a Monday, resulting in the beautiful 5-day weekend known as Silver Week.
With such a long holiday, there was much planning to be done! Ultimately, I decided to host the tenth of my Blood Rite concert series, and to stay on an organic farm in Ibaraki. The following recounts these adventures.
There Will Be Blood!
I started Blood Rite on March 2nd, 2013 as a concert series to showcase Japan’s extreme music underground. It started humbly enough, but broadened its horizons over the years, hosting a variety of both Japanese and international acts. For the tenth I wasn’t about to ease up on the throttle.
We held Blood Rite Vol. 10 at Okubo’s lovely Earthdom, something of a staple of Tokyo & Japan’s underground music world. The lineup featured a delectable tasting of Japan’s vibrant extreme ecosystem: Myocardial infarction-ists Flagitious Idiosyncrasy in the Dilapidation, Tantric Black Metal adepts Funeral Sutra, very proper street punks Extinct Government, bell bottom-clad groovy Doom masters Nepenthes, glacial hypnotists Ante-Whales, and last but not least my own band, Retch, which I can’t describe here because I’ve run out of quirky epithets.
The gig went excellently, and most went home with aching necks and at least a temporary case of tinnitus. 10/10, will do again.
Hair of the Dog
That overdriven sonic mess was hard to one-up, but I had done my homework. WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) is a network of loosely affiliated groups with a robust Japan chapter. Through them (membership required!), I secured a host farm up in Shimotsuma city, Ibaraki prefecture. What transpired there was awesome.
I arrived at Shimotsuma station mid-afternoon on Sunday, September 20th. Upon exiting the station, I took a moment to bask in the atmospheric glory of Japan’s inaka. As is always the case with leaving Tokyo, the air immediately strikes you as being levels of magnitude more breathable.
Standing there alone at the rotary, I called my host to let them know I had arrived. It rang once… it rang twice… and then the host picked up and said that they’d be there to pick me up in 15 minutes or so. Pleased with myself, I sat down on a station bench with a decisive thump, and waited in the sun.
About 10 minutes later, a minivan pulled up with a “baby on board” sticker and a woman inside tipping her hat to me. “Of course!” I thought, grabbed my over-packed Motörhead bag, and ran to meet my host.
The farmer’s cheerful wife and their darling newborn, not yet a year old, greeted me, 2 of 4 people I would spend the next 2 days with.
After a quick ride to the house, I disembarked to meet the farmer and another helping hand there, of Czech origin. The three of us immediately set to washing and bagging the vegetables they had reaped earlier that day. After that grueling task, we settled into a nice dinner of fresh green beans, chestnuts, peanuts, rice, and a rather conspicuous Kirkland pizza.
While eating and drinking (toriaezu beer followed by mizuwari shochu, in true Japanese style), we shared stories, took turns at making their daughter laugh, and quickly got to know each other. That, however, was before mention was made of climbing the nearby Mt. Tsukuba for sunrise the next morning. Once this hike became a topic of discussion, I grew considerably more excited.
To the Mountains!
We got up at 3AM, grabbed a few onigiri and waterbottles, and piled into the van for the hour-ish drive to Mt. Tsukuba. Outside the City Limits, the dark was deep, though the stars shone brightly, what always clams my hyperactive mind down. On the road, the silent night was broken only by the wind blowing through the windows, the engine’s hum, and a poorly tuned radio station. There were a few points of conversation, sparse but not awkwardly because we had gotten up at 3AM.
The first trail entrance was closed, which did not bode well but we moved on to the next one. Thankfully, the next entrance didn’t let us down, though it did take a bit of hunting to actually find it. The whole park area had kind of a wonky set-up, if you ask me, but we managed to park.
We wound our way up the forested mountain with our flashlights lifting the pitch black from the trail, spotting some very gnarly rock formations and hearing some very gnarly forest noises along the way.
We got to the peak just at sunrise. And without waxing poetic, it really was something. Highly recommended.
Days in the Ibaraki Sun
After taking in the sights, we returned to the farm, suited up, and got to work. Ibaraki was recently flooded by a heavy rain, and so some of my host’s plots were still in pretty bad shape. We spent most of that day (Monday) unearthing tarps, clearing brush, and rehabilitating those plots. Serious work under the beating sun, and full of thorns and blisters, but nevertheless was very rewarding.
After spending the day in the thick of it, we returned to the homestead for dinner. The farmer’s wife, a Nagasaki native, had prepared Sara-Udon, fried noodles with a Japanese-y stew on top. That paired with drinks made for a very cozy end to a very busy day working the Ibaraki fields.
I went to bed with an exhausted body and a full stomach, and sighed contentedly as the crickets’ chirps echoed through the still night.
My Czech co-WWOOFer left the following morning. The farmer and I spent most of the day visiting various plots and harvesting crops. Once we had a significant amount, we returned home to bag everything for delivery to Tokyo. After work, we spent the evening in much the same manner as the previous two.
This morning, I woke up only to pack and come home to Tokyo. On the way to the station, we dropped by the Michi no Eki shopping center to buy omiyage for when I got back to Tokyo. For friends and co-workers, well, they get sweets. For me? 3 bottles of Shimotsuma’s local brewery’s beer — a Red Ale, Golden Pilsner, and White Weizen. Pretty good haul, I think.
What little insight I got into the life of an organic farmer over the 2.5–3 days I spent with them already has affected me, albeit in tiny little ways. I got home, went to the gym, and then went grocery shopping. While in the store, I caught myself noticing the little pieces of tape closing vegetable bags. I did that! Or rather, guided the bag through the very basic tape machine that does it, somewhat ingeniously.
But the above is such a minor example of the overall experience of working with the farmer and his family up in Shimotsuma, Ibaraki: so much gets lost in the big city, cut out in the (justifiable) pursuit of “The Life” that you don’t really notice until it smacks you in the face. Clean air and forests are one thing, laid back people and home cooked meals another, the realization that my hands are super fragile and I need to go to the gym way more because I’m hurting like you can’t believe after working only 2 days on a farm a third; all of this strikes me as very physical and intimate even, or, to be trite, real, and with it comes a kind of refreshment that can’t really be gotten anywhere else.
If that sounds good, look into the program and get out to Japan’s outstanding countryside, where you’ll undoubtedly, almost necessarily, meet some very excellent people.
Oh, and listen to heavy metal.