Golden Week Farm Volunteer Program

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  • Duration: 4 Days / 3 Nights
  • Dates: May 3 - 6 (Golden Week Holiday)
  • Price/person: 37,000 JPY

Spend your Golden Week experiencing real life in the Japanese countryside. Participants in this program will not be treated like tourists. You will work along-side our neighbors as they tend to their fields and daily chores. You will eat what they eat, bath where they bath, and sleep in the same bed that they sleep in.

Just kidding about that "sleeping in the same bed" thing.

Tentative Itinerary
Pricing & What's Included
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Tentative Itinerarytop

This trip is planned for May 3-6

Please note - this is not Disney Land. The local farmers you will be working with are not tourist attractions, making it very difficult to guarantee an exact schedule. Daily plans may change based on weather or family matters.

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Day 1: Arrive in Sakae Mura

Orientation / Sakae By Bike

We will meet you at Morimiyanohara station, the "center" of Sakae Mura, and start with a brief orientation. Your first day will be spent getting to know the area on bicycle or by foot (hitchhiking is also a safe and effective way to meet the locals for those more "adventurous" participants). To facilitate your exploration, we will provide you with games, tasks, and challenges, as well as English language maps and language cheat-sheets. If you are already fluent in Japanese, you can try your tongue at a crazy new dialect!

Participants have the option of exploring alone, in groups, or with Tomoe and/or Kevin. We will have a set lunch point at one of the villages hot-spring baths - everyone is welcome to meet-up there if they are not already too filled up with tsukemono, sweets, and tea received along the way.

Local Hot Spring

Everyone will meet in the afternoon at Yuri Onsen, the local bath near our home. Non-locals are a rare sight at this bath, so be prepared to answer some questions (or just smile and nod profusely).

Welcome nabe party at the local meeting hall

It is just a short walk from the bath (wearing an optional yukata and kiri-geta - cotton robe and traditional wooden sandals hand-made here in Sakae by the last surviving craftsman in Nagano). Get to know each other, and some of the locals over a nabe (stew) made with Sakae Mura's famous tomato juice, and other local delicacies, such as yuki-no-shita carrots - harvested after a long winter under meters of snow, giving it a sweetness few have ever experienced in a carrot.

Once the karaoke machine is unplugged, participants will settle down for the night at the local meeting hall. Accommodation will be Japanese style (tatami floor). Futons and blankets are provided.

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Day 2: Group Volunteer Project

Community Service Project

After an early breakfast we will head out as a group to take part in a community project. This may be clearing weeds, bamboo, and trees from along the roads and rice-paddies, fixing a ditch in the mountains, or planting flowers, herbs, and spices along the river. You will be working together with the Japanese farmers.

Lunch with Locals

Lunch will be provided at the site, or at the home of one of the locals we are helping.

Afternoon Free Time

Work is finished by 3pm and participants are free to explore more, or just sit and read a book or paint a picture postcard. We will organize optional activities based on the interests of participants which may include hiking to see the rare mizu-basho plants, or making wara (rice-straw) crafts .

Bath & Traditional Dinner

Once everyone has had a bath, we will meet again at the local hall to cook a traditional meal with the villagers. Everyone is invited to participate, or just to take notes. Those who don't feel so comfortable in the kitchen may be asked to take a trip to the nearest mom & pop shop for sake, beer, and soft-drinks.

Day 3: Follow a Farmer

Breakfast & Morning Chores

Breakfast time depends on the schedule of the farmer you are paired up with. You will join your personal farmer for all of their morning chores.

Lunch will be provided at the site, or at the home of the local you are working with.

Bath & Haiku

Work will finish by 3:00 and participants are free to explore more, or just sit and read a book or paint a picture postcard. For those interested, we are planning an informal meeting of the local Haiku club. Write a poem of your own and share them with the locals (they love to see what outsiders notice in their village). For those who are not quite fluent yet, Tomoe and I will be on hand to help translate your poems into Japanese, and the villagers' poems into English.

Elaborate Spring Vegetable Dinner

Once everyone has had a bath, we will meet at the only ryokan in the village for an elaborate meal prepared by two award-winning chefs. People come from distant prefectures just to learn from them, but their greatest charm is their eagerness to share the story of the food with their customers. You will have to learn how to nod, smile, and chew at the same time in order to finish this meal.

Day 4: Wrap-up and Relaxation

Sansai Walk & Lunch

After two days of work, you are invited to relax and enjoy some of the softer side of Sakae Mura. Join an optional early morning mountain vegetable walk to experience the abundance of this area. The mountain vegetables here taste different than other areas in Japan, having spent several months waiting beneath the snow, where temperatures never drop below freezing.

We will join expert cooks to learn how to prepare these fresh "tastes of spring" for an outdoor picnic lunch. The program officially ends after the lunch, but you are welcome to hang out with Tomoe and I until your last train/bus home. This is a great opportunity to do something you just couldn't fit in, or, visit Nozawa Onsen at hit as many of the thirteen baths as you can stand.

Pricing and What's Included top

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The base price for this country experience is

  • 37,000 JPY

This includes

Bike Rental: Explore the area on day one and your free time with one of our mountain bikes.

Accommodation: You will be staying at the local meeting hall in Japanese style tatami rooms with comfortable futons.

Meals: All meals are included in the price, be it a picninc lunch, a breakfast with your farmer host, or a full-course ryokan meal with fresh mountain vegetables. Alchohol is not included in the price. Beer and sake will be purchased and the cost shared evenly among participants who choose to drink.

Activities & Baths: All activity costs and hot-spring baths are included.

Local Guides & host Farmers: Any local guides, cooking, craft and haiku instruction is covered, as well as any English language materials and translation services.