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Summer Programmes

Adventures in Yamagata: Part 1

19 July 2017

The past week has proved busy but highly productive, not to mention enjoyable. Already it feels as if I have been in Yamagata forever, and I wouldn’t mind if that was the case. In terms of work we have been busy weeding rice paddies, weeding vegetable patches, weeding an athletics track, weeding a flower garden…yeah, there has been a lot of weeding. Although it doesn’t sound too pleasant it is incredibly rewarding work and makes you appreciate eating rice and vegetables much more. Speaking of which, the food has all been delicious as well as healthy which is a winning combination and one that Japan seems to do very well. That’s not to say we haven’t had a few…less than healthy snacks along the way, but hey, we’re hungry farmers after all. As well as the physical labour we have also had the chance to play and interact with the boys via card games, dog walks and table tennis. They seem to have become more comfortable around us which is a good sign. However, my favourite boy will always be Sango – but he would always win because he’s a dog. We have also had another free day during which we went shopping for snacks and also to a sushi restaurant which sold sushi for insanely cheap prices – each dish coming out at around ¥100 (less than £1)! When you order they come out to you on a cute little train which mesmerized the whole team as we watched it go past. After eating until our trousers strained, we headed to the local onsen for a relaxing soak. An onsen is a Japanese hot spring which, if you know anything about them, is a daunting thing to do as a foreigner. Not only do you have to soak naked in the water, it is also around complete strangers (although of the same sex). Despite this knowledge, my gutsy group were not put off by this and we all had a wonderful time and felt very relaxed afterwards.
We also got the chance to visit the local junior high school to do a series of tasks. I and another volunteer were set to do the Q&A and came in the classroom, totally unprepared, in front of over 100 students. However, they were all very nice and we quickly relaxed as the students taught us various regional words from Yamagata and taught us how to make origami cranes. I’ve never been good at origami and that day was no exception as my crane came out looking a little sorry for itself. My lack of skill was especially apparent when we were given some of the students’ origami as gifts and one of the boys had managed to perfectly make one no bigger than a pea. Nonetheless, the day was exceptional and I enjoyed myself a lot, even when we had to clean the hallway as in Japan they don’t have janitors. With all the emphasis on discipline and caring for one’s environment from a young age, you can see why the Japanese are revered for their cleanliness.
Today it was back to work and this time we went to a cherry orchard for the whole day. We were mostly taking down the nets and untangling various plants from them. It was hard work and I have the scratches to prove it. Although cherry season is coming to an end in Yamagata, the orchard’s owner was kind enough to leave a tree for us to pick cherries from. It was addictive plucking them down and filling up the baskets tied round our waists. We managed to pick enough to fill a large box even with all the snacking we did. The cherries range in colour from yellow to bright red rather than the dark reds of English cherries. The day was tiring but fun and I cannot wait to go to the apple orchards sometime, although unfortunately right now they are not in season.
Well, that about sums up this past week. I’m looking forward to the next week and what it brings, even if it is challenging. I’ve never experienced anything quite like this before and I’m enjoying it immensely. またね。