Permaculture workaway – 26th June to 9 July

Tuesday 26th June

Kori to Kamikayama
Distance: 52.30 km
Total Distance: 23301.35 km

A pretty uneventful day cycling wise but we do arrive at our workaway.   There’s Crip (well Crispin), he’s been here in Japan for 30 years but originally he’s from Alton in Hampshire.   He’s married to a Japanese lady, Kazumi, and they have a 6 year old daughter, Emma. They have a small holding and originally we were to live there, in a shed, offgrid, whilst they live in a yurt.

 But Crip has just bought a house in the village so that’s where we’ll be living.

Already living in the house is a young Japanese lad, Naoki. He’s been working for Crip since February. The small holding is 2km away. We pop up for a visit.  

This land was originally used to grow tobacco, a crop that decimates the soil, so they’ve had to work incredibly hard to improve the soil and grow crops here. Tomorrow we will start working for our keep!


Wednesday 27th June

Last night we went out for Chinese,  a lovely treat, but today we easily work it off – weeding a paddy field bare foot. It takes 4 of us all day, about 7 hours – bloody tough work bending over all day.

Pulling out big weeds and agitating the underwater soil to dislodge the smaller grasses and weeds.   Naoki and Crispin work with us in the heat of the day. It’s slippery and the suction keeps us unbalanced when moving! There are all sorts of amphibians and critters swimming around in the calf deep waters, we even spot a terrapin.

Crispin did say there are many snakes in Japan but fortunately the water snakes are harmless but I’m so glad I don’t have to test the theory,  I definitely don’t want snakes slithering over my bare feet!

This morning Naoki showed us how to make filled rice balls for our packed lunch.  Also at the house, and running around the fields with us is Lyn their hound dog. Still quite young and full of bounce! There’s also a lovely blue eyed cat to relax with.

 Our first day on the farm has been a hard back breaker, but that’s farming for you, we’ll sleep well tonight! In the evening Kazumi cooks us a lovely Japanese style curry.


Thursday 28th June

It’s been raining all night, so no need to do any watering today. Initially Crip says it’s too wet to work but we suggest we start work on the shed extension.  Meanwhile Naoki is heading home to Kobe, it’s his 20th birthday on Saturday. This shed was supposed to be our home.

Crip wants to add a second room and there’s an open end which needs walling and flooring. But first we need to declad the current outer wall. Not too hard a job and Daz let’s me loose with the electric screwdriver.

 Shortly however I’m stuck as I’m too short to reach the high boards! Daz takes over for the final few and then we can take down the tyvek moisture membrane. We also need to do some woodwork to improve some of the previous joinery. Daz sets up the generator then powers up an electric saw to cut new mortices. We need to relocate the existing sills and put in new ones.  I then get given a wood chisel and mallet and instruction from Daz how to knock out the mortice. Excellent, nothing to this woodworking malarkey (yawn, yawn)!  


Friday 29th June

Today Crip spends all day in Osaka teaching English but we have some chores to do.  Daz has work on the shed extension to be getting on with and there isn’t really anything to keep me busy so I agree to do the other chore, fertilising 2 paddy fields – I definitely got the short straw in that labour division.  There are 20 bags of fertiliser, 10 for the field we weeded on Wednesday and 10 for another field.  Crip had described the method: take one bag, open top, walk through field swinging bag so fertiliser is spread in an arc onto the field.  He had said the bags aren’t heavy and it’s true, the fertiliser is a similar consistency to sawdust, but I’m walking bare foot through the paddy fields trying to spread the fertiliser and it’s really tough work. I’m also trying not to cripple myself by standing on the sharp stones!  In addition there’s bouts of torrential rain so I’m getting soaked and my fertiliser bags are getting soggy and starting to rip.

Lyn’s busy guarding me and her rice fields and even she is looking completely disheartened by the rain. Finally I get the job done and go up to see Daz and the shed extension.

Thankfully he’s done all he can so we’re finished for the day.


Saturday 30th June

Crip needs to buy us more wood for the stud work so there’s no point heading to the farm until we’ve got it.  Instead we potter around the house where garlic and onions are drying and tomatoes and corgettes are growing. 

When we do start we work on moving the sill and creating more stud work. Occasionally we glimpse a huge black snake as we walk between the gardens! Apparently it’s not poisonous,  but it is fricking huge. I now refuse to walk about the garden without a stick!!

In the evening we make our first ever crumble – it’s plum (the plums are from the garden) and it’s delicious.  And so easy!

So much so we’ll be trying apple and blackberry next! Naoki came home last night, so it clearly wasn’t a wild birthday piss up, but we really don’t think that’s the Japanese way. At least now he can smoke and drink legally if he so wishes!! 

We share our crumble with him since he’s made the first course, a tasty okonomiyaki.


Sunday 1st July

No Sunday lie in, Crips around early, because it’s ‘keep the village beautiful’ day! All the residents are out strimming the hedgerows and we get collared for strimming Crip’s property.

We spend 3 and a half hours in ditches and up earthwalls strimming and raking with Naoki. After a quick lunch break we head up for more woodwork.  This time moving on to noggins and headers and footers for the new window.


Monday 2nd July

Today we’re rudely awoken by the washing machine at 4am.  Bizarre – it seems Naoki put it on timer????? and then the cat keeps breaking into our room (she’s tearing the insect netting on the windows and then squeezing through the hole she’s made).  So we’re pretty pooped but we push hard with the extension; more noggins and studs, 3rd and final sill, exterior ply on 2 walls, window header fitted and Tyvek (vapour proof membrane) stapled onto the 2 walls with ply and we have just enough energy to fit one joist.

 It doesn’t look like much but these tasks are so time consuming. So today was our 6th day and we’re both feeling the pain; we both ache everywhere which I guess is payback when our daily cycling routine involves so little upper body work. So tomorrow we’re taking a day-off.


Wednesday 3rd July

Yesterday the anti-sleep conspiracy continued.  Naoki had passed the baton to Crip who left his phone in our house and his alarm went off at 5.45am, snooze, 5.50am, snooze, 5.55am – I’m sure you’re getting the picture.   And yes I had tried to switch it off and thought I’d been successful but I was wrong. By 6.15 it was still going off and we finally worked out how to switch it off but too late to get more sleep.  Bizarrely yesterday we manage to spend 5 hours in a 7/11 using their Internet, printing and scanning. What a depressing way to spend our day off but we needed to research and book some stuff. Then Daz gets his baking head on – bread and rock cakes.   Oops I meant bread and fruit scones.

Today 2 of the shed walls are batoned and clad – it looks really good now.  Tomorrow the floor.

Saturday 7th July

It’s my BIRTHDAY – Happy Birthday to me!  Well since I last wrote it’s been raining almost continuously and often it’s been torrential rather than a typical British drizzle.  Despite the rain we did manage to work on the shed Thursday. The single joist we’d laid had to be removed, a secondary sill added and then we laid 5 joists.  Unfortunately Crip had gone into town for more joists and floorboards but he hadn’t returned when we ran out of work. Back at the house we spent a few hours peeling garlic cloves.

 Yup I kid you not. If the garlic bulbs aren’t pretty enough, and by pretty I mean this:

Not pretty is this:

Then the bulbs are split into cloves and the cloves peeled.  Sounds easy? Well yup it’s easy until all your fingernails are split and your finger tips are so sore and burning from the garlic juice that even picking up a clove is painful let alone attempting to peel it. In the evening we share the job of vegetable preparation for the market.  Everything has to be clean, perfect and bagged, or wrapped. The bare garlic cloves are sold in 100g batches in cute little net bags. Whole garlic bulbs in the same type of bag.

And we even try making banana bread.

On Friday the rain continues.  There’s a weather warning of the highest order for the next valley over which has a river running through it. Crip’s never seen this level of warning, that’s how bad the rain is. It’s definitely too wet to run the power tools so we have a choice, a day off or onion peeling.   We decide, foolishly, to peel onions. We have a crate of red onions and a crate of white. These onions are a variety that won’t keep and are too small to be sold with their skins. So we have to peel each onion, top and tail it and later it will be wiped/polished before bagging for the market.   

The end result is a bag of shiney onions that can be dumped straight into a stew/casserole/curry. The Japanese pay a premium for all this preparation, which to us westerners seems very strange and über labour intensive! Also you have to be careful when peeling that you don’t take too many layers off or damage the layer below, because that’s all waste and more peeling! The red onions are particularly onerous with a tight layering that really makes the fingers ache!!!  This is the contradiction that is Japan. Buy organic produce but expect it to processed and packaged to the nth degree. Crip finds it infuriating but if he wants people to buy his produce he has no choice. His ambition is to open a farmers’ market with other local farmers and sell his produce in a more natural state. We manage to peel the crate of white onions before deciding we’ve had enough. Today it hasn’t stopped raining and later we hear that 58.5 cms fell just today.   There have been numerous landslides, flooding, missing people and even deaths. What a nightmare and thank God we’re here, somewhere safe and not cycling or camping in these hellish conditions.

The rain continues into Saturday so we decide to finish the onion peeling as we still have the red onions to finish.  After finishing the onions and preparing them for market we take the rejected peeled garlic cloves, mince them and mix with olive oil and freeze.

This would’ve been tough by hand but we have an ingenious chopping machine and it’s done in no time – what an excellent way of storing excess garlic.  Finally in the afternoon the rain stops and we unleash Naoki on the BBQ (concrete trough with a grill over it). Crip is expecting friends over so we’re having a barbecue.

Unfortunately a weather related emergency stops Crip’s friends coming over but we have a fabulous feast and there’s even birthday cake.  Coincidentally our last proper BBQ was on Daz’s birthday at our last workaway in India.


Monday 9th July

Yesterday it was dry enough to return to our shed extension.   We finish laying the joists and then the floorboards. It looks great but we still need to fit interior ply, insulation and a large window into the last wall.  

Today we’re taking time off and heading to Nagoya for the sumo wrestling tournament. There are only 6 a year and 3 of these are in Tokyo so this is our best chance to see this amazing event.  Crip drops off in town and we start hitching on the slip road to the Expressway. We had hoped to bypass Osaka but instead we almost hit its centre before being dropped off heading towards Kyoto.

 We’ve definitely taken a massive detour and we’re über depressed to find ourselves at the Kyoto service station that featured in our Kyoto hitching adventure – we really didn’t expect or want to find ourselves here and it takes over an hour to get a lift.  And from a beautiful sunny day we’ve moved into a thunderstorm. 

One young lady lift giver decides our technique is sadly lacking and takes us to a 7/11 purchases a marker pen and acquires some card and proceeds to write us a sign ‘Nagoya’.

Unfortunately even with the sign it still takes ages to get a lift.  Finally our 7th lift of the day is from a young lad heading to Nagoya and we foolishly believe we’re done for the day but no such luck!  He’s only heading to the outskirts but we agree a train into the centre will suit us fine but at the train station he discovers there’s a problem and the trains aren’t running so he decides to drive us to another station.  It’s only 8km but it takes an hour, it’s now 8.15pm and it’s taken 12 hours to make it this far. We buy our tickets but then we’re told the trains aren’t running here either and we need to take a bus away from the centre to another station.   At the bus stop we debate the wisdom of following these instructions, I would rather eat now and hope the train problem is fixed by the time we’re done, so we return to the ticket counter to try and establish what the problem is and when it’ll be sorted only to discover the trains have just started running again.  What a relief, finally we’re in Nagoya centre and our hotel.














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