Author: Julia Kühn
- Pop Culture
- Time in Japan
- Tokyo Things To Do
Markus B. (19) from Germany tells us about his experience working for a sugar cane farm on the small island of Miyakojima, roughly 300 kilometers away from Okinawa main island. He arrived to Miyakojima on May 26th and worked there for a month. With a smile he looks back at his extraordinary experience in the very south of Japan. What was the farm like? (laughs) Funny enough, I actually worked for some sort of Japanese Buddhist cult. I learned that they send the sugar cane harvest to their Buddhist headquarters, which is located near Osaka. Apparently they collect harvest and other goods from all sorts of places all over Japan and then sell it elsewhere. Every morning they'd also have like a morning prayer and at some point I had to join as well. But it sounds stranger than it was, the people were incredibly friendly and nice. I did some research and apparently there are a lot of peaceful Buddhist movements in Japan. Why did you want to do farm work? I wanted to live and work in Okinawa for a month, because I'd heard many good things about the island. So I contacted World Unite! and asked if it was possible to do farm work there. Eventually I got a job offer from a sugar cane plantation on Miyakojima and I thought: “Why not?”. So on May 26th I flew south. How did your typical working day look like? I'd wake up around 4:40am, take a shower and have breakfast. Then I'd talk to my housemates, pack my gear for the day and we'd leave for the fields, so that we could start at 6am. There were two shifts every day, the first was from 6am to 10am, and the second was from 3pm to 7pm. Like this, we would avoid the worst heat during the day. We would get around 40 degrees, which was tough. So every day was eight hours of work. What I did was basically chopping off sugar cane and making it ready for transport. You could roughly break it down into five steps. The first step was to tear off the leaves from the top. The second was to chop off the sugar cane right above the root. Third step was to collect all the sugar cane plants and pile them up on a heap. The fourth step would be to tear the last of the leaves off and the fifth step was to tie them together, so they were easier to transport. What did you earn during your time? I earned 4500 JPY a day (~35 EUR). However, I didn't have to pay for my accommodation nor for food. What would you do in your free time? During my free time I explored the island with my working colleagues, because many of them were there for the first time, too, just like me. Other than that I'd just relax and take it easy. Did your Japanese improve during your stay on the farm? Yes, definitely. Interestingly, my boss was kind of a Germany-fan, and he knew some words. And one co-worker could speak basic English. But aside from that they only used Japanese. My co-workers were all super friendly, also my boss was really cool. I'm still in contact with all of them. In general, all the people on the island were really nice, however it was also kind of funny and weird at the same time to be the only "white" person on the entire island. I was kind of an attraction for the people. Did you experience any low points during the time you worked on the farm? I have to admit, there was one. It was the first day, the day before my actual work started. It was hot in my room, I couldn't sleep and I knew I had to work outside in the heat the next day – that was when I was quite terrified of it all. But after that, it was fine and it all went well. But of course it was hard at first, and I discovered for myself that I don't want to become a sugar cane farmer, at least for the long term. But at the same time I was glad that I'd done it. What would you tell people who are thinking about during farm work in Japan as well? I think people should be aware what they get themselves into. Farm work is hard, physical labour and people should be really sure that they want to do that. It is important to learn how to control or at least filter your thoughts. It sounds generic, but you have to keep thinking positively. If you have a positive mindset, you'll have the most amazing time. In terms of the beautiful island of Miyakojima, I'd say you should be aware that it is difficult to get off the island, especially if you can't drive or you don't have a car. I was glad my co-worker would give me lifts regularly, but aside from that there is hardly anything. You definitely can't rely on the public transport. Did this experience shape you as a person? I would definitely say that this experience taught me new ways of thinking. The people on the island were insanely nice. They lead simple lives, but they are so genuinely happy and content, and I think I kind of absorbed some of that attitude. The people are always in a good mood and happy, and it really rubbed off on me. You learn to appreciate the little things, it all really inspired me. What do you do now? I arrived in Osaka on July 9th. I'm working in a guest house and izakaya, and I also live there. I'm thinking of working here for at least another month and after that, I'm not sure yet. But I'm thinking of staying in Osaka. My visa expires on April 18th, and I want to stay in Japan the entire 12 months that the Working Holiday Visa provides me. " order_by="sortorder" order_direction="ASC" returns="included" maximum_entity_count="500"]
Many people are into second hand clothes shopping: It's cheap, it's original, and it is often something you do not see everyone else wearing! Especially as a Working Holiday participant, you might want to spend money on travelling instead of expensive clothes, so we found a place where this is possible. Hipster of Tokyo If you like affordable clothes, then why not try out second hand shopping? In Tokyo, the neighbourhood Shimokitazawa is known for it's many second hand shops, cafés, and young hipster people. It is also known for live music and theater. So on a sunny Saturday, my roommate and I decided to find this place. The way there is very easy: A walk from the World Unite! share house to Kiba station, then 2 different trains, and we had arrived to Shimokitazawa station. Then we basically just walked out of the station, and were met by several second hand shops, good smells of sweets and coffee shops, and a great deal of people. We chose a random street, and then we started looking around. There was a mix of second hand shops and "normal" shops, cafes, restaurants, convenient stores etc. We went into different shops, and could see the originality of the clothes, and also how different it was to what is usually seen in the streets of - for example Kiba, where most people only wear black, white and grey. So far we could already tell that the place is perfect for people who like fashion! Colours, colours, and more colours We went past so many shops, and found a dress shop that we decided to check out. The amount of different colours were outstanding! I was wondering how people could possibly wear such flowered and coloured dresses, but it actually looks really good on many people here. In the streets we also saw people wearing original outfits, but most of the people walking in the streets did not look specifically hipster. After walking a lot, we decided to take a break at a crepe cafe. Everything was baby pink inside the cafe. A friendly male cashier greeted us when we came in, we ordered our chocolate crepes, and then we realised that all the customers were female. It was like a little girlie spot, with a beautiful lamp, small pretty details, and best of all - the smell of freshly made crepes. The place was so cozy and people looked to enjoy a lot. New York Joe Exchange One "Must-Visit" second hand shop is the New York Joe Exchange. We went there, and the place was packed! People were standing in line to look at all the colourful hipster clothes, and the line to the fitting room was long! Also, there was loud rap music and people seemed so excited to shop there. That is a place that no one who visits Shimokitazawa should miss! Sadly, we did not find anything we wanted to buy, but it will probably be a better idea to visit the shop on a weekday, and not on a busy Sunday. But it was nice to see, and we were happy that we went there. That was the last stop at our little day trip to Shimokitazawa, and we went home with yet another experience. About the Author Christina is 26 years old, originally Kenyan/Danish and she is currently interning for World Unite! in the Japan Tokyo Office. She is helping participants who do a Working Holiday in Japan through World Unite!, and when she is in the office she helps out with administrative work and social media marketing.
Japan sure has many things to offer! Everything from manga and anime, to robots and mountains! Have you for example ever heard of a 599,15m high mountain one hour away from Tokyo? I sure had not, but then someone from my World Unite! sharehouse talked about his great hike on Mount Takao. So - that is basically how that idea was planted in my head! Step 1: Find the Mountain! I am staying at the World Unite! sharehouse in Tokyo - now it is my second month here, and every weekend I do my best to plan the most interesting things to do! I do not mind if it is being touristy, as I will only be staying here for 3 months, so I do not see myself as anything else than a tourist! I just want it to be fun and exciting. So, last weekend the menu was: A mountain climb! My World Unite! sharehouse roommate and I wanted to climb Mount Takao, so we packed our bags with water and food, charged phones, good mood, and we were ready to go. From our sharehouse in Shiohama to Takao Station took approximately 2 hours, with a little train confusion on the way - but we made it! The day was hot and humid like many other days during the late Japanese spring, so we were happy and ready to explore a nice and cooler area in Kanto! When we finally arrived, my roommate did not feel very well so we decided to split up. My roommate explored the area around Mount Takao, and I climbed it. Usually, I am not a big fan of doing things all by myself as I actually really enjoy experiencing with friends or family, because then you can share the experience afterwards, and create memories together that way! But that day I was on my own! Of course, I had my very best friend in Japan with me, Google Maps, that (again) did a good job in supporting me. So, let me just admit it: the hardest thing on this little trip was to find the mountain. Where should I start? Google Maps showed me that it would take around 2 hours to get to the top, so I just started to follow the blue dot, and I ended up in a place with music and lots of people - and a path! So it looked like I found the way up. Step 2: Climb it So now you are probably thinking: 599.15 m, that is just a small hill - and now is the time I will advise you to google Mount Takao. It is an actual mountain, and it was an actual climb to the top! As I had finally found the path up, the next step was just to climb it. So I started walking comfortably up, and weirdly enough, most people were walking down. But as I looked behind me I could see that I was not the only one climbing it, so I could not be totally lost! I walked and walked and it was so so steep! I was even sweating and I was very happy that I brought a bottle of water. The place was beautiful though - so much nature! I could hear birds singing, the wind in the trees, and I could look up and see the sky which was totally blue. I was feeling very happy, and I did not have to worry about getting lost, because as long as I was walking up, I would reach the top at some point. So I continued walking, continued sweating, and continued enjoying! After some time, I reached a viewpoint from where I could see all over Tokyo - it was so beautiful! I met a nice American couple and asked them to take a photo of me, and then of course I took one of them. They were so friendly, and told me that they were living in Tokyo and then they wished me a good stay in Japan, and we went our separate ways. I decided to take a little break, eat some lunch, and enjoy the view, and then I continued up. Step 3: Yakuoin Soon enough, I reached this beautiful Buddhist temple called Yakuoin. It was so nice and there were many people there. I walked around, looked at people, and took everything in, as it was probably a once-in-a-life experience to be there (except that I had to pass the place when going down again, minor detail)! I had read that many people visit the temple to pray to the Buddhist mountain gods, and I could also see some people praying when I was there. After exploring the temple I continued further up, and there were lots of stairs to ascend. I did not want to be slow, so I passed many couples enjoying a climb, old people taking a walk, and also other tourists like myself. The funniest thing I saw was a lady who was taking her rabbit for a walk. Yes, you read that correctly, it was a rabbit. And no, it was not a small dog that I thought was a rabbit! It was an actual rabbit, and she had it on a leash and then she was carrying a little basket - probably so the rabbit could be carried if it felt tired. Of course, there were also people walking with their dogs in baby carriages (I guess it should be called dog carriages?), but I got used to seeing those in Tokyo by now! Step 4: All the way up Finally, I saw a sign saying "Top of Mt. Takao", and I knew I was close. Just a few more stairs, and then I was there! I walked to another viewpoint and it was so so amazing. That was one of those views that a photo just cannot catch! It was something you simply have to experience for yourself. I was so happy that I made it there, and I just really needed to share it with someone. So I called my family back home, and I told them how amazing it was, and then I felt even happier after the talk. It was also here that I found a friendly-looking person who took a photo of me at the top. It was so cool! I spent some time there enjoying the feeling until I was ready to go down again. Step 5: Down The way down went so fast! It basically felt like squatting all the way down, because I really had to control my legs so they would not just start to run away from me. It felt funny, and it was actually almost as hard as going up - just in a different way! But I made it down in no time. I walked and walked, back to the station, where I met with my roommate again, and we decided to spend money on discount ice-cream which was 100% worth it. So, all in all that day was just amazing, and it was a very amazing experience! I will definitely recommend everyone coming to Japan to try to climb Mt Takao. Oh, and a little side note; I found out that there are actually much easier ways up that the way I chose! Apparently, the path I used to go up, was a hard one, and my sharehouse-mates told me that there are other paths - a lot less steep. Good to know! About the Author Christina is 26 years old, originally Kenyan/Danish and she is currently interning for World Unite! in the Japan Tokyo Office. She is helping participants who do a Working Holiday in Japan through World Unite!, and when she is in the office she helps out with administrative work and social media marketing.
A working holiday should not only be about work but also about discovering the country. There is so much to see and experience in Japan that you should not miss out on while you are here! We wanted to get out of Tokyo city life for a long weekend and it wasn't difficult to decide on Nikko. Only a 2-hour train ride away from Tokyo, this town in the hills makes for a perfect weekend getaway if you want to sniff some culture and be surrounded by nature. We booked the Turtle Inn Nikko Annex Hotel which is not too far from the train station with its own onsen (Japanese style hot spring), and after dropping off our luggage in the lobby and getting some good advice from the receptionist for our stay we headed out for our first lunch in Nikko. Of course we wanted to try yuba, a by-product of tofu production that is ubiquitous in Nikko, being a center of Buddhist activity since its foundation. We found this cute little udon noodle restaurant called Kanman Teahouse that served yuba as a side dish, perfect for our lunch. The yuba was very smooth and flavorful, and we loved the cold udon and tea with Japanese sweets that we got afterward. A good start of our weekend Our First Day: History and Beauty Then it was time to immerse ourselves in Japanese history. After passing through a foresty road with old jizo statues we headed to the Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park. Here you can walk around the huge Japanese style villa that used to be the vacation home of the imperial family. It's not just the house that breathes a quiet atmosphere, the garden also makes for a peaceful little stroll in a typical Japanese garden. If you come at the right time you can also see a very old Sakura tree bloom. This was the green oasis we were hoping to find when we left Tokyo! As a visit to Nikko is not complete without visiting its main shrine, the Toshogu, it was next on our list. As expected there were many tourists, foreign as well as Japanese, but we could also easily tell why this shrine complex is so popular. Its wood carvings are exquisite, there are so many beautiful little details that the buildings are like pieces of art. At several locations within the complex priests carried out Shinto rituals in order to bring fortune to the people, and stones on the ground were arranged to look like turtles to bring good luck. What most people don`t know is that it is worth it to walk the extra 1.5 kilometer up the hill on the east side of the temple. Here you can find the rarely visited Takio shrine in the middle of the woods, surrounded by small water streams. We enjoyed being away from the crowds and savored the silence. By the time we left the Takio shrine it was getting dark, meaning it was time to look for a place to eat because restaurants and even bars close early in Nikko (and other places outside the big cities in Japan for that matter). We decided on Bar de Nikko because of its good reviews on TripAdvisor, and we did not regret it. The food was delicious and nicely presented, and there was a large assortment of drinks available. It was open until 21.00, which is quite unique in this small town. In the evening we soaked in the hotel onsen with a nice view of the fast streaming river outside through a large window and went to bed early. The Second Day: Hiking and Nature One of the purposes of the trip was to get out there and take a long walk in a beautiful, natural area. We wanted to breathe some nice, fresh air in the spring sun! We took the bus to the Chuzenji lake, an area that used to be a popular place to vacation for foreigners as well as well-to-do Japanese people. As we were there late March it was still off-season and very quiet. We first stopped by the Kegon falls, we didn't pay the few hundred yen to go downstairs and see the waterfalls up close, but I would recommend doing it anyway because I later heard from others who have gone down there that it was worth the money. We then walked almost all the way along the northern shore of the lake, which was great as we barely saw anyone else as soon as we left the little town. It was peaceful and quiet, and we walked around 4 kilometers before we got to the boathouse where we were surprised to find the restaurant open. Of course we were the only customers, but the noodles (yes, again as they are so good here in Nikko) were tasty and we were ready to go again. As we went more inland the road went up, and after 2 kilometers or so we hit a trail up Mt. Takayama. Feeling adventurous we went in even though the sign warned us of bears and deers, the former scaring us a bit more than the latter. But the trail was snowy, and after taking a selfie of the 'courageous us' and the snow we decided to turn around and go find the Ryuzu Falls which we came here to find. We soon found fast streaming clear water and went down the trail to see a cute tea house overlooking the falls which are named after the dragon it resembles. They served delicious ice-cream with the flavor of, you guessed it, yuba. It might be a surprising flavor, but it was actually surprisingly good! We then took the bus back to the hotel and ended up having the most thrilling part of our trip, a ride down the Iroha slope. I'm sure the driver knows this road like the back of his hand, but sitting right behind him and seeing the bus steer dangerously close to the slope's edge with a drop of a few hundred meters deep behind it about 20 times, made for a blood-curdling ride. I think Julia was very happy when we were back at 600 meters above sea level again instead of the over 1000 meters that we were above sea level before. After all this excitement we first went for a long soak in the hotel onsen again before we went out for dinner again. This time we went to a Chinese restaurant near the hotel that was almost completely full, a good sign. The food was indeed delicious, I would just stay away from the hot sake as I could tell why it was sold as hot sake instead of chilled or at room temperature. We then headed back to the hotel for some card games and our futons. The Last Day: A Temple and an Old Hotel After having a perfect brunch in the Kanaya Hotel Bakery (very much recommended) we first visited the museum right next door. Kanaya hotel was once the first hotel where Westerners could stay during the period in Japanese history when foreigners were still very rare in Japan and couldn't always stay in a regular Japanese hotel. The people who work there conduct short tours, most of them don't really speak English but it is still nice to hear a bit of simple explanation of what you see. Some parts of the hotel are original which is quite rare to see in Japan, especially in Tokyo as most buildings don't last this long here. We then went to our last stop on this trip, the Taiyu-in temple. What we loved here was that it was so much quieter than at the Toshogu, and it was a lot easier to relax and enjoy our surroundings. There was another mass blessing ceremony, and there were 4 beautifully colored statues near the main hall. For those who like wood sculptures, there was also a lot to see, as almost every animal was represented somewhere in the decorations on the walls. Some parts of this temple reminded me a bit of Persian or oriental art with the many colors and wood carvings. Also, we were not sure if we were supposed to go here, but a bit east of this temple up a hill there seems to be an abandoned temple with a vshery big statue in a closed off hall. There was almost no one there and it looked like no one was taking care of it, so it was a bit spooky over there. It was unfortunately already time to go home by the time we came back to the main road, but we didn't leave before a last bowl of noodles, ramen this time, and a Harajuku style desert near the station. If you are on a working holiday (or regular holiday for that matter) in the Tokyo area, you should definitely not skip Nikko. As they say in this locale: don't say 'kekkou' (I'm good) until you have been to Nikko! " order_by="sortorder" order_direction="ASC" returns="included" maximum_entity_count="500"] About the Author Stefanie has lived in Japan for 5 years, and is working as a coordinator for World Unite! since 2017. Together with her colleague Julia she decided to get out of Tokyo city life for a long weekend.