Sunday, December 25, 2016

How I Spent a Month in Japan on a RM3000 Budget

Hoho clickbait much? The answer is simple - WWOOF. Here's my experience.

This happened more than two years ago btw. When I first started working after graduation, the commitment was so intense that I didn't stop to give myself a break for more than a year. I remember worrying about clearing my annual leaves because there simply isn't any time to take off and I didn't want to just let it go to waste lol trust me, having extra leaves is now a completely unfamiliar concept. These days I have to resort to taking unpaid hahahaha

When AirAsia announced their Kuala Lumpur - Nagoya route, I impulsively purchased return tickets for about RM700 after my colleagues encouraged me to just #YOLO. I printed the flight itinerary right away and had it displayed on my work space for about half a year just to be able to look forward to it everyday.

As things progressed, I got so exhausted of everything and decided to quit my job to take a long break to "find myself" lol so I paid a couple hundred ringgits to have my flight dates changed and started planning how to spend a month in Japan. That's when I found WWOOF.

Basically, WWOOFers help out hosts for food and accomodation. Strictly speaking, it isn't a working holiday because you don't get paid. More like a barter-slash-homestay program I guess?

There's a whole list of hosts categorized by areas and you can look through the details of their work on the website. If you're keen to apply to be hosted, there's an annual membership fee of ¥5,500 to access the hosts' contact details which is fair because you've already made the decision to proceed anyway.

So I successfully made arrangements for two separate hosts, to be safe. You know, in case it doesn't work out so well then I won't be stuck with it for weeks. Fortunately, a friend in Nagoya also kindly invited me to spend a week there with her family so that's it, my trip's all planned out! Let's get going!

As my flight lands in Chubu Centrair International Airport, Nagoya, I took a train to Nagoya Station and spent a few hours there before boarding an overnight bus towards Shinjuku Station, Tokyo. It was freezing cold in the early morning when I had to walk from the bus stop into Shinjuku Station. From there, I took a train to Konosu Station, Saitama Prefecture.

Observation deck at the Chubu Centrair International Airport, Nagoya.

It would've been easier to land in Tokyo but it was so much more costly to change the flight destination (might as well buy new tickets) than to just change the dates. Anyway I was in the mood for adventures so why not experience my first time taking a long-distance bus in Japan!

I booked the bus ticket online through Willer Express and the driver actually had a name list of all the passengers for us to check-in when boarding it. It surprised me that there are so many types of busses to choose from - each offering different seats types, facilities, extra services etc

I chose one of the cheapest ones but I can't say much about the experience though because I was dead asleep almost the entire way hahahaha only got up once for toilet break. I know the bus stopped a few times at the highway rest areas though. One thing that left a deep impression is that the seats have overhead covers like a hood which provides a certain extent of privacy aka people won't be able to see my ugly sleeping face lol

WWOOF Host #1
Blueberry Farm in Saitama Prefecture

After almost a whole day and night of travelling, I finally got to the station in the morning and waited for my host to pick me up. Welcome to Konosu Station, Saitama Prefecture.

We headed to the house to have breakfast, wash up and settle down before proceeding with the day's activities. Here's the low-down - my host is a guy in his thirties (maybe) whose family owns a blueberry farm. He also runs his own english tutoring centre. He lives by himself in a modern apartment within walking distance from the farm, where the family home and tutor centre is also located. He has two sisters and his family is incredibly tight-knit.

When we visited the farm, he explained that it was an off-season for the blueberries; there's not much I can help with because the maintenance and preparation work for the coming season will be too heavy. Instead I could help with the english classes and miscellaneous work throughout the week's stay, to which I agreed. 

As the classes are mostly in the evenings, he kindly brought me around the small town during the day. We went to the nearby shopping mall, parks, attractions and visited his sisters. In the late afternoons, we'd head to the farm to hang out with the family, tidy up the shed, garage, and prepare for english lessons. I didn't do much during the classes, tbh, just read sentences out loud haha quite often in the family farmhouse we'd make udon, prepare meals, watch television, chit chat, play with the toddlers (sisters' kids) and chill out by the warm kotatsu. There was also a day where I took leave and spent it outside with a friend.

Peaceful small town life. 

Can you believe this rundown shed sells the most delicious yakitori? 

Watching Gantz (hi bae!) in the warmth of a kotatsu ♥ 

The entire experience was overall pleasant and easygoing.

The host communicated in English while his family mainly speaks Japanese so he played the translator role. There were times when I was on my own with the family though so I had to figure things out hahaha which isn't a bad thing at all. From an outside perspective, I guess it would seem like I was an adopted child in this huge family!

One thing's for sure - every meal was so damn good. 

The entire family was genuinely warm, kind people. I'm glad that I applied to be hosted here. That said, I also felt like the host himself didn't really have any interest in me; I was under the impression that this program was also sort-of a culture exchange experience but I guess not? We didn't really talk much besides polite, small talk and he barely asked questions which made silences feel awkward.

I've tried to ask about things to kickstart a conversation but it'd almost always be an answer on his side and that's it. End of story lol on the other hand, his family members displayed more interest and especially with the mom, we talked about many things despite the language barrier.  I think I got along better with his family hahahaha I'd like to believe that he was just really, really shy.

After leaving Saitama, I headed towards the second host in Miura, Kanagawa Prefecture.  

WWOOF Host #2
Flower Garden in Kanagawa Prefecture

This host had set a criteria for WWOOFers to spend at least 2 weeks here so I obliged. Turned out to be the most amazing experience and I truly wished I could have stayed longer here. The host family runs a flower garden, vegetable and fruit farm near the seaside. Oh my god the views. While they do sell the produce, guests can come by to pick the flowers, vegetables and fruits with a fee. At that time (end April), these include cabbages, radishes, carrots, spring onions, and strawberries. STRAWBERRIES!

Upon arrival at the train station, I called the host to inform that I've arrived and he'd come to pick me up. First time ever making a public phone call in Japan haha that made me a little nervous. Plus, this host mainly speaks Japanese. Within 10-15 minutes, he arrived and we went straight to the farm for lunch. Throughout the entire stay, this was how lunch is served every day.

So good it was legit the highlight of every single working day.

The host family prepares lunch for all farm staff daily and serve them in a small hut by the farm. The food will be arranged out on a community table and basically we can just take whatever we want. The photo was taken on a day where many staff were off so there isn't much options, but on normal days it can fill the entire table. The dishes vary daily; trust me when I say they do not skimp on food.

Left: Clockwise from bottom
Fresh salad, takenoko (bamboo shoot) rice, seaweed with clams, pickled
vegetables (?) and croquette, with assorted shellfish clear soup.
Right: Clockwise from bottom
Hamburg patty in tomato sauce, stir-fred bean sprouts, pan-fried
salmon, and braised potatoes, with miso soup.

 Clockwise from bottom
Fresh salad, siew mai, spring roll, tuna sashimi, croquette, stewed
pork (?) with onions, omelette with tomato sauce. What a feast! 

For dinner, we'll have it in the house alongside the other WWOOFers. Each WWOOFer take turns to cook with the ingredients provided in the house. If we needed a particular ingredient, we can ask the farm staff for it. In these 2 weeks, I lived on the second floor in a house separated from the host family's home. It's still located in the same compound, like 2 steps away. I can just look out my window and literally see what they're doing there hahaha when I arrived, the other WWOOFers were 1 male & 2 females. The females were friends so they shared a room upstairs and I was given a room to myself upstairs while the single male stayed downstairs. The room was in a traditional Japanese style with sliding doors, tatami mats and a futon to sleep on. It was spacious too. 

While the entire house was rather dusty and untidy, it wasn't unclean and I lived there comfortably despite the cold lol it was really cold. Without central heating, each room relies on kerosene heaters. For the first few nights, I didn't know how to turn it on so I just braved the cold under layers and layers of clothing, and still I died. Dude it gets to a single-digit and while it's really amazing that I get to hear the sound of waves as I sleep, the seaside breeze was endlessly blowing my way. All I had was one heattech inner tee and all my other clothings were normal light cotton tees / long sleeves. Also back then I wasn't aware of the existence of kairo heat pads. Idiot. 

From the hallway you open up the first sliding door to enter the room and
 then you see this view, of another sliding door to enter the actual room.

It was bitterly, bitterly cold to the bones, and from then on until today I've become more sensitive to cold. I also got really sick - cold, cough, fever - which made breathing through the nose impossible and my throat got so dry at night, plus I got my period too and all these combined meant that I couldn't sleep at all. That week was terrible, I didn't even know where to get meds so I just let it run its course. I don't think anybody knew that I was sick because I wore the mask all the time, even when I sleep. Thankfully I learned how to turn on the heater from the other WWOOFer. As it runs on kerosene, I can't keep it on all night when I sleep though so I just dealt with the cold lol 

On a working day, we get ready and gather downstairs at the house entrance at 7am. We are each provided a set boots, gloves and protective clothes (I really don't know what to call them) so that our own clothes don't get dirty. Then, we'd climb up the open back of a truck and the host will drive us to the farm up on a hill. It was such a thrilling ride every morning. The crisp air, cold breeze, bumpy roads, hundreds of rows of cabbages all around, glimpses of the nearby sea, friendly waves of neighbouring farmers, oh it was so enjoyable! 

I could seriously get used to this view.

Once at the farm, we'll be briefed on the tasks of the day. The females will take on lighter jobs like tidying dried leaves, stalks, weeds, plucking strawberries, pulling out carrots, radishes, cabbages etc. I'd say 80% of the time I'd be working on the strawberries. I dare say I've become quite an expert in maintaining the strawberry plants and making them look nice to guests who've came to pick them hahaha yeah right.

The toughest task would be the cabbages. I did that only once and it was hard work!

You'd have to keep bending down to pick them one by one, and there isn't any space between to kneel down to give your back a rest. The earth and cabbages would be damp, which really soaks into the gloves and in the single-digit temperature early-spring weather, my hands were so cold they were shaking. The funnest task would be the carrots! Rather than fun, it was so satisfying to pull and plop they'll come out of the earth just like that hahaha also I did that just once so the novelty itself was exciting.

Other than that, it was almost always strawberries - cutting off stray stalks, clearing dead leaves, taking off the less-than-picture-perfect strawberries (to make into jam) and repeat. No matter how much we do these, it never seems to finish hahaha really! It was nice thoug, the greenhouse was really warm and sometimes we get to eat the strawberries hahahaha that's the absolute best part! 

Cutting off stray strawberry plant stalks.

Halfway through the morning, there'd be a short break where everyone will have tea and snacks together. Just normal chips, crackers, biscuits nothing fancy la hahaha then after lunch, we are sent back to the house and free to do whatever we want, go wherever we want. I'd usually take a shower first then explore the neighbourhood, hang out by the seaside, take a walk along the coastline, walk to the town area or visit the nearest convenience store which was located three kilometres away. Yeah I'd walk about 6 - 7 kilometres every single day until my ankles ached haha damn crazy. Once a week, we're allowed to take an off day.

On those days, I'd head to Tokyo duh hahahaha it is just about 70 - 90 minutes away by train, which is one of the reasons why I chose to apply to be hosted in this farm. I'll go into details on those off days in a separate post. 

So about two weeks, it was time to go to my next adventure. A few days before I left, after dinner another WWOOFer was going to Yokosuka with one of the host family member and farm staff. He invited me along and surprisingly, despite knowing close to no english will be spoken, I did. I'm very glad I did, we were all around the same age and it was nice to just hang out outside of the work environment!

We went to Book Off, decided on the last minute to have ramen (stood outside the train station for a good ten minutes discussing to go for it or not lol) and headed back. We missed the last bus back to the house and a 4km walk isn't the best idea in the cold night so we took a cab (very expensive). The boys very kindly paid my share and even got me little gifts as farewell presents. That was really touching, because we barely knew each other! There were always WWOOFers coming and going almost every week, I can understand how one could easily get desensitized to presence of a new stranger each time so I feel the thoughtfulness was really sweet.

More than any other moments, I remember this night so clearly. 

On my final night, the host came over to the house and brought along a bottle of  sake  for a mini farewell party. Along with the other WWOOFers, we chatted and talked until late in the night. Among the 6 of us we finished up the bottle hahahah it was good. The next morning the host sent me to the train station and I took a bus to Nagoya to spend a week with my friend. And that's how I spent a month in Japan on a RM3000 budget!

Well, RM3129, to be exact. Here's a breakdown of stuff I bought, lots of useless stuff and snacks lol

Main Transportation : RM1648

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia → Nagoya, Japan RM1227 (Flight)
(Includes extra payment of RM512 to change return date)

Chubu Centrair International Airport → Nagoya Station ¥890 (Train)

Nagoya Station → Shinjuku Station, Tokyo  ¥3350 (Overnight Bus)
Shinjuku Station → Konosu Station, Saitama ¥990 (Train)

Konosu Station → Tokyo Station ¥950 (Train)
Tokyo Station → Miurakaigan Station, Kanagawa ¥990 (Train)

Miurakaigan Station → Kawasaki Station, Kanagawa ¥690 (Train)
Kawasaki Station → Nagoya Station ¥4140 (Bus)

Nagoya Station 
→ Chubu Centrair International Airport → ¥890 (Train) 

Others : RM1481

Day 1 (Nagoya)
Mcdonald's ¥720
Coin Locker ¥600

Day 2 (Konosu)
Hot Cocoa ¥150
Sticker ¥200
Starbucks ¥830

Day 3 (Konosu)

Museum Entrance ¥200
Green Tea ¥110

Day 7 (Miura)
Phone Call ¥70

Day 8 (Miura)

Day 11 
Vit. C Drink 
Hot Cocoa ¥100

Day 12 (Tokyo)
Train ¥1720
Bus ¥420
Train ¥860
Juice ¥360
Genki Sushi ¥930
Moisturizer ¥820
Snacks ¥180
Sandwich ¥300
Lush Store ¥1250
Disney Store ¥970
Postcards ¥810
Sanitary Pads ¥410
Croquette Snack ¥400

Day 13 (Miura)
Mask ¥200

Day 15 (Miura)
Cream Stew ¥420

Day 17 (Miura)
Bus ¥210
Milk ¥100
Eye Drops ¥870
Yogurt ¥230
McDonald's ¥400
Daiso ¥320

Day 18 (Kurihama)

Bus ¥210
Train ¥400
Snacks ¥460
Yakitori ¥160
Calpis Drink ¥160
Mask ¥110

Day 19 (Tokyo)
Don Quijote ¥950
Mcdonald's ¥400
Bus ¥210
Bus ¥180
Train ¥1720
Train ¥340
Souvenirs ¥860
Harajuku Crepe ¥490
Genki Sushi ¥490
Hello Kitty Stuff ¥1990

Day 20 (Yokosuka)
Snack ¥370
Drink ¥100
CD ¥1950
Purse ¥800
Train ¥480
Ramen ¥750

Day 21 (Miura)
Ice Cream ¥130

Day 22 (Kawasaki)
MOS Burger ¥320
Train ¥760
Melon Pan ¥390
Oden ¥220
Water ¥100
Train ¥260

Day 23 (Nagoya)
Tissue ¥110
Kit Kat ¥860
Drinks ¥300
Hello Kitty ¥220
Hair Clip ¥320
Train ¥520

Day 26 (Nagoya)
Hello Kitty ¥360
Candy ¥270
Socks ¥220
Drink ¥120
Nagoya Castle ¥500
Train ¥520

Day 28 (Nagoya)
Train ¥260
Omurice ¥1000
Drink ¥160
Umeshu ¥3000
Biscuits ¥400
Hot Cocoa ¥300
Ice Cream 
BB Cream ¥1500
Kit Kat ¥480
Candy ¥300
Magnet ¥350


At that time, exchange rate was ¥100→RM3.06. Great times!
Prices above have been rounded up to make calculations easier. 

Inaccurancy is possible. It's been four years anyway, who cares lol

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