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WWOOFing at Fujino Club in Kanagawa, Japan

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I had my first WWOOF (WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms) experience in late September, and I found it life-changing. I picked Fujino, in Kanagawa, Japan, because of its transition town status, and because I missed Japan dearly. Almost everyday, I watch the NHK World channel, which occasionally features urban farming and/or slow living television programmes. There’s lots to say about this place, so this post kicks off the first of a three-part series on Fujino, Kanagawa.

Fujino is located one hour by train from Tokyo, and it costs around S$17 to commute between these two points by train, and another S$3 by bus to get to Fujino Club, where I chose to WWOOF. Fujino is the first transition town in Japan, and residents are keen to be self sufficient in its energy use, and already have their own unique currency system known as Yorozu – a passbook which logs the exchange of products or services. This town has long attracted creative folks, and is home to many artists.

Fujino Club’s most notable eco features include its EV (electric vehicle) charging station, solar panels and natural farming methods. However, what I found most memorable was the warmth and connection that I felt in the company of its staff, including its owner, Mr Kuwahara, and his wife, Sachiko. I was so sad to leave that I cried on a few occasions.

During my time there, I worked in the Korean kitchen and at the farms, and a couple of times, I helped out with laundry and cleaning the Airbnb residences. All the work I did felt meaningful and I felt fulfilled at the end of the day, especially when staff members express their sincere gratitude. My work experience there taught me valuable lessons about team dynamics, work ethic, and about identity in a community. I realised that it doesn’t matter what type of work one does – e.g. cooking/cleaning, or one’s title. As long as work needs to be done, anyone can step up to fulfil the task, and having an ego about it is not necessary, because all the work that needs to be done is important.

Also, I ended most of my days at the Yamanami onsen (hot springs) down the road, the perfect way to wind down and recharge before dinner time. Fujino Club gives its WWOOFers two onsen tickets a week – a much appreciated bonus!

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The restaurant is cosy, and features beautiful calligraphy by Sachiko, and art work by local painters, potters and sculptors.

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The restaurant offers such lovely views, everyday I got to marvel at this.

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There is also a tennis court on the premises for those who enjoy sports.

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Lessons from living in the hinterland

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[PS. If you are having difficulty reading the extended post on your mobile device, please click on “view desktop site” and it should load. Can’t seem to fix this, other posts seem to work on mobiles though]

So the house is finally sold and my boyfriend, Dan, has decided to move closer to Sydney till the end of the year, before his mom looks at buying another property in the Northern Rivers. Sorry for the blurry photo – it was a screen capture from realestate.com.au, the lovely photo was taken by Elders Real Estate. For now, my journey of rainforest/remote living will be put on hold. Fingers crossed that he will move to Sydney for a short stint so that I can do more self sufficiency courses with Milkwood, since there are none in Byron Bay for the rest of the year. Of late, I’ve been extremely keen on fermentation, in particular – water kefir, but I will talk about that another time.

In these last 3 and a half plus years of jetting between Singapore and the subtropical Byron Hinterland, specifically Upper Coopers Creek, I’ve learned a lot about simple living and about the beauty of living with the seasons of nature, something that I didn’t pay attention to much when living in Perth for 7 years, and even less so in Singapore. It’s an experience I love and treasure greatly, being in sync with nature is beneficial to our health and well being, and being a gardener reminds me of this.

Living in the rainforest and off the land is often romanticised but it can be costly and involve more effort than what many people think. Selling Houses Australia – one of my favourite Australian television programmes, shared a surprising statistic about how 50% of city dwellers who buy into country towns change their minds and move back. It’s certainly not for everyone.

Natural Beekeeping Course at Milkwood

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I recently attended a two-day natural beekeeping course organised by Milkwood at The Farm in Byron Bay. As you might recall, I already have a hive in my backyard, and I did this course to become more comfortable with managing the bees. I wish to eventually have a hive in Australia, now is not the time as I’m mostly away and the hives will require inspection every two weeks or so.

How this differs to conventional beekeeping is that it refers to the Warre hive instead of the commonly used Langstroth hive, which has different dimensions and style of set up, and our trainer Tim Malfroy also favours as little intervention as possible. This means no antibiotics, chemicals and sugar syrup in the hives.

Tim shared that from his experience, bees seemed happier in Warre hives, meaning they weren’t aggressive and the hives smelt better. Warre hives boxes are smaller, and contains a bag of sawdust to help regulate heat and humidity. Honey bees prefer a temperature of 35 degrees celsius within the hive, and will either generate heat to raise the temperature, or help fan heat out to cool it. I’ve seen the latter situation with my own hive, the bees mainly gather on the outside of the hive and seem quite busy in the evenings.

One appalling thing I’d learnt is that lots of commercial beekeepers use antibiotics to counter American Foulbrood (AFB) disease, and its residues can end up in the honey. Also, just because honey is certified organic doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been exposed to GM crops, as bee boxes are moved around to catch the “honey flow”. This made me think of how the use of antibiotics could also affect beeswax and how it’s commonly used in skincare products.

Learning to Build a Natural Home

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While it’s a hot summer in Singapore, I’m experiencing a cool winter in Byron Bay, which I’m visiting for a few days to learn about building natural homes. I normally live 45 minutes inland from Byron Bay whenever I visit my boyfriend in northern New South Wales, and we decided it was best to live in Byron Bay itself at an Airbnb abode.

For a long time now, I’ve been wanting to live a self sufficient existence and have building knowledge, including carpentry, and in recent months, I’ve been obsessing over earth homes and homesteading skills. This is the year I’m immersing myself in workshops of various kinds, and delving into small DIY projects.

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Crystal Castle’s organic food gardens

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Crystal Castle has an incredible cluster of gardens which Dan and I love to visit, and recently they began growing their own organic produce, and created the Shambhala Organic Food Gardens. In the above photo, part of the food gardens can be seen on the left, and towards the middle of the photo is their banana plantation. Yes, that’s Dan admiring the colossal clear quartz crystal.

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These inspiring food gardens have plants which include herbs, vegetables, fruits and beneficial flowers. The gardens are attractive and well designed, and inspired me to put more effort into Dan’s edible garden. Some vegetables that I’d spotted here include potatoes, tomatoes, kale, lettuce, collard greens, zucchini.