Experiencing a Japanese Farmstay

I’ve recently been lucky enough to try out a couple of farmstays in Fukushima Prefecture.

During a ‘farmstay experience’, you will usually spend time with a farming host family, and take part in their everyday work.  Sometimes you can try cultural experiences such as making Japanese food or visiting local spots. Farmstay experiences often last 1 night and 2 days, but can be much longer.

I should point out that although many families offer visitors the chance to do a farmstay in Fukushima, it is difficult to coordinate staying on a farm if you don’t speak Japanese. I recommend having a Japanese-speaking friend helping you make the initial booking. Also, make sure to communicate your actual Japanese level to your farm host.

So, what is a farmstay in Fukushima Prefecture like? I thought I’d share a little about my experiences!

Arriving in the Countryside

I have experienced farmstays in Motomiya City & Nihonmatsu City. I arrived by car with coworkers, and was really surprised that despite being ‘cities’, both Nihonmatsu and Motomiya have unbelievably rural areas. I really loved taking in the amazing scenery.

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Nihonmatsu City, August
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Motomiya City, December

Visitors coming to Fukushima to try out a farmstay can usually be met and picked up at a close station, so it is possible to go on a farmstay without having access to a car, as far as I know!

Working on the farm

Across the cities of Nihonmatsu and Motomiya, there are over 30 farms that offer farmstay experiences, each of which produces its own unique selection of crops.

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It is possible to request staying at a farm that grows certain crops if you’re especially interested in learning about something in particular!

The farming experiences available to try are dependent on the weather, time of year, and types of fruit and vegetables grown on that particular farm.

In August in Nihomatsu City, myself and friends harvested ripe tomatoes to be sold at markets. We were then guided to a large field, where we were shown how to harvest leeks.

During my more recent trip to Motomiya City in December, I harvested carrots, cabbages and daikon (Japanese white radish) with another friend.

Being able to try out harvesting or planting vegetables really gives you an appreciation for the effort and dedication needed to produce the food we tend to take for granted.

There is such a huge range of produce available at the supermarkets in Japan that it is easy to become overwhelmed and not think about where the food originated. Luckily, in Fukushima, there is a lot of information about where fruit & veg was produced – often the farmer is even personally named on the label!

Trying Out Japanese Culture

Local people in Fukushima tend to be more than happy to share their culture and traditions with visitors.

In summertime Nihonmatsu, the rest of the farmstay participants and myself got to experience a Japanese summer party, complete with homemade onigiri, nagashi somen (noodles served by shooting them down a bamboo pipe), mochi making and playing with sparklers. It was great having fun to experience all this with the local people.

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Seeing Local Spots

Another exciting aspect of doing a farmstay is seeing a whole new side of Japan, so different from Tokyo and other tourist spots.

You can experience not only the time and effort that it takes to work on a farm, but also learn about the old-fashioned tools used by farmers.

Also, on a farmstay, you are able to get to know the culture, history and people of one particular town, which is pretty cool.

In Nihonmatsu, our farmstay host Ono san took us around Towa area, where he explained to us about his organic fertilizer production and storage facility (pictured below), which he has been running for many years to make sure the farmers of the area have enough fertilizer between them, without them all having to make separate purchases.

Ono san also took us to Towa’s wine district, where locals produce juice, cider and wine which is sold across the prefecture.

It was nostalgic for me to see the different stages of cider being produced, as cider is very popular in the UK, but not so much in Japan. I didn’t realise that Fukushima produced so much cider, beer and wine.

Not only could we see the outside of the wine and cider producing facility, but we were allowed to go inside and see how the fermenting process took place.

fukushima farm stay experience farmstay (21)Depending on the family you stay with, you may also get the chance to visit traditional historical ‘tourist’ spots, regardless of their connection with the agricultural sector.

For example, I went on a trip to the beautiful Kohatayama in Nihonmatsu (pictured above) on the same day as my farmstay.

 

Eat Locally-Grown Food

One of the most fantastic things about doing a farmstay is the chance to enjoy meals predominantly made from locally-grown ingredients.

I have had some of the most amazing meals at Japanese farmstays and minshuku (Japanese equivalent of B&Bs), but what makes farmstay food even more spectacular is knowing that you’ve experienced the work it took to make that food possible, and you might even eat something you personally picked that very day!

Above are photos of dishes I enjoyed the most in Motomiya City, which were made using ingredients such as rencon (lotus root), cauliflower, daikon (Japanese white radish), carrot, shiitake mushrooms, chicken etc.

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The photographs above & below were taken in Nihonmatsu City, during my summer farmstay.

Getting to eat a big meal with your host family and friends, is a fun and rewarding experience. For those of us who have been living far away from our families in Japan, it is especially comforting to have a meal in a family environment.fukushima farm stay experience farmstay (20)

One final amazing thing about farmstays is getting to know your host family’s pets – you can often check in advance if the family has any! I love both cats and dogs, so I was very excited to find that my host family in Nihonmatsu had both! There’s nothing like a little cat therapy after being away from my own cats for so long!

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Doing a Farmstay in Fukushima

Meeting a farming family and working on a farm was a truly special experience, and such a different opportunity from those usually enjoyed by tourists in Japan. I definitely recommend farmstays to the more seasoned Japan traveller who wants to experience local, authentic Japan, especially if you can speak a certain amount of Japanese.

However, it’s important to realise that visitors at farmstays aren’t ‘guests’, but ‘one of the family’! Therefore, visitors are expected to try their best at the farm and help their families with their usual everyday tasks.

There are a number of different towns and cities that offer the opportunity to try a farmstay, including the two cities introduced in this article; Motomiya City & Nihonmatsu City. These cities are relatively close to both Fukushima Station & Koriyama Station, which are stops on the JR Tohoku Shinkansen Line.

At the moment, those who wish to try out a farmstay must contact organisations in each area regarding matching the dates they’d like to a visit with a farm – and this matching process must be done in Japanese, via email or phone. Please see here for more details.

Nihonmatsu City Farmstays: Click here

Motomiya City Farmstays: Click here

Get in touch in Japanese if you are interested!

 

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