Travel the World in 450 days
We enjoyed living in the hostels the as it was fun to meet travelers from all over the world. We would get together and head out to explore the area we were staying at and we would share our thoughts and knowledge about that country, people, and culture. But we always felt that we needed some more activity and it would be fun to hang out with locals and learn from them. Instead we were spending all our time with people just like us and our knowledge was limited to the travels blogs or books.
We heard about Help Exchange organization while traveling through Central America from a couple, who were using Helpx all the way. It was exactly what we were looking for. It allowed us to meet locals and to spend 24/7 in their environment, so we could absorb local culture, language and traditions as much as we wanted. Usually the host has two or more helpers, rarely one will be the only helper in the house. It was a great way to get to know other travelers as well and to learn about their experience as helpers.
We fell in love with Japan as soon as we landed! Everything seemed so great and we saw Japan as the closest to a perfect society as it can be. We spent two months there and still had a hard time to leave. It was even harder for us after we met Yoshimi and Katsutaka family.
We arrived late in the evening and our host Katsutaka picked us up from the train station, while his wife Yoshimi stayed-up late to wait. As soon as we arrived Yoshimi greeted with a smile and invited to her home. They were so sweet and wonderful from the very beginning. Our first night Yoshimi taught us about traditional Japanese hot bath and we had a chance to use it. Japanese bath is basically a huge tub of water that is heated with fire wood on a bottom. Once you take a shower and clean yourself well, you can go inside the tub and relax. Later that night Yoshimi prepared our Japanese style beds where mattress is placed on the tatami mat. She made sure that we stay worm at night as well.
The next morning we got to meet other helpers and hosts’ daughter. Amika is the happiest little girl! She was always fun to play with and when she was around the house is always full of life!
As a helper you get to help the family in their daily tasks. It was fun experience since every day we got to do something very different and interesting. Work we had to do wasn’t hard at all and we all enjoyed it. During our work hours Yoshimi and Katsutaka would always give us a breaks besides the dinner or lunch time and we all would sit around enjoying hot tea and some amazing Japanese desert!
Katsutaka and Yoshimi are an exceptional young couple, who decided to leave big city life behind them and move to the village. Villages in Japan, like in many other developed countries, face shortage of young people and are slowly dying out. The family’s main business is growing pione grapes. They have a big green house and grape trees that are up to 12 years old. Pione grapes grow pictures perfect: large, beautiful and delicious. During the summer grapes are delivered to the stores fresh or some are dried. Due to their taste and look they are always quite expensive.
Since the season was over we did not have much work in the field, we still had a chance to try mouth-watering grapes. We also had a chance to learn about the process of growing, picking and drying the grapes.
Besides the grapes Yoshimi bakes delicious cookies for sale. Cookies that not only melt-in-your-mouth, but they are healthy as well. There are no eggs, butter or dairy products of any kind. She uses a lot of dried fruits and nuts and a splash of good quality liquor and chocolate in some. Katsutaka makes Italian dessert with chocolate, butter, cookies and some grapes, he calls it “Italian sausage”.
Katsutaka and Yoshimi take their fruits and sweets to a Saturday market in Kurashiki. And we had fun helping out at the market as well. Kurashiki itself is a very beautiful small traditional Japanese town and a must see, so we would walk around and enjoy the town as well.
The market itself is not very large but a great place to visit for some family fun. There is plenty of interesting and delicious goods to buy, an area with tables to sit around and enjoy the food. There is a play area with plenty of toys for children to keep them busy. Staff at the market truly get to know each other and we got to meet a baker from California as well.
We had a chance to try very unique foods like grilled snails and yellow flowers to be eaten fresh with a little bit of soy sauce.
Fall was a season for beans picking, thus we had a chance to separate Azuki beans. These beans are very different in flavor and they are used in Japanese cuisine only for deserts. Azuki are traditionally red small beans; while, Shiro azuki is a white bean. Anko is a sweet bean paste that can be made in to different molds and colored as well. There are many types of desserts that can be created from Azuki starting with cookies, to pastries, ice cream and even boiled sweet been porridge with mochi. One day at the market, a true pastry chef, created for us a Wagashi Jonama sweet. The chef used pione grape and covered it with multicolored anko recreating a little piece of fall. Japanese have many kinds of delicious sweets, but this one was exceptional!
Yoshimi is not only a wonderful host and a baker, she is an amazing cook as well, who was always concerned that we all get to try something new and learn all about Japanese cuisine. Foods we ate were not only delicious but always different as well. Everything I eat, I can say was my favorite.
On the cold night we would have a hot-pot. Oden Pot – is a hot-pot with various kinds of delicious seafood. If it is let to sit till the next day, it is even more delicious. Onabe pot contains mostly meat and different kinds of vegetables. The meal is always eaten with rice. We even had rice that Yoshimi and Katsutaka had grown during the summer.
Katsutaka taught me about different kinds of soy sauce. Before going to Japan I believed there was only one kind of soy sauce and he really proved me wrong. We collected all the bottles of soy sauce in the house and did a tasting. I found my favorite one, but I highly doubt it, that I can buy it outside Japan. Even in Japan there are specialty stores where you buy good quality of soy sauce, just like we have tea or coffee shops in Europe.
One evening we had a sushi night. Yoshimi made the most delicious shushi rice, bought various kinds of raw fish and many vegetables. We had a chance to mix and mach to make it our own sushi hand-roll. It was a great idea since we got to try combinations of so many different flavors. Japanese also eat a lot of horse meat and we got to try some as well. It is eaten raw with a special kind of soy sauce. We even used it to make our sushi roll as well.
Yoshimi would always include us in different kind of activities as well. One night Yoshimi decided to host a party so we could meet some of her friends and it was also a going away party for one of the helpers. We all had a chance to cook our own traditional dish, while Yoshimi friends brought us to try the most traditional Japanese foods.
Donatas and I made potato pancakes. A girl from Colombia prepared very tasty empanadas, and a girl from Honk Kong prepared the best tasting dumplings. Yoshimi and her friends introduced us to the best in the country mochi. Mochi is rice made through a very long and difficult process and it also takes special kind of rice that must be of a very high quality. We cooked mochi on the fire and it can be eaten with soy cause or sweet anko paste. We also had Japanese style grilled fish that is usually eaten whole. It was a very special and delicious dinner!
One day we all went to pick wild nuts. Yoshimi friend taught us how to pick them, wash them and even how to eat them. During that outing we also met one very special artist. This man, just about a decade ago became interested in art made with different ways of cutting paper and placing underneath it different kind of multicolored paper. So the whole picture and the frame of it is made from one piece of paper (usually black). To bring out the expressions of the work, he places underneath it multicolored paper. It takes hours of hard work, patients and precision to be able to cut out each strand of hair or to make a face with an expression. One mistake, and you cannot glue back your main frame. His work is amazing and he has at least a hundred of paintings made, but all for himself. He does not sell it, nor he is interested to show it to the public. Sometimes he takes some students to teach.
Yoshimi has another great talent, she plays a Koto instrument. Koto makes beautiful sound, but traditionally it sounds very sad and emotional.
Many months have passed since last time we saw Yoshimi and Katsutaka, but Donatas and I truly miss them and it was one of the greatest cultural experiences through out travels. They are an exceptional couple, who make a huge impact in young people’s lives by sharing their home and teaching everything about their culture. I can only call them my heroes and someone to always look up to!
Please visit Yoshimi’s and Katsutaka’s web page where you can see their work and order all those mouthwatering goodies.