Translated by MATCHA_En
Homestay in Japan - Staying at a Farmer's House in Ōtawara, Tochigi
Written by Ramona Taranu
Have you considered doing a homestay in Japan? If you would like to live surrounded by nature and experience authentic living in Japan, a stay at a farmer's residence in Tochigi prefecture will be a great choice!
When taking a trip to Japan, there are various options when it comes to accommodation. For those travelers who want to spend their down time relaxing, there are many hotels and Japanese ryokan to chose from. If you would like to get in touch with the locals and make some friends, then there are also plenty of hostels and guesthouses too. However, if you would like to stay in a place surrounded by nature and experience authentic living in Japan, then we recommend the type of accommodation called nōka minpaku - staying at a farmer's residence.
Nōka minpaku means that while you are staying at a Japanese farmer's house, you can experience growing vegetables, working in the fields and taking part in other kinds of activities in the community. By experiencing agricultural life firsthand, you can interact with the locals and learn more about the local culture.
Farm residence stays are available all over Japan. Let's follow the experience of a group of students from the University of Central Florida who stayed at farms in Otawara city, Tochigi prefecture.
Otawara City - A Place with Beautiful Nature
Otawara city, located in the northeastern part of Tochigi prefecture, is primarily an agricultural town. Let's discuss what makes Otawara worth seeing.
From the summit of Koteyasan, the entire city can be seen in all its glory.
Running through the city is a river called Nakagawa. During the weekends, people gather by the riverside to fish and play water sports.
Otawara is famous for its salt-grilled sweetfish fresh caught in Nakagawa waters. The unique sweetness of the fish combined with its soft fluffy texture makes it an ideal snack to be eaten on its own or mixed with rice. It's an unforgettable flavor.
Among the various leisure activities that Otawara boasts, you won't want to miss getting up close and personal with the horses at one of Japan's leading ranches, Nasunogahara Farm. Over the dozens of hectares that make up Nasugahara Farm, you'll find both draft-horses and saddle horses to spend time with.
For those who wish to know more about the area's history and traditions, the city's surrounding temples and shrines are worth a look. Unganji Temple dates back to the Heian period and is known for being one of the spots visited by Matsuo Bashō(*1), mentioned in his traveler's journal, Oku no Hosomichi (*2), or "The Narrow Road to the Deep North".
*1 Matsuo Bashō: 1644-1694, a haiku poet from the early Edo era.
*2 "Oku no Hosomichi": Bashō's famous travel diary chronicling his journey into the Tōhoku and Hokuriku regions of Japan.
In contrast to the pomp and splendor of Unganji Temple, the charm of Daiōji Temple stands out through is elegance. Daiōji Temple adheres to the teachings of the Sōtō School (*3) of Zen Buddhism.
*3 Sōtō School: is one of several branches of Zen Buddhism and is characterized by daily ascetic practices and personalized introspection.
At Daiōji Temple, you can practice Zen meditation under the guidance of a Zen priest. The sitting position involved is an incredible eye-opening experience, giving you a unique perspective on the worldview of Zen Buddhism.
These are just some of the sights to see in Otawara. Now, let's find out what it is like to stay at a farm in the area.
Farm Residence in Otawara
When we arrived at the Japanese-style residence which kindly accepted to host us, we were surprised at how spacious it was!
Our gracious host family began by providing a tour of the house and its surroundings. All aspects of daily life from how to lay a futon to how to enter the bath were explained in kind and thorough detail. This provides a reassuring atmosphere for first-time visitors to a traditional Japanese home.
From the kamidana (*4) to the butsudan (*5) in the living room, the house is filled with novel sights sure to delight any visitor to Japan. Discussions of culture and life around the dinner table serve to bring host family and guests closer together.
*4 Kamidana: a small Shintō shrine placed in the home.
*5 Butsudan: a Buddhist altar placed in a Japanese home reverence to one's ancestors.
In the morning, we were treated to the delicious homemade breakfast courtesy of the mistress of the farm, after which we headed off to the nearby fields. The endless greenery stretching off into the distance is an impressive sight.
While farm experiences may vary from season to season, during the latter half of July you can try your hand at digging potatoes. Large-scale agricultural facilities generally do this using machines, but self-contained farms still do this by hand.
This aspect of the experience was peppered with useful tidbits of knowledge from the farmers themselves on which varieties of potatoes are best for French fries, potato salad or even niku jaga (*6).
*6 Niku jaga: a simmered meat, potato and vegetable stew.
Another exciting point to the farm-stay experience is learning to cook with freshly harvested ingredients. You can take what you learn on the farm back to your own country and recreate the delicious meals you studied here. This is an opportunity that will last with you for a lifetime.
The host mother and guests gathered around the table for delicious food and fun conversation. A natural bond is formed through shared lifestyle and communal cooking.
Have you come to see the charms of staying at a farm? By becoming part of the local community for a while, you can experience a richer version of the regional culture and customs. If you're considering where to stay, do try the hospitality of a farmer's residence!