Verfasst von Thomas Schallhart
Going to Japan has been an unreachable dream for me throughout all my life. I’ve always been passionate about Japanese (pop) culture and it even led me to study Japanese, while I was at high school. However, being so close to Japan already in my mind, I didn’t want to do a typical tourist trip. So I decided to do a workcamp and I found my perfect choice with one by SCI Japan.
Free Kids Village is an amazing place in the small village of Takato (in Nagano Prefecture). It’s a self-sustainable farm and at the same time a center for families, children and youth from all over Japan, who want to escape hectic urban life for a while during holidays. The wooden house that the center is based in is more than 100 years old. Hanae from SCI Japan described it as a „Totoro house“ to me and I totally see what she meant!
In my workcamp we were a group of three Europeans (apart from me there were a Belgian and a Spanish), a Taiwanese and four Japanese. Our task was to cut grass along the river bank in Takato, because a belief around O-bon matsuri that is celebrated in August says that ghosts of ancestors come back through the rivers and they can only find their way, as long as the river bank is beautiful and clean. Being an environmentalist who organises projects around the protection of wild and natural rivers in Austria, this was unusual for me, but in the end I still enjoyed the work. We also made leisure time program with kids who visited the center and when it rained, we had other small tasks like creating blue color from leaves.
Being in a group for two weeks is always a very special and unique experience. We had a lot of fun making sarcastic jokes about Japanese textbooks, singing Karaoke, taking walks around the house, visiting a fireworks festival at Suwa lake, watching „Frozen“ and singing „Let it go“ endless times in different languages, swimming in the river, cooking traditional Japanese food (I now know how to make Miso soup and I regularly eat cucumbers with Kimchee sauce, which I could luckily also buy in Vienna) and making up our own soap opera. The most dramatic moment was, when we almost lost the beloved and very cute dog of Free Kids Village called „Ringo“ in the woods, because we forgot to take a leash for him. I ran after him for two hours, when I notice he started to ignore us and run off into the woods, and eventually I lost him. I never felt this bad before in my life – and I never felt so relieved as when Ringo came back during the night!
I would definitely recommend to experience Free Kids Village, if you want to visit a peaceful and lovable place in Japan. ありがとうございました to SCI Japan and to everybody at Free Kids Village for the organisation of this project!