From time to time, inquiries come from prospective travelers seeking a budget-friendly way to travel to Japan, meet locals, and gain a working experience without a long-term commitment. Although it might not be for everyone, joining WWOOF (World Wide Organization of Organic Farming) can be an excellent opportunity for many.
What is WWOOF?
Found in 1971 in England by Sue Coppard, WWOOF was initially called “Working Weekends on Organic Farms” as a way to connect people who wanted the farming experience in rural England. Today, it is a well-established non-profit organization located worldwide, providing a platform for connecting organic farmers to travelers and non-travelers alike: farmers offer accommodation, meals, farming experience, and sharing daily life for those who wish to work on their farm fields.
How Does WWOOF in Japan Work?
There are hundreds of host farms situated across Japan’s 47 prefectures with various farming options: tea, rice, vegetable, animal, and fruit farmers to farms with lodges, inns, and cafes. The season is also crucial as most farmers seek help during the busy planting season in spring and harvest season in fall.
To join WWOOF programs in Japan, you must become its member, which costs approximately $50.00/year, and you must be at least 15 years old. Once becoming a member, you will be issued an annual pass that allows you to connect with local farmers and be presented to your host at the arrival time. Each person must obtain their membership; otherwise, program participation will be denied (WWOOF Japan is very strict about their rules and policies). Please check WWOOF’s website for more information.
Does WWOOF Work as a Visa When Entering Japan?
No. You may enter Japan on temporary “visa-free” status (up to 90-days). Under the “visa-free” status, working is prohibited, and immigration is strict on those entering Japan with work permits/visas. WWOOF is not a work permit/visa, and one should not mention “work” to avoid denial of entry to Japan by the custom and immigration office.
The WWOOF program is a great way to support green tourism by engaging and helping local organic farming communities by volunteering your time for the cause. Time spent at the farm is decided between member and host, so you can choose which farm to work with and the duration of your stay.
Meeting locals and creating a friendship with like-minded people is another reason you might consider joining the WWOOF program: working, living, and eating meals together strengthen the understanding of the culture. And most of all, you will gain farming experience that can not be found just by traveling. More information available at: WWOOF Japan Volunteering
Should I Join WWOOF While in Japan?
While WWOOF is a well-established program many travelers take advantage of when traveling through Japan, it is not for everyone. Here is a list of pros and cons when considering joining WWOOF in Japan.
- Travel on a budget (free accommodation and meals)
- Meet locals
- Get connected with nature
- Gain farming experience
- Get to know rural Japan and its culture
- Must commit to manual labor for 4-8 hours a day
- In some cases, you might have to share spaces including eating, bathing, and sleeping with a host family and other WWOOF members
- Not all hosts accommodate individual dietary and other needs
There are other ways to connect with people and farmers, consider joining Edible Japan!
Tips on Making the Best of WWOOF
Have a personal goal and expectations
What is your personal goal by joining WWOOF? Is there any specific farming that you are interested in learning? Remember, “hosts” are real people doing real work. Think about what you can do to understand and assist them that is mutually beneficial to both parties.
Find the best match
Like how we are all different, WWOOF “hosts” are all different, too. Once you decide on a farm to stay in, do ample research to make sure they are the best fit for you. Here are some examples:
- Are you a solo female traveler? Consider staying with a family with a female member.
- Are you interested in a personal connection? Find a small, family-run farm: some larger farms rely heavily on WWOOF members for the work and might lack personal connection.
- Are you a chef or want to become one? Find a farm that has cafes and a kitchen on their promise. Some farms cater to events, restaurants, and other food supplies, which might make your experience more unique.
- Do you want to be connected with larger cities? There are many WWOOF farms located within a couple of hours from populated cities.
Choose the best time to visit
Generally speaking, farmers are busy during the planting season in the spring and harvest season in fall. Once the plan is in place and arrangements are made, try completing your time with the farmer with respect for their work: communicate in advance if your schedule changes, so they have time to arrange other workers to help them during the busy season.
Show that you care
Japan is a gift-giving nation. Upon arrival, it does not hurt to bring a small gift to your host farm to show the gesture of appreciation that helps you connect with them better. The gift does not have to be expensive, something small that can be enjoyed by everyone.