In rural Japan, as in many areas around the world, small communities are suffering from rapid population decline as young people flock to the cities. A self perpetuating cycle develops in which rural communities lose their youth to entertainment and work opportunities in the city, which cripples the local economy by leaving behind small towns and villages lacking an able workforce.
Here in Sasayama, Hyogo Prefecture, the evidence of this can be easily seen on any walk or bike ride around the valley. In some villages more than half of the houses are vacant. Many fields have been abandoned and have begun the rapid transition back to a more natural state. Elementary schools with great facilities are being forced to close due to low enrollment. At our local elementary school this year's First Grade class has three students. Village elders possess a lifetime of priceless skills and knowlege that is not being passed on because of a lack of interested youth. Looking forward in time, it is worrisome to imagine the state of these communities if current trends continue.
Seeing these things, we here at Nou En have been motivated to work for positive change. Our aim is to encourage young people from around the world to return to rural communities. We organize enthusiastic volunteers (mostly through the WWOOF organization, to help local farmers in exchange for healthy food and invaluable local knowlege. We network and assist local organic farms with vegetable and rice production on a regular basis. We try to enthusiastically jump in and help local villagers whenever we can. In addition to these projects, we also have our own fields and gardens as well as chickens and goats that we care for.
Because part of our aim is encouraging people to want to live in the country side we also take time to enjoy the benefits of country living. We go hiking in the surrounding mountains, swimming in ponds and streams (especially during the hot humid Japanese summer!), barbecues with friends on weekends, kendo lessons at the local gymnasium and much more.
Mostly we try to provide a communal living environment where we work, learn, and grow together, all while striving to benefit and elevate the local community.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Goodbye from Seth

I had an incredible year in Japan staying in wonderful Sasayama. I met
so many kind people, did so many amazing things, ate so many delicious
meals, and saw so many beautiful things. I learned so much and I am so
much better for my time in Tsuji. I can almost not believe that I
arrived in Japan wanting to see Japanese culture and had the luck to
become part of a community and not only see but participate in so much
of Japanese Culture. I have been able to add many things to my life's
experiences including bamboo cutting, house frame building, wild boar
roasting, rice planting and harvesting, joking with old Japanese
farmers, teaching adorable kids, hitchhiking, well water using, shrine
carrying, and many more things. I will never forget my Sasayama
family. I can only hope I can find opportunities such as these as I
travel through more of the world. Thank you Gen, Anna, Midori, and all
my WWOOfer companions. You will always have a dear place in my heart.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Aidan here, I wrote an entry back in February or March, I have been living here as a part of Nou-en for most of that time.

Living here has taught me new things about farming and Japanese culture, and a lot about myself. I would like to share some of the experiences I have had.

I have seen the project in full swing this year, with many people coming and going, all contributing in some way to the house environment and to the local community in some way.

It is a rare opportunity for people wanting to experience true Japanese culture to do so by working for and alongside local people, but at the same time being a part of each other's journeys as we leave our home and daily life in search for the experiences that will make us grow into wiser and more inspired people.

My perspective on living sustainably has changed since living here. Being economical (ie waste nothing), often means being sustainable, and I have been faced with many challenges that I would not face at home like joining two logs together to make the framework for a house, or make a chicken coop out of a bunch of scraps and how to cook a daikon in seven different ways, leaves and all.

Trying to live a sustainable life here has given us woofers many opportunities to explore all the possibilities of pretty much anything we want to, because we have all day everyday to do so. A couple of weeks ago Gen wanted to celebrate Seth's birthday by having an Inoshishi (wild boar) party. My day that particular day consisted of simply figuring out with Gen how to do a spit roast on the spot, with no electric rotisserie; just a metal pole, wire and strategically placed wooden wedges, hung between two wooden stakes at either end, which did the trick just nicely; taking 20 minute shifts together to turn 'yet another one of Seths engineering feats', a counter balanced handle at the end. To make the day even better, everyone from some of the local farmers we help to the local Buddhist monks came over and helped Seth celebrate his birthday in style.

Experiences like this have made living here a lot of fun whilst trying to provide ourselves with food, sustenance and comfortable surroundings.

For those that have been here before, thank you. Thank you for your input, hard work and creativity. I'm sure everyone, like me, came here wanting these kinds of experiences but not knowing if it would be possible. Thanks to Gen and Anna, we have been a part of a special thing here, I hope this project continues to grow and touch more people like it has me, I think it has a positive effect on everyone who is touched by it.

Arigatou gozaimasu!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Lately, the volunteers have spent much time with the local kuromame beans. We have been harvesting, gathering, sorting, selling, eating and talking about beans all day long.

Importantly, we have had an insight into the Sasayama community and the lifestyle of many of the local people. To work alongside farmers, their family and friends as part of the harvest, and to see the pride they have in their produce has been most rewarding.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Slowly the seasons are changing in Sasayama, with the afternoon sky slowly moving from peach to violet as night time arrives. The morning fog arrived last week, making the occasional morning worthy of wearing a second layer.

The past few weeks have been busy, both with maintaining the fields at Tsuji and continuing to assist local farmers through Nouen. The famous Sasayama bean harvest has just begun, which will keep our 19 volunteers very busy over the next few weeks as well as a number of local festivals.

The goats have been happily playing in, and eating away the rice field next to Kasugae, whilst Seth, Toby and Aidan work alongside to notch the beams for the new house.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

We're just like Bugs Bunny!

Over the last few weeks, we have noticed that more and more of our seedlings are falling prey to the dreaded caterpillar, a worthy opponent of the Organic Farmer! We have recently been informed that a blend of crushed carrot leaves and water can be sprayed on the plants as a natural deterrent. Thus far it seems to have made a noticeable difference. We have also been using tobacco water on some of our younger seedlings which seems to be helping.

This particular remedy has an upside for both the plant (less caterpillars) and the WWOOFers (better night vision), in order to keep the carrot concoction in good supply, we need to eat carrots every night! It still amazes us how many different meals can be cooked with the same ingredients, from soup to stew to stir-fry, there is no end to the versatility of our beloved carrot.

Here at Tsuji we are constantly looking for natural remedies for common problems. We are learning more and more each day about ways to sustain ourselves without the need for non-organic solutions. Sometimes it can be quite a challenge maintaining our lifestyle, but when you have so many great people living under one roof, there's always something interesting to talk about.

If you haven't planned to yet, book your flight, get on a bus, or make your way here on a tractor if you must, and when you knock on the door and you want to come in, say these three words after you've been dropped off by Gen... What's up Doc!


Sunday, September 26, 2010

mochi making

Habe-san had all the WWOOFers over for mochi making and a barbecue to celebrate the first day of autumn. Habe-san lives up the road from Tsuji house and they were the first Nou En farmers we helped out last year. We still work for them often and in return they have made us part of their family. I think that most WWOOFers who get to know them come to think of them as grandparents, they are that welcoming and generous.

So for those of you who don't know, mochi is pounded rice paste made from special glutinous rice. The rice is steamed, placed into a hollowed out stump, and whacked a hundred times or so with a big hammer until it becomes smooth and taffy-like. As you can see in the video, it's a two person job. It can become a wrapping for anko (sweetened bean paste) to make Japanese sweets, or it can be left to cool in various shapes. Then it can be toasted until it's puffy and melty inside and put into soup, or seasoned with a little sweetened soy sauce. It's totally bland but strangely addictive.