My home for the next few weeks is a third-generation family-run bed and breakfast located at the base of Miyayama (shrine mountain) on the Irago Peninsula that I found through the website Workaway. Foregoing the work visa red tape issue, hosts all over the world post ads on the site offering a place to stay (and usually meals) in exchange for travelers' labor ranging from nannying to housekeeping to farmwork, or some combination of the three. For the adventurous spirit who doesn't mind light manual labor, it's a good way to stay in one place for a while wthout blowing the entire travel budget.
Here, the work days generally go from 9am to noon, and then 3-6pm, with lunch and dinner prepared by the family matriarch. (Think hearty, traditional Japanese dishes like miso soup and rice, big bowls of udon, curry or yakisoba, and sides of pickled vegetables, sweet omelets or fried chicken). Although the b&b has a sizable garden where the family tries to grow as much of their own organic produce as possible, foreign helpers are generally asked to pitch in with house work. (Alas, strict sanitation laws prohibit kitchen work).
I feel a bit like a character out of a Miyazaki movie, Setsuko from Totoro, perhaps, or Chihiro from Spirited Away; all that's missing is the cotton yukata. I enjoy airing out the fluffy futons, draping them on balconies and window sills; squinting up at the clotheslines as the sun glints off the damp white sheets. Then there's the vacuuming of the tatami mats, scrubbing the big ofuro tubs, sweeping the entryway where guests and staff switch from outdoor shoes to slippers and, my least favorite, cleaning the toilets.
In addition to obasan, the main cook, the family consists of a couple and their two children - a boy and a girl slightly older than my brother and I. The father is retired, and from what I can tell the business is primarily run by his wife and children. They're nice enough, calling me Misa-chan and onnesan like a long lost relative that was maybe dropped on her head as a child and consequently has trouble communicating, but surprisingly superstitious. The mother, in particular has been known to go on at length about various conspiracy theories, but she is so sweet, so innocent with her girlish laugh like a flute trilling that you can't help but smile and nod. Hai, wakarimashita.
The first few days of my stay overlapped with V, a Barcelona native and chef about my age, who showed me the ropes and took me around one afternoon to some of his favorite spots. He'd been at the b&b for almost a month. Borrowing a couple of bikes from the family, I followed him to a secluded shrine, behind which is a path leading up to the Irako View Hotel which, of course, has the best view of the peninsula from its rooftop observation deck. Along the way we passed an abandoned house and hotel - common, I suppose, in this quiet agricultural region and, for the first time on this trip, I began to feel like I truly was on an adventure.
See more photos on Flickr.