Bryce Okihiro: Volunteering at Hiroto Yoshida's Sweet Potato Farm and Toshiharu Nagao's Shop in Miyama

The CIP I undertook this semester involved working at Hiroto Yoshida’s sweet potato farm (e.g. constructing fencing, tilling the soil, planting sweet potato shoots) and assisting a local shop owner Toshiharu Nagao (e.g. packaging sweet potato products, learning about roasting sweet potatoes) in a rural area called Miyama in northern Kyoto. Through the experience, I learned about the processes and challenges of farming and having a business in the countryside and the methods through which young people are trying to revitalize Japan’s declining town areas. 

The experience was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, not merely because I had the chance to explore a region of Kyoto not so commonly visited, but more importantly, because of the transparent conversations I had with locals and the perspective-altering experiences I had whilst working on the farm and interacting with people in the community!

I would definitely recommend this CIP to students who have a passion for farming and a deep interest in the challenges facing Japan’s rural areas. The time and labor commitment to this CIP is intensive (one volunteering session will run from morning to evening (it takes two hours to commute to Miyama and another two hours to come back!)), so if you aren’t genuinely interested in experiencing and learning about life in Miyama, I suggest not even thinking about doing this CIP. But if you do have a genuine passion for farming and learning about rural life in Japan (as well as learning Japanese since most residents in Miyama don’t speak much English), this CIP will undoubtedly be an invaluable and extremely worthwhile experience, and perhaps even life-changing as well!