In order to myself into the life and community of Katashina, I am very interested in lending a hand on the farms. While helping at Katashinaya (the local shop and restaurant) we met one of Katashina’s biggest farmers, Sho-san, as he was unloading his lettuce. We asked him if we could ever help on his farm. He said yes, but with a sneaky smile, he added that they start at 2 in the morning. We asked if we could join him at a “more reasonable” time, maybe 5.30… but no, they start at 2am. I told myself: I am doing this for the experience so why not get up in the very early morning hours to give it a go! So we said yes. I think he was a little surprised at first, but shortly after said ‘ok I will see you tomorrow morning at 3am then’. It turns out that his son starts at 2am but Sho-san himself starts at 3am – together with us.
After a couple of hours of sleep my alarm clock woke me up in the darkness. I rubbed my eyes, dressed, and slipped into my wellies. Sho-san did not actually fully believe that we would make it and come to help him at 3 in the morning – but there we were.
A small truck with 2 large lamps lit up the field. In the spotlight there were 6 other people already hunched down and cutting off lettuce heads one by one. Sho-san’s son quickly instructed and demonstrated how to carefully package the lettuce. We bent down and slowly worked our way through the rows of lettuce, picking up each head and always placing 12 lettuces into one cardboard box.
We worked from 3am to 5am, from darkness through dawn. In the early hours the soft fog rolled over the mountains immersing the landscape in a light blue and grey hue. Usually they finish around 6am but today they had more helpers (including Aya & me!) so it went faster.
The boxes of lettuce are then transported to a big hall. Many farmers bring their produce here, which is then exported throughout Japan.
Helping at the lettuce field was definitely a unique experience. I find it very difficult to imagine waking up and doing this every single day. On top of that after cutting the lettuce they move to their other fields with their radishes and tomatoes!