Being a teenager, I was in the habit of not listening to my mom.  I assumed that she had told me about the farm ahead of time, and I must have just ignored her.  However, upon asking her last night, she said she had not planned for me to go to the farm, and that it must have been my aunt’s idea.  Either way, I was surprised to find myself hugging my family goodbye and loading my bags onto a bus headed for the southwest side of Hokkaido.

My mom and her sisters used to spend their summers working at the Setana farms, along with the other kids from the international schools.  They would all rent out a house together and then travel from farm to farm helping out whichever one needed help that day.  It was sort of a summer camp / volunteer opportunity.

The aforementioned Setana farms came together in a farming commune that was modeled after a Dutch concept.  According to my research*, the movement first became popular among Japanese farmers in the 1930’s and again in the 1960’s when it was used to “promote the independence of farmers in Hokkaido”* during an era of agricultural industrialization.  This was what was happening in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s when my mom visited.

However, by the time 2005 rolled around, the scene looked slightly different.  One of the members of the commune in the ‘60s, a really wonderful man named Masato Kawamura, bought one of the farms and turned it into the Setana FolkeHojskole, or “Foruke”, as the Japanese called it.  The Setana Hojskole was there for a unique reason.  It operated with the specific goal of helping young people who were “struggling with excessive stress under the rules and order of systemized society today*.”  Traditionally, Japanese public schools promote extreme competition, and leave no room for alternative learning styles (such as Montessori or charter schools in the US).  In the past, this apparently led to a high level of high school dropouts, which is what Foruke was trying to assist with.


The girls lived in a wooden cottage and the boys lived in the main house, which is also where we cooked and ate, played games, and sang songs while one of the boys accompanied on his guitar.  I don’t recall exactly how many of us were there, but I would guess 6ish girls and 6ish boys, plus 5 or 6 adults including Kawamura-san and his wife.  They were all super nice and I made friends right away.

During the day we labored all over the farm.  We milked cows, herded cows, shoveled cow food, shoveled hay, lifted hay bales into a silo, stomped on the hay inside the silo, cooked, cleaned, churned milk, and even helped birth a baby cow.



The newborn cow:

One day we went to a neighboring farm and helped pick strawberries.  Every day was exhausting, and by dinnertime every night I was so famished that all the food tasted incredible.  The food was all fresh from our farm or the other farms nearby – easily the best food I’ve ever had in my life.


The week went by much too quickly.  Once again, just as I was getting comfortable and making friends, it was time to leave.  We all cried and hugged, and promised to write each other letters, and then I got on a bus to go back to Sapporo.

I heard a while back that Foruke shut down.  Whatever concept or ideology was behind Foruke, it changed me for the better.  That week was simple yet fulfilling, and opened up a whole new world for me.

*As detailed in this article from

My other posts about Japan:

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