asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

British Beer 13 July, 2012

Filed under: food & drink — johnraff @ 2:44 pm
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T and I were in Heathrow terminal 4 last year waiting for our flight back to Japan and found a plastic “pub” in a corner of the departure area. On the menu was a beer called “Fuller’s London Pride”, which I’d vaguely heard of, so we had a couple of pints. It turned out to be very nice, amazingly for an airport, Heathrow especially.

So, when, with all the London Olympics thing going on (though I gather they’re taking it all pretty low-key over there), our wine merchant sent us a list of British beers from one of their importers I recognized that Fuller’s London Pride right away. Hmm, so this year instead of cheap lager on Thursdays we decided to do a  British Beer Fair every day to mark the Historic Event. We stocked a dozen varieties for the duration and are selling them at no-profit prices just to turn people on to the wonderful world of British Beer … and maybe entice a few new customers into Raffles …

When they arrived, a look at the cases suggested they might have come via some wholesaler in the USA – a long journey round the world to Exotic Japan, but on opening a bottle I was pleasantly surprised. And the next bottle… Most of these beers are from either Fuller’s in London or Wychwood in Oxfordshire and they’re all delicious. Really. I’ve been a fan of Belgian beer for some time, and didn’t really expect anything from the UK to be able to compete, but most of these top-fermented ales could stand up there.

Maybe after the fair’s over we’ll keep on one or two on our regular menu – at a more regular price though. I’m sure you’ll understand.

Cheers!

 

The Third Beer 31 May, 2012

Filed under: food & drink — johnraff @ 1:49 pm
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Taxes. Unavoidable of course, and liable to change people’s lives. Fewer windows, less lung disease… Land tax in Japanese cities is high, with the result that empty lots are quickly put to some useful economic purpose to pay the tax. On the other hand, beautiful Japanese-style houses are knocked down because their owners could no longer afford to live in them.

Spirits like whisky and shochu are relatively low-taxed, so there’s not much reason to buy anything in the duty-free shops on your way here; beer, however, is hit with something like 45% tax! It used to be luxury item, for the snooty westernized Japanese who didn’t want to drink sake or shochu. Postwar, everyone started drinking beer, but the government, addicted to that nice 45% revenue, aren’t going to lower it any time soon. There are more oddities in the messy Japanese liquor tax system. The level of tax on beer is determined by its malt content. Under 67%, and it has to be called “happoshu“, not beer, but as compensation the tax rate is only 35% or so. Happoshu tastes vaguely like beer, but it’s pretty anaemic stuff, not really worth putting up with for the ¥15 you save over the price of a real can of beer. Even so, in these hard times pseudo-beers have been selling quite well, especially since the beer manufacturers discovered yet another tax category: this is for those “alcopops” that have been popular in the West, just flavoured water with some distilled alcohol added, and much lower taxed even than happoshu.

These so-called “third beers” were flavoured with anything the maker could come up with – soy beans, seaweed, or if you were lucky a very weak happoshu – dosed with some extra hops and a dash of cheap industrial alcohol to bring the strength up to the usual 5% or so. They tasted about as horrible as they sound, but cost about half what real beer did – maybe ¥2400 for a case of 24 350ml cans. Every month or so a new brand came out, each tasting as vile as the last, but the market shifted down from beer to happoshu, and finally the only sector where sales were holding up was that Third Beer stuff.

OK now the (sort of) good news. Over the years, those beer companies’ R&D departments have been hard at work, and the latest varieties of beeroids are very slightly less disgusting than they used to be. A couple of years ago Sapporo had a happoshu called “Sugomi” which wasn’t bad at all; it was soon dropped for some reason, but now they’ve got a Third Beer called “Mugi to Hoppu” (麦とホップ) which I’d have to admit isn’t really too bad. Mugi to Hoppu BlackThe name means “wheat/barley and hops” and somehow they’ve managed to concoct this stuff only from those ingredients without going into a beer tax bracket. It seems as if they brew a low-grade happoshu with a little bit of malt, boost the taste with some unmalted barley or wheat, add more hop flavour and some alcohol which has been distilled from wheat or barley (the two words are the same in Japanese). Put it in the fridge for a while, and amazingly it’s not too bad, especially on a hot summer day. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d rather drink real beer any time, preferably a craft beer from one of the local microbreweries, but at ¥100 a can this will do for a quick one after work. Last winter a “black” version came out which is even harder to distinguish from some kinds of black beer. If you don’t want to work your way through every variety of beer-like beverage in the supermarket, check this one out. (Sapporo haven’t yet paid me anything for writing this, but of course donations are welcome…)

Now the recent sales of beery things have been generally pretty poor in fact. Young people are abandoning beer in favour of sweeter “cocktails” and those alcopops which might have inspired the Third Beers. Actually, young people are abandoning alcohol in general, believe it or not. Instead of going for a quick one with the gang from the office after work, they go straight home and… do whatever it is they do… The single beverage category whose sales are booming is non-alcoholic beer. Seriously.

The country is going to the dogs.

 

Belgian happoshu? 22 July, 2016

Filed under: food & drink — johnraff @ 5:47 pm
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Breaking a long cyber silence here to celebrate Nagoya’s early exit from the “Tsuyu” rainy season with a post on one of my favourite topics – beer. “Happoshu” – a sort of imitation beer which uses low quantities of malt to get a lower tax rate – has been with us for some years now, followed by “third type” beers which get the tax bracket even lower. At first they were pretty disgusting with all kinds of weird aftertastes, but the clever brewing companies have been polishing their techniques and now some of these cheap “third beers” are actually sort-of OK. Some people who have been forced to switch from real beer by their falling incomes (even under Abenomics) have started to prefer them to beer! I wouldn’t go that far at all, but get it well chilled in the fridge and some of these “third beers” can be enjoyable enough on a hot summer evening.

crystalbelg

Sapporo beer have been working hard on this, with Suntory and Kirin close behind (I don’t like Asahi), and “Mugi to Hoppu” is still my favourite, but back in 2014 they came out with something called “White Belg”. Someone had obviously twigged that those delicious Belgian beers contain a lot of things other than malt and hops, and might not pass the Japanese malt percentage bar either. White Belg is a copy of the Belgian white beers, like Hoegaarden White, and along with added wheat is flavoured with orange peel and coriander seeds. It really isn’t too bad – a little bit sweet maybe, but quite refreshing. Since then they came out with “Gold Belg” and “Brown Belg” which were pretty good too, each in their own way, but limited issues which disappeared as soon as you found them.

The latest one is called “Crystal Belg”, which I found by chance in a supermarket last week. It’s inspired by the Belgian “saison” style – a summer brew, a little lower in alcohol and with a delicious hoppy aroma. This might be the best of all, and I liked it enough to go back to that supermarket to buy a case of it. No luck. Sold out, and no plans to get in any more, apparently. Hmm.

Anyway, this one’s got a great flowery start, light body and a clean finish that… Just a minute! We’re not talking about some special craft beer here, this is one-hundred-yen-a-can “third beer”. If you see one on a shelf please try it. If like me you have looked everywhere and still can’t find any, you might look on the internet. I was able to order a case via Amazon which came yesterday. Happy ending.

 

Kyoto again 16 October, 2013

Filed under: places — johnraff @ 2:10 pm
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On the 14th of last April – rapidly fading into the mists of prehistory – Daihachi Ryodan made another excursion to Kyoto, this time to play at a live house called Negaposi, in the centre of town near Marutamachi station. It turned out to be a pretty good place – the acoustics are just right and the owner, who clearly loves music, has got the PA system set up nicely and mixes the sound with care. The atmosphere is friendly too, and the audience were appreciative – a good time was had by all. We’ll be playing there again in January so if you’re in the Kyoto area please drop in! There’ll be some info on the Daihachi Ryodan website as we get a bit closer.

Spending most of my time in Nagoya, I get a feeling of foreignness visiting another of Japan’s major cities. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but in Kyoto you’re in Kansai and looking out of the car window something is a bit different somehow. Tokyo is different again, almost like going abroad. Of course one of the great features of Kansai culture is the food – before the gig we munch some kushi age. This is all kinds of things, battered, breadcrumbed and deep-fried. Quite tasty and even things like shrimp and steak are still only ¥80 a stick or so. (I think they make their profit on the beer, which, while not that expensive, comes in smallish mugs.) After the concert we drop in at an okonomiyaki place. It’s excellent, and inexpensive, just as we hoped. Finally crash out at about 3:00 in a business hotel, and make our leisurely way back to Nagoya the next day.

Inspired, the following week I looked up how to make okonomiyaki and was surprised to find that for the authentic taste the main ingredient should not be flour but grated yam, along with egg, shredded cabbage, dried shrimps, pickled ginger, tempura scraps etc, with just a little flour to help bind it all together. That weekend I had a go and it turned out not too bad, though obviously the professionals still have an edge…

 

Farmlog February 2013 5 July, 2013

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 3:00 pm
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Sweltering in early July, the time when we were shivering in the snow and slush of february almost has a certain nostalgic appeal…

3rd~4th

Yesterday was Setsubun, the changing of the seasons when we drive out demons and invite fortune into the house. Originally this came just before the New Year celebrations, which seems appropriate, but since the Westernization of the calendar back in the Meiji era New Year has been at 1st January and many other traditional events of the Japanese calendar have been dislocated.

On Sunday we are presented with impressive views of rows of snowy white mountains in the distance.

The supermarkets are laden with massive stocks of chocolate for the impending Valentine’s Day celebration. This is one of those synthetic Japanese “customs” dreamed up by the marketing department of some company – suddenly it became the day on which girls give presents of chocolate to the boys they are interested in. (I remember years ago receiving a heart-shaped box of chocolates soon after starting teaching here, and totally failing to follow up on the possible romantic opportunity it represented because I had no idea of this Japanese Valentine thing…) Later, in the 80’s or 90’s maybe, the “custom” expanded to include all men to whom the woman (yes the age bracket has expanded too) in question felt some kind of obligation, so “giri-choco” had to be given to people like superiors in the office, romantic feelings or not. Chocolate sales just before Valentine’s day rose to some 40~50% of the year’s total! (Presumably that chocolate salesman who invented this got a good bonus.) These days the trend has moved on to “self treats” or something, so those young women now buy chocolate to stuff into their own faces on February 14th! I’m not sure what St. Valentine would make of all this.

That evening a few people come round to help us expel the demons with the help of some beer, sake and an excellent bottle of the smoothest vodka you ever tasted, brought back from a trip to Russia by T’s nephew. Anyway, guests are avatars of the God of Good Fortune, right? Among our visitors is Snake Doctor Yamada who passes round, along with some home-brewed sake, some pieces of dried mamushi for us to munch on with the drinks. Hmm…

It’s wet and cloudy on Monday and we leave a bit early, but the misty hills are beautiful on our way back to Nagoya.

Min. temp -6°C max. 7°C


10th~11th

mystery turd on toilet roofSunday is chilly, with low, grey clouds, and there are no mountains for us this week.

Miso nabe for dinner – not bad. Later it starts snowing.

On Monday the light snow melts in the sun, but we get a bit more in the late afternoon.

The weekly batch of compostable rubbish to dispose of, and I cut some more thorns from our nasty wild citrus tree to help keep the cats out of our garden in Nagoya. There’s a turd on the roof of our outside toilet… It’s quite big, 8~9cm, definitely not a bird or mouse, or even a stoat/weasel type animal, so I have to think we must have had a visit from monkeys at some point.

Once the sun goes down it gets pretty cold. Obviously it’s still Winter, but here and there buds are starting to swell…

Min. temp -4°C max. 7°C


17th~18th

Even at mid-day in Nagoya the air has a bite. It’s been a cold week.The overcast sky clears in time for us to see some white mountains basking in the cold winter sun, till it clouds over again and snows that night. There’s yet another mouse in the chutoruman, a weekly occurrence.

Monday is white with that snow, but by the time I get up it’s turned to rain. Still cold though. I just hope the snow gets melted before it’s time to leave. The rain means no work outside, so I practice guitar a bit. (We’ve got a concert coming up in a couple of weeks.)

Min. temp -6°C max. 4°C


25th~26th

Anyway, it’s cold, with blizzards on the Sea of Japan coast, apparently. The midday clouds clear up and we arrive in bright sunshine but the wind is so bitterly cold as to take away any warmth. Turn on the oil stove and get in the kotatsu, but even the cups that had hot tea in 15 min. ago are now icy to the touch. It will take half a day for the room to warm up a bit. The old fan heater did better than that, but had the disadvantage of not working if the electricity is cut off, as we found out one cold winter when heavy snow brought down tree branches on the power lines. For dinner: Vietnamese beef stew, squid stir-fry and a salad.

It takes me 30 min. to get out of the futon on Monday. Outside it’s sunny but even at 11:00am it’s -1°C. That might not mean much to some, but it’s plenty cold enough for us. I put on working clothes but after disposing of the compost my fingers are numb. It’s too cold to get any work done. The joy of a Japanese bath! (It’s just as hard to get out of as the morning futon, though.) Back to Nagoya for the last Daihachi Ryodan practice before our gig at Tokuzo on the 3rd March.

Min. temp -7°C max. 3°C

 

Farmlog November & December 2012 6 March, 2013

Filed under: countryside,places — johnraff @ 1:52 pm
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4th~5th

It turned pretty cold a couple of days ago, but Sunday is a beautiful autumn day with feathery clouds and vapour trails across the deep blue sky. The sun manages to bring the mid-day temperature up to 19°C in Nagoya, which isn’t bad going. Views of holy Mount Ontake magnificent in new snow.

As we get out of the car at the other end the air has a sharp bite. A flock of tits tries to cheer us up over our cup of tea. There’s just time to pick a last batch of chillies before it gets dark at 5:30 and my fingers are frozen. We won’t be coming up next week, and by the 18th the plants will probably have been killed by the frost.

We have dinner at a friend’s down the road. Almost everyone, driving or not, is drinking non-alcoholic beer, which I find deeply depressing.

Monday is cloudy and chilly, though when the sun peers through it warms things up a bit. Rain is due later. The tits are still around, and we have a brief visit from some goldcrests(?) and other small greenish-brown birds. The autumn colours are well under way, but we’ll miss the best, which will probably be next week.

Min. temp. 2°C, max. 19°C (max from last week?)


11th~12th

We stay in Nagoya. On Monday, visit Tanigumi.


18th~19th

We leave town a bit late because Saturday night at Raffles was busy. Sunday is a nice early winter’s day with an almost clear blue sky. Passing through Inuyama we pause to check out Saito Ham’s sausages and see a sign to “Jakko-in” – a Zen temple nearby famous for its maple trees, which might just now be at their peak so we decide to have a look as we’re running late anyway. About half the population of the Tokai area have decided to do the same, and the narrow road is totally jammed. We give up and escape up a side road only to happen upon a secret car park, so we stop after all and walk 5min. to Jakko-in. It is rather nice but loses out to Tanigumi maybe. (pics below)

It’s dark by the time we reach our house and it’s my turn to make dinner – Chinese-style chicken breast stir-fry with peppers, hot sour soup and tomato salad, with a simple (ie cheap) red wine from the South of France. It turns out OK.

Sunday night drops to 0°C but the chillies are just hanging on to life. I pick a few but we’ve got more-or-less all we need now. Cut some thorny citrus branches to help keep the cats off our garden in Nagoya. The mid-day sunshine is pleasantly warm but at 3:00 the sun goes behind the hill opposite and by 4:00 the BIg Chill has its teeth in us and my fingers are numb. A warm bath helps a lot, then back to Nagoya in the dark.

Min. temp. 0°C, max. 15°C


25th~26th

Sunday is another beautiful day – sunny with no wind – perfect for viewing the autumn colours and plenty of people must be doing just that, as the roads are quite crowded. Once out of town, the scenery is indeed impressive with red, brown and yellow leaves against a deep blue sky with distant white mountains to set it off. However, the weather is unsettled and the radio promises rain tomorrow.

Big “daikon” radishes are in season and cheap everywhere.

There’s another mouse in the trap (last week too) and the deer (probably) have knocked down the net round the chilli plants, but the chillies have died from the frost anyway.

Wake to the sound of rain as promised, and it looks set to continue all day…

Min. temp. -1°C, max. 11°C


December 16th~17th

We’ve missed two weekends! Two weeks ago there was a private party at Raffles and last week there was just too much snow to make the trip enjoyable. What’s more, next week we’ll be busy getting ready for Xmas and the week after getting ready for our trip to the Goto Islands, so this will be our only visit in December.

It’s a beautiful Sunday with magnificent views of snowy Ontake again.

Oshogatsu stuff is starting to appear in the supermarket. T buys mochi to decorate the farmhouse.

I make “miso nabe” for dinner – it’s OK.

Monday is wet again – this seems to be a regular pattern this autumn. Cut some more cat-thorns, dispose of the organic refuse and head back to Nagoya for an evening of blues at Otis’.

Min. temp. -5°C, max. 10°C

Jakko-in Photos:

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Farmlog August 2012 29 November, 2012

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:17 pm
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5th~6th

  • At the farmer’s stall on the way out we get some wonderful tomatoes at ¥100 a bag!
  • Sunday starts sweltering but later clouds over just as the forecast said, and at about 5PM we get a thundershower which cools things down a bit and moistens the parched ground. It hasn’t rained for a week but still manages to be humid somehow. Anyway the mini-tomato and chilli plants seem to have been enjoying the heat.
  • A nice summer insect chorus builds up as afternoon slides into early evening.
  • On Monday the unsettled weather continues – it starts out sweltering but we get another vaguely refreshing thundershower at around 1PM. In Nagoya they’re getting torrential rain and tornado warnings! I hope our house is OK.
  • Pulling weeds among the wet tea bushes I finally encounter a leech, but escape being bitten.
  • Min. temp. 20°C, max. 33°C

12th~15th

Our Obon holiday.

A muggy start – we’re promised thunderstorms but in fact it clears up towards late afternoon in Gifu.
Yamada-san and his brother-in-law come over bringing those iwana he promised, from his pool. They’re too small to grill “shio-yaki” style so they get floured and fried instead. Really good. Later a distant cousin of Yamada’s (their grandmothers are sisters) shows up with a mamushi in a bottle! It seems he was called over to a neighbour’s because her garden was full of them. They caught five and he thought there might be more!

What you do with a mamushi:

  1. Put it in a bottle of water (alive!) for a couple of weeks, till it’s insides are clean. It will still be alive.
  2. Discard the water and pour in 40% “white liquor” (flavourless spirit for making fruit liqueurs etc).
  3. After a while you’ve got “mamushi-zake” – you can drink it as a tonic, but more often it’s rubbed onto sprained muscles etc – something like “snake oil” maybe?

One of the mamushi had got killed so Yamada decides it must be eaten. He skins it with his thumbnails(!), puts it on a grill and holds it over the fire till it’s crisp. We nervously nibble at it – it’s OK, a bit like a small dried fish. I avoid eating the head in case there’s still poison left in it.

Yamada drinks whisky these days because beer is full of purines which are bad for his gout. We thought his brother-in-law was a bit younger than us (I’m 62) but it turns out his 70th birthday is coming up in a week or two! Everybody round here looks about ten years younger than they are.

Yamada now refers to himself as the Snake Doctor.

Fireworks in the Rain.

Monday brings more of the unsettled weather. There’s a load of warm moist air coming up from the south, running into a cold air mass just about here, with the result of cloud, incredible humidity, intermittent sweltering sun and thunderstorms. Usually a Pacific high pressure area holds all this off in the summer but this year’s is a bit weak and they’re getting record rainfalls all over Japan. However, the rain sort of holds off in the afternoon, and we hear that the annual firework display down in town hasn’t been cancelled, so go down to check it out. By the main street there’s a concert with local rock bands, hula dancers and a bossa nova singer but after half an hour we go on down to the riverbank, put our mats down on the wet tarmac, open a can of happoshu and wait for the display to start at 8:00.

The fireworks are OK, though lightning on the other side of the mountain opposite is offering some competition, and there are fewer people watching than most years. Water slowly starts to come up through the mats. Around 8:30 it starts raining. The rain gets stronger, we give up and by the time we get back to the car it’s pouring. Drive back to the house in almost continual lightning, soaked. A bath and a change of clothes puts things more or less right. It was an experience, as they say.

Tuesday brings more of the same, weather-wise. In the breaks between rain there’s just time to go out and get bitten by two leeches.

Wednesday brings yet more of the same. We have to keep a can of flyspray by the kotatsu to keep the biting insects under control. (It doesn’t work though.) When the weather’s nice we hate to have to go back to Nagoya, but today will be OK. It’ll be hot back there but at least we’ll be dry and less itchy.

Min. temp. 17°C, max. 30°C


19th~20th

More of the sultry sweltering we’ve come to know and love… Intermittent cloud fails to take the edge off the heat. Rain looks imminent but we don’t actually get any, and things start to improve at the end of the day. At night there’s a skyfull of stars and it’s pleasantly cool – quite a novel feeling.

The chillies are coming on – they like the hot weather and respond in kind. I picked a couple of big green ones for a salad and even after roasting, peeling, deseeding and sitting in the dressing for half an hour they were still fiercely hot. T’s mini-tomatoes are doing well too – they’re quite easy to grow. A pumpkin seed sprouted from the compost heap and is growing huge leaves with all those nutrients – will the compost be totally depleted by the end of the season? Will there actually be some pumpkins? Will the monkeys come and steal them?

Monday morning is delightfully cool and fresh, with a few clouds dotted around the deep blue sky. As the day gets under way the sun stokes up the heat, but the humidity’s down and even at midday it’s quite comfortable if you’re in the shade. At last!! This is what summer out here is supposed to be like! (On the radio they’re saying we might have torrential thunderstorms this afternoon though.)

A bit after 12 I hear some distant thunder – odd because there aren’t that many clouds about. Five minutes later, the radio says there was a small earthquake. We felt no shaking here, but they say mountains rumble when there’s a quake…

A small wasp is building its nest in a hole in the aluminium sliding door – just by my left ear. It’s flying in and out without any concern for me, so I return the favour.

For a couple of hours in mid-afternoon the heat was becoming unpleasant… but by 4:00 it was nice and cool again. Perfect – insect voices – clear sky – this is when we hate to leave and drive back to Nagoya, but on the way home we pass rice fields golden in the late afternoon sunshine, topped with little red dragonflies. An early hint of autumn.

Min. temp. 20°C, max. 32°C


26th~27th

Sunday is somewhat cloudy but when the sun peeks through the gaps it’s hot. Meanwhile a huge typhoon is bearing down on Okinawa – I hope they’re OK.

Usually we get local vegetables at a ¥100 stand near the house, but the first supermarket we pass also has a corner for local produce, and today we buy a couple of “kiiuri”. These are small yellow gourds, slightly sweet and very nice in a salad – almost like a melon. They had some last week too – someone must be growing them in the area – not something you find in Nagoya.

Rice has been going up lately and the cunning merchants have started selling it in 8Kg bags instead of the 10Kg we’re used to, in order to hide the price rises. Do they really think people will be fooled? I suppose they must have done all the market research and come to that depressing conclusion.

Wild monkeys might sound all exotic, but along with the deer and wild boar they’re getting to be more and more of a problem to people trying to grow vegetables. According to the lady at the ¥100 stand the local council is now offering a bounty of ¥40,000 for each monkey killed by hunters. That will be hard-earned money – monkeys are clever.

Monday brings blue sky dotted with fluffy summer clouds along with a fierce heat occasionally relieved by a soothing breeze. It’s still a bit more humid than usual but things are improving, and inside the house it’s quite pleasant.

The chillies are looking good – I pick a few big green ones and a couple of the first red ones, for seeds.

Min. temp. 20°C, max. 31°C

 

Farmlog July 2012 2 November, 2012

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:09 pm
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1st~2nd

  • On Sunday it rains all day – it is the Rainy Season after all. There are some compensations though, like bright blue hydrangeas and misty tree-covered hills.
  • Monday starts fresh but works up into sweltering heat. In late afternoon we have a blue sky again.
  • The rice fields are beautiful in the golden sun of a late summer afternoon.
  • Min. temp. 15°C, max. 26°C

8th~9th

  • The rain stops on saturday and Sunday is hot with a bit of sun between the clouds.
  • We pick some “ume”. Every year this job comes round in the middle of the wet season and it can be thoroughly unpleasant, but today it’s quite dry. Don’t speak too soon, but are there fewer leeches this year? I haven’t seen any since May – did that hail get them?
  • Mutton curry for dinner. The light Italian red we picked up in the supermarket goes surprisingly well with it.
  • Put some of the ume in bottles with rock sugar and 35% “white liquor” to make “umeshu”. Actually there’s still some that was made in 2004 so we’re fairly well stocked.
  • Dry maybe, but sultry is the word – no rain but really humid and hot, though by late afternoon it’s pleasant. Anyway the plants – chillies, goya and turmeric – all seem to be enjoying it.
  • T finds a new way of making tea – just using the microwave! It turns out quite drinkable.
  • Min. temp. 16°C, max. 28°C

15th~16th

  • The end of “Tsuyu” often brings heavy rain and they’re getting severe floods in Kyushu – 800mm in three days! That’s nearly a metre of water!
  • We set off from Nagoya in the usual humid heat with a bit of sun, but there’s a dark wall of cloud in front of us that can only mean rain ahead.
  • The rivers are full of water and decorated with mist, as the moist air meets the cold water.
  • The ¥100 stall has lots of cucumbers and eggplants – I’ll have to make some pickle.
  • We arrive to find a snakeskin hanging from the drain by the front door – 1.6m long! There were other visitors while we were away: the deer had eaten all the leaves off the “giboshi” (hosta) in front of the house. We had been looking forward to the pretty blue flowers that were due soon. Deer are becoming an increasing problem everywhere. They are even damaging fisheries in some areas! Stripping the vegetation from mountainsides they increase the run-off of mud into the rivers, and into coastal waters. An ojisan from down the road has been setting some snares – he gets a bounty from the local council but we’ll have to see how many deer he manages to get…
  • T goes to pick some more ume and comes across a faun in a snare! It looks at her with big sorrowful faun eyes that say “help me”… The ojisan says it’ll be dead tomorrow. He’ll say a prayer and bury it. He has to bury it deep so scavengers don’t dig it up, but he’s got a mechanical shovel.
  • It starts raining at about 6:00. Did I say something about “sultry” last week? I didn’t know what I was talking about. The humidity is incredible, the earth floors by the entrances are wet, and when you open a cupboard cold air comes out!
  • The ojisan comes over to pick up and bury the deer. He also, perhaps by way of thanks for letting him set traps on our land, cuts down this tree for us which had been blocking the sun and breeze from the front of the house. It was a big tree and I spend three hours clearing up all the branches and pieces of trunk afterwards.
  • Min. temp.18 °C, max. 28°C

22nd~23rd

  • Summer officially started on Tuesday but our succession of sweltering 35°C days was interrupted by a cold air mass let in by a weak high pressure area. It rained on Saturday and Sunday was still overcast and unusually cool – by the time we got to the house it was only 23° (still good and humid though).
  • We stock up on more vegetables on the way – we’re living on cucumbers, eggplants and tomatoes.
  • The drizzle holds off and allows us to eat outside, which is a major compensation for the daytime mugginess.
  • Lizards in abundance. Our local variety is a rather handsome creature with cream and dark brown stripes tapering off to a bright blue tail.
  • The clouds thin out on Monday, allowing the sun in to stew us in the humidity.
  • The chillies are coming on, though some now need staking up and some on the south side of the field have been bitten off at the base of their stem. slugs? insects?
  • It’s too hot to do much work – finish clearing up big chunks of that tree we had cut down last week, clear up last year’s chilli net and tie up some of this year’s drooping chilli plants.
  • At about 3:00PM a particularly loud insect chorus starts up with strange stroboscopic effect – a reminder that the peak heat of the day is past.
  • Min. temp. 19°C, max. 33°C

29th~30th

  • Hot!! Humid!! There was a heatstroke warning on the radio today – over 50 people have died already. Have to get enough water and salt. It’s peak Summer, but really it should be a bit dryer than this. Our farmhouse floor is still wet at the entrance.
  • By the stream at the back, a big snake is climbing up a plant stalk on the bank till it bends over towards the other side so he can get at this big fat-bodied spider. The spider notices just in time and seems to get away OK.
  • Finally get some of the rank weed growth cut down.
  • An unknown insect. Even after 25 years I still often see new ones – that snake’s spider for example. This place is full of life!
  • Yamada san drops in for the first time in a while. He’ll bring some //iwana// over at Obon and we’ll have a little barbecue. We try out T’s theory that the hail killed off the leeches, but Yamada says no, he’s seen plenty. We’ve just been lucky.
  • Monday morning starts out with a nice breeze, but soon gets stuck into the sweltering inferno we’ve come to know, even out here. What will it be like back in Nagoya? We’re leaving early today to hit a beer garden at the top of one of the tallest buildings in town.
  • On the way back, the rice is already starting to turn yellow in some fields.
  • Min. temp. 21°C, max. 33°C

 

Farmlog April 2012 3 September, 2012

Filed under: countryside,seasons — johnraff @ 7:16 pm
Tags: , ,

1st~2nd

  • Sunday starts sunny, then it rains, then it’s sunny again, then it goes cold…
  • Mugi-to-Hoppu Black is back in the shops, to great rejoicing (link). One of the best happoshu.
  • Monday’s weather is much better – the air is still chilly but at last it still feels something like Spring. Fukinoto shoots are coming up, along with wasabi leaves. Our friend the uguisu is back! Crows and tits are joining the party too.
  • Min. temp. -2°C, max. 15°C

8th~9th

  • A beautiful sunny day! Cherry in full bloom! Sunday! The perfect day for hanami – maybe the only Sunday this year. Millions of people are probably in the parks of cities from Hiroshima to Tokyo, but we hit route 41 out to Gifu instead. Cherry blossom is visible from the road, and Mount Ontake is also pink in the spring haze.
  • As we get into the hills cherry is replaced by plum (ume actually) and at our house even the ume is barely out – just one or two flowers..
  • We stop off at the “TakemiZakura” to take a photo of Mt. Ontake and a bunch of local ojisans, including Yamada-san, are clearing up for the matsuri, due in in a couple of weeks.
  • That evening Yamada san brings over an iwana fish to grill and drop in a pot of sake. Iwana-sake might be an acquired taste…
  • Monday is forecast sunny, but just after mid-day it rains. Later it’s warm again. Such is Spring weather.
  • Min. temp. -3°C, max. 13°C

15th~16th

  • A Beautiful Sunday. The cherry leaves are coming out in Nagoya, but a bit out of town it’s in full bloom everywhere.
  • At the house we’re greeted by the sweet smell of ume blossom, but the cherry buds are still hard.
  • Birds are bustling noisily about, getting ready for nest-building. Bumblebees too. Flowers too – including the somewhat unusual “katakuri“.
  • A local policeman drops in to say hello. Newly arrived from Gifu, he seems friendly enough. (You know you’re getting older when policemen are young enough to be your own children.)
  • Min. temp. 2°C, max. 18°C

22nd~23rd

  • Rain. The forecast says rain all weekend but we drive out anyway.
  • This week the TakemiZakura is expected to be in full bloom, accompanied by the local matsuri that’s been on since 2006. Sure enough, the 300 year old tree looks magnificent, and a handful of people are bravely defying the rain. We sit under a tent munching yakitori (the regular kind!), sipping sake and soaking up the Spring feeling. Yamada-san shows up, buys me more sake (T’s driving) and we chat for a while about the future of this event – the cost of promotion, limits on parking space, whether to encourage coach tours – how to balance size and enjoyability, it’s tricky. Eat some excellent shishinabe. This was all quite pleasant at the time but we get to the house at about 5PM and the rest of the evening is a bit fuzzy. No major harm done though…
  • More ume and forsythia in blossom, and yet more birds this week flying about the place. Many bird calls, including the uguisu.
  • Warabi coming up, and the wasabi plant beside the house is starting to flower.
  • There’s an ojisan from down the road who sometimes walks past in the evening – even with the active country life he feels the need for daily exercise. We were talking the other week about the deer that come and eat everything, and he said he’d put in some traps. Deer are a nationwide problem lately and some effort is being made to get their numbers under control. Anyway, he’s now put in a trap. We’ll see if he gets any.
  • Min. temp. 5°C, max. 20°C

29th~30th

  • Sunday’s a bit hazy, but this goes beyond spring to summer heat at 28°C in Nagoya. The cherry’s finished but other flowers are out – the hanamizuki is quite pretty.
  • Pass a couple in Town-Ojisan-Going-For-A-Walk-In-The-Country uniform – check shirts, waistcoats, khaki trousers and shapeless khaki hats. You can see dozens of them on local train lines on Sundays.
  • We take the other road up, past a local onsen where there’s a vegetable stand, and buy a bamboo shoot and some wasabina. That’s a kind of mustard green I suppose – it tastes like wasabi and is good in beef salad, for example. The lady there knows our village and knows we get a lot of deer. Their main problem seems to be monkeys.
  • Our place is looking nice – the ume is finished but our weeping cherry and a couple of wild cherries are out, along with forsythia, quince, azalea, yamabuki, yukiyanagi…
  • Looking for bamboo shoot (no luck) I turn a corner to be suddenly surrounded by a chorus of invisible frogs.
  • We have dinner outside for the first time this year, burning some of the old wood left over from our floor change last autumn. Sansai tempura – warabi, udo, wasabi, yomogi, onion… Later I was dozing off to be woken by a loud voice – not pleasant. A deer?
  • Monday is cloudy with rain coming tonight but it’s still fairly warm. The birds are incredibly busy.
  • Min. temp. 8°C, max. 23°C
 

Kitemiteya きてみてや 29 April, 2012

Filed under: city,food & drink,places — johnraff @ 1:40 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

This is the kind of place that Japan excels at. Just a counter with room for 6~7 people, and a bit of tatami at the back with a couple more tables. One guy, Ina-chan, runs the whole place – serving drinks (though beers from the fridge are self-service) and the snacks that are obligatory when drinking in Japan – squid with spinach, noodle salad, mackerel stewed in soy sauce… and because Ina-chan’s from near Osaka you can also get good Kansai style okonomi-yaki (the negi-yaki’s especially good) and yaki-soba which will fill you up if you’re hungry. In Britain you’re lucky to get a couple of crisps or peanuts but here you can easily have your whole evening meal down at the pub if you want. There’s a kind of fuzzy area between eating out and drinking out which I thoroughly enjoy exploring.

Here at Kitemiteya anybody’s welcome, but most of the people at the counter are regulars, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll know somebody. Lately he’s taken to putting the TV on more often, to show off the shiny new wide-screen digital picture, and because he’s a Hanshin Tigers (baseball) fan, but Ina-chan’s got a music background and the sounds he puts on tend to be choice – usually some Japanese artist you’ve never heard of because they’re outside the music industry machine. Prices are really cheap too, especially the food which is generally in the ¥300~¥400 region. Add to all that the fact that it’s just a two-minute walk from where we live and you’ll see why Kitemiteya’s been our regular place for some years.

Musicians tend to drop in quite often, and the other day this guy we know brought in a friend who’d just finished playing a concert. He had this instrument case with him and asked if we’d like to hear a bit – well, sure, we said and he takes out this Mongolian horse-head fiddle thing and starts playing it. It sounds pretty good, and then he gets into this Mongolian “throat singing”. Gosh. I don’t know if you’ve heard any, but it’s very strange, a bit like playing a Jew’s harp with your voice. Till then I’d only heard it on CDs or the radio but at a distance of 1 metre it’s very impressive. I was ready for more, but it was getting late and we had to leave. I don’t know how often you’d get to hear Mongolian Throat Singing down at the local back in the UK.

When I came to Japan 36 years ago you’d be able to call Kitemiteya a typical Japanese bar, but it’s really not easy to make any sort of living doing this these days. People can no longer afford the sort of prices an owner would have to charge to make a proper living from it, and drink instead at chain pubs with food that comes out of factories. These little street-corner drinking places are becoming quite scarce, along with the local sushi-shops. Inachan just seems to get by somehow… anyway, long may he continue!

A few pics:

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