asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Farmlog August 2013 17 November, 2017

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 4:47 pm
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4th~5th

Another HOT summer oniyuri-130805-0002day. The car-park of the first supermarket on our way is a sea of baking asphalt, as usual.

Near the house there’s a flock of swallows gathered on on the phone lines, in the same place as last year. Are they getting ready to leave already? Have they had enough of the heat?

Arriving, welcomed by the call of the uguisu and a friendly bite from a local mosquito.

Outside the house we sit for a while, immobilized in a sort of gel composed of the sticky heat and the insidious sounds of the cicadas.

There’s a tiger-lily in bloom. A tiny baby snake, dark brown, the length of a big earthworm, but thinner, hides in the grass.

It starts raining on and off in the evening and continues on Monday. Humid. Unpleasant.

Min. temp. 22°C, max. 31°C


13th~15th

It’s too hot to work and everyone else is on summer holiday so we take three extra days off, driving up on Tuesday with a friend Linda in time to catch the Kanayama fireworks that evening, which turn out to be even better this year. Back to the house for dinner and a splendid insect chorus (which continues in the daytime too). Some autumn insects are starting to join in. The Perseid meteor shower peaked on Monday but we catch a few late that night. Stay up till 3:00.

Wednesday is a bit blurry and too hot as usual. I’m not so genki. Taking Linda back to the station we call in at the “yottsu no taki” waterfalls, which are beautiful and nice and cool. In a good year the autumn colours round there are magnificent. Back home it’s too hot to do anything. Have an early night.

Thursday morning is beautifully fresh at 9:00 but by 10:00 it’s sweltering hot. This is the daily pattern (evenings are pleasantly cool though). Myoga flowers are coming up. We see a few red dragonflies, which really belong to autumn. 15th August marks the end of WW2.

Min. temp. 20°C, max. 33°C


18th~19th

It’s only three days since our last visit; we’re happy to leave the Nagoya furnace but the heat doesn’t let up out of town. In the first supermarket carpark you can feel the sun burning your face like a heatlamp.

The rice is turning golden and bending over in many fields – harvest is not far away.

There’s a little tree frog on the outside of our window. I find a little lizard climbing around an azalea bush.

The evening stays hot, it’s that “warm humid air from the south” thing though the ground is dry – there’s been no actual rain for the last two weeks or so.

The insect chorus builds towards a jubilant climax. Sometimes the cicadas make the heat feel hotter, but today they sound so happy…

Min. temp. 21°C, max. 32°C


25th~26th

Rain. The Autumn Rain Front has arrived and there’s major flooding in the west of Japan. Here it’s hot, but wet too – the garden needs it though. We stop off at Kimble on the way out and hit lucky this time – real German beer at ¥95 a can! I haven’t tasted this brand but the reinheitsgebot more or less guarantees it won’t be disgusting. Maybe Germany doesn’t have the crazy variety of Belgian beer, but you can’t brew up a mixture of rice and treacle, add a bit of hop extract and call it beer. I buy three cases – no happoshu for a month or so!

Goya are having a good year – is it the heat? Anyway they’re cheap and plentiful everywhere. Bitter and sour tastes are refreshing in the summer heat for some reason.

Around the second supermarket it suddenly gets cool, and at the house even hints at chilly. Overhead the sky is clear blue with wispy scraps of cloud – we’ve passed through the rain front into the cool high-pressure area to the north. Autumn Rules, for now anyway, and the autumn insects are responding with a beautiful chorus.

Sunday evening is cold so we go inside. That German beer is OK, somewhat dry and hoppy. It’s not amazing but for ¥95 quite acceptable.

There’s a monster weed growing in front of the house. I haven’t seen this one before so let it grow to see what kind of flowers it will have.

Something has been chewing on one of our pumpkins – a weasel? – a raccoon? I pick the first batch of red chillies.

Min. temp. 20°C, max. 33°C

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Farmlog June 2013 23 December, 2013

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 7:12 pm
Tags: , , ,

2nd~3rd

Before heading out of town we go to see John Williams’ excellent film “Sado Tempest“. John’s films seem to get better and better and I really enjoyed this dark extrapolation of Shakespeare’s Tempest.

The grey day gets greyer as it goes on, and it rains in the evening.

Early in the morning, briefly woken by crows and uguisu, but finally get up to a fresh Monday with only a bit of cloud. It’s officially the Rainy Season but the forecast this week is mostly sun.

The pumpkin plants have been pulled up by…  monkeys?  maybe those crows? Dig them back in and hope for the best.

See a big aodaisho, and later a mamushi under a bag of leaf mould. The snakes are still dozy from their winter sleep and a bit slow to run away when they feel approaching footsteps. You don’t see them much in the summer.

There’s a colony of “egu” trees around our house for some reason. You don’t see them much anywhere else in the area. They have lots of small white flowers in the summer and tiny hard round fruit that are very astringent and can be used to make soap apparently/

Min. temp. 12°C, max. 23°C


8th~9th

  • Listening to a Rolling Stones special on the radio from midday to 10pm! It’s hard to start work.
  • The newly planted rice is already lush and green.
  • The Ayu fishing season has opened and the river is full of anglers.
  • It’s lightly overcast, but the temperature is perfect.
  • I don’t know its name but there’s this bush that grows everywhere round here like a weed. Today it makes up with prolific sprays of white flowers.
  • Going to pay our (tiny) property tax for the year I drive past the local elementary school. It looks deserted but there are 3 or 4 kids in the playground. The average age out here is going way up, and in a few years there won’t be anybody at all…
  • Leave early on Monday – I am meeting an old friend in town for a drink. Joe’s an incredible guy – he’s now in his mid-60’s but two years ago crossed Australia from Perth to Sydney on a bicycle. This year he’s going to traverse Canada, 50% longer, and with the Rocky Mountains to cross!
  • It’s been an “empty tsuyu” so far, but rain is coming.

Min. temp. 12°C, max. 27°C


16th~17th

Funny weather. “Tsuyu” started 10 days early, in late May, but since then there’s been hardly any rain and reservoirs are low. Sunday is oppressively hot and sticky – T insists on having the the car aircon on all the way. Understandable in fact, though it costs 2km/l in extra fuel consumption.

Call in at Kimble – sell some glassware and bags, buy a guitar and scarf. I’m pleased with the guitar – a Yamaha “dreadnought” type for ¥1000!

At the supermarket, a major investment in anti-insect chemicals of various kinds and a couple of cases of “happoshu” from Vietnam at a special price of ¥52 a can.

Zucchinis are in season – I can make a curry with them, a simply-spiced Nepali recipe with tomatoes and onions that is quite refreshing at this time of year.

The humidity hits new heights and we get attacked by “buyo” even in front of the house, where they don’t usually come. T gets bitten by leeches on both ankles.

The air is heavy with the heady smell of pollen – the chestnut trees?

However, dinner outside is pleasant and smoke from our yakiniku might help to keep the insects at bay.

Monday is clear and very hot. The breeze is somewhat fresh in the morning but it doesn’t last…

Min. temp. 15°C, max. 31°C


23rd~24th

It’s close, overcast and muggy with occasional boiling sun – a typical rainy season day when it’s not actually raining. In fact, in spite of the welcome showers we had last week it’s been a “dry tsuyu” on the whole. We get out of the car to be greeted by a cool breeze. On a humid day like this it can mean rain is coming but the coolness is short-lived. It’s atmospheric instablility but the rain doesn’t come till 1am.

On many evenings there’s something with a bubbling sort of call that echoes round our valley “chupchupchupchupchup…” I thought it was a frog, but last week saw this small bird in the dusk half-light, making that sound. A bit smaller than a pigeon, with slender wings like a hawk and agile flight like a bat. It was here again this week.

It’s a super-moon tonight but we only get a glimpse through the clouds. A single firefly tries to make up – maybe we’l get more next week?

On Monday the first dragonfly of the season – a big black one.

Min. temp. 15°C, max. 29°C


June 30th~July 1st

It’s hot and cloudy with bits of sun, but inside the house you’d think someone had left the air-conditioner on, it was so deliciously cool. That’s how much the temperature had gone up outside while it was closed up for the week.

The chillies are looking well – standing up straight and holding their leaves out to catch every bit of sun.

Flowers here seem to co-ordinate colours. Last week it was white, before that yellow and this week the small purple flower that announces the fireflies is matched by thistle blossoms.

Yet again the rain holds off so we have dinner outside. This week it’s “katsuo tataki” which I’m very fond of. The traditional way to make it is to take a piece of katsuo (tuna relative) on skewers and hold it in the flames from burning rice straw for a few seconds. The outside is just cooked – almost charred – for a millimetre or two but inside it’s still raw. Then you slice it like sashimi but mix it with a spicy dressing of things like sliced garlic, sliced ginger, grated radish, chilli, chopped leek, “shiso” leaves, soy sauce and citrus juice. Delicious, and somehow un-japanese – or maybe my concept of “Japanese” is too narrow…

Disappointed to see only one firefly. Maybe next week?

Next morning there’s blood on the sheets! I must have picked up a leech between my toes without noticing. Ugh!!

Put some new strings on that ¥1000 guitar and it sounds really quite good.

Get some more grass-cutting done before it’s time to head back to Nagoya.

Min. temp. 17°C, max. 27°C

small tree frog

 

Farmlog May 2013 25 November, 2013

Filed under: countryside,Uncategorized — johnraff @ 7:32 pm
Tags: , , , ,

3rd~6th

  • A four-day break as it’s Golden Week.
  • Fantastic weather! Cold wind! There’s a winter-grade cold air mass passing over or something.
  • Outside town, more rice fields are being planted.
  • The uguisu welcomes us! The first of the season.
  • The sun already has a kick to it. In fact, despite that cool breeze there is as much ultra-violet coming down as in August.
  • Every day is a scorcher! We’re lucky this time.
  • Small black long-legged flies – mayflies?
  • Repair the big net round this year’s chilli field and plant some zucchinis. Fingers crossed…
  • Write notes for an Abe diatribe.
  • Frog voices starting up.
  • Yamada san and three others come over and we grill iwana fish. A big fire just manages to hold back the evening chill.
  • We leave early on Monday – the last day of Golden Week – expecting traffic jams, but it’s not that bad. (Another gorgeous day, and we hate to have to get back to Nagoya.)
  • Min. temp. 2°C, max. 20°C

12th~13th

peony in the garden

It rained on Saturday, but now a high pressure area is back with more fantastic weather – not a cloud. The village down the road looks beautiful in the late afternoon sun. The rice planting is finished here and the frogs are in voice.

At the house we get another welcome from uguisu and friends. That evening is a bit cold but we light a fire and barbecue some beef and vegetables. Shiitake mushrooms are good with butter and soy sauce. That odd-sounding combination of seasonings is quite good in fact. The Japanese are quite inventive with food – the other day on the radio someone was talking about coriander leaves + olive oil + udon noodles!

T goes to bed early leaving me to enjoy the spring night. Sipping awamori under the stars I have a few moments of alcoholic bliss. Have you ever felt so happy you could die right there? Sorry if it sounds silly, but it left enough of an impression that I made a note of it next day.

On Monday we enjoy yet more gorgeous weather. That chilly wind of last week is now just deliciously refreshing. This won’t last – another month and we’ll be in the rainy season. The weeds have flourished after Saturday’s rain – I must get the weed cutter out before they get tough and fibrous. Bamboo shoots are coming up too – I can make a bamboo shoot curry for Raffles.

Meanwhile, I completely wilt from working under this hot sun.

Min. temp. 3°C, max. 24°C


19th~20th

Of course that gorgeous weather couldn’t last, and now we’re getting a foretaste of the rainy season, our annual monsoon. The rain front has already engulfed Okinawa, and a corner of it licked round here bringing a day’s rain. By the time we get to the house it’s decidedly chilly too.

Vegetables in the supermarkets have got cheaper – cucumbers, eggplants and big early onions which are delicious in salads.

Monday is sunny again, but some clouds remain and it’s starting to get a bit sticky – more like the summer to come than the beautiful fresh weather we had the last two weeks. Sunday’s rain brought up a load more bamboo shoots so we dig up a couple – I can make a jar of crunchy spicy bamboo pickle. See a leech in the moist backwoods. The weeds have also put on good growth – some 1/2m in the last week – time to have a first go with the weed-cutter.

On our way back to Nagoya the sun is now going down well to the right of its winter path.

Min. temp. 10°C, max. 27°C


26th~27th

What a difference a week makes. Last week we still had the kotatsu switched on, but now we’re sweating. Sunday is sultry – even the breeze as we arrive doesn’t really take the edge off it, though it’s definitely nicer than Nagoya.

There’s been no rain all week and though the weeds are totally unfazed and have grown another 1/2m, the pumpkins, zucchini and goya don’t look much bigger than last week. I’ve brought out the first four chilli seedlings to plant, so have to fix the deer net and dig and plastic-mulch the first row of the field.

On Monday morning I’m woken by the uguisu just outside. It’s cloudy and cooler – actually quite pleasant. We’ve rain due tomorrow; Kyushu has already “entered tsuyu“. Plant the chillies, arrange the net (fingers crossed), cut more weeds and get my first leech bite.

Min. temp. 9°C, max. 27°C

sunset on the way back to town

 

Farmlog May 2012 4 September, 2012

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:32 pm
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5th~7th

  • Our last customer leaves a bit early so we set out at ~11PM Saturday night.
  • Coming up our road, a medium-sized animal jumps out and gets hit by the car. Tanuki? Arai-guma?
  • About 2AM there’s a thunder and tornado warning on the radio. Lightning nearby but no tornadoes.
  • On Sunday the unstable atmosphere continues, with rain till late afternoon. There’s been big tornado damage in Shizuoka prefecture.
  • Do some weed-slashing and get a big leech on my thigh. Ugh. Luckily it hadn’t started sucking blood, but still quite a job to get it off. Those things are really tough, as if they were made of rubber.
  • A bit too chilly to have dinner outside. A nice full moon though.
  • Monday is beautiful with hot sun and a fresh breeze. (lots of UV)
  • All through Golden Week we hear of mountain accidents on the radio, with numerous fatalities, mostly people over 60.
  • I get the weed-cutter out – first time of the year, and I have to clean the air filter to get it to start. Still, after 25 years it’s not doing too badly.The new growth is soft and lush and my boots get well spattered with green debris.
  • Bamboo shoots are coming up – I can make some pickle and curry.
  • Min. temp. 4°C, max. 24°C

13th~14th

  • Leave Nagoya late on a gorgeous day, spoilt somewhat for me by a stinking cold.
  • Only “new” onions in the supermarkets now. Delicious in salads, but too watery for making sauces.
  • Swallows’ numbers are decreasing apparently – modern buildings don’t have the shape they want for their nests – but there are a couple of families under the eaves of one of the shops we call at.
  • A big gang of aging bikers pass the other way. Once they retire they won’t be restricted to Sundays for their outings.
  • A perfect evening to eat outside, but with my cold I don’t want to inhale wood smoke so we pass. Ah well. It turns out to be quite chilly anyway, and the house is still nice and dry. When the Rainy Season hits it’ll be good and damp.
  • Monday morning is paradisiacal (except for my cold) with a clear sky,fresh breeze, new green leaves everywhere, the buzz of an occasional insect and the call of the uguisu.
  • Myoga shoots are coming up.
  • In this dry weather the leeches seem to be keeping a low profile and I can do some weed-slashing without loss of blood.
  • It’s nice weather for lizards – they’ve been around a while now already.
  • We dig out a couple more bamboo shoots.
  • Min. temp. 6°C, max. 21°C

20th~21st

  • A hazy warm day. I got up late so we leave Nagoya after 1 PM. At time like this you notice how long it takes to get out of town, even heading northwards which is the shortest way to the countryside. Finally after a good hour, passing Inuyama we are suddenly surrounded by greenery. The fresh pale spring leaves are already getting their full colour.
  • Even so, we get to the house in time to do a bit of digging before it gets dark. The chillies will start being planted in a couple of weeks.
  • I don’t get up at 6 AM to see the annular eclipse of the sun.
  • Monday is scorching hot, but the breeze is still fresh.
  • The remaining bamboo shoots have all been eaten – wild boar?
  • The ojisan from down the road has taken out his deer trap – no luck?
  • Min. temp. 6°C, max. 23°C

27th~28th

  • It’s hot!! Summer is on its way.
  • We stop at the “road station” and buy baby turnips (these are delicious), a bag of red radishes, 2 big white radishes and some bamboo shoots. The leaves are wilting but after an hour in cold water they plump up incredibly – even more the next day.
  • Rice planting is well under way in fields we pass.
  • Open the front door, and inside the house is nice and cool – not damp or mouldy at all. This will change soon enough…
  • There’s some thunder at the end of the day, but it clears and we have dinner under the stars. Thai squid salad, whole new potatoes deep-fried with soy dressing, crispy “age” tofu fried slowly in a little oil and eaten with grated ginger, and some of that bamboo shoot, stewed and topped with dried fish flakes. Accompanied by a cheap but enjoyable Chilean white wine. A feast. I feel lucky.
  • Monday starts out nice – shorts and T-shirt weather – but at 1:00 we’re visited by big clouds and thunder. We hurry to put away the futons which have been airing outside, and T quickly finishes planting out the goya seedlings she’d brough from Nagoya. At 1:30 it starts raining, there’s lightning, then heavy rain. The temperature suddenly drops some 10°C and my T-shirt feels ridiculously inadequate. The rain changes to hail, which gets bigger, maybe fingertip size. At 1:32 there’s a tornado warning on the radio! At 1:45 the hail stops, leaving our valley full of cold mist. At 1:55 the sun comes out, but it’s still quite a bit colder than before. T’s freshly planted goya seedlings have had all their leaves ripped off. Apparently in the USA they get hail the size of baseballs in some places, but this was a first for us.
  • Min. temp. 8°C, max. 25°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
 

Farmlog 7th ~ 29th August 2011 28 September, 2011

Filed under: countryside,food & drink — johnraff @ 1:50 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

7th~8th

  • A real Summer day for once: blue sky, summery clouds… and a blazing sun! It’s hot! The first supermarket car-park is scorching in the way only a supermarket car-park can be. The asphalt soaks up the sun so you get grilled from above and below simultaneously.
  • But by the time we get to the second supermarket – there are now two on our route – it’s already clouded over and extra humid. The cicadas are hitting a peak.
  • This week there are lots of nice fresh vegetables at the ¥100 stall so we stock up for Raffles and for ourselves: long shiny black eggplants and round green ones, various kinds of capsicums, perfect cucumbers and delicious tomatoes. Tomatoes show up less often these days so we’re lucky.
  • It’s cool when we leave the car at our house and there’s a chorus of welcome from the cicadas and uguisu. After a bit of work, though, the humidity gets you covered in moisture. Likewise the floor and tatami.
  • I had been a bit worried if the deer had got to the chillies, but they were OK. Not, however, the yams, which had had all their leaves eaten off by some animal. Saw a “mamushi” snake while fixing the hole in the netting the leaf-eater had probably come through.
  • On Monday there was more fierce hot sun and that humidity again, so it’s hot even in the shade. Half a dozen different insect voices fill in the background.
  • Bitten by leeches on wrist and toe. These creatures are affecting our quality of life here. Not in a positive way.
  • A baby rabbit appeared round the side of the house.
  • Min. temp. 19°C max. 32°C

13th~15th

  • We took an extra day off this week so we could take in the firework display at our local town on Saturday. This was our Summer Holiday but it was OK actually. Will post some pics of the fireworks soon. Anyway, we’re thinking of a trip somewhere at New Year maybe, when it’s easier to take time off.
  • A blazing hot Saturday, as it turned out. This is real summer heat – up to now was just a sort of extended Rainy Season – the humidity’s still too high though.
  • Traffic jams everywhere because this is the weekend just before “Obon“, but Nagoya is quiet. We catch some of the traffic on the road out, though.
  • The first supermarket car park is a furnace, unbelievable.
  • Unpack, a quick snack and it’s time to head down town for the fireworks, armed with fried chicken, “edamame”, beer and non-alcoholic “beer” for T who’s volunteered to drive.
  • Sunday is hot too; you can’t spend long in the sun, so do some general pottering about. Take the lid off the compost to try and dry it out a bit. If compost gets too wet, which ours always does, it doesn’t ferment properly and smells pretty bad.
  • The yam leaves have been eaten again but the net looks undamaged so it might have been some small animal – a rabbit? Maybe the parents of that baby we saw last week? The grass nearby has been nibbled too, so it could be.
  • Late afternoon we’re covered over by black clouds, followed by a good half hour of continuous thunder and lightning, some of it quite close by. It rains hard for a while, then it all goes away, the sky is clear and the temperature drops by an amazing 8°C: almost chilly!
  • Dinner under an almost full moon with a splendid insect chorus. Deliciously cool. Aah… having an extra day off makes quite a difference.
  • On the radio someone plays a 15 hour special of cover versions of all the beatles’ songs.
  • The insect voices are slightly different every day.
  • T dries this year’s umeboshi pickles in the sun, then they’ll keep. Perfect hand-made umeboshi sell for over a dollar each! T’s can compete easily for taste, but there might be a couple of spots here and there. Ah well.
  • A big black and yellow dragonfly flies into and out of the house.
  • Leave early to catch a film in Nagoya – “Tree of Life”, but I was pretty unimpressed.
  • Min. temp. 19°C max. 32°C

21st~22nd

  • Sunday is cold and rainy – is this the end of the summer?
  • The first “matsutake” mushrooms appear in the supermarket. Once plentiful, these are now an expensive treat, appreciated by Japanese (including T) for the supposedly wonderful aroma. To me, they’re just another mushroom. I like mushrooms for sure, but at 2000 yen each? Yes, that’s over 20 dollars for one mushroom! Anyway, these were from China.
  • That evening a long-sleeved shirt was called for, the first time since… May?
  • Monday was better with patchy clouds and a fresh breeze, but later slipped back into the familiar mugginess.
  • Visited by one red dragonfly. Masses of these will appear over the rice paddies in autumn. Two pigeons show up, probably to check out the sansho berries, but soon leave.
  • Regular stream of lorries on our usually quiet road, carrying gravel up and timber down. Are they building another road through the mountains, on some leftover budget?
  • Min. temp. 19°C max. 30°C

28th~29th

  • We set off in some trepidation – there was very heavy rain during the week and some people were evacuated in a nearby town. Are the chilli plants OK? Is the house OK?
  • The Valor (supermarket #1) car park is the usual oven. Inside, rice from Toyama is 40% more than from Miyagi, where they were affected by the nuclear accident. It’s silly really, because this is still last year’s rice…
  • The house and chillies are OK – the rain here wasn’t all that bad apparently. Two chilli plants are down and need some support, and there’s a wet patch on the floor in our entrance. You’d swear the roof was leaking, but the ceiling and floor upstairs are perfectly dry. Is it groundwater? No, there’s a two foot deep square pit near the front door – once used to store vegetables – which is dry. It must be condensation when the moist air from outside meets the cold floor surface, but there’s a lot of it!
  • Monday breakfast of exotic leftovers. T had made a salad of fried eggplant strips, cucumber, gouda cheese and a handful of “edamame” (fresh soy beans), with an oil and vinegar dressing. Simple colours of brown, green and yellow – no flashy tomatoes or red peppers – I should have taken a photo but I was too concerned with eating it. With a slice of brown bread: delicious. We also had some leftover Inari sushi. This is sushi rice – slightly sweetened and vinegared – in this case mixed with sesame seeds and chopped myoga and stuffed into skins of fried tofu which had been stewed with sweetened soy sauce. The taste is less complicated than it sounds, and also delicious.
  • A reconnaissance flight of two red dragonflies checking the place out for the hordes to follow soon. It’s still very hot, but the breeze is hinting of autumn.
  • T picks more myoga. I must make Myoga Chicken for Raffles – a seasonal treat!
  • Listening to the DPJ leadership elections on the radio. Maehara is the most popular candidate by far, but he doesn’t get on with Ozawa who still has plenty of strings to pull, so the job goes to the more boring Noda.
  • Min. temp. 20°C max. 29°C
 

Town Birds 2 September, 2011

Filed under: city — johnraff @ 2:47 pm
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We had another visit by the bulbuls yesterday – they drop in every now and then. Only one this time and he just flitted around our tree a couple of minutes, said a few words and went on his way. The grand project to concrete over this planet has meant less and less room for other creatures, and even in my lifetime things have changed quite a bit. Twenty five years ago or so, here in Nagoya you could hear the uguisu‘s warble in the spring for a few days till he went on to the hills, but no more. There were swallows who built their nest under the eaves of a restaurant right on the corner of a busy crossroads near here, but they gave up when the place was done over a couple of years ago. Even so, there are still a few birds who come round to our small garden quite regularly. The bulbuls have been regular visitors this summer, turning up once a week or so, but they aren’t the only ones.

The sparrow is supposed to be disappearing from cities worldwide, but they’re pretty common round here, drinking the water from the dishes under our plants on the balcony and checking out the plants for insects, seeds or whatever it is that sparrows eat. Pigeons quite often come round in the spring to coo from a top branch of our tree. They are not T’s favourite bird, they leave big splashes of droppings on our entrance path and she doesn’t like the cooing either. Last year they tried to take over the bulbuls’ nest after they were finished with it, and this year built one of their own. Usually if you give the tree a good shake it will scare the birds out of it, and repeated a few times seemed to get rid of them last year, but this time they were more determined to stay put. Eventually I got a long bamboo pole and was just able to knock the nest down from our upstairs window. There were already two eggs in it, which got broken of course. This was why the pigeon in the nest had been so obstinate. I felt quite bad about it, and the pigeon looked heartbroken, sitting on a nearby power line for a while. They haven’t been back since, so I suppose they finally got the message.

Top of the food chain are the urban terrorists, the crows. Even we humans give them some respect – apart from being big, with long sharp beaks, they’re pretty intelligent. In the cities they’ve taken over, it’s pretty easy to make a living so they have free time to get up to all kinds of mischief. A while ago they were making more noise than usual and I found a whole load of them sitting on the power lines opposite our place, having a major conference or something. Then I looked down and saw a dead one on the road just below the electricity pole. Did it get electrocuted? Were they holding a funeral? Anyway, when you see them close up they’re big – getting on for the size of a chicken! They are really ravens rather than crows, I suppose.

Our favourites, though, would have to be the bulbuls. They’re not pretty or anything, and their voice isn’t what you’d call mellifluous, but they seem sort of friendly, and have taken to building their nest in our tree for the last few years. Apparently they prefer to build near human beings because it helps to keep the crows away. This year they took ages about it, but eventually a couple of chicks were hatched and left the nest at the end of June. A bit early, we thought, they still looked a bit small sitting in the tree branches and that evening there was an enormous downpour. The next morning T saw the parent birds flying anxiously around the gap between our place and next door. We feared the worst: did the rain wash the chicks down? Did one of the local cats get them? That seemed to be it.

However, a week later there were a couple of bulbuls sitting on a low branch of our “basho” tree, looking at me with their heads on one side and saying something. I don’t speak bulbul unfortunately. They looked a bit small to be the parents, so maybe the chicks survived after all? The same birds (I’m presuming they’re the same) have been back at irregular intervals throughout the summer, just for a couple of minutes, then off again. Is it the same pair who build that nest every year? Is it the same family? Has our tree just been marked as an OK place for bulbuls in general?

 

Farmlog July 3rd ~ 25th 2011 27 August, 2011

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:59 pm
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Summer in Gifu continues:

3rd ~ 4th July

  • We’re late this week and arrive on a moist Sunday evening. It’s extremely humid and mouldy, even a thorough vacuuming of the tatami floor can’t get rid of the smell.
  • The insects are warming up for their summer serenade, but there’s no sign of the fireflies this year. Did the carp in the pond eat all the larvae?
  • The yams that T planted had all their leaves eaten by some animal. I found a small gap in the net round that field and fixed it. Luckily the chillies were OK.
  • Got some weed-cutting done. Lots of buyo (nasty little black flies), but no leeches, amazingly.
  • Cloudy and wet the whole weekend.
  • Min. temp. 19°C max. 32°C

10th ~ 11th July

  • Tsuyu-ake (official end of the Rainy Season) is very early this year; Sunday is hot and humid, but the clouds are summer clouds – fluffy cumulus. not the grey blanket of the tsuyu.
  • The heat persists even out in the country and our floor is still wet. Maybe it’ll dry up in a week or two.
  • A bumper ume harvest. Something like a sour plum or apricot, this was originally imported from China as a medicine apparently, but is long-established in Japan. This year the tree branches are bent down with fruit and we pick 15Kg in an hour or so. Apart from umeboshi pickles and umeshu liqueur, you can make a drink by just putting them in a jar with rock sugar for a few weeks. Mix the syrup with water – good on a summer afternoon.
  • Saw a single firefly!
  • Monday continues hot and humid, but sometimes there’s a refreshing breeze – quite different from Nagoya, where any wind will have blown over acres of sun-baked concrete and comes on like something from an open oven door. We also had a visit from the uguisu, which was thoughtful of it.
  • Min. temp. 15°C max. 33°C

17th ~ 18th July

  • Typical summer clouds and humidity – a baking supermarket car park.
  • Shiso is a herb that looks a bit like a nettle – maybe a relative of basil? It comes in green and red varieties, the green is good in salad-type things and the red is used for umeboshi pickles. They both have a clean smell and antiseptic properties, but this year apparently everyone’s had huge ume harvest so there’s a shortage of red shiso. Eventually the lady at the 100 yen stand was able to get some for us. T has a lot of work ahead and I suppose we’ll be OK for umeboshi for a while.
  • Voices: a noisy welcome from birds and cicadas. In late afternoon come waves of synchronized blips from some kind of cicada, slipping in and out of phase like an op-art painting, moving up close, sometimes down the valley. The effect is very psychedelic. The morning cicadas do a continuous stream of sound that just blends into the humid heat. Just after dark there’s a strange cry from somewhere behind the house. A deer? A dog? Different insects take over in the evening – is autumn starting early? In the morning we hear a new bird – a voice I haven’t noticed before.
  • The humidity continues unabated. There are still some wet spots on the floor. A light haze softens the sun’s heat a bit.
  • It’s been a dry week but there’s a typhoon coming so we should get some rain.
  • But… no leeches! Could they be finished? Lots of lizards though. They’re much nicer than leeches let me tell you.
  • Min. temp. 18°C max. 33°C

24th ~ 25th July

  • Pleasantly cloudy on Sunday so the supermarket car park on the way out is less bakingly hot. That sun can hit you like a hammer.
  • Vegetables: lots of eggplants – I’ve already made a (very nice) eggplant pickle though. Some tomatoes. One place on our route has especially nice tomatoes from a local grower but they’re often sold out. No cucumbers. Why? They’re expensive in the supermarkets too. (We now have two supermarkets to check out on our route. )
  • The big Malaysian chillies aren’t doing well at all. Maybe the soil in this year’s field doesn’t suit them. Maybe I let them grow too big in their pots before planting? They looked so vigorous in Nagoya… The small hot varieties are doing OK though.
  • The house is slowly drying out, but there are still damp patches. Not wet though.
  • The insect chorus is building up.
  • The nozenkazura (Chinese trumpet vine) is in full bloom and looking good.
  • Lorry-loads of timber coming down from the hills. Are they building a road somewhere?
  • Pampas grass is a weed! People grow it in their gardens in Europe, but here it’s almost impossible to control. Keep hitting it with the weed-cutter: three times a year for three years they say. Or try glyphosate – that seems to work.
  • Next week Daihachi Ryodan play at the Ichinomiya Festival which might be fun, but means we miss a weekend here.
  • Min. temp. 18°C max. 29°C
 

Farmlog May 29th ~ June 27th 2011 6 August, 2011

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 3:01 pm
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Aah… it’s been a long hot summer so far, and August has only just started. Meanwhile we’ve been going up to our country place most weekends coping with the damp, leeches and wild animals trying to eat the things we grow, but totally failing to record all the fascinating details. Now an attempt to start catching up a bit:

29th ~ 30th May

  • Typhoon Number Two. The first to have an effect here and it’s very early – usually they don’t come near mainland Japan till August or so. If you watch CNN or BBC news or something you’ll hear these storms referred to by names, like hurricanes, but here they only have numbers. Bit dull, but anyway the combination of typhoon #2 and a cold front means rain!.
  • All this means huge quantities of warm moist air coming up from the south, while inside the house it’s still cool and dry from last week so we don’t open the windows.
  • No speed police on duty – they only come out when the weather’s nice.
  • Yamada san came over for a drink. He’s an old friend of Nakai san, the previous owner of our house, and his place was where we enjoyed that cold sake… He brought round Hasegawa san who keeps cows for “Hida beef”. (I wonder if he’s still doing OK with all this radioactivity scare?) Anyway a most pleasant evening.
  • T picked more tea. We’ve got enough bushes and most go pretty well neglected, but lately we’ve been drinking T’s home-made stuff and it’s not bad really.
  • Monday was fresh and clear, and a nice breeze blew through the house.
  • Work! Everything seems to be behind, and the chilli field is late while the seedlings in Nagoya are getting impatient to be planted out.
  • Min. temp. 10°C max. 22°C

5th ~ 6th June

  • More damp and sticky weather in Nagoya and when we got out to Gifu it was damp and sticky there too. That evening it rained, which might have wrung some of the water out of the atmosphere because…
  • I was woken by the uguisu to a beautiful clear Monday morning. Perfect. So the uguisu hadn’t completely abandoned us!
  • Work! Being away a bit in the spring, combined with my general indolence, has meant everything is behind. Every time it rains the weeds grow another foot or so, but with the chilli field to dig up there’s been no time to get the cutter out.
  • Leech paranoia. These are a new addition to the wildlife – even the local people have no experience with them and get nasty bites. Apparently they have been brought down from the hills by the deer and wild boar. It’s hard to concentrate on your work when any moment there might be a small dark brown worm-like creature getting ready to suck the blood out of your arm or leg. You don’t feel a thing at the time because they inject some kind of anaesthetic, but afterwards it can swell up and get really itchy for a week or more. T heard that tobacco water can help keep them off, so she collects old cigarette ends at Raffles to make our own leech repellent. I’m not quite sure how well it works though.
  • The deer ate all the flowers off the hydrangea bush behind the house. T was not best pleased.
  • Min. temp. 10°C max. 25°C

12th ~ 13th June

  • Sunday was wet and oddly chilly, so I got some digging done.
  • Saw our first snake of the year. We’re not exactly infested with them, but there are some around. Mostly harmless though…
  • Monday was hot, humid and… busy again, digging, planting out the first chilli seedlings and putting up some provisional nets to keep the deer off them.
  • More leech paranoia. Check your Wellington boots.
  • Another brief visit by the uguisu.
  • Min. temp. 13°C max. 25°C

19th ~ 20th June

  • Humid and sticky in Nagoya (of course!) but pleasantly cool in the hills, and still dry inside the house. It got wet on the floor on Monday though from the damp air we let in.
  • The uguisu was waiting to welcome us but didn’t stay around very long. It came back on Monday afternoon, so I suppose it must have nested somewhere in the area, but not as close as usual.
  • The heavy humid air carries the sweet smell of some blossom somewhere.
  • The chillies I planted last week are OK (phew!) and I quickly put up some proper deer nets – three metres high they have to be.
  • Around midday on Monday it rained, and something started quacking. I’ve never seen a duck around here, maybe it’s a frog? Half an hour later it turns out to be a crow, sitting on the power line opposite, still quacking. What does it mean? I keep meaning to look into the language of crows.
  • Finally got the rest of the chillies planted out amid mud and leeches. Ugh! Have I mentioned that this isn’t my favourite season of the year?
  • The mighty task of hacking down the jungle of weeds still remains.
  • Min. temp. 11°C max. 24°C

26th ~ 27th June

  • Another cloudy hot humid Sunday in Nagoya, but nice and cool in Gifu, with a bit of rain.
  • The chillies are surviving.
  • Finally got the weed cutter out, to find that it wouldn’t start.Hmm… dug the manual out from a shelf in the store cupboard, cleaned the spark plug – no good, cleaned the filthy piece of plastic sponge that passes for an air filter – ah that did it!! On reflection it must be quite a while since that had any attention – I think I was afraid taking it out of the carburetor would make it disintegrate, but it survived being carefully dipped in petrol and wrung out. Now the little engine needs a quite different choke setting from before, but it seems quite lively and I could finally cut some weeds! Only a start, but it’s a start.
  • No fireflies that night – too early?
  • Monday – cloud/sun/rain…
  • Humidity! My floor runneth over. Really it’s wet in the kitchen and entrance, but it’s condensation, not groundwater.
  • Picked some ume (sort of plum/apricot). This year seems to be a bumper crop. A little tree we brought out from Nagoya ten years ago is now laden with fruit.
  • The plastic compost bin got rained on and filled with water. That doesn’t help proper fermentation at all.
  • More weedcutting on Monday.
  • Paid our local taxes on the way home. It’s not very much at all.
  • Min. temp. 18°C max. 29°C (notice how the temperature’s gone up?)
 

Farmlog May 15th ~ 23rd 2011 3 June, 2011

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:31 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Two in one to catch up a bit.

15th ~ 16th May

  • After a wet week, it’s sunny and hot again, going on scorching in fact, though the breeze is still cool as we get out into the hills of Gifu.
  • At last all the rice has been planted out in our area. This year they seem to be using every available square inch of land – are they anticipating a rice shortage this autumn with the fields of Fukushima knocked out?
  • Peas and broad beans: up till last year or so the fresh ones were sold in the supermarket in packets so tiny you could count them, at a ridiculous price, but now they’re more plentiful for some reason. Are the imports of Chinese frozen vegetables being replaced locally? Anyway rice cooked with peas is very good. Just throw in a handful and cook them together.
  • Our other dinner item was san sai tempura. San sai means “mountain vegetables” and means the delicious wild shoots you can pick in the spring. Dinner outside wasn’t quite as cold as last week but still a bit chilly.
  • Checked the woods, and got two more bamboo shoots.
  • After listening to the Lebanese legend Fairuz on the radiowe had a programme of hogaku, or traditional Japanese music. While many other countries have a rich musical tradition – Indonesia, Brazil, the USA… – Japan too has quite a variety of less well-known genres: Hogaku, Minyo, Enka, Kayoukyoku…
  • Min. temp. 5°C max. 23°C

22nd ~ 23rd May

  • A foretaste of the tsuyu rainy season – humid and hot in Nagoya, chilly at the farm.
  • Cobwebs are the theme as we arrive, everywhere you move, there’s one in your face.
  • Many bird voices, but still no uguisu – I wonder what’s happened?
  • The weeds are growing at an incredible rate, but it’s raining so no weeding done.
  • T picked some tea from the fresh shoots on our bushes. Most of it goes unused, but lately she’s found you can dry it with a microwave so we can drink some of the produce of our plantation. This is less ecological than sun-drying I agree, but much quicker.
  • Min. temp. 6°C, max. 28°C.
 

 
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