Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

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

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:31 pm
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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.

Farmlog 8th~9th May 2011 19 May, 2011

Filed under: countryside,food & drink — johnraff @ 2:31 pm
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  • Opened the car boot to load in bags and noticed how much the temperature has just gone up – inside the car the air was nice and cool, without any use of the air conditioner.
  • A beautiful day for speed-trapping, and there they were with their white motobikes, in their favourite spot, hauling in a middle-aged lady.
  • The May sun can be quite fierce – there’s a lot of UV out there too, which you don’t notice because of the cool wind so you can get burnt easily.
  • Wild wisteria out in the hills, azaleas, flowers come out one after another – spring is busy. Busy for us too – trees to be pruned, weeds to be cut, and the field where the chillies will be planted has to be dug up. That last job should have been done last autumn, leaving time now for the other stuff…
  • Got some mustard greens (karashina) at the 100yen stand. These have a nice hotness when raw, or pickled in salt, but are also good stir-fried, when the mustardy taste goes.
  • More and more voices around the house – frogs, a strange mournful bird like an owl an octave higher, another one has a beautiful call with a delicate fall at the end, as if it was speaking Thai… but no uguisu yet.
  • Lots of flies.
  • Dinner outside for the first time – a bit chilly but OK if you sit near the fire.
  • There wasn’t much rain last week, but in the woods behind the house there was one bamboo shoot. I made an Indian pickle with the crunchy part, and T cooked the rest with soy sauce, fish flakes and a couple of sansho leaves. Sansho has a sharp lemony smell but has a strange affinity with freshly dug bamboo shoot. Both seem to have an oddly creamy undertone, if that makes any sense…
  • Min temp 5°C max 24°C

Farmlog 1st May 2011 6 May, 2011

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 1:30 pm
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  • Wet. Paradise will have to be deferred a bit.
  • Rape flowers out and looking beautiful. Rape is grown for the oil from the seeds, but the shoots are good to eat too – something like purple sprouting broccoli.
  • Rice planting is going on lower down, but the paddies near us are still empty pools of water.
  • First lizard of the season, and first leech!
  • Monday turned out to be beautiful. A gorgeous soft, wistful Spring day; the air is hazy with that dust that blows in from the Gobi desert or somewhere. Our weeping cherry is dropping confetti for the May Queen’s wedding…
  • Min. temp. 2°C, max. 21°C

Farmlog 24th April 2011 1 May, 2011

Filed under: countryside,food & drink — johnraff @ 1:37 am
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Well my spell back in Britain meant a month since the last trip up to our place in Gifu, and Spring has well and truly arrived. Paddy fields in the area are already filled with water ready for the rice seedlings to be planted. This really has to be my favourite season out here. From late March to early May all kinds of flowers come out one after another and on a warm sunny afternoon it feels like a yet undiscovered corner of paradise. This time, unfortunately, the weather wasn’t with us – wet, cloudy and chilly. Ah well. Maybe better luck next week.

The first warabi (fern shoots) of the season are up, and they’re delicious, although possibly poisonous and carcinogenic… You put wood ash on them, pour on boiling water and leave them overnight. This gets out some of the bitterness. Then just rinse and eat them with a drop of soy sauce, some dried fish flakes and a dab of wasabi. Good. T likes to stew them with chunks of fried tofu, which is OK too. Someone else shares our appreciation for these wild vegetables, and had already picked quite a few before we arrived on Sunday. This annoys T no end, and she put up some notices warning tresspassers and warabi-thieves away. We’ll see if they do any good.

Min. temp. -4°C, max. 20°C (over the last four weeks, remember).


Farmlog March 6th ~ 21st 2011 26 March, 2011

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:11 am
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“No time for trivia like this” you’re probably thinking and you’re right really, but these “farmlogs” are meant to be some kind of long-term record of what was happening in the countryside, as much for my own future reference as anything else, so please bear with me.

6th ~ 7th March

  • Some “ume” (plum?) blossom out near Nagoya, but the buds on the trees in front of our country place are still hard.
  • Called in at Kimble again. Quickly walked past a shelf-full of “hand shredders” next to the thai-speaking eggs, but came across a guitar: an Aria Pro 2 Magna for ¥7300 which didn’t seem too bad, and a possible improvement on the one I had, so took a chance and splashed out the cash. There was also a stack of cheap “third beer” type synthetic “happoshu” (look those up if you’re curious), so got a case for casual after-work drinks.
  • At the supermarket we picked up a nice bottle of wine for dinner – a dry but fruity Sauvignon Semillon white from Chile. 500ml PET bottle for ¥298! Actually it wasn’t bad.
  • Birds to welcome us. More than last time.
  • Monday was cold.
  • Min. temp. -5°C max. 11°C

20th ~ 21st March

  • Missed last week for a Daihachi Ryodan gig.
  • Sunday mild and wet; ume and peach blossom out around Nagoya.
  • Listening on the car radio to the latest about the unfolding nuclear drama at Fukushima. It seems to be under some sort of control, but we don’t really know… The tragedy in Tohoku is far away from here but the effects are starting to be felt all over the country. Petrol prices have already gone up, for example.
  • Hardly anything on sale at the hundred-yen stall. Are the animals getting it all? Are the people getting too old?
  • Will this rain stop in time for the local festival tomorrow?
  • Deer droppings are everywhere, along with bits of hair – Spring moulting?
  • A wasabi plant by our back door has put out some new leaves. A few fuki shoots have come up here and there too. We used to have lots, but maybe picked too many – or have the deer eaten them?
  • The festival on Monday was a bit subdued. Out of respect to the earthquake victims they kept the rituals down to a minimum.
  • Min. temp. -5°C, max. 14°C.

Farmlog 1st January ~ 21st February 2011 24 February, 2011

Filed under: countryside,food & drink — johnraff @ 2:27 am
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1st ~ 5th January

  • A cold start to the year, with dire weather forecasts of blizzards that made us put off for a day our departure for a little New Year break in the country. The 1st of January was cold enought to be sure, but it didn’t snow so we made it out OK.
  • Arrived to find the deer had broken down the fence round our vegetable field again, and left droppings everywhere, though there’s nothing left there for them to eat. I didn’t bother fixing the fence this time.
  • A cute little field mouse had been caught in our trap. I hate using that, but we really don’t want these creatures running round our kitchen.
  • Didn’t see any rabbits though. Are they all away on official engagements? 2011 is their year.
  • Anyway we’ve been having a cold spell since Christmas, with clear starry nights when what little warmth you pick up in the daytime soon evaporates off. Time to sit in the kotatsu, eat mikan and watch TV – except that there’s no TV out here so it’s the radio instead, with reports of 40Km traffic jams everywhere. Chuckle and peel another mikan.
  • Managed to get in a bit of tree pruning – the tea bushes have to be clipped or they grow into big trees, taller than me. Spending a couple of hours in some repetitious physical work, the brain is left to its own devices, and tends to reel off some music from the past. This time it started with Sgt. Pepper, which wasn’t so bad, but Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds led into something called Judy in Disguise with Glasses by John Fred and his Playboy Band. Hmm… Remember that?
  • Min. temp. -4°C max. 10°C

23rd ~ 24th January

  • We missed last week because of the snow, which did come eventually and made it not really worth the effort of driving out. It’s now largely melted, but it’s still quite cold enough, thank you.
  • Still, Sunday was nice and sunny and the speed police were enjoying a day’s fine-gathering. We passed three different people who’d been caught.
  • Another mouse in the ChuToruMan.
  • That evening we had yose-nabe – “leftovers pot”? Nabe is always good on a cold winter evening anyway, and we also had one of my favourite salads – sashimi tuna with avocado, in a soy sauce and wasabi dressing.
  • Unfortunately I could hardly taste it because of a nasty cold. All January has been cold and dry – perfect for viruses apparently – and there’s a lot of influenza around so I should be glad to get off with a cold I suppose.
  • There were more fresh deer droppings on the snow, then on Monday afternoon more snow. We got out of there and headed back to the city.
  • Min. temp. -7°C max. 4°C

6th ~ 7th February

  • It’s milder this week, but cloudy, and the snow is half-melted. Sometimes a big chunk suddenly falls off the roof. Further north, where they get several metres of snow at a time, this is serious, and people have already been killed by snow falling off their roofs.
  • The well is almost empty – it hasn’t rained much lately – and after filling up the bath the taps start to make spluttering sounds as the pump gets air mixed in.
  • Nabe again – no complaints there, and this time it’s crab. “Watari gani” would be blue swimmer crabs I suppose? Anyway I think it’s one of the tastiest crabs – fiddly to eat with not all that much meat, but excellent crab flavour for stewpots and curries. Crab curry’s pretty good! Mackeral sashimi along with our nabe, also good. Mackeral’s not the first fish that springs to mind for sashimi but in the Autumn and Winter it’s oily and tasty. Often pickled in vinegar like pickled herring – that’s good too. The only thing to watch is the most expensive fresh-caught variety, which can have a nasty parasitic worm in it. Squid get them too. Freezing kills the worm, so the cheaper frozen fish is a better bet here. Raffles standard white wine (from Chilli) went well with all this.
  • No mice in the trap this week, but plenty of deer footprints and droppings, and a big hole which must have been dug by wild boar. Shouldn’t they be hibernating now?
  • Min. temp. -7°C max. 7°C

13th ~ 14th February

  • More Winter. Just cold.
  • No deer this week.
  • Sat in the kotatsu getting the papers ready for our yearly tax return. The tax man has no terror for us, as we aren’t making any money to tax…
  • More snow on Monday, but the days are getting longer – Spring won’t be long.
  • Min. temp. -4°C max. 7°C

20th ~ 21st February

  • Sunday is quite mild, but strangely hazy. It must be very high cloud because we could still see big distant snow-covered mountains in several directions from each bridge we crossed, including Mount Ontake.
  • In the supermarket on the way, everything is going up – vegetables especially.
  • Round the corner after the fish and meat sections is a whole shelf of different kinds of natto, then a kimchee area. I can eat, and enjoy, almost any food (had half a sheep’s head, including the eyeball, while waiting for a bus in Turkey) but natto is one of the few things I don’t relish. It’s soy beans which, after cooking, have been wrapped in straw and left to go all slimy and disgusting. Very good for you apparently. The other day on TV they were showing an Inuit delecacy of baby seagulls which had been left to rot (sorry, ferment) in a pit for a few months. I might pass on that too, in case you were planning to invite me for dinner. Also those big Witchety Grubs they eat in Australia. Leaving such things aside, I’ll enjoy any variety of raw sea creatures or whatever else turns up on a table in Japan. Except natto.
  • Kimchee on the other hand is great. This is a Korean import: Chinese Cabbage fermented with chilli powder, garlic, chives, carrot, apple, some kind of fishy flavour… It’s much better than it sounds.
  • A few years ago there was a little boom for tempe. That’s maybe Indonesia’s answer to natto, but much nicer. It’s also fermented by a mould, but it’s firm and dry – not slimy at all. Good fried with chillies and Indonesian sweet soy sauce. For a while you could buy it anywhere, but there’s no sign of it now.
  • After a coffee there was time for a little pottering around outside before it got dark at six. (The days are getting longer!) Finally fixed that deer net, and burnt some old papers.
  • Although there’s still a chilly wind, Monday was nice and sunny and I clipped some more tea bushes. There are still quite a few left though.
  • Min. temp.-5°C max. 12°C

for 2011 16 January, 2011

Filed under: countryside,seasons — johnraff @ 8:08 pm
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We collected some favourite pictures, mostly from round our country house, over the past few years and got a calendar made. It turned out quite nice, so I thought I’d share them with you (click the image for a full-sized version):


Farmlog 28th November ~ 20th December 2010 10 January, 2011

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 6:58 pm
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(btw Happy New Year everyone!)

Another catchup post I’m afraid, to try and get back somewhere close to Real Time while it’s still January.

28th~29th November

  • Dropped in at Kimble on the way out of town. This time we got a little plastic egg that speaks Thai for ¥70.
  • It’s cold.
  • A big grey heron in one of the roadside rice paddies.
  • Arrived to find big holes in the ground everywhere. Obviously a visit from the Pigs – the wild “inoshishi” that sometimes come round looking for roots to dig up. They’re strong animals that toss up these big rocks about the place and generally make a mess.
  • We had to empty the water system before leaving for the first time this season. It’s pumped up from our well by electricity and comes out of taps just like mains water, but if you leave it in the pipes in winter it will freeze and burst them.
  • Minimum temp. -1°C max. 9°C

5th~6th December

  • Two beautiful sunny days this week.
  • While we were gone some surveyors came round and left little red flags around marking the boundaries with the adjacent forestry plantation. I wonder who sent them? Are they planning to cut trees or something? That would be OK for us, improving sunlight and airflow round the buildings. Or maybe the land’s going to be sold?
  • Some weed cutting on Monday. Left with nothing to do, the mind gets fidgety so it’s an opportunity for a sort of meditation…
  • min. 0°C max 14°C

19th~20th December

  • Another beautiful Sunday – mild and sunny.
  • Our communicative VW Polo likes to send us little messages now and then. This time it was something about “check cooling system maintenance” or something. It was not the first time to appear, so we dropped in at a VW garage ouside Nagoya and they soon put it down to the coolant fluid being a bit low, topped it up and sent us on our way in 5 minutes or so – free! They’d never seen us before and had no way of knowing we’d ever be back again, but that’s what you have to call service.
  • Later on it was another meaasge about petrol getting low, but by then all the local garages were closed on Sunday so fingers crossed it would last till the way home on Monday…
  • Arrive to find the house freezing cold inside after being empty for a week. Everything is icy cold – the tatami floor, walls, plates in the cupboard… so we crank up the oil fan heater and sit in the kotatsu.
  • On Monday morning it’s rainy but somewhat milder. Later on it clears up and as soon as the sun goes behind the trees it gets cold again.
  • The deer had broken through the net round the Green Zone again and left lots of fresh droppings inside. Now the chillies are finished there’s nothing to eat in there though. They just do it to annoy.
  • min -3°C max 12°C

Enkoji 30 December, 2010

Filed under: countryside,places — johnraff @ 3:00 pm
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It’s already a good month ago, but towards the end of November we had to stay in Nagoya one weekend, so that Sunday made a little local excursion. The late Autumn weather was perfect – an almost cloudless sky and no wind to detract from the warm sunshine. The Japanese railway company, JR, promote a series of “refreshing walks” where they meet you at a station, put up signs on the way, provide maps and generally look after you. We didn’t really feel like doing any of that, and sharing our walk with a whole party of other middle-aged hikers, but checked out the information they put out and chose one of their recommended routes on a different week from the organised outing, so had it to ourselves – in Gifu prefecture about an hour from Nagoya, just past Ogaki.

Beware of bears!

There was a bit too much asphalt for our tastes, but it was a nice day out anyway, and the Enkoji temple about half-way along was perfect for the Autumn red maple and yellow gingko leaves. Beautiful.

A classic empty Autumn sky.


Farmlog 15th November 2010 10 December, 2010

Filed under: countryside,seasons — johnraff @ 1:15 am
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A cricket in November.

An overcast but mild Sunday; groups of migrating birds getting ready to head out of here somewhere warmer. Later on the sun started to come out – you need a bit of blue sky to show off the red Autumn leaves that are reaching their peak around now. When we arrived at the house a pheasant was standing in front of the garage. It strolled off into the bushes in its own time… A cricket outside the house: the last one of the year?

Wild boar dropping.

Wild boar dropping.

There were big holes under the tea bushes where the wild boar had been digging for fern roots or something. They left a memento on our drive too. They’re big strong animals and can toss quite large rocks around in their search for something succulent in the ground.

deer droppings

Deer droppings.

T saw a mother and a couple of young a few years ago, but they hadn’t been around much until recently, having pretty much got everything that was going. The deer, on the other hand, have been regular visitors, as you’ll know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, and this week there were plenty of fresh droppings around. Touch wood – they haven’t got inside the net round the chilli patch this year, except for one brief break-in, and now the season’s over. Fingers crossed for next year.

half-eaten chillies

Left by our furry friend.

Monday was much colder, and later on turned into drizzle. Last week didn’t freeze after all, though it came close, and there were still a lot of chillies intact on the bushes. We won’t be here next week, so a final picking session got another kilo or so of the hot, hot little “ishigaki” chillies. A small furry animal, probably a fieldmouse, had got some of the larger, milder ones and chomped on them in a corner of the field, leaving the seeds, and some half-eaten pods. Maybe they were a bit too hot after all. Anyway, he didn’t even touch the little hot ones.

Won’t be back for two weeks, and had a last look at the red maple leaves, which will be gone next time we’re here.

Min temp. 1°C, max. 13°C


maple leaves in November

A maple in front of the house.




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