asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Chikaramachi Church 30 December, 2013

Filed under: city,places — johnraff @ 11:52 pm
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Last May an old friend passed away. Bob was a very special person, in many ways. His lifelong ambition had been to visit every country on the planet and, the last time I asked him, he had got the remaining list down to what could be counted on two hands. His last year had involved some travelling so I have to ask his wife to find out if he finally ticked them all off or not.

The funeral was held on the kind of beautiful spring day that made you truly thankful to be alive, in a beautiful old church that I didn’t know about. The Chikaramachi Church is over 100 years old, built soon after Christianity was permitted, in a similar style to the older churches we had seen on the Goto Islands. The next day I went back and took some photographs.

 

Farmlog June 2013 23 December, 2013

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 7:12 pm
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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

 

Abe – hiding the truth 7 December, 2013

Filed under: news,people,politics — johnraff @ 2:54 am
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Three Tanukis

Just google “japan secret law” or something, to see that the internet is seething with opposition to the Abe cabinet’s new official secrets bill. With the Diet due to finish this year’s session tomorrow Abe & co. were desperate to push the bill through, and it became law tonight.
There’s not much I can add to the chorus of outrage, except to point out, if you hadn’t noticed, that opposition to this dangerously flawed bill is as strong here in Japan as among nit-picking foreign human rights organizations. Over 50% of the population are opposed to it and a succession of prominent people have spoken out, from TV personalities, famous film directors to a group of Nobel Prize-winning scientists. (Check the links below to see what all the complaints are about.) So, with a good chance of losing his hitherto high support ratings, why was Abe so determined to push this through?

The first strand seems to be defence – the government have just set up a National Security Council-type thing copied from the US, who have been putting some pressure on Japan to tighten up on secrecy if they are going to share anything juicy. After the Snowden revelations everyone’s a bit touchy. This is all about getting closer to the US to resist an increasingly dangerous-looking China, who have done Abe a favour by tightening the pressure over the East China Sea at just the right moment to convince the Japanese public that More Military is needed. Japan has a long post-war history of pacifism, but Abe and his friends have a long history of militaristic nationalism and they seem set to try to undo what was accomplished in the last 60 years. There are more things on their list, like revoking the ban on arms exports so the Japanese arms industry can grow, removing from school textbooks any references to unpleasant episodes like the Nanking massacre or the Comfort Women issue and changing the constitution so as to allow the Japanese army to join in overseas escapades with its US friends. Oh yes, and changing the Japanese Self Defence Force into a “proper army”.

But there are people who say the purpose of the official secrets law goes beyond national defence and security. For a start, anything related to fighting “terrorism” is a candidate for suppression, and the LDP government seem to have a broad definition of terrorism. That slimy Ishiba character referred to demonstrators outside the Diet as being little different from terrorists, and the official definition seems to include anyone who tries to change the way things are being done… Journalists are prime targets and so might be anyone campaigning against government policy. If such a group were rounded up and imprisoned, maybe that fact itself might become an official secret? It’s a genuinely frightening prospect, but not out of the question.

Other topics that the bureaucrats who will administer this secrecy might like to cover up could be any spillage of radioactive materials from the broken Fukushima reactors. People have even hinted that Abe is eager to get this in place to prevent some of his own shady background from coming out.

It’s awful, but this is what Abe is all about, and there’s plenty more where that came from. By the way, have you noticed he hasn’t really done anything to improve the economy yet? It’s all been talk, and the only ones to benefit have been a certain wealthy group in Tokyo. This nationalist agenda is what he really wants to get done. If you’ve read this blog before you may have gathered that I dislike Abe. I think he’s living in a dream world and has the potential to do Japan great harm. This time however he might just have overreached himself. Some people say with three years before he has to face re-election he can afford to sit tight, and people will soon forget it all as they enjoy the benefits of “abenomics”. Others say he might well be headed for a re-run of his last prime ministership in 2006 when he forced unpopular measures through the Diet and ended up resigning in ignominy. You can guess I’m hoping for something like the latter case.

Here are some links if you’d like to read more about all this.

The Daily Beast – Japan’s new Secrets Bill Threatens To Muzzle The Press and Whistleblowers
Shhh. The lights go out for whistleblowers and (possibly) journalists
Japan: Even The Secrecy Bill Briefing Is Secret; Abe-gumi Pushes Ominous Secrecy Bill Towards Law
Japan Times – Japan: The new Uzbekistan of press freedom
Japan Times – State secrecy bill could have a chilling effect on reporting
Bloomberg – Japan’s Secrets Bill Turns Journalists Into Terrorists
New York Times – Secrecy Bill Could Distance Japan From Its Postwar Pacifism
Human Rights Watch – Japan: Amend “Special Secrets” Bill to Protect Public Interest
Independent UN experts seriously concerned
The Diplomat – Japan’s Evolving Security Architecture
A New State Secrecy Law for Japan? 新たな秘密保護法?
Japan Times – Cheer over Reagan’s arrival won’t trickle down to most Japanese

 

Farmlog May 2013 25 November, 2013

Filed under: countryside,Uncategorized — johnraff @ 7:32 pm
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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 April 2013 9 November, 2013

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 3:10 am
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As we head into Winter, a moment to remember what Spring was like…

7th~8th

Spring storm! Elsewhere in the country there is serious damage being done by the wind and rain, but we’re being let off lightly and the cherry blossom round Nagoya still looks beautiful. Let’s look forward to the blue skies promised for tomorrow. Our own ume trees out in Gifu are starting to bloom and the weeping cherry’s buds are swelling. Next week should be nice, but I won’t be here because Daihachi Ryodan have a gig in Kyoto.

Monday is sunny but cold – at midday it’s only 10°C and the wind’s chill wipes off most of the sun’s warmth. The ume and forsythia are pretty though. If the weather’s good next week it should be fantastic. (drat! I won’t be here.) T’s bringing a couple of friends out for san sai soba and the Takemi Zakura should be in full bloom. (Ah well, Kyoto should be fun too.) The first warabi of the season are coming up.

On the way home we take an alternative back road and see Spring flowers everywhere. On the radio: “Northern Bar” by Shigeru Kajiwara. This is a truly awful English rendition of a famous Enka song. The original is OK but this makes your toes curl. Really.

Min. temp. 1.5°C, max. 20°C


14th~15th

I’m in Kyoto.


21st~22ndThe mysterious hole

The cold rain that started on Saturday evening has cleared up by Sunday afternoon and the sky that shows between the clouds is a beautiful washed pastel blue. There are new green leaves but the wind is icy cold, more like March. They’re having snow in Takayama! There’s already water in a lot of the rice fields on our way out. The mysterious hole in the ground in front of our house has got bigger – what could be living there?

Monday is a beautiful clear day, but still cold. The weeping cherry is in full bloom, as are quinces, forsythia, azaelias and yuki-yanagi
Min. temp. -1°C, max. 22°C


28th~29th

We leave Nagoya late on Sunday because Daihachi Ryodan were at an Earth Day event in the afternoon. It’s beautifully sunny with a fresh breeze that turns to cold as we get out to the hills, which look good in the late afternoon sunshine, today coming from a different angle from usual. The wild cherries at the house are in full bloom. (Sunday evening is cold.)

On Monday the weather is fantastic, sunny but fresh, and there are flowers everywhere. We feel like charging admission. On the way back to Nagoya the hills are covered in wysteria.

Min. temp. 0°C, max. 19°C

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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…

 

Under Control 24 September, 2013

Filed under: people,politics — johnraff @ 3:01 pm
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Abe’s not going to be allowed to forget the promise he made at the IOC meeting that the Fukushima disaster was “under control”. Last week that clip was being shown on TV on a daily basis, along with Tokyo Electric officials admitting that the leakage of radioactive water isn’t under control at all. The word is that if Abe hadn’t pretended that everything was OK the 2020 Olympics wouldn’t have been awarded to Tokyo, but from now on every time yet another cover-up is uncovered, every time the schedule for people to return to their homes is revealed to have been hopelessly over-optimistic, every time a new source of radioactive contamination is discovered, those words are likely to come back to haunt him.

Getting the Olympics is being presented as a big boost for Japan, but if you’re cynical it’s possible to view it as another massive transfer of taxpayers’ money to the same old LDP club of construction and real estate companies in the Tokyo area, leaving the rest of the country looking on enviously as yet another Gucci shop opens on the Ginza and visiting foreigners can’t believe all the talk about an economic depression. That tax money is desperately needed for better social services and pensions, for example; a rise in consumption tax has been on the horizon for years and a hike from 5% to 8% is due to come in next spring, going to 10% shortly after. Japan leads the world in the “aging society” trend and because everyone has to pay consumption tax, regardless of income, it’s a way to get money out of the pockets of the wealthy elderly into the economy in general. Of course this hits the pockets of the poverty-stricken elderly – and poverty-stricken youngsters – even more painfully. Yes, even 10% is low by European standards but Japan doesn’t have anything like the social welfare system that those countries enjoy.

Previous attempts to raise consumption tax here have been disastrous for the economy, and for the politicians responsible, so Abe ( or his advisors ) is pretty nervous about all this. There’s lots of talk about “softening the blow” for the less well-off but nothing concrete on offer so far. (We might get a handout of ¥10,000.) On the other hand, Japan’s companies – by contrast with us ordinary people – are supposed to be cruelly over-taxed and long due a cut in corporation tax so they can compete with foreign rivals. This is the same sort of reasoning that results in working conditions worldwide being reduced to the level of China or Bangladesh, but if the consumption tax rise is accompanied by a corporation tax cut “to stimulate the economy” it would be easy to see it as a blatant transfer of wealth from the general population to the wealthy capitalists. That’s probably exactly what Abe and his friends would like to do, but would make him politically vulnerable to criticism from opposition parties.

So our prime minister looks set to be pretty much tangled up in these practical issues for the foreseeable future: Fukushima, consumption tax, relations with China, the TPP negotiations… We have reason to be grateful, because he has another agenda that has had to be put on the back-burner till all that gets sorted. There’s a strong nationalistic/militaristic stream in the LDP, left over from the immediate post-war years: a legacy of the historic failure of the occupying US administration to root it out when they had a chance. In a short-sighted error, reminiscent of their support of the Taliban in Soviet-ruled Afghanistan, they used the dregs of militarists and yakuza in order to fight communism and the unions. While Japan still has a viable communist party they are a small minority in the Diet, and Japan’s unions are pretty powerless compared with many other countries, so the Americans achieved their object there, but left war criminals in the backrooms of power and universities. I don’t want to blame everything on McArthur’s administration, but anyway we have people like former prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone whose dream is still to see Japan become a “normal country” with a “proper army” and a constitution to match. In other words, a country that can form alliances and go to war abroad. Abe, while too young to remember the war, for some reason sees himself as the standard-bearer of that tradition. Last time he was prime minister he was talking about “beautiful Japan” just before he was thrown out, so this time he’s keeping his nationalistic opinions more under wraps – for now.

So what have we got coming if he ever gets all those problems above “under control”? Well, for a start he’s already filled his cabinet with people of similar views.
OK, so here are some of the treats we might have coming some day:

  • When politicians start talking about protecting people’s’ rights it usually means they’re planning to take them away. Coming up soon is legislation to restrict our “right to know” and severely punish whistleblowers. Just what is or isn’t secret is itself to be a secret…
  • The Abe view of history is already causing friction with China and Korea, but there are plans to further ingrain it in the minds of Japan’s children with more revision of textbooks. Abe has said he wants children to grow up proud of their country. This is a fine goal, but surely better achieved by working to create the kind of country one would be proud to grow up in, than by telling kids that they’re obliged to be proud. Surely it’s better to be honest about things that have happened, and vow not to let them happen again, than to pretend nothing shameful ever occurred? The Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, beloved of rightwingers like Abe, apart from its quite legitimate role of honouring Japan’s dead, also has a museum where WW2 is presented as some kind of benevolent action by Japan to free Asian colonies of the West. Yes, there’s plenty to be ashamed of in my country’s colonial record (UK), but ask Indonesians or Singaporeans about the Japanese occupation.
  • Going along with that is a move to increase the military budget. This is justified by the behaviour of China and North Korea, both of whom are indeed giving people who live in Japan reason to feel nervous. Surely it goes without saying , though, that war would be a disaster for all countries involved, for the region and for the world? There seem to be people in both Japan and China who see eventual military conflict as inevitable. Abe is doing nothing at all to make that horrible outcome less likely.
  • The constitution. A lot of attention has gone to the Peace Clause, Article 9 and the LDP’s aim to make it less peaceful. There is great opposition to this in Japan, even in the LDP and it’s Komeito partner, but the LDP has other plans for constitutional changes. Please have a look at that Wikipedia article. There are many changes which suggest a subtle shift back to an authoritarian society in which the public have duties rather than rights.

“Under Control”?

He wishes…

 

 

 
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