asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Farmlog April 2012 3 September, 2012

Filed under: countryside,seasons — johnraff @ 7:16 pm
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1st~2nd

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

8th~9th

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

15th~16th

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

22nd~23rd

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

29th~30th

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

Kitemiteya きてみてや 29 April, 2012

Filed under: city,food & drink,places — johnraff @ 1:40 am
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This is the kind of place that Japan excels at. Just a counter with room for 6~7 people, and a bit of tatami at the back with a couple more tables. One guy, Ina-chan, runs the whole place – serving drinks (though beers from the fridge are self-service) and the snacks that are obligatory when drinking in Japan – squid with spinach, noodle salad, mackerel stewed in soy sauce… and because Ina-chan’s from near Osaka you can also get good Kansai style okonomi-yaki (the negi-yaki’s especially good) and yaki-soba which will fill you up if you’re hungry. In Britain you’re lucky to get a couple of crisps or peanuts but here you can easily have your whole evening meal down at the pub if you want. There’s a kind of fuzzy area between eating out and drinking out which I thoroughly enjoy exploring.

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

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

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

A few pics:

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An evening in the country 19 April, 2012

Filed under: countryside,food & drink,people — johnraff @ 1:32 am
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We had invited Yamada san over to our place for a drink, but, a couple of days before, he called up to suggest his place instead. It turned out to be a much better evening than the Cold Sake Debacle of last year.

We get there around 6 and he’s invited some friends over and started grilling some iwana one of them had taken from his pond. Yamada san’s got this great lean-to attached to his timber warehouse, with huge beams in the ceiling, traditional tools hanging on the walls and a big wood burning stove in the middle. He’s got plenty of timber offcuts and keeps the stove well stocked up so it’s toasty warm, even in summer… He says you have to keep the stove hot or it’ll rust. There’s nothing fancy about the place at all – we sit on an old saggy sofa while others have battered armchairs. ( The guy right next to the stove will be roasted in a while. ) Anyway, it’s a good place to drink beer, later wine and shochu (but not too much cold sake), while eating the grilled fish.

The food’s pretty good on the whole. We took something over and other people brought contributions, but later on we get the evening’s feature dish, “tori-meshi”. Meshi means rice, and tori means bird, usually chicken, so “yakitori” is grilled chicken on a stick and torimeshi is chicken rice. Anyway our torimeshi today isn’t chicken, it’s small birds that were caught that day (some of those cute little birds that were round our persimmon tree?), burnt to get the feathers off, chopped up, stewed in soy sauce then cooked with rice. The rice has little anonymous black bits and crunchy bone fragments in, but doesn’t taste too bad if you don’t think too much about it. Many years ago I once ordered “yakitori” in a railway station kiosk and, instead of the tasty chicken I was expecting, got some little birds – sparrows maybe – impaled on a skewer. Compared with that, this torimeshi is quite tasty in fact. After that we have the comparatively innocuous wild boar cooked in a pot with miso, leeks and Chinese cabbage. It’s not smelly or greasy at all – really good. I think some hunters nearby had just caught it.

The place warms up as Y pushes more wood into the stove with his foot. The guy in the Hot Seat has moved elsewhere. This isn’t a young crowd at all – I don’t think anyone here is under 50 – but the conversation is lively and interesting, including the 75-year-old in the corner. Yamada san himself is 72 but still working, eating, drinking, joking and generally enjoying life.

We return home around 11, happy after an excellent evening. It Was Real, as they say.

 

Farmlog January 2012 11 April, 2012

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 1:55 am
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8th~9th

  • Sunday is cold but clear and we get a beautiful view of snowy mountains on our way out of town.
  • There are no speed cops – have they moved to a new place?
  • There hasn’t been much rain and the well dries up in the night.
  • The local timber co-operative have been round and cut some of the trees that were growing just south of our field. This is quite welcome – it gives us more sunlight and lets the breeze through so the house won’t be quite so damp this summer with luck. I suspect our friend Yamada san might have been behind this because there’s no particular benefit from their point of view – the trees were just left on the ground.
  • I do some digging in the field where the chillies will be planted this year.
  • Min. temp. -4°C, max. 4°C

15th~16th

  • A grey Sunday. There’s nothing special to say about it – it’s not even outstandingly cold until we get to the house, where after being empty for five days everything is icy.
  • In the second supermarket we run into Yamada san who’s on his way with a vanful of friends to a shrine near Lake Biwa (quite far from here) for a ceremony called “dondoyaki“. He stopped to pick up some beer.
  • The next afternoon Yamada san drops in and we ask him round for a drink the week after next. (Next week we have to stay in Nagoya.)
  • I finish digging the chilli field. 🙂
  • Min. temp. -5°C max. 4°C

29th~30th

  • A nice sunny day in Nagoya. It’s been very cold the last couple of weeks, though, with blizzards on the Sea of Japan side of the country and Sunday isn’t exactly warm. We set off a bit worried that the road will be snowed up near the house. I really don’t want to have to put the snow chains on, but we’ve promised to meet Yamada san (at his place not ours) and on the phone he said it wasn’t too bad, so fingers crossed.
  • When we arrive the snow isn’t too bad at all, but it’s cold: down to 0°C by 4:00, and the water pipes are frozen in a couple of places, even though we drained the system before leaving two weeks ago. One tap starts flowing after an hour or so, but the cold water in the kitchen is still off at 5:00.
  • There’s a flock of cute little birds in our persimmon tree enjoying the fruit T left in the Autumn.
  • After a bath we head over to Yamada san’s for the evening. (more later)
  • The next day it’s still cold with icicles hanging off the eaves, we decide to skip the bath and stop off at a local onsen on our way home, which is very nice.
  • Min. temp. -7°C max. 7°C
 

Farmlog December 2011 31 March, 2012

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 1:15 am
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With party bookings at Raffles and the like, we only got out to the farm twice last December. Details:

11th~12th

  • On Sunday the sun is warm enough in Nagoya, though there’s a cold wind blowing the clouds up.As we head north the clouds get thicker, the temperature drops and it really feels like winter. We finally arrive at the house, though, to be greeted by a beautiful golden sunset. It’s still cold so we crank up the oil fan heater and sit in the kotatsu.
  • The deer (I suppose) have finally smashed down the nets that were round the chilli plants and eaten every last wilted leaf and half-rotten pepper. Not an Awful Warning for next year I hope.
  • Get the Christmas cards written.
  • Composting’s a bit of a chore in winter. The stuff doesn’t rot properly and stays smelly and disgusting, and your fingers freeze washing out the plastic buckets.
  • So many jobs still to do:
    -dig the chilli field
    -clip the tea bushes
    -prune the maples and other trees around the place that are getting out of control
    -clean up the riverbank and roadside
    -…etc
  • Min. temp. 3°C max. 14°C

18th~19th

  • The winter suddenly kicked in on Friday with a nasty cold wind and a scattering of sleet, and Sunday is a grey winter day.
  • No police on speed trap duty these days – too cold?
  • The second supermarket is full of “mikans”, which are now in season. Eating mikans in the kotatsu is a traditional winter pastime, especially at New Year. They’re quite cheap too.
  • We get a free pack of miso for our collected receipts or something. Miso might be exotic where you live but here fermented bean paste is an everyday ingredient like cottage cheese or peanut butter.
  • Suntory Beer’s latest advertising slogan: “Let’s eat… at home.” No! NO!! What are they thinking of? Boosting their take-hme sales of cheap “happoshu” while putting out of business all the restaurants and bars they used to depend on! The truth is, Japanese, especially the young, don’t go out as much as they used to, and when they do they don’t spend money. That said, what business do Suntory have encouraging people to stay at home? Bah!
  • We have “slush pot” (mizore nabe) for dinner – it gets its name from the mountain of grated “daikon” radish thet goes in the pot, and it’s very good. Along with that, “hoba-miso” which is found only in this area, Gifu. You put a big “ho” leaf on a charcoal burner and top it with a mixture of miso, chopped green onion, other vegetables or minced meat and a little sake and cook it till it’s bubbling and a little burnt underneath. The salty bits you pick off with your chopsticks go very well with rice. “Hoba-zushi” is another regional thing – sushi rice and fish – often salmon – are wrapped in the same “ho” leaves when the rice is still hot, and presed under a weight for a while. The leaves give the sushi a subtle fragrance, and help to preserve it apparently.
  • A great bath, warms you up to the bones. It must be something to do with our well water. Rice cooked out here tastes better too.
  • Kim Jong Il’s death is the main radio news on Monday.
  • Digging the chilli field – the soil is heavy and I’ll probably have aching muscles tomorrow.
  • Nearly forgot to let the water out of the system before leaving. You have to do that through the winter so it doesn’t freeze up while we’re away during the week.
  • Min temp -3°C max 8°C
 

Farmlog October 2011 21 December, 2011

Filed under: countryside,seasons — johnraff @ 1:22 am
Tags: , , , ,

Ha! Already Christmas breathing down our necks, and you still haven’t been told about all the thrilling happenings out on the farm in October and November. Hmm… well, here’s a bit about October to be going on with.

2nd~3rd

  • “Japan has four seasons” I remember being told in numerous drinking places soon after arriving here. Everyone wanted you to know just how unique this place was. It got so annoying, you started to make a point of saying how similar Japan was to wherever you came from: “Yes, we also use polite language when talking to someone older”, “Yes, we also have pickles…”, you get the idea. They’d smile politely but you could tell they didn’t like this sort of talk at all. You could criticise the country as much as you wanted, as long as you reminded them how different they were from you. But, to tell the truth, Japan does have four seasons, well five if you put the detestable Rainy Season in between Spring and Summer. I remember returning to the UK once for Christmas to find it a warm 15°C or so, another time shivering at 5°C in May, but here Summer is hot and Winter is cold. Each season is quite distinct, and the other day we switched from Autumn to Winter. It’s cold. (is what all that was about)
  • The tatami replacement project is getting under way. Ikemoto san the builder has been round and will start the actual work next week or so, so we’ve got to clear all the stuff out of those rooms, moving it upstairs. It’s at times like this that you realize how many things you acquire over time. Half-read magazines, souvenirs from Guam or somewhere and wounded musical instruments that can’t really be played, but there’s no way you’re going to throw them away. Luckily we haven’t run out of space yet.
  • Min temp. 10°C max 24°C

9th~10th

  • A perfect Autumn day. The sky is that gorgeous translucent blue that the Japanese have the cheek to call “Nihon baré” (Japan clear) as if noone else had blue skies…
  • Not quite as cold in the evening as it was last week. We build a good fire and sip warm shochu. T drinks too much and wakes up in the morning with a hangover. This is unusual for her.
  • Monday morning is perfect too. There’s a noisy flock of birds in the trees opposite, till they move off further down the road. Immigrants from the Northern Winter somewhere?
  • Must clear the house up ready for the carpenters. All the dust sets off a sneezing fit.
  • The focus on weedcutting in the summer has left lots of other unwanted growth untouched: the “susuki” pampas grass and ferns growing between the tea bushes (this must be cut down before the snow comes), bushes round the entrance drive, wisteria vines trying to strangle everything, plum, camelia and maple trees to prune…
  • There’s pretentious “progressive” rock on the FM radio all day (Atom Heart Mother, Yes, Deep Purple with an orchestra…) it’s a special programme for the holiday. I like the early Pink Floyd, but clearly the Good Old Days weren’t always all that great. Turn it off.
  • The leeks in the supermarket are from China. They could have been grown in the empty fields around here, but it’s cheaper to import them.
  • Overall, a nice Autumn day, with gentle background music from the crickets.
  • Min temp. 6°C max 21°C

16th~17th

  • The ferns grow between our tea bushes. They die off in the winter but when it snows they flop over the tea to make a cover like a balaclava helmet. The tea bushes don’t like being kept in the dark like this, so those ferns have to be cut down now. Big black hornets are doing the rounds of the last tea blossoms. They’re OK as long as you don’t bother them. Whatever constitutes “bother” to a wasp…
  • The “goya” vine is finished.
  • Ikemoto san has almost finished the reflooring in the house. There’s a lot of scrap timber in front of the house so we can have a good fire and stay warm outside. Dinner al fresco won’t be possible much longer though.
  • Monday starts off with a chilly mist, but warms up.
  • Spent an hour picking a kilo or so of those hot little “Ishigaki” chillies. This would obviously not be a commercial proposition.
  • Min temp. 9°C max 20°C

23rd~24th

  • A strange return of the summer humidity after the rain. Sweating!
  • Every week without fail, when we pass their favourite spot the police are booking someone for speeding.
  • Burn more timber and eat outside – stars, insect voices and a heavy dew.
  • There are still leeches around!
  • Our friend Yamada san has heard about out reflooring and phones to offer advice – we should polish it with rice bran in a cloth bag. T used to do this as a child and says it’s incredible hard work, so we ask Ikemoto san to wax it instead.
  • There are smelly “kamemushi” insects everywhere.
  • T picks persimmons for drying.
  • The Habanero and Ishigaki chillies are still looking fit, as are the big mild peppers, but the “Malay” medium chillies haven’t done well this year for some reason.
  • Min temp. 7°C max20°C

31st

  • We drop in on the way back from a trip to Eiheiji and Fukui.
  • The chillies are still looking happy.
  • Our new floor looks nice, nails hidden and stained to match the rest of the room.
  • The weather has cleared after a rainy Sunday, but by 4:30PM it’s thoroughly chilly.
  • My favourite “3rd beer” Mugi to Hoppu now has a Black version which isn’t bad at all, but only a limited issue apparently.
  • Min temp. 5°C max 23°C
 

Kippers and Custard 16 November, 2011

Filed under: customs,food & drink,music — johnraff @ 2:08 pm
Tags: , , ,

It’s probably another of those “you’ve been in Japan too long when…” things when you start liking enka. Let’s face it – there’s plenty not to like. The melodies all sound the same, there are usually only two or three chords, the singers get hyper-emotional and the lyrics are mostly about broken love affairs. Still, when you think about it, all that could be said about the Blues, one of my favourite kinds of music since Clapton was reading the Beano on the cover of that John Mayall album. Enka’s another of those hybrid music forms (like reggae, rai, bhangra…), a sort of crossing of Japanese folk tunes with Western instruments, usually lots of keyboards, drums, an orchestra somewhere and a screaming lead guitar in the distance. The singers use the same kind of vocal embellishments you hear in min’yo folk, and some of them are actually quite good, once you get used to the sticky sentimentality of it all.

There’s even an American enka singer called Jero. I think his grandmother’s Japanese, but he’s a real native-English-speaking American, backwards baseball cap and everything. Really good singer though, in perfect Japanese. Now, what I’m getting to is: the other day on the car radio someone put on an enka song sung in English – not by Jero as it turned out, but by a Japanese singer. It’s on Youtube if you want a listen. It’s horrible. Doesn’t work at all. OK there might be some problems with the English translation itself, or possibly with the guy’s pronunciation, though it doesn’t sound that bad, but the basic issue is that enka just sounds wrong in English. Doesn’t work.

It’s the same with food. There are many kinds of soy sauce made all over Asia – Thai light soy and Indonesian sweet kecap manis are delicious, for example – but if you want to eat sashimi, raw fish, then nothing but Japanese soy sauce will work. It will just taste wrong dipped in anything else. Now, I have to agree that Koreans also have good raw fish, eaten with garlic and chilli paste as well as soy sauce, but if you regard that as a separate dish then my case still stands. Also for location. Now that sushi (different from sashimi btw) is popular worldwide there are “sushi restaurants” everywhere. The other week on TV there was a restaurant somewhere in Europe maybe, dark wood panelling, customer sitting at a small marble table being brought sushi on a tray by a dark-suited waiter… NO! NO! That’s ridiculous. You have to eat sushi sitting at a counter in a small place where the man who makes it is standing opposite you choosing the choicest morsels of fish from the glass case between you. Preferably while sipping sake, though beer might be grudgingly permitted.

João Gilberto once said that bossa nova had to be sung in Portuguese. Some things just don’t go.

 

Farmlog 11th~26th September 2011 5 November, 2011

Filed under: countryside,food & drink — johnraff @ 3:23 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

It might still feel like Summer here in Nagoya on this warm November day, but this record is already going back two months, and Winter will be on us in no time. Anyway…

The first weekend (4th & 5th) we stayed in Nagoya because Daihachi Ryodan had one of our increasingly infrequent gigs, this time in a converted warehouse at a traditional sake brewery where they were putting on what turned out to be a pretty enjoyable event, with market stalls and lots of little kids running around, along with the music. People seemed to enjoy our stuff too, which is always encouraging.

The next day T and I went to a “beer garden” – a sort of Summer tradition here to hit these places, usually on the roof of a building so you get a bit of breeze, decorated with plastic lanterns and full of middle-aged ladies making sure they get their money’s worth of the all-you-can-eat deal usually on offer. It was OK, but run by the wholesale fish market and we expected better things in the food section. Of course beer is beer, and a few mugfulls of well-chilled lager always go down well in the Nagoya humidity.

11th~12th

  • A muggy Sunday, but there are already hints of the coming Autumn. The rice is yellow, many fields have already been cut and there is smoke in the air from the burnt leftovers.
  • Lots of picnickers by the river.
  • A gang of aging bikers – must all be over 50, maybe 60. You don’t hear the “bosozoku” urban bikers so much any more – the roar of dozens of unsilenced exhausts used to be a feature of Summer evenings – but these guys are different, on a tour of the countryside in a sort of Easy Rider thing. Quite quiet and completely unthreatening.
  • No typhoon damage out in Gifu, unlike Mie where number 12 hung about for days and dropped huge amounts of water. The hot chillies – habaneros and little “ishigakis” – are doing well this year, but the larger, less hot general-purpose red ones from Malaysia aren’t looking all that lively for some reason. Plenty of goya, and myoga too.
  • A nice cool evening with an insect chorus and an almost full moon (the “chu shu no meigetsu”) intermittently visible.
  • A beautiful fresh Monday morning gradually warms up as the day moves on.
  • Monday evening is equally beautiful – a magnificent harvest moon sees us home, accompanied by crickets.
  • Min temp 11°C max 30°C

18th~19th

  • Two typhoons bringing up the usual massive amounts of warm moist air from the South… with the usual result of sweaty sticky humidity up here.
  • In the supermarket car-park the sun hits you like a hammer. Lettuces are ¥298 each! (over $3) All vegetables are expensive in fact – could it be because of the rain?
  • Listening to wonderful Ghanaian Highlife music in the car, I suddenly realise what a privilege it is to be able to enjoy this, which was made by people in another continent, maybe more than 30 years ago.
  • Have an early night for once and get up at 8 am to be rewarded with a perfect clear morning. Later it clouded over with more of that humid heat we’ve long come to know and love.
  • A bumper habanero harvest. A small brown snake among the plants. There’s only one poisonous species here, and that wasn’t it.
  • A thunder shower about 3 pm.
  • On the way home the “higanbana” are out – right on time as usual.
  • Min temp 19°C max 28°C

25th~26th

  • Beautiful Sunday morning, although it clouded over a bit later. Typhoon 15 blew away the Summer and suddenly it’s cool. What a difference a week makes! From sweltering to shivering in a few days. Last Sunday evening a T-shirt was comfortable, but now outside with a long-sleeved shirt and pullover (sweater to you Americans) I was still huddling near the fire.
  • There are still a few goya left, but we’re coming to the end of the season. There are lots more habaneros – with any luck the chillies will hold out through October and give us some kind of harvest.
  • A visit from the local builder. We want our rotten tatami matting replaced with a wooden floor. Tatami’s very ethnic and cool, but ours was way too old, and full of mould and biting insects. They cost more than 10,000 yen each, and in this house which is only opened up for two days a week new ones would soon go mouldy again, so we figured wood would just be more pleasant. A lot of the supporting timbers under the floor are in bad shape too so a fair amount of work is involved.
  • The max. and min. thermometer is broken: the min. marker falls back to the mercury. I’ll try just laying it on its side.
  • Min temp ~15°C (guess) max 25°C

 

Linux 7 October, 2011

Filed under: — johnraff @ 2:50 pm

Maybe you’ve seen that penguin somewhere before? His name’s Tux and he (she?) is the Linux mascot. Linux is an operating system for computers but, unlike Windows or the Mac system, it isn’t made by a company but by thousands of unpaid volunteers. It might be worth looking at if you’re getting fed up with being locked into some company’s walled garden … or if you like that penguin. 🙂

Well, this isn’t one of those “linux Blogs”, and I’m not planning to post any nerdish code hacks or cool applications here, but I’d be dishonest not to add tinkering with the computer to one of my regular activities. I started out late – in 2002 or so, with a laptop that had been designed for Windows 95 and was running Windows 98. It was all very new and exciting, but meanwhile the rest of the world had moved on and trying to view “modern” web pages on this machine became less and less fun. Things improved a lot when a friend loaned me a more modern machine, but life remained a struggle to keep the demands of what I was trying to do within the capabilities of the machine I was using. Uninstall this… disable that… All this combined with finding anti-virus software and firewalls that wouldn’t make things grind to a complete halt…

The final straw came when Microsoft announced that Windows 98 would no longer be supported, and the only options to keep things reasonably safe would be to upgrade to Windows XP (and buy a computer that could run it) or try Linux. I was told about Ubuntu Linux, whose motto was “Linux for human beings”, and gave the then current “Breezy Badger” version a try. Now, it wasn’t a delightful experience, to be honest – very slow, and partly incomprehensible. My computer was still too slow and under-powered. Linux went on the backburner for a year or so till a version called “Xubuntu” – a bit simpler and lighter than regular Ubuntu – turned out to work OK, and Windows was finally left behind. There were some new things to be learned at first, but after about 6 months there came a lightbulb moment when I realized that the system and programmes were on your side! You were no longer struggling to get things to do what you wanted against the aims of some company, the penguin wanted to help you… Now I wouldn’t think of going back to Windows, even if it was free.

If you’re up for something different and would like to give Linux a try, it has some advantages even for non-geeks: it’s safer – you don’t really need an anti-virus – it’s very easy to install new software, and of course the price is right. Everything’s free as in free beer, and equally important, free as in freedom – no-one’s trying to control what you do with your computer. T, who has trouble using a VTR, does her email and web browsing as if nothing had changed. It’s also possible to install Linux and Windows together on the same computer and choose which you want when you start up.

You might try Ubuntu Linux, which has changed a lot since I used it – it’s now very shiny and smart. There’s also Linux Mint, which is based on Ubuntu, but with even more emphasis on usability. (A friend was recently introduced to Linux via Mint and likes it very much.) Finally, I’m now using something called BunsenLabs Linux – this is more spartan, but runs faster as a result, and offers even more opportunity for tweaking the way you want. I like it a lot, and have been involved in its development. If you visit the BunsenLabs forums you might run into me under the name johnraff. 🙂

Well, Linux isn’t for everyone, but if you like tinkering you might get caught!

The default BunsenLabs desktop.

 

Fireworks 29 September, 2011

Filed under: countryside,customs — johnraff @ 2:17 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Fireworks are a feature of the Japanese summer and the town nearest our country house has a display every year in mid-August. This year it happened to be a Saturday so we took an extra day off, gave ourselves a three-day weekend, and went into town for the summer festival. There are big displays in other places, which draw hundreds of thousands of people, and our local fireworks don’t compare in scale, but they’re very enjoyable. The location is a fork in the river which runs through the town centre; the fireworks are set off from a spit of land between the two branches, and you can watch from the banks, so you get quite a close-up view, while the sounds echo off the hills around. The impact is, if anything, superior to that of a monster display viewed hundreds of metres away over a sea of people. A lot of young folk come back from their city jobs for this (fewer yukatas and more short-shorts this year) but there’s room for everyone to find a place to sit down with a view and a generally relaxed atmosphere. The finale was an incredible barrage of explosions. Was there enough air left to carry all that sound?

So the fireworks were good as usual (see the slide show below) but hardly anyone stayed for the Bon-dancing afterwards. The tunes are all from another town (the famous Gujo Hachiman) anyway. We were planning on some sushi, but they were closed, so it’s “ramen” noodles. The owner of the ramen shop seems to know everyone in town. A full moon sees us home and we have a final beer outside. There’s supposed to be a meteor shower due, but we didn’t see any.

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