asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

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…

 

 

Farmlog March 2013 5 September, 2013

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:59 pm
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Little Buddha in the back woodsRidiculous backlog here, and I definitely have to try harder to catch up with real time (ie Autumn!)

3rd~4th

Anyway, the first week in March we had a Daihachi Ryodan concert at Tokuzo. A good time was had by us, and the audience made a good impression of it too. (Were you there? Many thanks if so!) That meant we stayed in Nagoya though, and missed a weekend in the country.


10th~11th

The last few days have been incredibly warm and Spring-like, though T and I have both caught colds – maybe they came over with the latest wave of “kosa” from China? Anyway Sunday morning is mild but cloudy, and a wind is blowing up. Some #$%&ing marathon means the streets are closed on our route north out of town and we have to use the highway, paying an extra, extortionate, ¥750. By Gifu it’s reverting to Winter chilliness, just as forecast.

At the ¥100 stand we pick up an enormous bunch of spinach. The recent warm weather must have made the plants grow up way beyond their standard size before they could be picked, but they turn out to be tender, sweet and delicious, if a little mild-tasting.

Monday is perfectly clear but the wind is freezing cold – only the sun’s higher position in the sky tells us it’s no longer Winter. Anyway I have to get some digging done for this year’s chillies. The field should have been dug over last Autumn so the frost could get in to break up the soil and kill pests.

Of course today (3/11) is the second anniversary of the terrible Tohoku earthquake. Videos of the tidal waves are still shocking. Can you imagine a wave over 20 metres high? (That’s metres not feet.) Even now some 300,000 people are displaced, and about half of them have no prospect of being able to return to their radioactive villages any time soon. The Fukushima reactors are scheduled to take some 40 years to clear up!

Still Abe seems determined to put short-term profits first and persist with the use of nuclear power, in the face of public opposition. The L.D.P. are part of the nuclear vested interests consortium. (Don’t get me started on politics again…)

Min. temp. 5°C, max. 15°C


17th~18th

Sunday is a beautiful soft spring day, with ume and peach blossom in full bloom near Nagoya, although the radio says rain is on the way. Out at the homestead there are no flowers yet, but shoots coming up everywhere and the birds are starting to sound excited. We sit in the sun in front of the house with a cup of tea and an onigiri. Once the sun goes behind the trees it cools off though, so I get up and do some digging till it gets dark a bit after 6. It’s still too cold to eat outside, but in a few weeks…

It starts raining earlier than predicted – about 1 am – and Monday is warm but unpleasantly damp, and light rain looks set in for the day. Listening to the diet debate on the TPP on the radio. It’s a complex subject, but I hope Japan doesn’t get turned into a copy of the USA, with all due respects to American readers.

Min. temp. 4°C, max. 14°C


24th~25th

It’s actually hot in Nagoya, and the cherry blossom is out early over most of the country. As we drive out of town, though, it soon reverts to normal and cherries 45 minutes away are still in bud. While it’s a nice clear spring day, there’s a bit of a chilly wind at the second supermarket on our route. At the house there are still no flowers, though daffodil shoots are up and wasabi leaves are appearing.

Monday is sunny, but there’s a cold wind. I get the first stage of the chilli field digging done, and now need to put up the 3m net to keep the deer out.

Min. temp. 0°C, max. 16°C


31st March~1st April

ojisan's deer trapIt’s a grey miserable day, except for the trees in exuberant full bloom all around Nagoya, defying anyone to let the weather get them down. They’re mostly cherries but as we get into Gifu the seasons slip back a bit and there are more ume, peach and kobushi, both cultivated in gardens and wild in the hills. Even against a grey sky it’s a grand show.

By evening the sky has cleared and it’s cold. At 1:30 am there’s a dog barking somewhere – why?

The next day the deer ojisan drops in and reports that he’s caught 14 this season! At ¥20,000 a head bounty that’s not bad pocket-money. A recent survey said there were 200 or so in this area though, so he’s still got work to do. (I’m not exactly sure what the boundaries of the area were.) Deer are really a pest round here, eating anything they can find – except the wild plants of course. However, the lady at the ¥100 stand down the road says her main problem is monkeys!

Monday’s weather is perfect, barring a bit of a chill in the wind. The ume on a south-facing slope is already blooming, filling the air with its sweet scent. On a sunny day in April this place can seem like a close approximation to paradise. I take a short walk in the woods just round the corner. Everything seems so peaceful but it’s really a bustle of activity. Back by the house, this year’s first sighting of a tiny lizard, a beautiful black and blue butterfly and a big aodaisho snake sunning itself.

Min. temp. -1°C, max. 16°C

early wasabi

 

What else is in Abe’s mix? 19 July, 2013

Filed under: politics — johnraff @ 2:45 pm
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Back in britain we used to say that “The Tories pray for rain” before an election. With their better organized support groups they’d be able to get the voters out, while many of the Labour voters didn’t even have cars. The sweltering heat we’ve been having here the last few weeks might be working in Abe’s favour for the same reasons, but survey results also suggest we’re heading for a historically low turnout for the Upper House election on Sunday. Along with a probable landslide victory for Abe’s LDP.

Like the Lower House election last Autumn, this will probably be victory by default. The opposition are in a mess, the former main opposition party, the DPJ were decimated then and likely to lose massively again. The only possible gain other than by the LDP is the Communist Party, whose seats might well double. As usual, it’s all about money, and Abe has managed to convince the Japanese public – and many abroad – that “Abenomics” is working, and things are going to get better. It’s mostly been talk so far, but the “confidence” effect has got some people spending a bit more, it must be said. If people thought a bit more, though, there are other reasons not to vote for the LDP, which will probably be overlooked:

  1. Nuclear Energy The majority of Japanese want to abandon nuclear power and move as soon as possible to sustainable energy. The LDP are the only major party to support nuclear power, probably because so many of them are tied in with the companies which have made so much out of this in the past, and which would lose so much if it was abandoned.
  2. TPP The Trans Pacific Partnership issue is more complicated, but many LDP supporters in rural areas might well suffer if Japan joined, and are opposed to it. The LDP are pushing ahead anyway, because it might benefit the big companies so many of them are friends of or shareholders in.
  3. The Constitution This is a big one, and will need a new writeup next week or so after we’ve heard the (likely bad) news of the election results, but Abe seems determined to push ahead with constitutional changes, the first being an amendment to allow future changes to go through on a simple majority in both houses instead of the current 2/3, followed by a referendum result of again a simple majority of votes cast, with no requrement for a minimum turnout. Many Japanese are opposed to this, and it no longer gets front place in the LDP’s proposals, but if they get a big majority in the Upper House they might well be able to pass it. Once that’s done, all knds of constitutional revisions are in the pipeline, many of which look quite sinister. As I said, material for a later diatribe, but this stuff is also generally against the will of most Japanese.

None of these are vote-winners for the LDP, but they’ll probably win anyway. Abenomics will probably fail too, but by then it won’t matter…

 

 

Farmlog February 2013 5 July, 2013

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

3rd~4th

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

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

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

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

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

Min. temp -6°C max. 7°C


10th~11th

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

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

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

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

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

Min. temp -4°C max. 7°C


17th~18th

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

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

Min. temp -6°C max. 4°C


25th~26th

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

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

Min. temp -7°C max. 3°C

 

Shameful indeed 20 June, 2013

Filed under: politics — johnraff @ 1:34 pm
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This English-translated commentary in the Asahi is worth reading. Abe is determined to lead Japan to disaster.

VOX POPULI: Shameful selective memory regarding nuclear power issue – AJW by The Asahi Shimbun.

 

Abe’s Mix. 11 June, 2013

Filed under: people,politics — johnraff @ 2:37 pm
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When Japanese say “Abenomics” it sounds as if they’re saying “Abe’s mix” which is what people thought it meant at first, but of course he, or more likely some eminence, is trying to borrow Reagan’s ideas, and to be honest they seem to have been working to some extent. The guy’s been walking around with the most smug expression on his face – he’s enjoying the highest popularity ratings a Japanese politician could expect – 65% last time I heard –  and, more important, he might be about to realize his lifelong ambition.

We’ll get into what Abe, and his mentors in the right of the LDP, are hoping to do in a later post, but first, though my dislike for Abe is on record, I have to admit the mood in this country has brightened up a bit this year. As Clinton pointed out, it’s “the economy, stupid!”, and Abenomics is an attempt to jolt Japan out of its 20-year deflation by 1) printing money, 2) boosting government spending and 3) reorganizing the whole economy. The first of those, the easy one, is already under way and has resulted in a cheaper yen, more profit for Toyota and a soaring stock market – up till a couple of weeks ago that is. A sudden panic chopped off 2000 yen in one week, and since then the Nikkei index has been going up and down like a yoyo. Even so, it’s up a good 50% on last November. People are waiting to actually have more money in their pockets, but some of them at least have been convinced by all the talk to spend more of what they have. Sales of luxury goods in particular have been rising and people do seem a bit more optimistic.

#2 has already been done many times and the historic links between the ruling LDP and the construction industry mean we’re quite likely to get still more highways to nowhere and empty “multi-purpose halls”. Of course there’s also useful infrastructure spending, but it’s easy to be cynical here.

On #3 there’s a very long list of useful things that could be done, rather, must be done – better participation of women in the workforce,  better English education, reform of agriculture, a sane energy policy, a dependable welfare system etc etc – so we’ll have to wait and see whether Abe really intends to roll up his sleeves and do some of this.

Meanwhile a trickle of price rises of imported food and energy might well turn into a flood which cuts into the standard of living of the less well off, unless companies get serious about increasing wages. Rising interest rates are already starting to be reflected in home loans. Possibly even worse, if a continued fall in the value of the yen undermines the popularity of Japanese government bonds as a safe investment, they will be forced to raise interest rates there. Japan has a huge national debt which has been sustainable up to now because the money was borrowed very cheaply, but a total collapse of confidence ala Greece is not totally out of the question (George Soros).

Unfortunately, there are other reasons to worry that Abe might not be serious about getting Japan’s economy fixed on a long-term basis. There’s an upper-house election coming up in July. At present the ruling LDP do not have a majority there, but if Abe can keep his (ridiculously inflated) support figures till then they’ve got a good chance of a 2/3 majority, maybe with the support of their coalition allies. Abe is very keen indeed to get that majority, and if “Abenomics” is just a means to that end he might not invest enough effort to keep it working beyond July. (Noah Smith) In other words, the whole thing might just be cynical electioneering.

It’s hard to know what to hope for here – as a resident of Japan of course I’d like to see the economy improve, but on the other hand the consequences of Abe getting the credit for it might not be pleasant. Look forward to another diatribe on Abe’s politics before long!

 

Farmlog January 2013 27 March, 2013

Filed under: countryside,seasons — johnraff @ 2:16 pm
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13th~14th

Our first visit of the year. The sun is hazy, but you can see the snowy mountains in the distance.

T’s nephew drives up for the day with his wife and extremely cute 1-year-old daughter. We have fun but don’t get much work done.

The next morning T wakes me with the news that it’s snowing, quite hard. The radio is talking about major snow, and those tyre chains are such a pain to put on that we gulp down breakfast, pack and get out of there before we get snowed in. Short weekend.

Min. temp. -4°C max. 8°C


20th~21st

It’s hazier than last week – brown hills are visible, but no white mountains. Leaving Nagoya it’s not too cold, but the house is definitely well chilled when we open the doors.

The deer-trapping ojisan drops in and we show him our Goto photos over a cup of tea.

Patches of snow on the ground turn crisp by late afternoon.

Tofu chiggae for dinner – easy but good.

Outside, everything is waiting for the spring. I need to do some pruning though.

Min. temp. -6°C max. 8°C


27th~28th

There’s too much snow again so we stay in Nagoya. On Monday we take the Tarumi line again and enjoy the snow from the train window.

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The Goto Islands 15 March, 2013

Filed under: places — johnraff @ 3:13 pm
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At new year we took a 6-day trip to the Goto Islands, just off Kyushu. These are a bit off the regular tourist routes, but quite interesting historically, having been on the way in to Japan from the Asian continent, and also for the Christian population who fled there escaping persecution in the Edo era. As a result there are many churches, some of them quite beautiful, though not so old. The scenery is also stunning in places, especially the north. Anyway I’ll leave you to Google “Goto Islands” if you want to learn more, and just add a few notes from our own visit, and some photos.The ferry leaves quite early.

It’s a three-hour ferry ride from Nagasaki to the island of Fukue in the south. (The hydrofoil’s faster but more expensive.) It leaves in the morning so we fly to Nagasaki the evening before and stop at a business hotel.

It’s cold (January, remember) – don’t expect balmy sub-tropical Okinawa. We’re fairly north here and Korea’s not far away, though the Kuroshio current does warm the sea a bit. On the first of January it snowed in Fukue and there was still some on the ground in patches when we arrived on the 2nd. On the 3rd we had a bitter cold wind. Generally it was cloudy  with occasional sun which did warm things up if you were out of the wind. They get a lot of wind here. Occasional gaps in the clouds which let through dramatic rays of sun also seem a feature which fits in nicely with the Spiritual imagery. (Most visitors come in summer.)

typical dramatic lightPublic money has been spent here: there are many bridges and tunnels, and the ferry terminals are warm, spacious, shiny and super-clean. (Use the toilet there while you have the chance.) The northern Kami-Goto area has its own smart airport which now looks out of use. Still, off the nice new main roads you have these narrow twisty lanes with many hairpin bends that lead to tiny fishing villages with even narrower streets. There are buses, but you’ll probably need a car to get around so make sure you rent a little one, especially away from Fukue island. The islands are bigger than you might think. You’d need a couple of weeks to cycle around so a car is pretty much essential – rent is around ¥4500 a day.

Many shops, museums etc. are closed till 4th January – be careful travelling at new year. Fukue has seen better days. Arakawa hot spring (where we stayed two nights) obviously used to jump – there are many bars and ryokan now closed, leaving just two ryokan and two minshuku, all pretty run-down looking. It was the whaling apparently, and the fact that Arakawa was a refuge for fishing boats when the weather was bad, so the sailors would drop some of their (relatively good) pay there. This all ended some 30 years ago. Our ryokan is in an 80-year-old wooden building which is full of character but in need of repair in many places. The dinner is pretty good though, with an abundance of locally caught fish.

Many Group Homes for the elderly – there seems to be another one on every corner. At first we thought it was good service by the local government, but later heard they’re all privately run. The aging population must mean there’s a good market.clouds, sea, islands...

Moving north to Kami-Goto for three more nights – these islands are very mountainous and incredibly complicated with oddly shaped inlets and peninsulas (check Google Maps). You get amazing scenic views at every corner. It must be gorgeous – verging on breathtaking – in summer. The water is crystal clear, so you can see right down to the bottom, just like Okinawa. Somehow I like the atmosphere here in the North more than Fukue –  it seems a bit livelier.

Our minshuku here “Katayama” is in a little fishing village like dozens of others we pass on our first day, though maybe a bit scruffier than some. Old fishing nets used as fences. Katayama is at the end of a decrepid wharf but the house itself is a typical Japanese wooden farmhouse, ie rather nice, and the lady who runs the place (Mrs. Katayama?) keeps it very clean and pleasant, decorated with flowers and her own patchwork. A very friendly, positive, person who clearly takes a personal interest in her guests. Katayama's ownerShe cooks good food too, mostly based on vegetables she grows herself and fish from the port down the road. For example, dinner on Saturday night was buri teriyaki, tofu, oden with delicious daikon, carrot and home-made konnyaku, four kinds of sashimi followed by freshly made tempura then rice, pickles and soup with sea bream head. I may have forgotten something. Everything was good.

There are camelias everywhere, especially on the northern Nakadori island. The oil used to be an important local product but now apart from tourist souvenirs it seems to be mostly used in the rather special local noodles “Goto udon”. They are slimmer than standard Japanese udon noodles with a pleasant smooth texture and come in a broth made from dried flying fish, called “ago dashi”. Quite good actually.

The crime rate is obviously low. Our rented car is waiting at the ferry terminal in Nakadori, unlocked, with the key in the ignition! “Come to the office to pay any time you like” they said.The camelia flower is a recurring theme.

There really are a lot of churches here, especially in the North, often standing above a tiny village at the end of one of those twisty back roads. I think the current overall Christian population of the Goto islands is around 20%, but in some of the outlying villages it’s more like 95%, which is certainly unusual for Japan. None of the churches are much more than 100 years old, because Christianity was strictly forbidden, and very cruelly repressed, during the Edo period. Some are quite modern, but most are very simple in design, often plain white, with equally simple interiors that feel more Protestant than Catholic. Much more than when visiting temples or shrines, I feel as if I might be intruding in someone’s private space.

When we switch on the car ignition a little panel on the dashboard reads “Hello Happy” and when we open the door to get out it says “See you, good-by.”

We drive up to the top of Nakadori Island, via numerous churches, up a narrow neck of land that’s more like a submerged mountain chain, to the lookout point at Tsuwazaki, where you can look out over a stretch of sea studded with dozens more islands. I can see smoke coming from behind a hill on one of them. That evening the TV news mentioned a fire in the area…

The next day, to Hinojima, over a couple of big bridges, way over to the west. There’s a little village there, now half-deserted, with a beautiful 100-year-old school building that’s now used, if at all, for summer camps or something. With a couple of broken windows, it definitely needs some care and attention, which it won’t necessarily be getting… Just behind are a rather nice temple and shrine. The temple, Genju-in (源寿院) has a Buddha image, several hundred years old, which is only displayed every 33 years. It was originally pulled from the sea in a fishing net!! Could it have drifted over from Korea?

Dejima wharfBack in Nagasaki with a couple of hours before we have to head to the airport, we sip a glass of wine on Dejima wharf and enjoy the lights of the harbour as the day draws to an end. While it’s not exactly warm, it is (just) feasible to sit outside, which is not at all the case in Nagoya at the moment. What I like about eating in Japan – even in touristy spots like this there’s no service charge, no added tax, and no tipping. Four drinks at 500 yen each, one pizza at 1050 yen, total 3050 yen. That’s it. (Nagasaki‘s a very nice place, and well worth a visit in itself in warmer seasons.)

I took a lot of photos. You’ll soon get the somewhat grey atmosphere, but even in winter weather it was a good trip.

 

Farmlog November & December 2012 6 March, 2013

Filed under: countryside,places — johnraff @ 1:52 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

4th~5th

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

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

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

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

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


11th~12th

We stay in Nagoya. On Monday, visit Tanigumi.


18th~19th

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

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

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

Min. temp. 0°C, max. 15°C


25th~26th

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

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

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

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

Min. temp. -1°C, max. 11°C


December 16th~17th

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

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

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

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

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

Min. temp. -5°C, max. 10°C

Jakko-in Photos:

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