Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Farmlog 20th June ~ 23rd August 2010 27 August, 2010

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:55 pm
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Whew – a monster update to try and get back in line with the real date, so I can post other stuff without feeling guilty about not doing the farm stuff. Just for the record anyway:

20th June

  • HUMIDITY is the theme now. Dark clouds hang overhead and water just seems to exude from the air in big drops every so often. In fact when it’s like this a bit of rain can be quite a relief.
  • It’s the Longest Day and even in Japan, with no Summer Time, the evening is light till after 7:00. I wonder when they’ll get it about the electricity savings, to name just one thing…
  • There’s a Toyota subcontractor’s factory we drive past, and usually even though it’s Sunday a bunch of guys are gathered round the forklifts having some kind of Important Meeting. Meaningless ritual, unpaid overtime, or an important social bonding?
  • No police at their favourite speed trap when the weather’s as bad as this.
  • Planted out the last of the chilli seedlings – some habaneros. Too late really, but we’ll see how they get on in the Summer. Habaneros like heat…
  • Weeds just grow and grow, and managed to get in a bit of cutting, sweat filling my eyes, before heading back to Nagoya to meet a friend at a favourite izakaya.
  • Min temp 15°C max 29°C

27th June

  • This is the kind of day that gives the Rainy Season a bad name. Even just after taking a shower your eyelids are stuck together with sweat. A bit of rain would be nice…
  • Stopped off in Kimble on the way out. A fascinating place with second-hand goods, factory surplus stock and the like where you can pick up a china candlestick or Christmas tree decorations for 10 yen… Sometimes they have imported Korean beer-surrogate at 70yen a can which isn’t too bad.
  • The house out in Gifu was still quite cool inside as the hot sticky air hadn’t yet got in. Opening a cupboard door was like opening the fridge!
  • Monday was even hotter, with some big drops of rain for 10 min or so.
  • The first dragonflies showed up – several different kinds. Maybe we’ll see some fireflies next week?
  • Min temp 12°C max 28°C

4th July

  • Funny weather. Half-cloudy, slightly less humid at first, slightly cool breeze, scorching hot sun later…
  • Swollen rivers from the recent rain.
  • The lady at the ¥100 stand heard monkeys nearby, and said the fruit harvest wasn’t looking good this year.
  • Stars and a few fireflies.
  • Unexpected blue skies on Monday.
  • Mostly weed-cutting. Who was it that said about sculpture the secret was to remove the undesirable part, and leave the desirable part? That’s my weeding policy. If you just cut down everything it’ll all just grow back, so I try to leave some plants that I think are preferable in the hope that they’ll prosper and suppress the baddies. Well it sort of works to some limited extent. There are so many kinds of grass growing out here, including “susuki” the pampas grass that people grow in parks and gardens in Europe. Here it’s a virulent weed – a member of the bamboo family so it’s really tough.
  • Min temp 18°C max 31°C

12th July

  • Drizzley start to the day, torrential rain later.
  • Tiny field mice are trying to take over the house.
  • No fireflies… 😦
  • Min temp 18°C max 29°C

18th July

The Rainy Season is officially over!

  • Beautiful cotton-wool summer clouds.
  • When we opened the door there was a pool of water in the entrance. Not a roof leak, but condensation! The floor surface is kept cold by groundwater a couple of metres below.
  • A nice cool Sunday evening – Monday was hot though with an occasional cool breeze.
  • We drove back to Nagoya in the golden light of a late summer afternoon. There were anglers in the river – after ayu maybe.
  • min temp 18°C max 30°C

25th July

  • ATSU~I! must be the first word foreign summer visitors to Japan learn. It means hot. Sometimes being outside in the sun feels just like standing a few centimetres away from one of those heat lamps.
  • The mint growing outside always seems to get a kind of disease in the summer – the leaves turn black and wither away. It recovers in the autumn fortunately, and meanwhile we can use the stuff growing on the veranda in Nagoya, which is OK for some reason.
  • A cool evening – almost cold in fact! Nearly full moon.
  • A clear Monday morning: the kind of day which gets hot later, and this one did.
  • The 15th July is a special day on the old calendar (doyou no ushi) when you’re supposed to eat eel to maintain your strength to cope with the heat. Maybe it would work… grilled eel tastes good anyway, a bit rich perhaps.
  • min temp 20°C max 33°C

1st August

  • Hot and humid again. 😐
  • This hot weather has been hitting the vegetables, especially leafy things like lettuce and cabbage which have been going up in the supermarkets. At the 100 yen stand too there aren’t the huge piles of cucumbers and eggplants we usually find at this time of year. What there is, though, is good. Tomatoes, chillies, eggplants, cucumber and the mysterious myoga have been soaking up all this sun and have a wonderful Summer fragrance!
  • An amazing bumper crop of mini tomatoes. They’re really easy to grow – just put a couple of plants in the ground and they’ll spread out all over the place. The skin can be a little tough, but they taste good – the crows and various small rodents enjoy them too, but so far don’t seem to have found these, maybe because they’re almost hidden among the weeds.
  • Some beautiful big black butterflies visiting the nozenkazura flowers.
  • I’ve learnt the purpose of eyebrows. They’re to keep the sweat from dripping down into your eyes. Not quite up to the sort of sweat generated by this heat though…
  • min temp 20°C max 32°C

8th August

This was just a quick drop in with our friends visiting from the Netherlands, before going on to Shirakawa village.

The plants seem to be doing OK, but I forgot to check the temperature. Sorry.

15th August

  • Drove out in the continuing intolerable sticky heat past an undertakers advertising discounts for advance bookings…
  • There’s something wrong with the Pacific high pressure area this year. Usually it sits right on top of the country and brings a month or so of hot, but clear and somewhat less humid weather. This year it’s more off to the east, and moist, no wet air is coming round the edge from the south. Something to do with a La Niña effect in Peru apparently, but the humidity is extreme – the floors are wet with condensation, we get attacked by leeches each week…
  • This week some small animal found the mini tomatoes and ate the red ones. Just made a hole in the side and ate the contents, so it was quite a small animal.
  • A bumper crop of myoga this year – maybe it likes the rain.
  • min temp 22°C max 30°C

22nd August

  • Yes, more heat and humidity, even at this altitude of some 430m.
  • Sato imo (taro) plants growing everywhere on the way here, looking well in spite of the heat. I wonder why they’re so expensive in the shops?
  • Maybe we can live on myoga instead?
  • A mysterious hole just in front of the house, started a couple of centimetres across but seems to have got bigger this year. I wonder what lives there?
  • First red chillies of the season!
  • min temp 20°C max 33°C

The first red chillies of the season.


Takemi Zakura 30 April, 2010

Filed under: countryside,customs — johnraff @ 2:17 pm
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The "Takemi Zakura"

The mountains of Japan are full of wild cherry trees, at least where they haven’t been replanted for timber. Most of the year they’re hidden away, but in April suddenly there’s blossom everywhere – some beautiful trees you had no idea of.

One such is just above the entrance to a tunnel on the way back to Nagoya from our country house – a big old cherry that has its moment of glory for a week or two every year. We thought it was our private discovery but a couple of years ago some local friends cleared the trees from the area around it, built some stairs, seats, railings etc and made it into a little park, with an annual hanami party, which we went to a couple of weeks ago.

the teahouse is gone...

Apparently this isn’t a wild cherry after all – it has some history. Before that tunnel was built the road used to wind through a pass over some hills above it, right past that tree. There used to be a tea house at the pass, and the cherry was planted outside. It’s now some 300 years old, and the tea house is long gone, but, with a little treatment from a tree doctor, now looks set for a good few years more. From that spot, if it’s a clear day, you can get a beautiful view of Mount Ontake, the holy mountain, so a local politician gave the tree the name Takemi Zakura “mount-viewing cherry” – fair enough, though most people had been calling it the cherry on the pass or something like that…

Check the prices.

It’s still a fairly quiet local type of event, but elsewhere in Gifu there are some famous sakura that attract hundreds of visitors, so maybe ours will be one of those some day. Meanwhile they sell beer and yakitori at more or less cost price just so people will come. Weather was less than perfect this year, but on a sunny day it’s a very nice way to spend an afternoon or evening.


Beef Wars 9 April, 2010

Filed under: food & drink,news — johnraff @ 10:44 am
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In the paper and on the radio yesterday, now on TV today: the “beef bowl” chain Yoshinoya have cut their main standard bowl from ¥380 to ¥270 for a limited period, and the two other big chains, Matsuya and Sukiya, are taking it down to ¥250. ( All these “something-ya”… “ya” means “shop”, also in Nagoya. ) Cooked beef on rice is qite tasty really, much better than a Mac in my humble opinion, and was already quite cheap anyway.

Yoshinoya has been around for years – I would drop in sometimes after drinking beer till 3:00 back in the days… (They’re open all night.) The other two are newer, but I wonder if there’ll be a limit on how low prices can go around here?

We’ve got deflation, folks.


Farmlog 8th March 2010 20 March, 2010

Filed under: countryside,food & drink — johnraff @ 2:19 pm
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Another cold, windy and cloudy weekend. Sunday evening we had “kasu jiru” – a warming stew, based on “saka gasu” which is what you have left over after fermenting rice and squeezing out the sake. I wonder if Marmite is something similar from yeast after making beer? Anyway the brewery whose sake we stock in Raffles, Takagi Shuzo, also sell sakagasu and it’s better than what you’d buy in the supermarket – comes in a firm but pliable lump and apart from using it in soups and stews you can make a sort of sweet dessert or flatten it out a bit, grill it and nibble it with sake (or beer, but maybe not wine?). I think it would go with cheese too but haven’t tried that yet. Kasu Jiru’s pretty good – apart from the sakagasu base, you put in chunks of salmon, carrot, leeks, “konnyaku”, soy sauce… a very nice winter dish.

A bit nearer Nagoya the “ume” (plum?) blossoms are out already, but up here our trees only have one or two so far. One year our ume were so late they came out together with the cherry blossom, which is usually several weeks later. Even so, Spring is on its way, sort of.

Finished digging up the chilli field, which I should have done last Autumn of course, so the frost could break up the soil and kill the pests. Now it’s time to put the indoor greenhouse together in Nagoya so I can plant the seeds. Chillis need 25°C or so to germinate, which they wouldn’t get till the end of April normally, so to give them a long enough growing season they need some artificial heat to get them started.

Min temp -0.5°C, max 16°C (!)


Revisited 8 August, 2009

Filed under: food & drink — johnraff @ 3:07 pm
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“Hey, this place hasn’t changed a bit!” …and it was true – a typical Japanese izakaya with a counter, a couple of small tables and some tatami space at the back. The interior is mainly brownish wood, a bit like an Amsterdam “brown cafe”, with the odd beer poster covering some of the sprayed-on wall stuff, a TV in one corner, a “maneki neko” in another to welcome in customers, and a blackboard with a selection of food to order with your beer.

Typical, that is, of izakaya about thirty years ago, when I used to frequent this place along with other members of Daihachi Ryodan, which I’d just joined. Right in front of a college it was always packed out, but since the students moved out of town things have quietened down a bit, which might be just as well since the owners are now 78 and 80-something, although still amazingly lively. Even more amazingly, the menu on the wall looked just the same as I remembered it, including the prices! (Of course Japan’s just been through a long periiod of deflation, but even so…) Great food too. Fresh broad beans, squid tempura, beef salad… simple but tasty.

I think izakaya like that are a major Japanese contribution to civilisation and at that time there was one on every street corner, but now you really have to search around, especially for a “Mum and Dad” type, privately-owned place. 80% of the eating-out market in Japan is now taken by 10 companies, who are offering something a notch above junk food. Nearly everything is cooked in factories and carried out to the shops in trucks to be microwaved or put in the fryer. They’ve got the technology down so that it doesn’t taste all that terrible, but it’s the same everywhere and the staff are all working to some Manual so there’s no human contact at all. The remaining 20% is shared out between places like Raffles and, what seems to be the current trend, sort of “neo Japanesque” restaurants with modern decor and “international” cuisine.

Another few years and you’ll have to go to the nearby “Showa Village” theme park to find places like our rediscovery, so in the meantime I’d better make a point of getting over there more often!


It’s an ill wind… 10 February, 2009

Filed under: food & drink,news — johnraff @ 1:58 pm
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Maybe somewhere in the back of the Magic Castle there’s a secret doorway through to another, happier, dimension… Anyway escapism is obviously making money these days as Tokyo Disneyland reports record profits. It’s also high up on the list of popular employers for university graduates, can you believe?

Another company making incredible money these days is MacDonalds. Ugh! Apparently their new 100 yen (about a dollar – bit more these days) menu has been really successful. Our waitress says some of her friends often go there when money is low. I hate MacDonalds, but if they had 100 yen MacBeers…


… again? 10 January, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — johnraff @ 1:13 am
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Watching our usual news programme on the box today just before opening up the shop, and as usual there was a promotion where some company offers a free sample of their latest product for the first so many viewers to send in a postcard. I suppose it’s good market research or something, and occasionally I might have got a case of beer if I’d been quick enough to read the address off the screen. I keep meaning to get a postcard ready for such times…

Today the “present” was 20 packs of Toyota Museum Curry.

Er, … what?  As you know, Toyota is a huge car manufacturer based at Toyota City, just down the road, and they’ve got a museum just outside Nagoya, with cars, I suppose. “Oh yes”, says T, “the Toyota Museum cafeteria’s curry is famous.”  (!)

So, having gone into the red for the first time since the war on their car sales, I suppose Toyota have decided to diversify a bit.


About 7 May, 2008

Filed under: — johnraff @ 5:16 am


Hi folks. I’m from the UK, been living in Japan (Nagoya) a while and will be writing about things that interest me from time to time. (food, beer, music, gardening, politics, computers, languages…) Somewhere between the world of geishas, samurai and ninjas, and the manga-tech bubble of Akihabara and Harajuku there’s the Japan where most of us live, Japanese and Gaijin too, and that’s the zone where this stuff comes from. I hope you might find some of it vaguely interesting.

Don’t expect too much incisive analysis or up-to-the-minute breaking news.

Don’t expect too much…

Country Place

Raffles’ Restaurant

Daihachi Ryodan


To check out older posts try the “categories” section on the right, or the search box just below it to search for some keyword.

(Names of private individuals have been changed, except when they can be considered to be in the “public domain”: politicians, business owners etc.)




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