asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

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 October 2011 21 December, 2011

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

Town Birds 2 September, 2011

Filed under: city — johnraff @ 2:47 pm
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We had another visit by the bulbuls yesterday – they drop in every now and then. Only one this time and he just flitted around our tree a couple of minutes, said a few words and went on his way. The grand project to concrete over this planet has meant less and less room for other creatures, and even in my lifetime things have changed quite a bit. Twenty five years ago or so, here in Nagoya you could hear the uguisu‘s warble in the spring for a few days till he went on to the hills, but no more. There were swallows who built their nest under the eaves of a restaurant right on the corner of a busy crossroads near here, but they gave up when the place was done over a couple of years ago. Even so, there are still a few birds who come round to our small garden quite regularly. The bulbuls have been regular visitors this summer, turning up once a week or so, but they aren’t the only ones.

The sparrow is supposed to be disappearing from cities worldwide, but they’re pretty common round here, drinking the water from the dishes under our plants on the balcony and checking out the plants for insects, seeds or whatever it is that sparrows eat. Pigeons quite often come round in the spring to coo from a top branch of our tree. They are not T’s favourite bird, they leave big splashes of droppings on our entrance path and she doesn’t like the cooing either. Last year they tried to take over the bulbuls’ nest after they were finished with it, and this year built one of their own. Usually if you give the tree a good shake it will scare the birds out of it, and repeated a few times seemed to get rid of them last year, but this time they were more determined to stay put. Eventually I got a long bamboo pole and was just able to knock the nest down from our upstairs window. There were already two eggs in it, which got broken of course. This was why the pigeon in the nest had been so obstinate. I felt quite bad about it, and the pigeon looked heartbroken, sitting on a nearby power line for a while. They haven’t been back since, so I suppose they finally got the message.

Top of the food chain are the urban terrorists, the crows. Even we humans give them some respect – apart from being big, with long sharp beaks, they’re pretty intelligent. In the cities they’ve taken over, it’s pretty easy to make a living so they have free time to get up to all kinds of mischief. A while ago they were making more noise than usual and I found a whole load of them sitting on the power lines opposite our place, having a major conference or something. Then I looked down and saw a dead one on the road just below the electricity pole. Did it get electrocuted? Were they holding a funeral? Anyway, when you see them close up they’re big – getting on for the size of a chicken! They are really ravens rather than crows, I suppose.

Our favourites, though, would have to be the bulbuls. They’re not pretty or anything, and their voice isn’t what you’d call mellifluous, but they seem sort of friendly, and have taken to building their nest in our tree for the last few years. Apparently they prefer to build near human beings because it helps to keep the crows away. This year they took ages about it, but eventually a couple of chicks were hatched and left the nest at the end of June. A bit early, we thought, they still looked a bit small sitting in the tree branches and that evening there was an enormous downpour. The next morning T saw the parent birds flying anxiously around the gap between our place and next door. We feared the worst: did the rain wash the chicks down? Did one of the local cats get them? That seemed to be it.

However, a week later there were a couple of bulbuls sitting on a low branch of our “basho” tree, looking at me with their heads on one side and saying something. I don’t speak bulbul unfortunately. They looked a bit small to be the parents, so maybe the chicks survived after all? The same birds (I’m presuming they’re the same) have been back at irregular intervals throughout the summer, just for a couple of minutes, then off again. Is it the same pair who build that nest every year? Is it the same family? Has our tree just been marked as an OK place for bulbuls in general?

 

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

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:31 pm
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Two in one to catch up a bit.

15th ~ 16th May

  • After a wet week, it’s sunny and hot again, going on scorching in fact, though the breeze is still cool as we get out into the hills of Gifu.
  • At last all the rice has been planted out in our area. This year they seem to be using every available square inch of land – are they anticipating a rice shortage this autumn with the fields of Fukushima knocked out?
  • Peas and broad beans: up till last year or so the fresh ones were sold in the supermarket in packets so tiny you could count them, at a ridiculous price, but now they’re more plentiful for some reason. Are the imports of Chinese frozen vegetables being replaced locally? Anyway rice cooked with peas is very good. Just throw in a handful and cook them together.
  • Our other dinner item was san sai tempura. San sai means “mountain vegetables” and means the delicious wild shoots you can pick in the spring. Dinner outside wasn’t quite as cold as last week but still a bit chilly.
  • Checked the woods, and got two more bamboo shoots.
  • After listening to the Lebanese legend Fairuz on the radiowe had a programme of hogaku, or traditional Japanese music. While many other countries have a rich musical tradition – Indonesia, Brazil, the USA… – Japan too has quite a variety of less well-known genres: Hogaku, Minyo, Enka, Kayoukyoku…
  • Min. temp. 5°C max. 23°C

22nd ~ 23rd May

  • A foretaste of the tsuyu rainy season – humid and hot in Nagoya, chilly at the farm.
  • Cobwebs are the theme as we arrive, everywhere you move, there’s one in your face.
  • Many bird voices, but still no uguisu – I wonder what’s happened?
  • The weeds are growing at an incredible rate, but it’s raining so no weeding done.
  • T picked some tea from the fresh shoots on our bushes. Most of it goes unused, but lately she’s found you can dry it with a microwave so we can drink some of the produce of our plantation. This is less ecological than sun-drying I agree, but much quicker.
  • Min. temp. 6°C, max. 28°C.
 

Farmlog 8th~9th May 2011 19 May, 2011

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

Farmlog 15th November 2010 10 December, 2010

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

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

Wild boar dropping.

Wild boar dropping.

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

deer droppings

Deer droppings.

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

half-eaten chillies

Left by our furry friend.

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

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

Min temp. 1°C, max. 13°C

 

maple leaves in November

A maple in front of the house.

 

 

 

Animals again 9 November, 2010

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 3:05 pm
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The last couple of weeks there have been news reports of bears. Appearing in all kinds of places they shouldn’t – the other day a lady came home to find one in her kitchen – and sometimes attacking people. These are big dangerous animals with sharp claws and teeth and people sometimes get killed. This would have been unheard of a few years ago when all the bears were in the north of the country, but wild animals are becoming a problem in the countryside.

Life with things lurking in the bushes has been a regular theme around here though. The first year we arrived there were some nice yams growing in the field, of which I dug up some and left the smaller ones to grow next year. No such luck – the wild boar got to find out about them, and dug all the rest up. We had regular visits from them – they are strong animals and dug big holes in the ground, throwing large rocks about the place. When all the yams were gone, over a couple of years, they tried bracken roots but I think they must have found everything that wild boar like because they don’t come round so much these days.

The big menace these days (apart from worrying about bears) is the deer. Their numbers are increasing apparently, and they eat any young shoots and leaves they can find.  We never used to have any problem at all growing all kinds of things but these days I usually find fresh droppings around when we arrive on Sunday, and anything not inside the 3m net I put up to keep them out will get munched as soon as it appears. Other attackers in the past have been monkeys – they go for things you can pick like pumpkins or eggplants, so with the deer on the leaves and boar for roots they’ve got everything pretty well covered. Oh yes, there are crows who like tomatoes too. Other more harmless creatures that have shown up around the place are rabbits, fieldmice, weasels (or are they stoats?), tortoises, toads, snakes, pheasants, grouse (?), tanuki, and probably others I’ve forgotten…

What’s going on? Well, there are various reasons apparently – a big one must be the post-war boom in forestry when a lot of the natural forest was replaced with spruce and cedar plantations: dark dreary places where nothing grows, and nothing can live. This is made worse because there’s no longer any money in it, so everything’s neglected and tangled up with dead branches. Another is that as the rural population dwindles – all the young people moved out to the cities and those who are left are getting old – the villages are also half-abandoned and the area between vegetable fields and forest, the so-called satoyama, is reverting to wildness, so animals can get right up to the fields. Again, there are fewer hunters around now. Young kids aren’t attracted to all the blood and entrails that go with it.

Although the weather seems to have been getting warmer for a while now this summer in particular was very hot and the crop of acorns and other things that bears and their friends like was bad. Bears have to have a good feed before they hibernate, so have been forced to check out peoples kitchens.

There are hungry bears in the woods.

 

 
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