asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Farmlog 7th ~ 29th August 2011 28 September, 2011

Filed under: countryside,food & drink — johnraff @ 1:50 am
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7th~8th

  • A real Summer day for once: blue sky, summery clouds… and a blazing sun! It’s hot! The first supermarket car-park is scorching in the way only a supermarket car-park can be. The asphalt soaks up the sun so you get grilled from above and below simultaneously.
  • But by the time we get to the second supermarket – there are now two on our route – it’s already clouded over and extra humid. The cicadas are hitting a peak.
  • This week there are lots of nice fresh vegetables at the ¥100 stall so we stock up for Raffles and for ourselves: long shiny black eggplants and round green ones, various kinds of capsicums, perfect cucumbers and delicious tomatoes. Tomatoes show up less often these days so we’re lucky.
  • It’s cool when we leave the car at our house and there’s a chorus of welcome from the cicadas and uguisu. After a bit of work, though, the humidity gets you covered in moisture. Likewise the floor and tatami.
  • I had been a bit worried if the deer had got to the chillies, but they were OK. Not, however, the yams, which had had all their leaves eaten off by some animal. Saw a “mamushi” snake while fixing the hole in the netting the leaf-eater had probably come through.
  • On Monday there was more fierce hot sun and that humidity again, so it’s hot even in the shade. Half a dozen different insect voices fill in the background.
  • Bitten by leeches on wrist and toe. These creatures are affecting our quality of life here. Not in a positive way.
  • A baby rabbit appeared round the side of the house.
  • Min. temp. 19°C max. 32°C

13th~15th

  • We took an extra day off this week so we could take in the firework display at our local town on Saturday. This was our Summer Holiday but it was OK actually. Will post some pics of the fireworks soon. Anyway, we’re thinking of a trip somewhere at New Year maybe, when it’s easier to take time off.
  • A blazing hot Saturday, as it turned out. This is real summer heat – up to now was just a sort of extended Rainy Season – the humidity’s still too high though.
  • Traffic jams everywhere because this is the weekend just before “Obon“, but Nagoya is quiet. We catch some of the traffic on the road out, though.
  • The first supermarket car park is a furnace, unbelievable.
  • Unpack, a quick snack and it’s time to head down town for the fireworks, armed with fried chicken, “edamame”, beer and non-alcoholic “beer” for T who’s volunteered to drive.
  • Sunday is hot too; you can’t spend long in the sun, so do some general pottering about. Take the lid off the compost to try and dry it out a bit. If compost gets too wet, which ours always does, it doesn’t ferment properly and smells pretty bad.
  • The yam leaves have been eaten again but the net looks undamaged so it might have been some small animal – a rabbit? Maybe the parents of that baby we saw last week? The grass nearby has been nibbled too, so it could be.
  • Late afternoon we’re covered over by black clouds, followed by a good half hour of continuous thunder and lightning, some of it quite close by. It rains hard for a while, then it all goes away, the sky is clear and the temperature drops by an amazing 8°C: almost chilly!
  • Dinner under an almost full moon with a splendid insect chorus. Deliciously cool. Aah… having an extra day off makes quite a difference.
  • On the radio someone plays a 15 hour special of cover versions of all the beatles’ songs.
  • The insect voices are slightly different every day.
  • T dries this year’s umeboshi pickles in the sun, then they’ll keep. Perfect hand-made umeboshi sell for over a dollar each! T’s can compete easily for taste, but there might be a couple of spots here and there. Ah well.
  • A big black and yellow dragonfly flies into and out of the house.
  • Leave early to catch a film in Nagoya – “Tree of Life”, but I was pretty unimpressed.
  • Min. temp. 19°C max. 32°C

21st~22nd

  • Sunday is cold and rainy – is this the end of the summer?
  • The first “matsutake” mushrooms appear in the supermarket. Once plentiful, these are now an expensive treat, appreciated by Japanese (including T) for the supposedly wonderful aroma. To me, they’re just another mushroom. I like mushrooms for sure, but at 2000 yen each? Yes, that’s over 20 dollars for one mushroom! Anyway, these were from China.
  • That evening a long-sleeved shirt was called for, the first time since… May?
  • Monday was better with patchy clouds and a fresh breeze, but later slipped back into the familiar mugginess.
  • Visited by one red dragonfly. Masses of these will appear over the rice paddies in autumn. Two pigeons show up, probably to check out the sansho berries, but soon leave.
  • Regular stream of lorries on our usually quiet road, carrying gravel up and timber down. Are they building another road through the mountains, on some leftover budget?
  • Min. temp. 19°C max. 30°C

28th~29th

  • We set off in some trepidation – there was very heavy rain during the week and some people were evacuated in a nearby town. Are the chilli plants OK? Is the house OK?
  • The Valor (supermarket #1) car park is the usual oven. Inside, rice from Toyama is 40% more than from Miyagi, where they were affected by the nuclear accident. It’s silly really, because this is still last year’s rice…
  • The house and chillies are OK – the rain here wasn’t all that bad apparently. Two chilli plants are down and need some support, and there’s a wet patch on the floor in our entrance. You’d swear the roof was leaking, but the ceiling and floor upstairs are perfectly dry. Is it groundwater? No, there’s a two foot deep square pit near the front door – once used to store vegetables – which is dry. It must be condensation when the moist air from outside meets the cold floor surface, but there’s a lot of it!
  • Monday breakfast of exotic leftovers. T had made a salad of fried eggplant strips, cucumber, gouda cheese and a handful of “edamame” (fresh soy beans), with an oil and vinegar dressing. Simple colours of brown, green and yellow – no flashy tomatoes or red peppers – I should have taken a photo but I was too concerned with eating it. With a slice of brown bread: delicious. We also had some leftover Inari sushi. This is sushi rice – slightly sweetened and vinegared – in this case mixed with sesame seeds and chopped myoga and stuffed into skins of fried tofu which had been stewed with sweetened soy sauce. The taste is less complicated than it sounds, and also delicious.
  • A reconnaissance flight of two red dragonflies checking the place out for the hordes to follow soon. It’s still very hot, but the breeze is hinting of autumn.
  • T picks more myoga. I must make Myoga Chicken for Raffles – a seasonal treat!
  • Listening to the DPJ leadership elections on the radio. Maehara is the most popular candidate by far, but he doesn’t get on with Ozawa who still has plenty of strings to pull, so the job goes to the more boring Noda.
  • Min. temp. 20°C max. 29°C
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Farmlog July 3rd ~ 25th 2011 27 August, 2011

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:59 pm
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Summer in Gifu continues:

3rd ~ 4th July

  • We’re late this week and arrive on a moist Sunday evening. It’s extremely humid and mouldy, even a thorough vacuuming of the tatami floor can’t get rid of the smell.
  • The insects are warming up for their summer serenade, but there’s no sign of the fireflies this year. Did the carp in the pond eat all the larvae?
  • The yams that T planted had all their leaves eaten by some animal. I found a small gap in the net round that field and fixed it. Luckily the chillies were OK.
  • Got some weed-cutting done. Lots of buyo (nasty little black flies), but no leeches, amazingly.
  • Cloudy and wet the whole weekend.
  • Min. temp. 19°C max. 32°C

10th ~ 11th July

  • Tsuyu-ake (official end of the Rainy Season) is very early this year; Sunday is hot and humid, but the clouds are summer clouds – fluffy cumulus. not the grey blanket of the tsuyu.
  • The heat persists even out in the country and our floor is still wet. Maybe it’ll dry up in a week or two.
  • A bumper ume harvest. Something like a sour plum or apricot, this was originally imported from China as a medicine apparently, but is long-established in Japan. This year the tree branches are bent down with fruit and we pick 15Kg in an hour or so. Apart from umeboshi pickles and umeshu liqueur, you can make a drink by just putting them in a jar with rock sugar for a few weeks. Mix the syrup with water – good on a summer afternoon.
  • Saw a single firefly!
  • Monday continues hot and humid, but sometimes there’s a refreshing breeze – quite different from Nagoya, where any wind will have blown over acres of sun-baked concrete and comes on like something from an open oven door. We also had a visit from the uguisu, which was thoughtful of it.
  • Min. temp. 15°C max. 33°C

17th ~ 18th July

  • Typical summer clouds and humidity – a baking supermarket car park.
  • Shiso is a herb that looks a bit like a nettle – maybe a relative of basil? It comes in green and red varieties, the green is good in salad-type things and the red is used for umeboshi pickles. They both have a clean smell and antiseptic properties, but this year apparently everyone’s had huge ume harvest so there’s a shortage of red shiso. Eventually the lady at the 100 yen stand was able to get some for us. T has a lot of work ahead and I suppose we’ll be OK for umeboshi for a while.
  • Voices: a noisy welcome from birds and cicadas. In late afternoon come waves of synchronized blips from some kind of cicada, slipping in and out of phase like an op-art painting, moving up close, sometimes down the valley. The effect is very psychedelic. The morning cicadas do a continuous stream of sound that just blends into the humid heat. Just after dark there’s a strange cry from somewhere behind the house. A deer? A dog? Different insects take over in the evening – is autumn starting early? In the morning we hear a new bird – a voice I haven’t noticed before.
  • The humidity continues unabated. There are still some wet spots on the floor. A light haze softens the sun’s heat a bit.
  • It’s been a dry week but there’s a typhoon coming so we should get some rain.
  • But… no leeches! Could they be finished? Lots of lizards though. They’re much nicer than leeches let me tell you.
  • Min. temp. 18°C max. 33°C

24th ~ 25th July

  • Pleasantly cloudy on Sunday so the supermarket car park on the way out is less bakingly hot. That sun can hit you like a hammer.
  • Vegetables: lots of eggplants – I’ve already made a (very nice) eggplant pickle though. Some tomatoes. One place on our route has especially nice tomatoes from a local grower but they’re often sold out. No cucumbers. Why? They’re expensive in the supermarkets too. (We now have two supermarkets to check out on our route. )
  • The big Malaysian chillies aren’t doing well at all. Maybe the soil in this year’s field doesn’t suit them. Maybe I let them grow too big in their pots before planting? They looked so vigorous in Nagoya… The small hot varieties are doing OK though.
  • The house is slowly drying out, but there are still damp patches. Not wet though.
  • The insect chorus is building up.
  • The nozenkazura (Chinese trumpet vine) is in full bloom and looking good.
  • Lorry-loads of timber coming down from the hills. Are they building a road somewhere?
  • Pampas grass is a weed! People grow it in their gardens in Europe, but here it’s almost impossible to control. Keep hitting it with the weed-cutter: three times a year for three years they say. Or try glyphosate – that seems to work.
  • Next week Daihachi Ryodan play at the Ichinomiya Festival which might be fun, but means we miss a weekend here.
  • Min. temp. 18°C max. 29°C
 

Farmlog May 29th ~ June 27th 2011 6 August, 2011

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 3:01 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Aah… it’s been a long hot summer so far, and August has only just started. Meanwhile we’ve been going up to our country place most weekends coping with the damp, leeches and wild animals trying to eat the things we grow, but totally failing to record all the fascinating details. Now an attempt to start catching up a bit:

29th ~ 30th May

  • Typhoon Number Two. The first to have an effect here and it’s very early – usually they don’t come near mainland Japan till August or so. If you watch CNN or BBC news or something you’ll hear these storms referred to by names, like hurricanes, but here they only have numbers. Bit dull, but anyway the combination of typhoon #2 and a cold front means rain!.
  • All this means huge quantities of warm moist air coming up from the south, while inside the house it’s still cool and dry from last week so we don’t open the windows.
  • No speed police on duty – they only come out when the weather’s nice.
  • Yamada san came over for a drink. He’s an old friend of Nakai san, the previous owner of our house, and his place was where we enjoyed that cold sake… He brought round Hasegawa san who keeps cows for “Hida beef”. (I wonder if he’s still doing OK with all this radioactivity scare?) Anyway a most pleasant evening.
  • T picked more tea. We’ve got enough bushes and most go pretty well neglected, but lately we’ve been drinking T’s home-made stuff and it’s not bad really.
  • Monday was fresh and clear, and a nice breeze blew through the house.
  • Work! Everything seems to be behind, and the chilli field is late while the seedlings in Nagoya are getting impatient to be planted out.
  • Min. temp. 10°C max. 22°C

5th ~ 6th June

  • More damp and sticky weather in Nagoya and when we got out to Gifu it was damp and sticky there too. That evening it rained, which might have wrung some of the water out of the atmosphere because…
  • I was woken by the uguisu to a beautiful clear Monday morning. Perfect. So the uguisu hadn’t completely abandoned us!
  • Work! Being away a bit in the spring, combined with my general indolence, has meant everything is behind. Every time it rains the weeds grow another foot or so, but with the chilli field to dig up there’s been no time to get the cutter out.
  • Leech paranoia. These are a new addition to the wildlife – even the local people have no experience with them and get nasty bites. Apparently they have been brought down from the hills by the deer and wild boar. It’s hard to concentrate on your work when any moment there might be a small dark brown worm-like creature getting ready to suck the blood out of your arm or leg. You don’t feel a thing at the time because they inject some kind of anaesthetic, but afterwards it can swell up and get really itchy for a week or more. T heard that tobacco water can help keep them off, so she collects old cigarette ends at Raffles to make our own leech repellent. I’m not quite sure how well it works though.
  • The deer ate all the flowers off the hydrangea bush behind the house. T was not best pleased.
  • Min. temp. 10°C max. 25°C

12th ~ 13th June

  • Sunday was wet and oddly chilly, so I got some digging done.
  • Saw our first snake of the year. We’re not exactly infested with them, but there are some around. Mostly harmless though…
  • Monday was hot, humid and… busy again, digging, planting out the first chilli seedlings and putting up some provisional nets to keep the deer off them.
  • More leech paranoia. Check your Wellington boots.
  • Another brief visit by the uguisu.
  • Min. temp. 13°C max. 25°C

19th ~ 20th June

  • Humid and sticky in Nagoya (of course!) but pleasantly cool in the hills, and still dry inside the house. It got wet on the floor on Monday though from the damp air we let in.
  • The uguisu was waiting to welcome us but didn’t stay around very long. It came back on Monday afternoon, so I suppose it must have nested somewhere in the area, but not as close as usual.
  • The heavy humid air carries the sweet smell of some blossom somewhere.
  • The chillies I planted last week are OK (phew!) and I quickly put up some proper deer nets – three metres high they have to be.
  • Around midday on Monday it rained, and something started quacking. I’ve never seen a duck around here, maybe it’s a frog? Half an hour later it turns out to be a crow, sitting on the power line opposite, still quacking. What does it mean? I keep meaning to look into the language of crows.
  • Finally got the rest of the chillies planted out amid mud and leeches. Ugh! Have I mentioned that this isn’t my favourite season of the year?
  • The mighty task of hacking down the jungle of weeds still remains.
  • Min. temp. 11°C max. 24°C

26th ~ 27th June

  • Another cloudy hot humid Sunday in Nagoya, but nice and cool in Gifu, with a bit of rain.
  • The chillies are surviving.
  • Finally got the weed cutter out, to find that it wouldn’t start.Hmm… dug the manual out from a shelf in the store cupboard, cleaned the spark plug – no good, cleaned the filthy piece of plastic sponge that passes for an air filter – ah that did it!! On reflection it must be quite a while since that had any attention – I think I was afraid taking it out of the carburetor would make it disintegrate, but it survived being carefully dipped in petrol and wrung out. Now the little engine needs a quite different choke setting from before, but it seems quite lively and I could finally cut some weeds! Only a start, but it’s a start.
  • No fireflies that night – too early?
  • Monday – cloud/sun/rain…
  • Humidity! My floor runneth over. Really it’s wet in the kitchen and entrance, but it’s condensation, not groundwater.
  • Picked some ume (sort of plum/apricot). This year seems to be a bumper crop. A little tree we brought out from Nagoya ten years ago is now laden with fruit.
  • The plastic compost bin got rained on and filled with water. That doesn’t help proper fermentation at all.
  • More weedcutting on Monday.
  • Paid our local taxes on the way home. It’s not very much at all.
  • Min. temp. 18°C max. 29°C (notice how the temperature’s gone up?)
 

Farmlog 8th~9th May 2011 19 May, 2011

Filed under: countryside,food & drink — johnraff @ 2:31 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,
  • 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.

 

 

 

Farmlog 7th November 2010 22 November, 2010

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 6:03 pm
Tags: , ,

Arrived just after two on a clear but chilly afternoon. It had been quite hot just an hour ago on the way up, but once the sun goes behind the trees opposite the house it cools right down. A quiet time sitting with a cup of tea listening to the sounds – a couple of determined crickets, a distant bird, a solitary bee – or hornet – somewhere, but mostly the stream at the bottom of the garden. At this distance it has a somewhat dry sound, but closer up it’s beautiful, mellifluous and musical, something like a bamboo gamelan.

We could well have some frost next week, so this might be the last chance to pick some chillies. There are still a lot left, especially the little hot “ishigakis”. They’re really nice, with a good heat and wonderful fresh aroma, but it would be hard to turn growing them into a commercial proposition. To pick a kilo takes the best part of an hour.

Minimum temp. 0.5°C, max. 18°C

 

Farmlog 17th October 2010 21 October, 2010

Filed under: city,countryside — johnraff @ 2:22 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,
  • A late start out of Nagoya because I took in a tap dance (!) performance in the afternoon. Came out into the last red glow of a city twilight – quite poetic with run-down showa-era bars and noodle shops, acres of neon lights taking over and lots of small bats harvesting the insects attracted to the street lights.
  • Sushi for dinner. Mackeral pickled in vinegar is good just now – in the Autumn as the sea gets colder the fish get oilier, and tastier. They used to be a real bargain at ¥100 each or so for a big fish; these days it’s more like ¥400 but still one is enough for two people.
  • Final trip out to the outhouse at 2am and the crickets are still going strong – a last fling before the cold sets in…
  • Next morning a nervous inspection of the deer net round our chillies, and this week it’s OK 🙂 Have they finally given up?
  • Picked a basketful of the hot “Ishigaki” chillies. They’ve done quite well in this year’s hot Summer although I should have planted them earlier. Growing’s not so hard, but it takes an hour or so to pick a kilo because they’re so small. Hardly a commercial proposition.
  • An endless procession of concrete mixers pass the house on their way to connect two small villages up the road with an 8-lane highway.
  • There’s something about the air on Autumn evenings that carries smells long distances so there always seems to be a hint of woodsmoke. The other day closing up Raffles I was sure I could smell the yeast of a brewery, though the local one closed up several years ago…
  • Min temp. 8°C max 23°C
 

 
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