asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Farmlog May 2012 4 September, 2012

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:32 pm
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5th~7th

  • Our last customer leaves a bit early so we set out at ~11PM Saturday night.
  • Coming up our road, a medium-sized animal jumps out and gets hit by the car. Tanuki? Arai-guma?
  • About 2AM there’s a thunder and tornado warning on the radio. Lightning nearby but no tornadoes.
  • On Sunday the unstable atmosphere continues, with rain till late afternoon. There’s been big tornado damage in Shizuoka prefecture.
  • Do some weed-slashing and get a big leech on my thigh. Ugh. Luckily it hadn’t started sucking blood, but still quite a job to get it off. Those things are really tough, as if they were made of rubber.
  • A bit too chilly to have dinner outside. A nice full moon though.
  • Monday is beautiful with hot sun and a fresh breeze. (lots of UV)
  • All through Golden Week we hear of mountain accidents on the radio, with numerous fatalities, mostly people over 60.
  • I get the weed-cutter out – first time of the year, and I have to clean the air filter to get it to start. Still, after 25 years it’s not doing too badly.The new growth is soft and lush and my boots get well spattered with green debris.
  • Bamboo shoots are coming up – I can make some pickle and curry.
  • Min. temp. 4°C, max. 24°C

13th~14th

  • Leave Nagoya late on a gorgeous day, spoilt somewhat for me by a stinking cold.
  • Only “new” onions in the supermarkets now. Delicious in salads, but too watery for making sauces.
  • Swallows’ numbers are decreasing apparently – modern buildings don’t have the shape they want for their nests – but there are a couple of families under the eaves of one of the shops we call at.
  • A big gang of aging bikers pass the other way. Once they retire they won’t be restricted to Sundays for their outings.
  • A perfect evening to eat outside, but with my cold I don’t want to inhale wood smoke so we pass. Ah well. It turns out to be quite chilly anyway, and the house is still nice and dry. When the Rainy Season hits it’ll be good and damp.
  • Monday morning is paradisiacal (except for my cold) with a clear sky,fresh breeze, new green leaves everywhere, the buzz of an occasional insect and the call of the uguisu.
  • Myoga shoots are coming up.
  • In this dry weather the leeches seem to be keeping a low profile and I can do some weed-slashing without loss of blood.
  • It’s nice weather for lizards – they’ve been around a while now already.
  • We dig out a couple more bamboo shoots.
  • Min. temp. 6°C, max. 21°C

20th~21st

  • A hazy warm day. I got up late so we leave Nagoya after 1 PM. At time like this you notice how long it takes to get out of town, even heading northwards which is the shortest way to the countryside. Finally after a good hour, passing Inuyama we are suddenly surrounded by greenery. The fresh pale spring leaves are already getting their full colour.
  • Even so, we get to the house in time to do a bit of digging before it gets dark. The chillies will start being planted in a couple of weeks.
  • I don’t get up at 6 AM to see the annular eclipse of the sun.
  • Monday is scorching hot, but the breeze is still fresh.
  • The remaining bamboo shoots have all been eaten – wild boar?
  • The ojisan from down the road has taken out his deer trap – no luck?
  • Min. temp. 6°C, max. 23°C

27th~28th

  • It’s hot!! Summer is on its way.
  • We stop at the “road station” and buy baby turnips (these are delicious), a bag of red radishes, 2 big white radishes and some bamboo shoots. The leaves are wilting but after an hour in cold water they plump up incredibly – even more the next day.
  • Rice planting is well under way in fields we pass.
  • Open the front door, and inside the house is nice and cool – not damp or mouldy at all. This will change soon enough…
  • There’s some thunder at the end of the day, but it clears and we have dinner under the stars. Thai squid salad, whole new potatoes deep-fried with soy dressing, crispy “age” tofu fried slowly in a little oil and eaten with grated ginger, and some of that bamboo shoot, stewed and topped with dried fish flakes. Accompanied by a cheap but enjoyable Chilean white wine. A feast. I feel lucky.
  • Monday starts out nice – shorts and T-shirt weather – but at 1:00 we’re visited by big clouds and thunder. We hurry to put away the futons which have been airing outside, and T quickly finishes planting out the goya seedlings she’d brough from Nagoya. At 1:30 it starts raining, there’s lightning, then heavy rain. The temperature suddenly drops some 10°C and my T-shirt feels ridiculously inadequate. The rain changes to hail, which gets bigger, maybe fingertip size. At 1:32 there’s a tornado warning on the radio! At 1:45 the hail stops, leaving our valley full of cold mist. At 1:55 the sun comes out, but it’s still quite a bit colder than before. T’s freshly planted goya seedlings have had all their leaves ripped off. Apparently in the USA they get hail the size of baseballs in some places, but this was a first for us.
  • Min. temp. 8°C, max. 25°C

 

 

Farmlog April 2012 3 September, 2012

Filed under: countryside,seasons — johnraff @ 7:16 pm
Tags: , ,

1st~2nd

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

8th~9th

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

15th~16th

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

22nd~23rd

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

29th~30th

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

Farmlog March 2012 20 June, 2012

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:24 pm
Tags: , , , ,

4th~5th

  • Rain all the weekend – cloudy and depressing just like back in Britain but… it’s getting warmer. Spring is coming.
  • While the plumber is round fixing those burst pipes we discover that our boiler is leaking. It’s 26 years old so it’s not all that surprising, but the new eco-boiler will set us back some ¥250,000…
  • Yamada san drops in. You might have an image of the Japanese as incredibly smartly dressed at all times, but he’s an exception to that stereotype. Today’s attire is a pair of nondescript slacks, what look like old carpet slippers and a down jacket that’s stuck all over with little bits of black insulating tape. (Presumably there were holes underneath.) He’s a great guy.
  • Min. temp. -4°C, max. 11°C

11th~12th

  • The Japanese like marathons! To me running is something you do if being pursued by a large dangerous animal, and not otherwise, but amazingly there seem to be people who actually enjoy it, and there are many events here involving this kind of self-torture. Apparently the pain causes the body to release endorphins, which give you a high… Anyway, Sunday this week is the date of yet another Nagoya Marathon of some kind and to avoid the traffic jams we head out of town on Saturday evening after Raffles closes. As we leave at 11:00PM the temperature is 9°C but while we’re driving through Nagoya it soon drops to 6.5. The town looks different from its usual Sunday midday mode of course, and there are long queues in front of the ramen shops. Only the ramen shops though. We arrive at our place in the hills at 1:00AM and -2°C. While sleeping, try to stay in the warm zone of the futon.
  • Sunday is beautiful with a clear blue sky but a cold, going on icy, wind. Spring starts suddenly here and though all we have so far are a few daffodil and tulip shoots (will the deer eat them?) it’s as if it’s taking a deep breath before bursting into full bloom. Later in the afternoon it clouds over as the weather forecast promised, and at 3:30PM it starts snowing. We wrote off the Winter too soon.
  • Of course Sunday is 3/11, one year after the Tohoku disaster which killed nearly 20,000 people and disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands. There are still more than 300,000 people in temporary accommodation, many without work and unemployment benefit running out. (It’s only paid for a limited period here.) There are some 23 million tons of debris still to be disposed of, although some of it floated out to sea and is now reaching Hawaii.
  • The emperor is barely out of hospital for a cancer operation, but went up to Tohoku to give a speech. I’m sure it was appreciated. Now, records show that the showa emperor (the current emperor’s father) shared some responsibility for the conduct of the last war, but basically since the Meiji era the emperor has been a figurehead, living relatively simply on a public budget, and still quite popular.
  • It snowed again on Sunday night and Monday morning is white. A bit less cold though.
  • The new boiler came with a 38 page instruction manual.
  • I’m busy clipping our tea bushes – not so much because we plan to pick and sell tea, but because if you leave tea bushes alone they grow into trees several metres high. If we ever wanted to sell the property it might possibly be better to have the tea bushes in working order, so to speak.
  • Min. temp. -2°C, max. 12°C

18th~19th

  • A gloomy wet Sunday, but at least it’s warm. It’s been a long cold winter but this seems to be Spring at last.
  • Nakagawa-san the plumber calls and has time for a chat. It seems local businesses are even off than in Nagoya, if anything. A beautiful thatch-roofed building on the main road is due to be demolished. It was a drive-in restaurant, but the new motorway to Takayama has drained off all the business. (Minshukus in Shirakawa are feeling the pinch too, because the new highway means there’s no longer any need to stop overnight.) Nakagawa-san gives us our key back, and his bill. It’s 300,000 yen. This isn’t great news, to be honest…
  • Do some more tea-clipping. The shears need oiling and the squeak seems to be getting responses from a nearby bird.
  • Monday is cold again and I’m getting numb fingers – spring’s like this – but the cherry blossom will be out in two weeks or so!
  • There are flags out in front of the shrine at the bottom of the hill, ready for the matsuri tomorrow. It’s usually on a nice spring day, but this year’s might be chilly. We’ll miss this one, but sometimes it’s on a Sunday so we can catch it.
  • Min. temp. -5°C, max. 10°C

25th~26th

  • Yet another unpleasant Sunday! The Winter’s back and the wind in Nagoya is biting. Rain and sun alternate all day and as we get near the house there’s snow on the ground in places! Inside, and it starts snowing again. This is very late – usually the cherry blossom is coming out in Nagaoya around this time.
  • No fukinoto? Too cold? Taken by someone/something?
  • A little bit of tea clipping before leaving early to see “The Iron Lady” back in town.
  • A van drives past selling laundry poles – two for ¥1000 – the same price as 20 years ago. The fact is, everything is the same price as 20 years ago. Or cheaper.
  • Min. temp. -2°C, max. 10°C

 

Farmlog February 2012 18 May, 2012

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

I’ve been jotting down notes each weekend on bits of paper, so they just need to be typed up and posted on the blog. So why is it May already? I could have just kept these notes and used them next year I suppose… Anyway:

5th~6th

The recent fierce cold lets up a little bit and we have a regular grey winter day. Our bit of Gifu missed the blizzards and most of the snow on the road has melted. We get to our house, relieved that it’s not as freezing cold as last week, and find that there’s no water.

Of course we drained off the system before leaving last week, but somewhere in some corner a bit of water was left and froze solid. We’ve got a fairly powerful oil fan heater that I move to the outhouse where the pipes come in from the well to the boiler, and in an hour everything is warm to the touch, but there’s still no water. Last week’s hard freeze must have got down further into the ground than usual. I hope the pump that fetches the water from the well isn’t broken.

Give up and go back to Nagoya? I’m somewhat inclined that way, but we decide, having come this far, to brave it out with water from the stream for cooking and washing. There’ll be no bath though – we can call at the onsen on our way home again.

Monday brings rain, but not enough to melt the blockage. The forecast says it’ll be cold again in a couple of days, so maybe we won’t make it up next week. Fingers crossed. We leave early and go to see a film in Nagoya.

Min temp. -10°C max. 2°C


26th~27th

(2 weeks have been skipped because of the frozen pipes and a Daihachi Ryodan gig.)

That cold has finally eased off a bit, but it’s a sort of grey Sunday again. OK the snow has melted, but water spurts out of some crack in the bath tap. Have to call the plumber who’s busy fixing everyone’s burst pipes. It really has been a cold winter this year.

A late-night visit to the outside toilet before going to bed – look up to see a bright red Mars going down in the West.

Monday is sunny, but the wind is freezing cold. Winter hasn’t let go after all. With no hot water and no bath we’re going to stop off at that onsen on our way home again, but meanwhile there are two buckets of organic refuse to be added to the compost pile (vegetable peelings etc from Raffles’) and a new laundry pole to be cut from a long piece of bamboo. Numerous other jobs remain undone.

Min. temp. -8°C max. 10°C

 

An evening in the country 19 April, 2012

Filed under: countryside,food & drink,people — johnraff @ 1:32 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

We had invited Yamada san over to our place for a drink, but, a couple of days before, he called up to suggest his place instead. It turned out to be a much better evening than the Cold Sake Debacle of last year.

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

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

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

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

 

Farmlog January 2012 11 April, 2012

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 1:55 am
Tags: , ,

8th~9th

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

15th~16th

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

29th~30th

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

Farmlog December 2011 31 March, 2012

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 1:15 am
Tags: , ,

With party bookings at Raffles and the like, we only got out to the farm twice last December. Details:

11th~12th

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

18th~19th

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

Nagiso to Nojiri 10 March, 2012

Filed under: countryside,places — johnraff @ 2:32 am
Tags: , , ,

It’s fairly easy to get out of Nagoya and into some nice countryside, especially if you head North towards Gifu and Nagano prefectures. A Sunday last November (yes, I know I could have posted this a bit earlier) we took advantage of a cheap weekend railway ticket to get on the Chuo line out to Nagiso in the Kiso region. The Nakasendo, along with the Tokaido, is one of the two roads that used to link Edo with Kyoto. While the more famous Tokaido ran along the Pacific coast, the Nakasendo went through the mountains, and sections of it still exist in this area, sometimes with the original stone paving. It’s usually easy walking, and a good way to get some nice scenery and a bit of history…

Nagiso station is full of middle-aged ladies with rucksacks, checking out the tourist pamphlets and souvenir stands, but most of them get on the bus that goes to the more famous Tsumago down the road. The walk from Tsumago to Magome is a very popular section of the Nakasendo, and an enjoyable three hours or so, but today we head North towards Nojiri. The main path follows the Kiso river, more or less with the current Route 19, but there’s an alternative called the Yokawado which goes through the hills instead. Apparently this was used when the Kiso flooded, and for a hike it’s a more attractive option. Nagano prefecture have been quite good about putting up signs, and it’s not long before we’re above the town looking out over the Autumn hills.

Quiet. There’s hardly anyone around, we pass through a couple of almost empty villages – surrounded by electric fences to keep out the deer and wild boar – and the only people we run into are a foreigner+Japanese couple walking in the opposite direction. There are no drinks machines of course, so if you try this you’d better take a bottle of something and a couple of sandwiches or rice balls.

The weather wasn’t perfect, but the countryside was beautiful and when we picked up our train home from Nojiri in the late afternoon the Yokawado seemed just about right for a day’s outing. A few pics…

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Eiheiji and Ichirino hot spring 11 February, 2012

Filed under: countryside,places — johnraff @ 3:12 pm
Tags: , , ,

This was a weekend trip at the end of last October – up to Fukui prefecture on the Sea of Japan side of the country. We had bad luck with the weather, it’s usually beautiful at that time of year, and indeed was just before and after, but on our two days we had cloud and drizzle… ah well, it didn’t really spoil things that much.

First, to Eiheiji. This is a huge Zen temple in the hills, and a major tourist attraction which even used to have its own railway station. The souvenir shops sell Zen T-shirts. I suppose Lourdes might be like this, maybe even more so. Even so, this is still a functioning temple and all over the sprawling complex of buildings there are young monks, polishing the floor, weeding the gardens or cooking in the refectory. Is tending an immaculate little garden inside a temple in the mountains where only monks and visitors will see it a waste of time? OK so what exactly isn’t a waste of time? Spending an hour or so walking around – didn’t take any photos – on the way out we passed through a hall hung with some inspiring messages from the founder, in English as well as Japanese. Buy a T-shirt on the way back to the car. Here are some nice photos, and two other peoples’ descriptions of the place.


On to Ichirino hot spring resort. Not a historic spot really, but a collection of buildings at the foot of a ski slope. There’s no snow yet, and anyway the ski boom is over, so the place is empty. When I first came to Japan, “minshukus” were houses, usually in the country, where people lived but had been adapted to take guests – something like Bed and Breakfast (though usually dinner is included too). These days they tend more often to be purpose-built, with a bit less atmosphere and “at home” friendliness than in the Good Old Days. Our place, chosen almost at random after a web search, turned out to be good (Yukiguni-so if you’re in the area). A bit scruffy but clean and run by friendly people.

The obasan who runs the place with her husband and daughter was really friendly, and an incredible hard worker. She’s up to all kinds of stuff: in the woods behind the place she picks “nameko” mushrooms, walnuts, “tochi” nuts and “warabi” fern shoots. They also grow “zenmai” ferns, “shimeji” mushrooms, beans… The food is good, but sadly the cafe at the front is empty.

The next day we’re given some walnuts and set off to take in Mount Hakusan on our way back to familiar Gifu prefecture. In spite of the gloomy weather the scenery is stunning. The autumn colours are just right and waterfalls in the narrow valley the road takes up the mountain are beautiful. Crossing through all this scenery, when we come down on the other side, somehow it all has a more familiar look. Fukui was a foreign country compared with our usual Gifu. What was it? The plants? The shape of the hills? And of course the houses are different too, once you get down to human inhabited zones.

Our own house is still intact, and we drop in to pick some more chillies on our way back to Nagoya.

 

Farmlog November 2011 31 January, 2012

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 1:53 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Please bear with me as I try and get up to date here. I suppose these records are as much for my own future reference as anything else really. December 2011 will follow soon.

6th~7th

  • It’s amazingly warm and humid for November, but looking like rain.
  • No speedcops out in this bad weather.
  • Ikemoto san’s floor needs the sawdust and general debris cleaning off before putting down the futon, but the vacuum cleaner leaves marks. The wax, or whatever it was, is still not completely dry. How long will it take?
  • A big caterpillar on the “nozenkazura” tree. The leaves are yellow and dropping off so there can’t be too much to eat up there.
  • T picks more and more persimmons – 300 this week! We’ve got this big book on traditional medicinal plants, and apparently the green frills at the base of the fruit are good for something – high blood pressure? You ferment them for five days, strain off the juice, put it in a bottle and bury it up to its neck in the ground for several months.
  • Pick the last chillies before the frost hits. Out in the field with just the background music playing in my head. It’s 60s stuff – Cilla Black’s “Anyone who had a heart” then Shocking Blue’s “Venus” finally a bit more recent with Steely Dan’s song about grapefruit wine. “No static at all”??
  • Min. temp. 7°C max. 19°C

20th~21st

  • Last week we stayed in Town, and it’s got quite chilly in the last two weeks, but sunny on Sunday.
  • In Kimble we buy some dishes, look at the incredibly cheap second hand furniture and pick up a free DVD of the film “Lost in Translation”.
  • The supermarket is running out of “Mugi to Hoppu Black”.
  • Is the Beaujolais Nouveau boom finally petering out? They used to fly it in so the Japanese could enjoy their easternmost position to be among the first people in the world to drink the new brew – at a price of ¥1800 a bottle or more. It’s not really worth that price, but now they’ve started using lightweight plastic bottles and we got one for ¥880. It turned out to be not so bad – immature, rough, funky… but enjoyable, from a producer I hadn’t heard of. (which isn’t saying that much)
  • The frost is late, and the chilli plants are still alive.
  • Monday brings a cold wind, fast-moving clouds and a bit of sun.
  • Pick a few last chillies. There are lots of those hot “Ishigakis” left, still alive though starting to look a bit sad. The frost will kill them soon, maybe tonight.
  • Lots of birds around, but all sensible creatures are bedding down for the Winter.  (or dead)
  • As we leave the house, the temperature’s down to 6°C, which is quite cold after the Japanese Summer and Autumn.
  • On the road home two dogs in front of us – no, monkeys! They soon get out of the way.
  • Min temp 3°C max 17°C

27th~28th

  • Autumn has come to Nagoya too, though at 16 it’s a bit warmer and very pleasant. The gingko trees on the sunny side of the street have turned bright yellow. Out in the country they can grow quite big and look very impressive.
  • “Vacant” and “To Let” signs on buildings everywhere.
  • A huge semi-nude poster advertising jeans (all she’s wearing) by a bridge on the road out. After a year or two it’s faded a bit but still sort of distracting.
  • A long queue outside McDonalds, like last week.They’re giving away free hamburgers or something.
  • The first strawberries of the season in the supermarket. To me, strawberries are a late Spring/early Summer thing but here they’re an essential of “Christmas Cake”, which for some reason is a strawberry sponge cake with whipped cream, not the rich dark fruit cake with icing and marzipan that I know.
  • By the time we get to the house it’s down to 5°C and cold. The pump that refills the oil heater’s tank is broken – an insect got in and built a nest. Manage to fill the tank somehow.
  • Yes, last week’s frost got the chilli plants. Season over.
  • A gloomy cold Monday and it’s hard to get  out of the kotatsu after breakfast. It turns out to be warmer outside.
  • min temp -1.5°C, max 10°C
 

 
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