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

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 3:01 pm
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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 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.
 

Raw Beef 20 May, 2011

Filed under: food & drink,news — johnraff @ 2:54 pm
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The Tartars have a lot to answer for. I don’t know if you have “tartare steak” where you live, but minced raw beef, possibly mixed with onion, and topped with a raw egg is a standard menu item in many countries in Europe and America. The story is that the Tartars brought the dish to Europe as part of the Mongolian invasion. I don’t know whether the Tartars are supposed to have invented it themselves or got it from the Mongols, but it’s interesting to note that at the other end of the Mongolian sphere of influence, in East Asia, there are things like steak tartare too. Laos and Thailand have a dish called laap (or larp or laab) which is minced, sometimes raw, meat with herbs and spices, Bali has something called lawar, and Korea has yukhoe. This is definitely raw beef, and there are other elements in Korean culture to suggest Mongolian influences, so yukhoe could well be a Far Eastern version of Tartare steak.

Korean food is popular here in Japan too, especially grilled beef (pulgogi in Korea and yakiniku here) and recently yukke, the Japanese take on yukhoe, has been a very popular side dish. Of course Japan is the land of raw fish, so nobody gets too worried about raw beef – in fact I’ve had beef sashimi a few times and it’s quite good if the beef is of decent quality. That is, until a couple of weeks ago. The last two weeks the TV news has been full of reports about a spate of food poisoning cases at a yakiniku chain, where people had eaten the (very cheap at ¥280) yukke. A lot of people ended up in hospital, and four died. Food poisoning isn’t only about vomiting and diarrhoea.

 

Body chemistry or something 20 April, 2011

Filed under: food & drink,places — johnraff @ 1:54 am
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I’ve just got back from three weeks in the UK. It’s the place where I was born and grew up and I love it; the buildings that were intended – in contrast with earthquake-prone Japan – to last for years and years, the green green grass everywhere even in winter, the TV, the humour, the relaxed mixture of cultures you now enjoy, the warm beer, and, yes, even the food.

All that said, I’ve now been living in Japan for 35 years – more than half my life – and my body must have adapted in some way. Maybe it’s the air, maybe the water: I don’t know but this morning my breakfast – the same fruit + yogurt + muesli + pot of tea I was having while in Britain – just tasted so good.

 

Farmlog March 6th ~ 21st 2011 26 March, 2011

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:11 am
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“No time for trivia like this” you’re probably thinking and you’re right really, but these “farmlogs” are meant to be some kind of long-term record of what was happening in the countryside, as much for my own future reference as anything else, so please bear with me.

6th ~ 7th March

  • Some “ume” (plum?) blossom out near Nagoya, but the buds on the trees in front of our country place are still hard.
  • Called in at Kimble again. Quickly walked past a shelf-full of “hand shredders” next to the thai-speaking eggs, but came across a guitar: an Aria Pro 2 Magna for ¥7300 which didn’t seem too bad, and a possible improvement on the one I had, so took a chance and splashed out the cash. There was also a stack of cheap “third beer” type synthetic “happoshu” (look those up if you’re curious), so got a case for casual after-work drinks.
  • At the supermarket we picked up a nice bottle of wine for dinner – a dry but fruity Sauvignon Semillon white from Chile. 500ml PET bottle for ¥298! Actually it wasn’t bad.
  • Birds to welcome us. More than last time.
  • Monday was cold.
  • Min. temp. -5°C max. 11°C

20th ~ 21st March

  • Missed last week for a Daihachi Ryodan gig.
  • Sunday mild and wet; ume and peach blossom out around Nagoya.
  • Listening on the car radio to the latest about the unfolding nuclear drama at Fukushima. It seems to be under some sort of control, but we don’t really know… The tragedy in Tohoku is far away from here but the effects are starting to be felt all over the country. Petrol prices have already gone up, for example.
  • Hardly anything on sale at the hundred-yen stall. Are the animals getting it all? Are the people getting too old?
  • Will this rain stop in time for the local festival tomorrow?
  • Deer droppings are everywhere, along with bits of hair – Spring moulting?
  • A wasabi plant by our back door has put out some new leaves. A few fuki shoots have come up here and there too. We used to have lots, but maybe picked too many – or have the deer eaten them?
  • The festival on Monday was a bit subdued. Out of respect to the earthquake victims they kept the rituals down to a minimum.
  • Min. temp. -5°C, max. 14°C.
 

Questions 26 October, 2010

Filed under: incidents — johnraff @ 1:48 pm
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It’s quite natural to be curious about visitors from other countries – when I was in India many years ago people would often strike up a conversation and ask where I was from, what my religion was… Generally enjoyable, and if their English was up to it I’d be able to get in some questions of my own. The inquisitorial approach reached a peak one day on a local train in South India when some high school (or university?) students were in the same compartment, curious about me but couldn’t figure out how to ask what they wanted to know. Discussions followed, and eventually I was given a piece of paper with… a form to fill in! Name… Occupation… Address… I suppose they’d seen foreigners being made to fill in forms everywhere and thought that was the proper procedure.

So when I got to Japan and a young salary man came up on a train and asked if he could talk for a while I was really disappointed when after the standard “What is your name?” “Where are you from?” “How old are you?” had been answered it was “Thank you very much.” and off he went! No actual conversation at all, just some questions he had learnt somewhere. I don’t know if he even understood my answers. I soon came to recognize this as a pretty normal encounter. These days many peoples’ English ability – and, I like to think, my Japanese – is quite up to a real exchange of ideas, but that kind of formalized interaction is still the norm I suppose.

A young student came into Raffles the other day, and because the place was pretty quiet at the time we got chatting. Turned out he’d spent 3 months in Manchester and because his English was pretty good we switched languages. Then comes “May I ask you a question?”. Expected “Can you use chopsticks?” or something but got “What is the purpose of your life?”.

 

 
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