asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Farmlog August 2012 29 November, 2012

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:17 pm
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5th~6th

  • At the farmer’s stall on the way out we get some wonderful tomatoes at ¥100 a bag!
  • Sunday starts sweltering but later clouds over just as the forecast said, and at about 5PM we get a thundershower which cools things down a bit and moistens the parched ground. It hasn’t rained for a week but still manages to be humid somehow. Anyway the mini-tomato and chilli plants seem to have been enjoying the heat.
  • A nice summer insect chorus builds up as afternoon slides into early evening.
  • On Monday the unsettled weather continues – it starts out sweltering but we get another vaguely refreshing thundershower at around 1PM. In Nagoya they’re getting torrential rain and tornado warnings! I hope our house is OK.
  • Pulling weeds among the wet tea bushes I finally encounter a leech, but escape being bitten.
  • Min. temp. 20°C, max. 33°C

12th~15th

Our Obon holiday.

A muggy start – we’re promised thunderstorms but in fact it clears up towards late afternoon in Gifu.
Yamada-san and his brother-in-law come over bringing those iwana he promised, from his pool. They’re too small to grill “shio-yaki” style so they get floured and fried instead. Really good. Later a distant cousin of Yamada’s (their grandmothers are sisters) shows up with a mamushi in a bottle! It seems he was called over to a neighbour’s because her garden was full of them. They caught five and he thought there might be more!

What you do with a mamushi:

  1. Put it in a bottle of water (alive!) for a couple of weeks, till it’s insides are clean. It will still be alive.
  2. Discard the water and pour in 40% “white liquor” (flavourless spirit for making fruit liqueurs etc).
  3. After a while you’ve got “mamushi-zake” – you can drink it as a tonic, but more often it’s rubbed onto sprained muscles etc – something like “snake oil” maybe?

One of the mamushi had got killed so Yamada decides it must be eaten. He skins it with his thumbnails(!), puts it on a grill and holds it over the fire till it’s crisp. We nervously nibble at it – it’s OK, a bit like a small dried fish. I avoid eating the head in case there’s still poison left in it.

Yamada drinks whisky these days because beer is full of purines which are bad for his gout. We thought his brother-in-law was a bit younger than us (I’m 62) but it turns out his 70th birthday is coming up in a week or two! Everybody round here looks about ten years younger than they are.

Yamada now refers to himself as the Snake Doctor.

Fireworks in the Rain.

Monday brings more of the unsettled weather. There’s a load of warm moist air coming up from the south, running into a cold air mass just about here, with the result of cloud, incredible humidity, intermittent sweltering sun and thunderstorms. Usually a Pacific high pressure area holds all this off in the summer but this year’s is a bit weak and they’re getting record rainfalls all over Japan. However, the rain sort of holds off in the afternoon, and we hear that the annual firework display down in town hasn’t been cancelled, so go down to check it out. By the main street there’s a concert with local rock bands, hula dancers and a bossa nova singer but after half an hour we go on down to the riverbank, put our mats down on the wet tarmac, open a can of happoshu and wait for the display to start at 8:00.

The fireworks are OK, though lightning on the other side of the mountain opposite is offering some competition, and there are fewer people watching than most years. Water slowly starts to come up through the mats. Around 8:30 it starts raining. The rain gets stronger, we give up and by the time we get back to the car it’s pouring. Drive back to the house in almost continual lightning, soaked. A bath and a change of clothes puts things more or less right. It was an experience, as they say.

Tuesday brings more of the same, weather-wise. In the breaks between rain there’s just time to go out and get bitten by two leeches.

Wednesday brings yet more of the same. We have to keep a can of flyspray by the kotatsu to keep the biting insects under control. (It doesn’t work though.) When the weather’s nice we hate to have to go back to Nagoya, but today will be OK. It’ll be hot back there but at least we’ll be dry and less itchy.

Min. temp. 17°C, max. 30°C


19th~20th

More of the sultry sweltering we’ve come to know and love… Intermittent cloud fails to take the edge off the heat. Rain looks imminent but we don’t actually get any, and things start to improve at the end of the day. At night there’s a skyfull of stars and it’s pleasantly cool – quite a novel feeling.

The chillies are coming on – they like the hot weather and respond in kind. I picked a couple of big green ones for a salad and even after roasting, peeling, deseeding and sitting in the dressing for half an hour they were still fiercely hot. T’s mini-tomatoes are doing well too – they’re quite easy to grow. A pumpkin seed sprouted from the compost heap and is growing huge leaves with all those nutrients – will the compost be totally depleted by the end of the season? Will there actually be some pumpkins? Will the monkeys come and steal them?

Monday morning is delightfully cool and fresh, with a few clouds dotted around the deep blue sky. As the day gets under way the sun stokes up the heat, but the humidity’s down and even at midday it’s quite comfortable if you’re in the shade. At last!! This is what summer out here is supposed to be like! (On the radio they’re saying we might have torrential thunderstorms this afternoon though.)

A bit after 12 I hear some distant thunder – odd because there aren’t that many clouds about. Five minutes later, the radio says there was a small earthquake. We felt no shaking here, but they say mountains rumble when there’s a quake…

A small wasp is building its nest in a hole in the aluminium sliding door – just by my left ear. It’s flying in and out without any concern for me, so I return the favour.

For a couple of hours in mid-afternoon the heat was becoming unpleasant… but by 4:00 it was nice and cool again. Perfect – insect voices – clear sky – this is when we hate to leave and drive back to Nagoya, but on the way home we pass rice fields golden in the late afternoon sunshine, topped with little red dragonflies. An early hint of autumn.

Min. temp. 20°C, max. 32°C


26th~27th

Sunday is somewhat cloudy but when the sun peeks through the gaps it’s hot. Meanwhile a huge typhoon is bearing down on Okinawa – I hope they’re OK.

Usually we get local vegetables at a ¥100 stand near the house, but the first supermarket we pass also has a corner for local produce, and today we buy a couple of “kiiuri”. These are small yellow gourds, slightly sweet and very nice in a salad – almost like a melon. They had some last week too – someone must be growing them in the area – not something you find in Nagoya.

Rice has been going up lately and the cunning merchants have started selling it in 8Kg bags instead of the 10Kg we’re used to, in order to hide the price rises. Do they really think people will be fooled? I suppose they must have done all the market research and come to that depressing conclusion.

Wild monkeys might sound all exotic, but along with the deer and wild boar they’re getting to be more and more of a problem to people trying to grow vegetables. According to the lady at the ¥100 stand the local council is now offering a bounty of ¥40,000 for each monkey killed by hunters. That will be hard-earned money – monkeys are clever.

Monday brings blue sky dotted with fluffy summer clouds along with a fierce heat occasionally relieved by a soothing breeze. It’s still a bit more humid than usual but things are improving, and inside the house it’s quite pleasant.

The chillies are looking good – I pick a few big green ones and a couple of the first red ones, for seeds.

Min. temp. 20°C, max. 31°C

 

Farmlog January 2012 11 April, 2012

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 1:55 am
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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
 

Setsubun 4 February, 2012

Filed under: city,customs — johnraff @ 3:00 pm
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Osu’s one of my favourite places in Nagoya and I had to be in the area anyway, so went down to Osu Kannon for the bean-throwing. Nice sunny day (though freezing cold) and the place was looking colourful and exotic with people wandering around in devil masks, a couple of ladies in full geisha attire and white makeup and some more weird costumes I couldn’t figure out at all – maybe advertising something? All thoroughly photogenic, but my camera told me to recharge the battery, and shut itself down. Ah well…

Instead I went up to the balcony where good-luck beans were being thrown and managed to catch a few in my hat. I was quite pleased with myself, but later T complained it wasn’t nearly enough. You’re supposed to eat as many beans as your age to get the full effect, but it would have meant hanging around for an hour or so to collect that many! Went in to pay my respects to Kannon-sama. The Goddess of Mercy is a boddhisatva in Buddhist terms, but also a goddess in Shinto, with connections to China and probably the Indian Avalokitesvara. There are many Kannon temples in Japan – a famous one is Asakusa Kannon in Tokyo which, like Osu in Nagoya, is in the middle of a bustling downtown sort of area; Osu has markets, second hand clothes shops, computer stores, Brazilian and Turkish restaurants, a place for traditional medicines like dried snakes, and another exotic little temple called Banshoji right in the middle of the arcades. It’s a great place to wander around.

Oh yes, bean-throwing? Setsubun comes just before the traditional lunar New Year, the name (節分) suggests changing seasons and it’s about driving out bad luck and letting the good fortune in. The beans are supposed to scare the devils away. There’s also something about eating a big sushi roll while facing in the lucky feng shui direction (this year it’s NNW). Originally just a local custom somewhere, it’s being pushed recently by the sushi roll makers, maybe taking a hint from Valentine’s day. Someone invented a “tradition” of girls giving chocolate to boyfriends, friends or even office superiors on Feb. 14th, and now that day accounts for 50% (was it?) of chocolate sales in Japan!

More about Osu here and some photos here (not as good as what I would have taken of course 😉 ).

 

2012! 4 January, 2012

Filed under: countryside,customs,food & drink — johnraff @ 7:15 pm
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Happy New Year everyone! There are still some things I wanted to post about in 2011, along with the farm records for November and December, but since it’s now 2011 let’s start off more or less in real time…

T’s nephew and his wife now live here in Nagoya; their new baby is still too small to make the shinkansen journey to Tokyo so T’s sister came here, along with her daughter. Not a bad family gathering, considering we have no kids of our own, and a table to match, with contributions from all concerned. New Year here is just like Christmas in that respect, though the traditional fare is a bit exotic for us Westerners maybe. Personally, a roasted bird with all the trimmings followed by Christmas pudding would be quite OK, but we had “kazunoko” (salted herring roe), “kamaboko” (fish cake) and “kobumaki” (seaweed rolls). The kobumaki’s not bad, but I can pass on the kazunoko and kamaboko to be honest. There wasn’t any “mochi” (pounded glutinous rice cakes, another New year favourite) but things get better after that: delicious tuna sashimi, and the super-rich “toro” as well, “ikura” salmon roe, tender grilled yellowtail, prawns simmered in a light stock, crab and mushrooms steamed in citrus peel, some Japanese style vegetables, thai style octopus salad, roast beef with horseradish, deep fried water chestnuts with parmesan cheese…  Wow, but when there was a bit of space on the table some sushi appeared, followed by something T made: “anago” eel, snapper, ginko nuts and lily roots covered with a foam of grated young turnips and egg white and steamed for 20 minutes or so. Excellent.

The next day after a slow breakfast we headed out to the country, loaded up with leftovers to see us through a couple of days. Yes, it’s pretty cold. Fire up the oil fan heater for a few hours and eventually the floor and walls are no longer ice-cold to the touch. On the third I got a certain amount of work done, disposing of compostable rubbish and pruning a maple tree just in front of the house which had grown much too big. Knowing nothing about it except to do it in the Winter I sawed off a number of big branches, and spent the next couple of hours burning them down to a little pile of ash. Now I’ve just done a google search and found out that maples don’t like having their branches cut too much… I hope it survives.

On the 4th T woke me up at 9:00. It had started snowing quite steadily and if we didn’t get out soon we might get stuck there, or at least have to put on the tyre chains, which is a horrible job. Quick breakfast, hurried packing and on the road by 10:30. It’s a cold 0°C in the hills, but back in tropical Nagoya a much more tolerable 7°C or so. Safe! (But back to work tomorrow.)

In the country, last week,
Min temp -6°C max 6°C

 

Kippers and Custard 16 November, 2011

Filed under: customs,food & drink,music — johnraff @ 2:08 pm
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It’s probably another of those “you’ve been in Japan too long when…” things when you start liking enka. Let’s face it – there’s plenty not to like. The melodies all sound the same, there are usually only two or three chords, the singers get hyper-emotional and the lyrics are mostly about broken love affairs. Still, when you think about it, all that could be said about the Blues, one of my favourite kinds of music since Clapton was reading the Beano on the cover of that John Mayall album. Enka’s another of those hybrid music forms (like reggae, rai, bhangra…), a sort of crossing of Japanese folk tunes with Western instruments, usually lots of keyboards, drums, an orchestra somewhere and a screaming lead guitar in the distance. The singers use the same kind of vocal embellishments you hear in min’yo folk, and some of them are actually quite good, once you get used to the sticky sentimentality of it all.

There’s even an American enka singer called Jero. I think his grandmother’s Japanese, but he’s a real native-English-speaking American, backwards baseball cap and everything. Really good singer though, in perfect Japanese. Now, what I’m getting to is: the other day on the car radio someone put on an enka song sung in English – not by Jero as it turned out, but by a Japanese singer. It’s on Youtube if you want a listen. It’s horrible. Doesn’t work at all. OK there might be some problems with the English translation itself, or possibly with the guy’s pronunciation, though it doesn’t sound that bad, but the basic issue is that enka just sounds wrong in English. Doesn’t work.

It’s the same with food. There are many kinds of soy sauce made all over Asia – Thai light soy and Indonesian sweet kecap manis are delicious, for example – but if you want to eat sashimi, raw fish, then nothing but Japanese soy sauce will work. It will just taste wrong dipped in anything else. Now, I have to agree that Koreans also have good raw fish, eaten with garlic and chilli paste as well as soy sauce, but if you regard that as a separate dish then my case still stands. Also for location. Now that sushi (different from sashimi btw) is popular worldwide there are “sushi restaurants” everywhere. The other week on TV there was a restaurant somewhere in Europe maybe, dark wood panelling, customer sitting at a small marble table being brought sushi on a tray by a dark-suited waiter… NO! NO! That’s ridiculous. You have to eat sushi sitting at a counter in a small place where the man who makes it is standing opposite you choosing the choicest morsels of fish from the glass case between you. Preferably while sipping sake, though beer might be grudgingly permitted.

João Gilberto once said that bossa nova had to be sung in Portuguese. Some things just don’t go.

 

Fireworks 29 September, 2011

Filed under: countryside,customs — johnraff @ 2:17 pm
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Fireworks are a feature of the Japanese summer and the town nearest our country house has a display every year in mid-August. This year it happened to be a Saturday so we took an extra day off, gave ourselves a three-day weekend, and went into town for the summer festival. There are big displays in other places, which draw hundreds of thousands of people, and our local fireworks don’t compare in scale, but they’re very enjoyable. The location is a fork in the river which runs through the town centre; the fireworks are set off from a spit of land between the two branches, and you can watch from the banks, so you get quite a close-up view, while the sounds echo off the hills around. The impact is, if anything, superior to that of a monster display viewed hundreds of metres away over a sea of people. A lot of young folk come back from their city jobs for this (fewer yukatas and more short-shorts this year) but there’s room for everyone to find a place to sit down with a view and a generally relaxed atmosphere. The finale was an incredible barrage of explosions. Was there enough air left to carry all that sound?

So the fireworks were good as usual (see the slide show below) but hardly anyone stayed for the Bon-dancing afterwards. The tunes are all from another town (the famous Gujo Hachiman) anyway. We were planning on some sushi, but they were closed, so it’s “ramen” noodles. The owner of the ramen shop seems to know everyone in town. A full moon sees us home and we have a final beer outside. There’s supposed to be a meteor shower due, but we didn’t see any.

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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.
 

 
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