asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Farmlog August 2012 29 November, 2012

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:17 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

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

Advertisements
 

Setsubun 4 February, 2012

Filed under: city,customs — johnraff @ 3:00 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

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 😉 ).

 

Fireworks 29 September, 2011

Filed under: countryside,customs — johnraff @ 2:17 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

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

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:31 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Two in one to catch up a bit.

15th ~ 16th May

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

22nd ~ 23rd May

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

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

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:11 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

“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.
 

Farmlog 10th October 2010 13 October, 2010

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:09 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,
  • Three little kids carrying a lion-dance costume around a Nagoya street corner. A local festival I guess. Some Japanese “matsuri” are thriving, but many have deteriorated to this. No-one was watching. Maybe at the end they’ll get some sweets paid for by the local residents’ association. That’s about it.
  • Interspersed among the buildings on the outskirts of town some small rice paddies turning gold in the Autumn sun. I wonder what that rice tastes like, though, marinated in car exhaust fumes?
  • Arrived at 3 to be greeted by a chilly wind that didn’t suggest eating out that evening at all. By evening, though, the wind had dropped and the insect chorus had started up and the whole thing felt much more welcoming so we had probably our last dinner under the stars for 2010. Spectacular clear skyful of stars it was too.
  • The deer had knocked the net down again. They’ve made a home in the uncut grass just outside, so I got out the cutter and cleared it down a bit, went to the wood for a bit of bamboo and grimly patched up the deer-barrier yet again.
  • A lone bumble bee going round the chilli flowers, and a big hornet in the tea bushes. Both seemed quite peaceful though.
  • Min temp 10°C max 23°C
 

Takemi Zakura 30 April, 2010

Filed under: countryside,customs — johnraff @ 2:17 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

The "Takemi Zakura"

The mountains of Japan are full of wild cherry trees, at least where they haven’t been replanted for timber. Most of the year they’re hidden away, but in April suddenly there’s blossom everywhere – some beautiful trees you had no idea of.

One such is just above the entrance to a tunnel on the way back to Nagoya from our country house – a big old cherry that has its moment of glory for a week or two every year. We thought it was our private discovery but a couple of years ago some local friends cleared the trees from the area around it, built some stairs, seats, railings etc and made it into a little park, with an annual hanami party, which we went to a couple of weeks ago.

the teahouse is gone...

Apparently this isn’t a wild cherry after all – it has some history. Before that tunnel was built the road used to wind through a pass over some hills above it, right past that tree. There used to be a tea house at the pass, and the cherry was planted outside. It’s now some 300 years old, and the tea house is long gone, but, with a little treatment from a tree doctor, now looks set for a good few years more. From that spot, if it’s a clear day, you can get a beautiful view of Mount Ontake, the holy mountain, so a local politician gave the tree the name Takemi Zakura “mount-viewing cherry” – fair enough, though most people had been calling it the cherry on the pass or something like that…

Check the prices.

It’s still a fairly quiet local type of event, but elsewhere in Gifu there are some famous sakura that attract hundreds of visitors, so maybe ours will be one of those some day. Meanwhile they sell beer and yakitori at more or less cost price just so people will come. Weather was less than perfect this year, but on a sunny day it’s a very nice way to spend an afternoon or evening.

 

 
%d bloggers like this: