Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Here it comes 6 May, 2011

Filed under: city,customs,seasons — johnraff @ 1:47 pm
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Last Friday it was officially announced that Okinawa had “entered the Rainy Season”. They’re about a month ahead of us, so the monsoon which comes up from India via SE Asia will reach us in early June. Although it’s quintessentially Japanese somehow, the “tsuyu” is the season I find hardest to cope with: humid, mouldy, sticky, damp… sure the new leaves hit new heights of green lushness but for me if it’s going to be humid and tropical I’d rather have some heat with it, and do it properly. Of course, that will come in due course, late July or so.

Meanwhile, here in Nagoya over the last few days the weather has been fantastic. Sunny skies with a fresh breeze – the kind of day when you want to eat an ice cream in the park. Lucky for all the people who have this week off: it’s Golden Week, something like a British bank holiday weekend when public holidays line up so if you take a couple of extra days off you can have a week’s break, so everybody piles into their cars, a train or plane and goes somewhere. Here at Raffles, though, we’re working through as normal. At least we don’t have to deal with the 75Km traffic jams.


Farmlog 28th November ~ 20th December 2010 10 January, 2011

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 6:58 pm
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(btw Happy New Year everyone!)

Another catchup post I’m afraid, to try and get back somewhere close to Real Time while it’s still January.

28th~29th November

  • Dropped in at Kimble on the way out of town. This time we got a little plastic egg that speaks Thai for ¥70.
  • It’s cold.
  • A big grey heron in one of the roadside rice paddies.
  • Arrived to find big holes in the ground everywhere. Obviously a visit from the Pigs – the wild “inoshishi” that sometimes come round looking for roots to dig up. They’re strong animals that toss up these big rocks about the place and generally make a mess.
  • We had to empty the water system before leaving for the first time this season. It’s pumped up from our well by electricity and comes out of taps just like mains water, but if you leave it in the pipes in winter it will freeze and burst them.
  • Minimum temp. -1°C max. 9°C

5th~6th December

  • Two beautiful sunny days this week.
  • While we were gone some surveyors came round and left little red flags around marking the boundaries with the adjacent forestry plantation. I wonder who sent them? Are they planning to cut trees or something? That would be OK for us, improving sunlight and airflow round the buildings. Or maybe the land’s going to be sold?
  • Some weed cutting on Monday. Left with nothing to do, the mind gets fidgety so it’s an opportunity for a sort of meditation…
  • min. 0°C max 14°C

19th~20th December

  • Another beautiful Sunday – mild and sunny.
  • Our communicative VW Polo likes to send us little messages now and then. This time it was something about “check cooling system maintenance” or something. It was not the first time to appear, so we dropped in at a VW garage ouside Nagoya and they soon put it down to the coolant fluid being a bit low, topped it up and sent us on our way in 5 minutes or so – free! They’d never seen us before and had no way of knowing we’d ever be back again, but that’s what you have to call service.
  • Later on it was another meaasge about petrol getting low, but by then all the local garages were closed on Sunday so fingers crossed it would last till the way home on Monday…
  • Arrive to find the house freezing cold inside after being empty for a week. Everything is icy cold – the tatami floor, walls, plates in the cupboard… so we crank up the oil fan heater and sit in the kotatsu.
  • On Monday morning it’s rainy but somewhat milder. Later on it clears up and as soon as the sun goes behind the trees it gets cold again.
  • The deer had broken through the net round the Green Zone again and left lots of fresh droppings inside. Now the chillies are finished there’s nothing to eat in there though. They just do it to annoy.
  • min -3°C max 12°C

Farmlog 29th August 2010 31 August, 2010

Filed under: countryside,incidents — johnraff @ 2:24 pm
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  • This heat is getting to people. Tempers are getting short. We stopped off at the bank again on the way out because it’s a handy location and saves making a special trip. While I was inside there was an angry car horn – I looked out to see a car pulling out of the sideroad that ours was partially blocking. This guy had smashed our door mirror and snatched the ignition key. Found the key on the pavement but T was a bit upset as you can imagine. No, she shouldn’t have parked like that, and if the radio had been turned down a bit she’d have heard the horn, but still… It was a middle-aged guy apparently, not the young idiot you’d imagine. Maybe that bank just has bad karma, for our mirror anyway.
  • It’s starting to look like Autumn. The angle of the sun is getting longer, and the insect chorus is getting more and more colourful. Different crickets and grasshoppers join in as the day moves from afternoon to evening. There’s a bit of a breeze sometimes, and at night it was almost cool. That doesn’t stop the daytime from being swelteringly hot though.
  • Drove back on Monday on a beautiful late Summer afternoon, with hordes of little red dragonflies flying over the ricefields where the harvest is just starting to be taken in.
  • min temp 19°C max 32°C

Farmlog 20th June ~ 23rd August 2010 27 August, 2010

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:55 pm
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Whew – a monster update to try and get back in line with the real date, so I can post other stuff without feeling guilty about not doing the farm stuff. Just for the record anyway:

20th June

  • HUMIDITY is the theme now. Dark clouds hang overhead and water just seems to exude from the air in big drops every so often. In fact when it’s like this a bit of rain can be quite a relief.
  • It’s the Longest Day and even in Japan, with no Summer Time, the evening is light till after 7:00. I wonder when they’ll get it about the electricity savings, to name just one thing…
  • There’s a Toyota subcontractor’s factory we drive past, and usually even though it’s Sunday a bunch of guys are gathered round the forklifts having some kind of Important Meeting. Meaningless ritual, unpaid overtime, or an important social bonding?
  • No police at their favourite speed trap when the weather’s as bad as this.
  • Planted out the last of the chilli seedlings – some habaneros. Too late really, but we’ll see how they get on in the Summer. Habaneros like heat…
  • Weeds just grow and grow, and managed to get in a bit of cutting, sweat filling my eyes, before heading back to Nagoya to meet a friend at a favourite izakaya.
  • Min temp 15°C max 29°C

27th June

  • This is the kind of day that gives the Rainy Season a bad name. Even just after taking a shower your eyelids are stuck together with sweat. A bit of rain would be nice…
  • Stopped off in Kimble on the way out. A fascinating place with second-hand goods, factory surplus stock and the like where you can pick up a china candlestick or Christmas tree decorations for 10 yen… Sometimes they have imported Korean beer-surrogate at 70yen a can which isn’t too bad.
  • The house out in Gifu was still quite cool inside as the hot sticky air hadn’t yet got in. Opening a cupboard door was like opening the fridge!
  • Monday was even hotter, with some big drops of rain for 10 min or so.
  • The first dragonflies showed up – several different kinds. Maybe we’ll see some fireflies next week?
  • Min temp 12°C max 28°C

4th July

  • Funny weather. Half-cloudy, slightly less humid at first, slightly cool breeze, scorching hot sun later…
  • Swollen rivers from the recent rain.
  • The lady at the ¥100 stand heard monkeys nearby, and said the fruit harvest wasn’t looking good this year.
  • Stars and a few fireflies.
  • Unexpected blue skies on Monday.
  • Mostly weed-cutting. Who was it that said about sculpture the secret was to remove the undesirable part, and leave the desirable part? That’s my weeding policy. If you just cut down everything it’ll all just grow back, so I try to leave some plants that I think are preferable in the hope that they’ll prosper and suppress the baddies. Well it sort of works to some limited extent. There are so many kinds of grass growing out here, including “susuki” the pampas grass that people grow in parks and gardens in Europe. Here it’s a virulent weed – a member of the bamboo family so it’s really tough.
  • Min temp 18°C max 31°C

12th July

  • Drizzley start to the day, torrential rain later.
  • Tiny field mice are trying to take over the house.
  • No fireflies… 😦
  • Min temp 18°C max 29°C

18th July

The Rainy Season is officially over!

  • Beautiful cotton-wool summer clouds.
  • When we opened the door there was a pool of water in the entrance. Not a roof leak, but condensation! The floor surface is kept cold by groundwater a couple of metres below.
  • A nice cool Sunday evening – Monday was hot though with an occasional cool breeze.
  • We drove back to Nagoya in the golden light of a late summer afternoon. There were anglers in the river – after ayu maybe.
  • min temp 18°C max 30°C

25th July

  • ATSU~I! must be the first word foreign summer visitors to Japan learn. It means hot. Sometimes being outside in the sun feels just like standing a few centimetres away from one of those heat lamps.
  • The mint growing outside always seems to get a kind of disease in the summer – the leaves turn black and wither away. It recovers in the autumn fortunately, and meanwhile we can use the stuff growing on the veranda in Nagoya, which is OK for some reason.
  • A cool evening – almost cold in fact! Nearly full moon.
  • A clear Monday morning: the kind of day which gets hot later, and this one did.
  • The 15th July is a special day on the old calendar (doyou no ushi) when you’re supposed to eat eel to maintain your strength to cope with the heat. Maybe it would work… grilled eel tastes good anyway, a bit rich perhaps.
  • min temp 20°C max 33°C

1st August

  • Hot and humid again. 😐
  • This hot weather has been hitting the vegetables, especially leafy things like lettuce and cabbage which have been going up in the supermarkets. At the 100 yen stand too there aren’t the huge piles of cucumbers and eggplants we usually find at this time of year. What there is, though, is good. Tomatoes, chillies, eggplants, cucumber and the mysterious myoga have been soaking up all this sun and have a wonderful Summer fragrance!
  • An amazing bumper crop of mini tomatoes. They’re really easy to grow – just put a couple of plants in the ground and they’ll spread out all over the place. The skin can be a little tough, but they taste good – the crows and various small rodents enjoy them too, but so far don’t seem to have found these, maybe because they’re almost hidden among the weeds.
  • Some beautiful big black butterflies visiting the nozenkazura flowers.
  • I’ve learnt the purpose of eyebrows. They’re to keep the sweat from dripping down into your eyes. Not quite up to the sort of sweat generated by this heat though…
  • min temp 20°C max 32°C

8th August

This was just a quick drop in with our friends visiting from the Netherlands, before going on to Shirakawa village.

The plants seem to be doing OK, but I forgot to check the temperature. Sorry.

15th August

  • Drove out in the continuing intolerable sticky heat past an undertakers advertising discounts for advance bookings…
  • There’s something wrong with the Pacific high pressure area this year. Usually it sits right on top of the country and brings a month or so of hot, but clear and somewhat less humid weather. This year it’s more off to the east, and moist, no wet air is coming round the edge from the south. Something to do with a La Niña effect in Peru apparently, but the humidity is extreme – the floors are wet with condensation, we get attacked by leeches each week…
  • This week some small animal found the mini tomatoes and ate the red ones. Just made a hole in the side and ate the contents, so it was quite a small animal.
  • A bumper crop of myoga this year – maybe it likes the rain.
  • min temp 22°C max 30°C

22nd August

  • Yes, more heat and humidity, even at this altitude of some 430m.
  • Sato imo (taro) plants growing everywhere on the way here, looking well in spite of the heat. I wonder why they’re so expensive in the shops?
  • Maybe we can live on myoga instead?
  • A mysterious hole just in front of the house, started a couple of centimetres across but seems to have got bigger this year. I wonder what lives there?
  • First red chillies of the season!
  • min temp 20°C max 33°C

The first red chillies of the season.


Farmlog 13th June 2010 10 July, 2010

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 12:20 am
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A grey day this time – the weather people announced that “it appears that” we have “entered” the Rainy Season. They used to make official announcements of the beginning of Japan’s monsoon, and when it had “opened” again, till one year it just went on raining all Summer and they were forced to take it back and say there had been no “opening” after all. Since then all you get is “it looks as if…” or “it might be said that…”.

A grey heron in a rice field by the road to match the clouds, but no police at their speed trap – they prefer nice weather. The drizzle started at 2:45, more or less as predicted. To be fair, the weather people usually get it something like right these days. Coming up to the house we ran into Shinobu, Yamada san’s cousin. Almost ran into him, that is – he fell off a mountain just in front of our car; a few seconds later and it might not have been funny.

That evening we drank that “taruzake” at Yamada san’s place, but that’s another story…

Min temp 11°C, max 29°C


Farmlog 2nd~5th May 2010 (“Golden Week”) 15 June, 2010

Just like UK bank holidays, a few days off come up in the same week and there are 45 Km traffic jams all over the country. The weather’s often beautiful at this time too, though, so we joined the rush to get out to our place in Gifu for a long weekend – everyone else must have been going somewhere else and we got there in the same 2 hours or so as usual. 🙂

  • The second day we went for a walk on the narrow road that leads on to a couple of tiny villages above our house. Very nice day out in perfect weather. (More here.)
  • For some reason the wild boar don’t seem to have been round this year, and lots of bamboo shoots have been coming up in the woods behind the house. Freshly-dug shoots have a special aroma which you can keep by boiling them as soon as possible after digging them up. I suppose it stops the cells’ conversion of sugars to starch or something. You need a big pot to boil them whole with the skin still on, for about an hour, with some rice bran to take away a certain astringency. A handful of rice will do instead, and some people put in a couple of dried chillies. Then you can cook them with soy sauce and dried fish flakes, or make a nice spicy Thai salad or Indonesian curry…
  • Fantastic weather – scorching hot in the daytime, but a cool breeze, and cold evenings so you want to light a fire to eat outside, which we did, listening to music from Cape Verde and some old Laotian pop.
  • The wind brought down a snowstorm of cherry blossom from the wild tree behind the house.
  • An old guy from the houses down the road passes by in the early evening. He goes for a daily walk to keep fit, and looks as if his health regime is working OK.
  • Flowers everywhere!
  • Getting the chilli field ready – digging up a row, mixing in some compost and fertilizer then covering it with black plastic mulch to warm up the soil and keep the weeds down a bit. Four rows should do it this year – 16 big red chilli plants from Malaysia, 16 little hot “Ishigaki” chillies from Okinawa (not the usual “island pepper” but something more aromatic that a Thai friend recognized as “prik kariang”), and half a dozen Habaneros, just for yuks…
  • The birds and frogs are getting going, but the evenings are still fairly quiet, compared with the insects’ samba orchestra that will keep us entertained through the Summer. Those insects have a dark side though, and we both got mysterious itchy bites that stayed with us for days. Hmm.
  • Min temp 2°C, max 27°C

Farmlog 21st February 2010 1 March, 2010

Filed under: countryside,food & drink — johnraff @ 4:29 pm
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  • When Spring comes the air will get hazy, but although it’s warmed up nicely, it’s still clear and we had more beautiful views of snowy mountains on the way out from Nagoya.
  • In the Summer the farmers’ stalls will be full of fresh vegetables, all for ¥100 a bag. Maybe the cucumbers aren’t of the regulation shape the supermarket buyers demand, but everything’s been picked that morning. Right now, however, there’s not all that much on offer – some dried “shiitake” mushrooms, and some greens called “wasabina” because they’re a little bit hot, like wasabi, or Japanese Horseradish. They can be stir-fried, but are also good in a salad, especially with beef.
  • That evening there was a sudden sort of thump, as if someone had hit the house from below, just once. An earthquake? Usually a bump is followed by some kind of shaking, but not this time…
  • Digging can be a kind of meditation maybe.
  • Next week we stay in Nagoya because there’s a Daihachi Ryodan concert, so maybe next time we come it’ll be Spring…

Min temp-3°C, max 8.5°C


Farmlog 15th February 2010

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 4:10 pm
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  • A cloudy Sunday, but not too cold.
  • In the evening while I was relieving myself at our outside facilities a medium-sized dog passed by just between me and the house. By the time I was able to go and have a look there was no trace of it.
  • Monday was chilly wet and miserable again. We had some snow in the morning which turned to rain.
  • Those tiny birds were back again.
  • Digging – getting the field ready for this year’s chilli crop. Chillis can’t be grown on the same ground for five years or so – I have to dig up a new patch each year, which is good for the garden I suppose.

Min temp -5°C, max 7°C


Farmlog 7th February 2010

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 4:00 pm
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  • For once it’s clear and sunny, but freezing cold. This is supposed to be a mild winter but there’ve certainly been some cold bits too.
  • Driving out from Nagoya we had spectacular views of white mountains in the distance. Ena on the right, Norikura (I think) on the left and the holy Mount Ontake right ahead. There is a whole Ontake religion, with some dedicated temples and annual ceremonies when hundreds of white-garbed devotees climb to the summit. It’s also an active volcano, which erupted not that long ago.
  • Kids playing in an interior car park – running between the cars: incredibly dangerous but parents, if they were around, not saying a word.
  • A yowling cat turned up from somewhere and stayed under our floorboards for the evening. Lost its way in the snow?
  • While filling the bath our well ran dry. There’s an electric pump which sends the water to our taps, so it’s just like a normal water system, until it runs out, which happens sometimes if there hasn’t been much rain lately.
  • At 2:00AM, visiting our outside toilet just before I went to bed, there was a strange whooping sound, just once. I’ve never heard that sound before and have no idea what it was – some kind of owl?
  • Monday was cloudy, but a bit warmer. Still wet, mushy and basically miserable. The well refilled overnight fortunately.
  • The cat was still around in the morning.

Min temp -7°C, max 5°C


Farmlog 1st February 2010

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 3:39 pm
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Overcast, wet, chilly, soggy, windy… just like the UK where I came from – forget all that stuff about how delightful the Japanese Winter is! Even the birds have gone away somewhere.

Even so, some shoots are coming up through the melting snow…

Min. temp -7°C, max. 5°C


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