asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Farmlog February 2013 5 July, 2013

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 3:00 pm
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Sweltering in early July, the time when we were shivering in the snow and slush of february almost has a certain nostalgic appeal…

3rd~4th

Yesterday was Setsubun, the changing of the seasons when we drive out demons and invite fortune into the house. Originally this came just before the New Year celebrations, which seems appropriate, but since the Westernization of the calendar back in the Meiji era New Year has been at 1st January and many other traditional events of the Japanese calendar have been dislocated.

On Sunday we are presented with impressive views of rows of snowy white mountains in the distance.

The supermarkets are laden with massive stocks of chocolate for the impending Valentine’s Day celebration. This is one of those synthetic Japanese “customs” dreamed up by the marketing department of some company – suddenly it became the day on which girls give presents of chocolate to the boys they are interested in. (I remember years ago receiving a heart-shaped box of chocolates soon after starting teaching here, and totally failing to follow up on the possible romantic opportunity it represented because I had no idea of this Japanese Valentine thing…) Later, in the 80’s or 90’s maybe, the “custom” expanded to include all men to whom the woman (yes the age bracket has expanded too) in question felt some kind of obligation, so “giri-choco” had to be given to people like superiors in the office, romantic feelings or not. Chocolate sales just before Valentine’s day rose to some 40~50% of the year’s total! (Presumably that chocolate salesman who invented this got a good bonus.) These days the trend has moved on to “self treats” or something, so those young women now buy chocolate to stuff into their own faces on February 14th! I’m not sure what St. Valentine would make of all this.

That evening a few people come round to help us expel the demons with the help of some beer, sake and an excellent bottle of the smoothest vodka you ever tasted, brought back from a trip to Russia by T’s nephew. Anyway, guests are avatars of the God of Good Fortune, right? Among our visitors is Snake Doctor Yamada who passes round, along with some home-brewed sake, some pieces of dried mamushi for us to munch on with the drinks. Hmm…

It’s wet and cloudy on Monday and we leave a bit early, but the misty hills are beautiful on our way back to Nagoya.

Min. temp -6°C max. 7°C


10th~11th

mystery turd on toilet roofSunday is chilly, with low, grey clouds, and there are no mountains for us this week.

Miso nabe for dinner – not bad. Later it starts snowing.

On Monday the light snow melts in the sun, but we get a bit more in the late afternoon.

The weekly batch of compostable rubbish to dispose of, and I cut some more thorns from our nasty wild citrus tree to help keep the cats out of our garden in Nagoya. There’s a turd on the roof of our outside toilet… It’s quite big, 8~9cm, definitely not a bird or mouse, or even a stoat/weasel type animal, so I have to think we must have had a visit from monkeys at some point.

Once the sun goes down it gets pretty cold. Obviously it’s still Winter, but here and there buds are starting to swell…

Min. temp -4°C max. 7°C


17th~18th

Even at mid-day in Nagoya the air has a bite. It’s been a cold week.The overcast sky clears in time for us to see some white mountains basking in the cold winter sun, till it clouds over again and snows that night. There’s yet another mouse in the chutoruman, a weekly occurrence.

Monday is white with that snow, but by the time I get up it’s turned to rain. Still cold though. I just hope the snow gets melted before it’s time to leave. The rain means no work outside, so I practice guitar a bit. (We’ve got a concert coming up in a couple of weeks.)

Min. temp -6°C max. 4°C


25th~26th

Anyway, it’s cold, with blizzards on the Sea of Japan coast, apparently. The midday clouds clear up and we arrive in bright sunshine but the wind is so bitterly cold as to take away any warmth. Turn on the oil stove and get in the kotatsu, but even the cups that had hot tea in 15 min. ago are now icy to the touch. It will take half a day for the room to warm up a bit. The old fan heater did better than that, but had the disadvantage of not working if the electricity is cut off, as we found out one cold winter when heavy snow brought down tree branches on the power lines. For dinner: Vietnamese beef stew, squid stir-fry and a salad.

It takes me 30 min. to get out of the futon on Monday. Outside it’s sunny but even at 11:00am it’s -1°C. That might not mean much to some, but it’s plenty cold enough for us. I put on working clothes but after disposing of the compost my fingers are numb. It’s too cold to get any work done. The joy of a Japanese bath! (It’s just as hard to get out of as the morning futon, though.) Back to Nagoya for the last Daihachi Ryodan practice before our gig at Tokuzo on the 3rd March.

Min. temp -7°C max. 3°C

 

The Last Carp 18 October, 2012

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 1:30 pm
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It was there again yesterday – the Last Carp.

We’ve got this pond in front of our house out in the country. I think the previous owner must have been keeping fish there, because there are some rusty poles left around it which look as if they once held netting, maybe to keep out hungry weasels. The fish, and nets, were gone when we bought the place 25 years ago, but the pond is fed by a pipe from the stream so the water has stayed fresh, and inhabited by a population of newts and smaller creatures. A few years ago they were joined by some fresh-water snails that must have arrived as eggs down that pipe. Now we had learned earlier that the larvae of the firefly could only grow in fresh clean water, because that was needed by the black shellfish they feed on. Sure enough, those were the same water snails that had settled in the pond and, sure enough, in another couple of years we had a settlement of fireflies there too. If we were lucky, we’d show up on a weekend in early July to be treated to a fantastic display in the bushes round that pond which lit them up like Christmas trees.

Anyway, you remember Ikemoto san the builder who changed our floor for us last year? We’ve been on friendly terms with him for years in fact, since he refurbished the house for us when we moved in, and he’s done a few things for us over the years. Maybe five or six years ago he fixed up the pipe that brought water to our pond, but kept getting blocked up, so now it hardly needs any attention at all. At that time he put a dozen or so small carp in the pond for us. Very kind, though we wondered what they’d live on. It used to be common in the countryside to keep carp as an extra source of protein, and people would give them left-over rice and the like, but we’re away in Nagoya for most of the week. As I had somewhat feared, they seemed to be doing OK without our help, living off those snails and firefly larvae, because the fireflies disappeared from that year. …sigh… Of course it was very kind of him to put those fish in the pond (without asking us) but we’d rather have kept the fireflies really…

However, we soon found that those nets that used to be round the pond had been necessary. One by one the carp just disappeared, presumably taken by animals or the kites that sometimes fly by. Over a year or so they went from 10 to 6 to 3… and then we didn’t see any at all. All gone – how long will it take for the fireflies to come back? But maybe six months after that I caught a glimpse of the Last Carp. Very timid, he’ll disappear under a rock or who-knows-where as soon as he sees you, but he’s still there. Every month or so I get a glimpse of this fish, quite a bit bigger than when he was put in, so he must be finding something to eat – we don’t give him anything. The Last Carp has been lurking in our pond a couple of years now, but after watching his friends being caught and eaten I suppose he’s got good reason to be timid…

 

An evening in the country 19 April, 2012

Filed under: countryside,food & drink,people — johnraff @ 1:32 am
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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 1st January ~ 21st February 2011 24 February, 2011

Filed under: countryside,food & drink — johnraff @ 2:27 am
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1st ~ 5th January

  • A cold start to the year, with dire weather forecasts of blizzards that made us put off for a day our departure for a little New Year break in the country. The 1st of January was cold enought to be sure, but it didn’t snow so we made it out OK.
  • Arrived to find the deer had broken down the fence round our vegetable field again, and left droppings everywhere, though there’s nothing left there for them to eat. I didn’t bother fixing the fence this time.
  • A cute little field mouse had been caught in our trap. I hate using that, but we really don’t want these creatures running round our kitchen.
  • Didn’t see any rabbits though. Are they all away on official engagements? 2011 is their year.
  • Anyway we’ve been having a cold spell since Christmas, with clear starry nights when what little warmth you pick up in the daytime soon evaporates off. Time to sit in the kotatsu, eat mikan and watch TV – except that there’s no TV out here so it’s the radio instead, with reports of 40Km traffic jams everywhere. Chuckle and peel another mikan.
  • Managed to get in a bit of tree pruning – the tea bushes have to be clipped or they grow into big trees, taller than me. Spending a couple of hours in some repetitious physical work, the brain is left to its own devices, and tends to reel off some music from the past. This time it started with Sgt. Pepper, which wasn’t so bad, but Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds led into something called Judy in Disguise with Glasses by John Fred and his Playboy Band. Hmm… Remember that?
  • Min. temp. -4°C max. 10°C

23rd ~ 24th January

  • We missed last week because of the snow, which did come eventually and made it not really worth the effort of driving out. It’s now largely melted, but it’s still quite cold enough, thank you.
  • Still, Sunday was nice and sunny and the speed police were enjoying a day’s fine-gathering. We passed three different people who’d been caught.
  • Another mouse in the ChuToruMan.
  • That evening we had yose-nabe – “leftovers pot”? Nabe is always good on a cold winter evening anyway, and we also had one of my favourite salads – sashimi tuna with avocado, in a soy sauce and wasabi dressing.
  • Unfortunately I could hardly taste it because of a nasty cold. All January has been cold and dry – perfect for viruses apparently – and there’s a lot of influenza around so I should be glad to get off with a cold I suppose.
  • There were more fresh deer droppings on the snow, then on Monday afternoon more snow. We got out of there and headed back to the city.
  • Min. temp. -7°C max. 4°C

6th ~ 7th February

  • It’s milder this week, but cloudy, and the snow is half-melted. Sometimes a big chunk suddenly falls off the roof. Further north, where they get several metres of snow at a time, this is serious, and people have already been killed by snow falling off their roofs.
  • The well is almost empty – it hasn’t rained much lately – and after filling up the bath the taps start to make spluttering sounds as the pump gets air mixed in.
  • Nabe again – no complaints there, and this time it’s crab. “Watari gani” would be blue swimmer crabs I suppose? Anyway I think it’s one of the tastiest crabs – fiddly to eat with not all that much meat, but excellent crab flavour for stewpots and curries. Crab curry’s pretty good! Mackeral sashimi along with our nabe, also good. Mackeral’s not the first fish that springs to mind for sashimi but in the Autumn and Winter it’s oily and tasty. Often pickled in vinegar like pickled herring – that’s good too. The only thing to watch is the most expensive fresh-caught variety, which can have a nasty parasitic worm in it. Squid get them too. Freezing kills the worm, so the cheaper frozen fish is a better bet here. Raffles standard white wine (from Chilli) went well with all this.
  • No mice in the trap this week, but plenty of deer footprints and droppings, and a big hole which must have been dug by wild boar. Shouldn’t they be hibernating now?
  • Min. temp. -7°C max. 7°C

13th ~ 14th February

  • More Winter. Just cold.
  • No deer this week.
  • Sat in the kotatsu getting the papers ready for our yearly tax return. The tax man has no terror for us, as we aren’t making any money to tax…
  • More snow on Monday, but the days are getting longer – Spring won’t be long.
  • Min. temp. -4°C max. 7°C

20th ~ 21st February

  • Sunday is quite mild, but strangely hazy. It must be very high cloud because we could still see big distant snow-covered mountains in several directions from each bridge we crossed, including Mount Ontake.
  • In the supermarket on the way, everything is going up – vegetables especially.
  • Round the corner after the fish and meat sections is a whole shelf of different kinds of natto, then a kimchee area. I can eat, and enjoy, almost any food (had half a sheep’s head, including the eyeball, while waiting for a bus in Turkey) but natto is one of the few things I don’t relish. It’s soy beans which, after cooking, have been wrapped in straw and left to go all slimy and disgusting. Very good for you apparently. The other day on TV they were showing an Inuit delecacy of baby seagulls which had been left to rot (sorry, ferment) in a pit for a few months. I might pass on that too, in case you were planning to invite me for dinner. Also those big Witchety Grubs they eat in Australia. Leaving such things aside, I’ll enjoy any variety of raw sea creatures or whatever else turns up on a table in Japan. Except natto.
  • Kimchee on the other hand is great. This is a Korean import: Chinese Cabbage fermented with chilli powder, garlic, chives, carrot, apple, some kind of fishy flavour… It’s much better than it sounds.
  • A few years ago there was a little boom for tempe. That’s maybe Indonesia’s answer to natto, but much nicer. It’s also fermented by a mould, but it’s firm and dry – not slimy at all. Good fried with chillies and Indonesian sweet soy sauce. For a while you could buy it anywhere, but there’s no sign of it now.
  • After a coffee there was time for a little pottering around outside before it got dark at six. (The days are getting longer!) Finally fixed that deer net, and burnt some old papers.
  • Although there’s still a chilly wind, Monday was nice and sunny and I clipped some more tea bushes. There are still quite a few left though.
  • Min. temp.-5°C max. 12°C
 

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 15th November 2010 10 December, 2010

Filed under: countryside,seasons — johnraff @ 1:15 am
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A cricket in November.

An overcast but mild Sunday; groups of migrating birds getting ready to head out of here somewhere warmer. Later on the sun started to come out – you need a bit of blue sky to show off the red Autumn leaves that are reaching their peak around now. When we arrived at the house a pheasant was standing in front of the garage. It strolled off into the bushes in its own time… A cricket outside the house: the last one of the year?

Wild boar dropping.

Wild boar dropping.

There were big holes under the tea bushes where the wild boar had been digging for fern roots or something. They left a memento on our drive too. They’re big strong animals and can toss quite large rocks around in their search for something succulent in the ground.

deer droppings

Deer droppings.

T saw a mother and a couple of young a few years ago, but they hadn’t been around much until recently, having pretty much got everything that was going. The deer, on the other hand, have been regular visitors, as you’ll know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, and this week there were plenty of fresh droppings around. Touch wood – they haven’t got inside the net round the chilli patch this year, except for one brief break-in, and now the season’s over. Fingers crossed for next year.

half-eaten chillies

Left by our furry friend.

Monday was much colder, and later on turned into drizzle. Last week didn’t freeze after all, though it came close, and there were still a lot of chillies intact on the bushes. We won’t be here next week, so a final picking session got another kilo or so of the hot, hot little “ishigaki” chillies. A small furry animal, probably a fieldmouse, had got some of the larger, milder ones and chomped on them in a corner of the field, leaving the seeds, and some half-eaten pods. Maybe they were a bit too hot after all. Anyway, he didn’t even touch the little hot ones.

Won’t be back for two weeks, and had a last look at the red maple leaves, which will be gone next time we’re here.

Min temp. 1°C, max. 13°C

 

maple leaves in November

A maple in front of the house.

 

 

 

Animals again 9 November, 2010

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 3:05 pm
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The last couple of weeks there have been news reports of bears. Appearing in all kinds of places they shouldn’t – the other day a lady came home to find one in her kitchen – and sometimes attacking people. These are big dangerous animals with sharp claws and teeth and people sometimes get killed. This would have been unheard of a few years ago when all the bears were in the north of the country, but wild animals are becoming a problem in the countryside.

Life with things lurking in the bushes has been a regular theme around here though. The first year we arrived there were some nice yams growing in the field, of which I dug up some and left the smaller ones to grow next year. No such luck – the wild boar got to find out about them, and dug all the rest up. We had regular visits from them – they are strong animals and dug big holes in the ground, throwing large rocks about the place. When all the yams were gone, over a couple of years, they tried bracken roots but I think they must have found everything that wild boar like because they don’t come round so much these days.

The big menace these days (apart from worrying about bears) is the deer. Their numbers are increasing apparently, and they eat any young shoots and leaves they can find.  We never used to have any problem at all growing all kinds of things but these days I usually find fresh droppings around when we arrive on Sunday, and anything not inside the 3m net I put up to keep them out will get munched as soon as it appears. Other attackers in the past have been monkeys – they go for things you can pick like pumpkins or eggplants, so with the deer on the leaves and boar for roots they’ve got everything pretty well covered. Oh yes, there are crows who like tomatoes too. Other more harmless creatures that have shown up around the place are rabbits, fieldmice, weasels (or are they stoats?), tortoises, toads, snakes, pheasants, grouse (?), tanuki, and probably others I’ve forgotten…

What’s going on? Well, there are various reasons apparently – a big one must be the post-war boom in forestry when a lot of the natural forest was replaced with spruce and cedar plantations: dark dreary places where nothing grows, and nothing can live. This is made worse because there’s no longer any money in it, so everything’s neglected and tangled up with dead branches. Another is that as the rural population dwindles – all the young people moved out to the cities and those who are left are getting old – the villages are also half-abandoned and the area between vegetable fields and forest, the so-called satoyama, is reverting to wildness, so animals can get right up to the fields. Again, there are fewer hunters around now. Young kids aren’t attracted to all the blood and entrails that go with it.

Although the weather seems to have been getting warmer for a while now this summer in particular was very hot and the crop of acorns and other things that bears and their friends like was bad. Bears have to have a good feed before they hibernate, so have been forced to check out peoples kitchens.

There are hungry bears in the woods.

 

 
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