Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Farmlog 19th September 2010 22 September, 2010

Filed under: countryside,seasons — johnraff @ 1:41 pm
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  • Almost full moon. “Jugoya”, the 15th night of the whatever month in the old lunar calendar is the harvest moon – it seems to be early this year.
  • Those pigeons back again eating the sansho – they were here last week too. Usually just two of them, but three this time. We never see them any other time of year.
  • The hydrangea plant behind the house gave us a lot of flowers this year, but this week the deer came and ate all the leaves off.
  • On the way back to Nagoya – some little kids kicking a ball around in a bit of empty ground. So what? Well, you never seem to see that in the city now. No kids? No parks? No footballs? No time? Or parent paranoia?
  • Min temp 15°C max 27°C (note the sudden drop)

Farmlog 5th September 2010 10 September, 2010

Filed under: countryside,incidents — johnraff @ 2:23 pm
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  • The Heat Goes On. This is a long, hot, sticky, sweaty, sweltering Summer and the weather forecast people say we’re good for another week of it at least.
  • The chilli plants enjoy heat though, and seem to be doing well although there’s been no rain for two weeks. The field they’re in this year is close to the stream that runs in front of our house, and you only have to dig down a metre or so to hit groundwater, so their roots seem to be finding water OK. Lots of hot sun makes the chillies hot too – the habaneros might be dangerous this year…
  • You sometimes hear strange voices out here at night. About a month ago, T was already asleep and I was just paying a last visit to our outside toilet when I heard a single squawk/squeal/scream from the other side of the road. Just one, like a banshee trying her voice out, but loud enough to echo round our small valley. I didn’t like it much, but there was no more, so I went to bed. The deer’s scream in the mating season in Autumn can be eerie too, but usually lasts a bit longer. Then this Sunday earlier in the evening, again alone because T was in the bath, there was a strange hissy growling sort of sound, again from the other side of the road. Went out to the road and realized it was echoing from the slope and the real sound seemed to be behind the house. Sort of like a very large angry cat, or anextremely large snake or something. Again, loud enough to echo from the hills… Went in to grab a torch and see if I could find anything but by then it had stopped. The next day there were no suspicious droppings or clawmarks so I’ve no idea what it was.
  • Min temp 20°C max 35°C
  • A quick bath before heading back to Nagoya, and came out to dry off when there was a stabbing pain in my foot. Looked down to see a big centipede scuttling off to hide in my clothes. The pain gets worse and worse, and insect bit ointment has no effect at all. Meanwhile I need to get dressed, but my shorts still seem to have that centipede in, and there’s no easy way for it out of that little dressing room, so picked them up with a big pair of tongs and took them outside. Hung on a clothesline, beaten with the tongs (shorts that is) and then, get this, T puts her hand in the pockets to check there’s no centipede in there… No, she didn’t get bitten (she wouldn’t have liked it at all) and reported the shorts centipede-free. I was still in something approaching agony and had no intention of checking what a second bite might be like, so had a careful look myself. While I was doing that the thing fell out onto the road, so it was in there somewhere! I shudder to imagine if T had found it, and I’d just rather not imagine putting those shorts on with the centipede still inside… We called in at a local doctor’s on our way back to Nagoya and got an injection and some painkillers. All the way back to town my foot hurt, but after a few beers that evening the pain had subsided enough that I could sleep. The next day it was fine. 🙂 Just try not to get bitten by a centipede, especially the big ones with black bodies and red legs.

Bulbuls 22 July, 2010

Filed under: city — johnraff @ 2:58 pm
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Yesterday was a big day in our Nagoya garden, excited bulbuls flying around chirping, or screeching, at some bemused chicks. Yes, it was Nest Leaving Day. I think they’re bulbuls of some kind – a kind of scraggly-looking bird that reminds me of the starlings that used to hang around our garden in England, with a long tail and sort of curved beak, and a somewhat untuneful call. T says they’re called “hiyodori” which translates as “Brown-eared Bulbul”.

The garden in front of Raffles isn’t that big, but there’s a tree just in front of our second-floor living room window that’s grown almost as high as the house. A couple of years ago the same – well, maybe not the exact same birds, but the same kind of birds – did it the honour of building a nest just outside our window where we had a view of the construction process. They made good use of locally-available materials: twigs, leaves, discarded plastic twine, shopping bags… laid some eggs but maybe they finally decided the position was just too overlooked or something and abandoned the nest. Later that Autumn it fell out of the tree with three eggs still inside.

This year’s bulbuls had a bigger tree to work on though, and the nest they built was above the window, not below, and things seemed to go better. We tried not to be too obtrusive and the birds ( did they take turns? ) spent several weeks incubating the eggs till an excited mother bird told us they’d hatched a week or two ago. Then the hardest part must have been scouring the neighbourhood for insects to keep them fed, but suddenly yesterday the nest was empty, and the birds were being really noisy.

I wondered if they’d been got by a crow, but that night when I collected the blackboard from outside Raffles to close up, there was a dazed-looking chick clinging to it! Not knowing what to do I just left it at the bottom of the tree, but the next morning it had made its way out to the road. This was no good, so using a plastic bowl a stick and some sticky tape I made a sort of scoop and managed to drop it off back in the nest from our 2nd floor window. No, in an hour or so it was gone again, and the parent birds were flying around this creature on the ground below, trying to persuade it to fly. Didn’t seem to be working, but today that chick is gone. The bulbuls still come back to the garden, and the parents are still feeding insects to the other two, bigger, chicks, but I don’t know what happened to the little one. Hope the cats didn’t get it…


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 26th April 2010 1 June, 2010

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:37 pm
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  • Last week it snowed in Tokyo, but Sunday was hot and sunny here, only to get quite chilly as the sun went behind the mountains at 4:00.
  • The white police bikes were out. They like to do their speed-trapping in nice weather – you never see them when it’s raining. I suppose they have a monthly quota of fines to get in.
  • Swallows have showed up in the village just down the road, but for some reason they never make it the extra few metres of altitude up to our house. We’ve certainly got enough insects for them to eat, but perhaps they’re not the right kind?
  • Bamboo shoots coming up – ¥500 in the supermarkets, but in the ¥100 stand you could buy a big one for, yes, a hundred yen. Freshly dug bamboo shoots are a treat, with a special flavour that is soon lost. The trick is to boil them as soon as possible; I suppose it stops the natural conversion of sugars to starch or something.
  • Is this kamemushi year? The smelly insects are turning up everywhere.
  • Saw my first snake of the year – sunning itself on a grassy bank. Ten minutes later it was back in the same place, so it must have been a special spot.
  • Did a bit of tree pruning and weed slashing. Nothing compared with the work coming up in a month or two.
  • Min temp 2°C, max 21°C

Farmlog 4th April 2010 7 April, 2010

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:43 pm
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  • This time the sakura were out in force. Every year it’s a surprise to see just how many cherry trees there are hiding around the country – both in gardens and growing wild in the mountains – waiting for their few days of glory. Everywhere you look it’s sakura, sakura, most of them in full bloom!
  • We stopped off in our usual supermarket and picked up a bottle of their house wine – a white made from the Chardonnay grape (imported juice I think) so might not be too bad, though you can get a fair Chilean white for the same price of ¥498. It turned out to be awful. Just not nice to drink at all. Even at this low price you can do much better with a something from Chile, Spain or Italy. I’m amazed they expect people to buy that stuff.
  • Spent an hour or so taking down the barbed wire round the chilli field. It wasn’t doing any good at all – just getting in my way, and tangling up in the net that turned out to be the only thing that would keep the deer out.
  • On the way back to Nagoya we took a different route, and saw even more sakura…
  • Coming into Nagoya at dusk, a lone bat flying around a crossroads. In the summer there’ll be lots of them – small creatures about the size of sparrows, picking up the insects drawn to the traffic lights.

Min temp -2°C. max 15°C

Cherry blossom in the Japanese countryside.

Riverbanks seem to be a popular place to plant cherries.


Farmlog 28th March 2010 6 April, 2010

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 12:06 pm
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  • The cherry blossom got off to an early start, but the last couple of weeks of chill slowed it right down and only now are trees starting to show themselves here and there.
  • A youngish couple we passed on our way out of Nagoya were obviously Walking. Not just enjoying a stroll, but striding along purposefully, elbows out, their whole bodies radiating “I am Walking”… Apparently you can take “walking” lessons in order to get the full health benefits or something. Later on we passed a whole crowd of mostly middle-aged people doing the same thing. It must have been a special Walking Day.
  • Spring means gardening and the shopping centre where we usually stop off on the way was piled with bags of potting compost, fertiliser, chicken manure, lime… Actually it’s time I sowed the chilli seeds to get some seedlings ready to plant in May or June.
  • The weather forecasts are quite often right these days! Sunday started warm, but as we were doing our shopping it clouded over, a cold wind got up and shortly after it started to rain – just as predicted.
  • We left buying “negi” (leeks) to the “¥100 stand” down the road, but there weren’t any… Luckily the lady who runs it had some in her field, so we went with her to dig a few up. The local deer had been in before us that morning and got a lot of the green part, but we still got a bundle of stalks, which turned out to be very good. I don’t think the deer had been such a problem there until recently (they’ve been plagueing us for years) so I think she’d better fix that high net that should have been keeping them out.
  • On Monday it snowed.

Min temp -2.5°C, max 16.5°C


Farmlog 7th February 2010 1 March, 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 21st September 2009 23 September, 2009

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:49 pm
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Yes it’s Autumn for real, all the rice in nearby paddy fields is golden and some has already been harvested, and all kinds of wild nuts and berries are ripening up so the wild population can get through the coming (probably mild) winter. Not quite as cold as last week and dinner under the stars with the Milky Way visible, a bottle of wine and some Spanish guitar music softly accompanying the insect chorus was quite pleasant… (I recommend “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” by Narciso Yepes.)

  • We used to have 5 chestnut trees behind the house, but insects and a typhoon got most of them; we planted another though, and the nuts are ripening now. Last year the monkeys came and ate them, but we got some on Monday – you can cook them with milk and sugar, then mash for a nice dessert, and chestnut rice is good too.
  • higanbana coming up everywhere. A beautiful red flower that blooms exactly at the Buddhist higan period. There’s nothing to be seen through the summer – the leaves only appear briefly in the spring, I don’t know how it manages.
  • On our way back home through the village we passed a folorn tai yaki van. As it was a public holiday he must have thought children visiting from the city might get their grandparents to buy some, but didn’t seem to be doing much business.
  • Min 13°C, max: I don’t know because we left early to get back to Nagoya where Daihachi Ryodan were due to play at a festival, but at 12:00 it was 25°C.

Farmlog 14th September 2009 15 September, 2009

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:57 pm
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Autumn’s coming on so fast Winter seems to be breathing down our necks, though we don’t usually get the first frost till November. Last night however was cold. Dinner outside under the stars is still the more attractive option, but even with a jacket over a trainer over a T-shirt we were huddled up near the fire, sipping shochu with hot water and inhaling the wood smoke. I had a sore throat the next morning.

  • Now the sansho is ripening, our annual visitor pigeons are busy eating them. We don’t see those pigeons any other time of year- they must be quite tasty after eating all that sansho…
  • Last week I noticed a papaya plant had sprouted from last year’s compost heap – get it through the winter in a pot and it should grow quite big in the garden next year. But I forgot to dig it up, and this week the deer had got in first and chewed all the leaves and top shoot off. Drat.
  • I’ve been bringing the organic refuse from Raffles to make compost. It’s not as easy as it sounds: if you just leave it around the animals will come and mess with it, while an enclosed plastic container makes drainage difficult and it gets all wet and slimy. I’ve found mixing in some dry leaf mould helps, but a neighbour suggested another use- give it to the fish. He had put some carp in our pond for us a while ago and they seem to be surviving on whatever they can find there, but I tried throwing in some of the food scraps. It all disappeared in a few minutes, but the next offering was ignored so they don’t seem to want too much of it…
  • T. was busy taking advantage of the hot sun and dry breeze to dry her umeboshi pickles. About half done now. The home-made ones are definitely good, and cheap if you don’t count the labour.
Umeboshi pickles drying in the autumn sun.

Umeboshi pickles drying in the autumn sun.


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