Posted in Blogging

Slowly….

This year the temperature has been much cooler than it was last year and even the year before. Last year everything was blooming by now.

But not this year. Every day when I open the kitchen curtains in the morning I take a look at the sakura tree outside the window to see if there are any blooms yet. The tree has had buds on it for weeks now but with this mostly cool and rainy weather there haven’t been any blooms.

After lunch today I was putting some birdseed in the feeder when I heard the uguisu sing. It was high up in the sakura tree. It was there for quite a while and I was able to go in, get my camera and film it for a bit and that is when I noticed the tinge of pink on one of the branches. It was quite windy and difficult to get a still and clear photo but nevertheless-it’s plain to see the blossoms emerging.

Now I can officially start to plan our hanami.

Hanami – literally “seeing flowers”. When we say hanami in Japan everyone associates the word with spring-time blossom viewing picnics. The parks will be full of families in a few short weeks. Blue plastic tarps will carpet the ground as families, friends and just about everyone searches for the best spot in the park, on the riverside or anywhere there are cherry trees in bloom. Mini BBQ grills, coolers, lawn chairs for the elderly are piled into family vehicles.

I love hanami. Actually, I distinctly remember the very first time my in laws took me to the park for a little picnic. I had just arrived in Japan. Hubby had to stay for several weeks yet in Saipan to complete retirement requirements. I moved over first-without him. I went with MIL and FIL to Soeda Park a beautiful little castle park on the way to Mt. Hiko.

I remember being totally swept away by the magical and indescribable beauty of sitting under a canopy of dozens of blossoming sakura. Every time the breeze blew it sent a shower of delicate pink petals onto everyone. Little pink petals landing in cups of tea, on hair, in bento boxes. No one cared-we drank down the petals along with our tea. Little dogs ran around, petals stuck to their fur. Little children scooped up hand-fulls and threw them like confetti.

I sat under those trees and I cried-it was the natural response I had in witnessing this marvel of G-d’s creation.

The season is almost here again. It’s time to start planning the little picnic we now have here at our home on the back patio. It is too difficult for the in-laws to try and navigate a park. Mobility is very hard now. But that’s okay. We have a wonderful viewing area right here. Mother-in-law said she is already counting the days…..

Posted in Around The Yard&Garden, Little things I love about Japan

Officially Spring

Well, the calendar says that it is officially spring. Anyone that reads this blog knows that my garden is the first place I go as soon as the weather warms up. It hasn’t warmed up as much as I’d like-but we’ve had a few really nice days here and there so I’ve been outside getting my little plot ready.

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I cleaned things up and got carrots, spinach and komatsuna seeds in the ground. The Snap Peas are coming along now-they have finally broken through the ground and are getting bigger by the day. You can see them over by the netting. The lettuce is growing nicely and I stuck a green pepper plant in the ground too.

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The weeding got done and while I was at it I moved some of the ox-eye daises that had seeded themselves in a spot where I didn’t want them to. That spot is reserved for my new tomato beds that I’m going to put in. Soon. As soon as hubby gets me the wood.

I set up a birdbath. A little early I know but I’m excited about getting the garden going.

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Gardening helps me a lot. I’ll be honest with you-it isn’t always easy to live in a foreign country. I miss my family. A lot. I have friends here but culturally, it is different. People don’t really open up and they aren’t as likely to want to develop deep relationships so everything stays rather superficial. That is hard for someone like me. Gardening, crochet, sewing and now embroidery have helped me to fill the void and at the same time I “produce” something that can be shared with others.

I think that’s why I really dislike (anti) social media…it is so superficial…

But, I digress….

Everyone else in the neighborhood is outside participating in the spring season in much the same way. Tractors can be heard humming throughout the fields and across the little valley. I really look forward to rice planting season. When the fields are planted and filled with water the frogs move in and the whole area comes alive at night with the sounds of what seems like a million croaking frogs. As I walked around the town I saw the farmers gearing up, getting the fields ready for the annual rice planting activities.

Just about everywhere I looked gardeners were out weeding and digging and just enjoying being outdoors.

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My heart is a bit heavy this spring. Every year since we have moved to Japan I always took my annual trip up to see the kids near Tokyo around this time of the year…but…they left Japan last June and I can’t do that anymore.

I had noticed that I felt out of sorts and about two days ago I realized that last year at this time I was enjoying being with my daughter and her family. Actually, I’m crying writing this post. It is really, really hard not having any of the kids or grand-kids around. But that’s life. We can’t stay near them forever. That isn’t reality for most people.

While I do like living in Japan-there are always two sides to the coin. It is a beautiful country with many awesome reasons for wanting to live here. The reality is that living here comes with a price. At times that price can be a little heavy to bear.

But– the sun is shining at the moment. The rains have stopped a bit so I think I’ll go pick some lettuce for dinner and rejoice in all the Lord has so graciously provided for all those that I love near and far. Later I’ll think some more about my garden planning and perhaps work on an embroidery pattern design that I have in mind for a granddaughter. I was actually thinking of opening an ETSY shop but I’m too busy to make things to sell! Everything I make goes to family and friends!

This post was rather all over the place. That may be the new norm here. Writing like this helps me. The rest of you can come along for the ride.

🙂

 

 

 

Posted in Around The Yard&Garden, Around Town, Little things I love about Japan

Hina Matsuri, Rickshaw Rides, Planting and WIP

The weekend was busy!

On Friday a group of us gals visited the historical home of one of the five coal mine kings of our area. This entire area was once a wealth of coal mines owned by 5 men who are known as: The Five Kings of Coal Mining.

One of them was this man-Santaro Hori. In the photo he stands proudly with his wife, daughter and son. His villa is still standing and well cared for. The family has donated it to the town as a historical landmark and museum. He was a very wealthy man-multi millionaire in his time-during a time when that was an impossible dream for most.

His former home is usually not open to the public-at least not the entire home. They do hold classes in some rooms. You can take a Japanese patchwork class or origami classes. I believe they also have Tea Ceremony lessons.

During Hina Matsuri the home is opened to the public and you can walk through it. There are no furniture left in the home but it isn’t difficult to imagine how grand it must have been.

Before I continue I have to tell you that I had a “catastrophic failure” according to my computer when I was transferring the photos of the house from camera to my laptop. Indeed-I accidentally erased ALL of them. So….here is a link to a post I wrote last year about this home. You can have a look at the photos I took there. It really is a beautiful home–>Touring Saijikan.

At any rate- the gals and I decided to view the Hina Matsuri display there. The first collection you come across when you visit is the patchwork display inside the over 100 year old storage building turned display room.

I love looking at all the wonderful handiwork. So beautiful! There were a couple of ladies on hand giving demonstrations in ball making.
The balls have a Styrofoam base and the material used are all vintage kimono scraps.

Very interesting to us crafters! We left the patchwork display and went on to view the Hina Doll display which was pretty much the same as last year’s display-fortunately you can view the display on last year’s post.

This year I learned something that I didn’t know last year. I remembered wondering what this was:

I thought it was a chute of some kind. Mrs. NI said-chute? Oh,no. This is an indoor access to the window shutters. This home was “state of the art” back in the day-they didn’t have to go outside to close the shutters. They could do it from the inside of the home. She demonstrated for me-she works here as a volunteer so it was okay.

Interesting!

We walked along the beautiful corridors down to the doll display. The home is so lovely!

The kimono display marked the entrance to the display room.

And that marks the end of the photos because the rest are deleted!

We decided to visit two more places that had Hina Matsuri festival displays-the local coal mining museum and another smaller museum in town.

As we were leaving the historical home the local rickshaw driver was outside and asked if we wanted a ride! There were free rides today for the ladies! So…why not? We hopped on board and away we went!

Actually it is such a shame that I lost all those photos because the coal mining museum was awesome. I had never toured a coal mining museum before and I was fascinated by the old photographs. What a grueling job that must have been. I saw photos of men, women and children who worked in the mines. I was shocked at many of them because they worked completely naked. The women had a covering on their bottoms but the men were completely naked. I asked -why? I was told that the mines were extremely hot and being naked was the only way to bear being in them. Things changed later on and safety requirements were established requiring clothing and safety equipment. The equipment is on display and all I can say is-having seen the breathing apparatus needed I would never want to work in the mines. It was quite horrific looking.

It was an awesome day and I learned much about the past history of this area.

The following day was absolutely brilliant and I was able to get out into the garden and get some work done. I got some lettuce planted.

I got the snow peas in the planter boxes and I potted a few pansies.

Very satisfying!

I’ve also been working on a load of crochet projects! Not the best photo-sorry. I just threw them in a heap onto the tatami!

We are definitely in early spring here-such a fun time of year!

Posted in Around The Yard&Garden, Around Town, Cooking

Spring Activity

Early spring and all the lovely activity that comes with it lifts the spirits!

Let me tell you first about an activity that I’ve discovered since moving here. It isn’t just a spring activity but it is easiest for me to participate in during spring……gathering sansai.

Sansai is the Japanese word for mountain vegetable – wild edible plants found in the fields, river banks and woodlands of the Japanese countryside. There are some interesting facts about gathering and using sansai BUT I’ve just written an article for Taikan Japan on that subject in my new series for them: At Home in Rural Japan. When the article is released soon I’ll share the link here -don’t want to be a spoiler.

For now-just come along with me as we forage for nanohana. When I took you on the walk down to the shrine and historical home a while back I shared a photo of a single stem of nanohana, one of the harbingers of spring. They are beginning to pop up everywhere now and this is the perfect time to forage for them. You can buy them cut and neatly packed at the farmer’s market but it is so much more enjoyable to wander the little country roads, dirt paths and fields gathering them yourself. This is what I have been doing almost daily.

Donning my garden apron and a light jacket, basket in hand I set off for my secret spot where I’ve discovered a small field of newly sprouting, tender nanohana.

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They are best picked when they look like this-rather like mini broccoli heads and in fact they are closely related to the broccoli family.

Walking among the spring grasses and ferns I savor the freshness that spring brings. I’m listening for the sound of the uguisu which will soon be heard singing through the valley-the loveliest bird song I have ever heard. A swarm of the tiniest of winged insects hover over a patch of snowdrops as I tread gingerly through the little patch I’ve found. I am overwhelmed with gratitude at what the Lord freely provides for me and I take only what we will eat for dinner tonight.

It is such a lovely day so I decide to wander a bit. Down by the river the ume trees are almost in full bloom and they look lovely draped over the river banks.

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The bare trees you see here are sakura which are now full of buds and soon this humble river bank will be as glorious as any grand riverbank in Japan. We have already planned our hanami party. This year we will have a small BBQ on our patio so that mother and father in law can sit comfortably and enjoy viewing the sakura that are all around our home.

The path that runs along the riverside is inviting with its elegant carpet of moss and I wander down along the river’s edge until I reach the farm road at the end. There is a stunningly beautiful old farm house that sits right on the corner and as I look up I see a white Japanese heron perched right on top of the roof.

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I watched it for quite a while-it never moved. What an interesting and beautiful scene. Standing for several minutes-I admired the home and wondered how on earth they kept that huge tree so beautifully manicured. It is quite expensive to have that done professionally. As I walked past the front of the home I laughed when I noticed that the crest on the roof-top edge was…a crane! The crest is located on the four corners of the home on each level of roof.

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My wandering took me past a few old farmhouses and down to the small lake. Soon the trees along the lake’s edge will be full of nesting heron. I guess this is actually not a lake but one of the many rivers that run criss-cross through our area and all of Japan.

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It was time to return home and prepare for dinner. Nanohana are easy to cook. I soak them first in a large basin of water-rinsing and changing the water several times. Then I boil them for about 2 minutes, drain them and refresh them in cold water for around 30 seconds.

The entire plant can be eaten-flower tops, stem and leaf.

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After that they are squeezed to removed the excess water and cut up in to about 1 inch sized pieces. Seasoning is simple-I drizzle them with sesame oil and citrus soy-sauce. Today I added small crispy dried and fried fish. Really delicious.

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My vegetables cooked -I set about placing the few wild flowers I foraged into vases around the house. The little wall vases are just darling. I found them the other day at our local Daiso of all places!

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Now onto the next activity- sowing my flower seeds and nursing them until they grow into seedlings and the weather warms enough to put them into the ground.

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