Posted in Blogging

At Home in Rural Japan Pt. 2: The Spring Kitchen and Foraging of Wild Vegetables

From ages past, foraging for wild greens has been a steady part of the Japanese culture. The Emperors of the Heian and Nara periods made it a rule to collect wild greens from the forests so that the harvest could be predicted.
The practice of collecting wild vegetables was what enabled Japanese to survive in times of natural disaster and war. During the second world war when Tokyo residents fled the city for the rural areas they relied on wild greens for sustenance.
Sansai or “mountain vegetables” are edible plants that grow wild throughout the forests and fields of rural Japan. People might wonder–why take the trouble to forage when vegetables can be easily purchased? The answer lies in a deep rooted part of the rural life-style and traditional Japanese cuisine which involves eating seasonal foods.

Read the rest of the article here!

Posted in Blogging

Garden Woes and Changing My Attitude

I was so grumpy this morning. We have had nothing but yellow sand or rain. Yellow sand blown in from the Gobi Desert so thick that you can’t even see the top of the mountain.

I can count the number of nice days we’ve had this spring on one and a half hands. My tomatoes have some sort of blight / fungus from lack of sun and too much water. The snap peas are as skinny as can be. The green peppers are stunted and the rest of the veggies aren’t doing much better.
The big welt on my hand tells me the mosquitoes have arrived.
And today’s forecast…. ⛈🌧🌧🌧☔️

That’s life.

As I was pondering this … looking out at the yard I noticed that the flowers seemed to be enjoying things.

The fish love their new mini pond and I think I’ll get a bright pink lotus to put in it when they are available in the garden center.

The colors of the flowers reminded me of my yarn colors and the piles of material swatches I have stuffed away into drawers….

And then I thought – well… I have been thinking about ramping up my crochet and sewing.

So maybe it’s time to plant more flowers and stop trying to run a trauma center for vegetables.

Anyways… The colors of flowers inspire my fabric and yarn art….

Before the rains started around 11am I went out side and cleaned up a bit. I pulled off as many tomato leaves as I could. Of course I couldn’t pull them all off or there would be nothing left to power the plant. I threw away a pile of twigs and roots that I forgot about. I read that keeping your garden tidy and trash free helps with keeping disease away.

The mint loves the rainy cool weather so I snipped off a bunch of it so that I could make mint tea.

I soak the leaves in cold water for a while and then rinse them several times to remove any dust and bugs. Then I take the leaves off of the stems and I gently squeeze and kind of massage them to release the oils.

I boil a big kettle of water and then turn it off after it comes to a boil. All of the mint leaves get dumped into the kettle, I put the lid on it and a piece of foil over the spout to keep all the oils and aroma in the kettle. I let it sit like that for several hours.

After several hours I pour the tea into glass bottles and put it in the fridge. It tastes delicious cold or warmed up a bit. We actually add nothing to it as it is naturally slightly sweet. You can’t believe how delicious it is! Even hubby loves it!

It has been a real challenge to stay cheerful throughout this “weather”. We haven’t really had a spring. It has rained an awful lot this year and when it isn’t raining we have had terribly high particulate matter readings as the sand from the Gobi Desert blows through. Usually after our dreary winter I am just itching to get outside in my garden.

I am thankful that I can “entertain” myself indoors with crochet, sewing, reading, writing…

I am actually never bored as I always find something that needs to be done or some sort of project to work on.

And soon….the rainy season will roll in!

I’m going to the states in June to see the kids…I think I’ll stock up on more yarn while I’m there!

But for the moment I’ll sit, look out at the rain and enjoy my yogurt, matcha, mint smoothie….

Posted in Blogging

Sunshine and Bedsheets

The way the weather has been lately- when a nice day comes along I take full advantage of it.

Actually, taking advantage of it isn’t even the correct way to put it because as I have come to find out over the years the weather plays a vital role in the average Japanese housewife’s routine. It dictates which chores get done that day and there are days when the plans I’ve made for the day go out the window because the sun is shining and the futons need airing.

Yesterday was such a day. The weather was absolutely brilliant and just as I said above -the futons needed airing. My personal plans needed to wait because it seemed like a rare chance to get some necessary work done.

In Japan we don’t air futons because we feel like it or just to freshen them up. I never feel like it-Japanese futons are heavy!

Airing futons in the hot sun is necessary to kill dani or–dust mites. Dani actually live in tatami mats and because we lay the futons on the tatami-they get into the futons. They bite-and are horrid. We had a run-in with them last June.

More about futons later.

I aired pillows, zabutons and whatever else I thought could use a good zap of sun.

The garden got an inspection. At the moment we’ve got: tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, lettuce, bitter melon, potatoes, snap peas, corn and cucumbers growing. So far so good. We will see how they continue.

The Foxgloves are starting to bloom and so are the oxeye daises. The garden looks so wild and lovely when they bloom.

The roses are budding and soon will open. I am hoping we don’t have too much rain. The roses really need some full sun days.

The other flowers are all looking lovely right now.

I keep a lot of flowers around the garden to attract bees and butterflies and this year there have been so many bees already! Through the open windows comes the sound of buzzing – a sound that I absolutely love. I love bees. Bees and butterflies make the garden such a joy.

I cleaned the water garden and we replaced the fish. The previous fish lived for about three years. The little fish we use for our water garden are called medaka or Japanese Rice Fish.

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I didn’t catch these. I bought them at the local farmer’s market. During the summer and even now I suppose, you can catch them in local streams and rice fields. But…I’m not so good at catching them.

Back to futons…

Last New Year, actually in December, I went through the futon closet and took out at least eight futons that needed to be dumped. They were about 40 years old, heavy, dusty and really –we don’t need that many futons. They belonged to the previous home owner (a relative) and we kept them initially because we thought we might need them when the kids and grand-kids came for a visit. Little did I know how much WORK it is to maintain them. You can’t just shove them in the closet and forget about them. Not in our old, damp home. I had to haul them out at least twice a year for airing. That meant washing all the wrapping cloths and pretty much taking everything out of the futon closet to wipe it down.

These futons are HEAVY. It was a three day project because I didn’t have enough space to air all of them at once. They need to be turned every few hours….and then if a stray rain storm blows through, good luck! You can’t haul them in fast enough because they are so heavy.

SO-I had enough of taking care of them and we decided to dump them. Easier said than done in Japan. You can’t just “dump” things. You need to buy special tags and bags for “special” trash. Futons are definitely special trash. The tags and bags are not cheap and you can only put one in the trash at a time. Well…hubby decided to think of another way to dump them. In the mean time we piled them up in the guest tatami room. A bit later an old toaster oven joined them. Then some old clothes and a broken CD player…a dumpy old TV stand…cruddy pillows…the old rice cooker that burned out….

You get the picture. Before we knew it the tatami room was piled high with junk.

If we thought we had a problem before…we really had one now.

When I could stand it no more and because our son-in-law is going to be in Japan and will be visiting us-I insisted that hubby do something!

I have no idea what he did with the trash. I am sure he was responsible about it and that’s all I care about…it felt so good to finally have the room back!

It was so dusty that it took me a good part of the day to clean it, wash the curtains and sofa covers. I had to vacuum the tatami several times over to make sure I got any dani that were living in it and then the whole thing got a good spray over with dani killer.

Thankfully that is DONE because the next day the rain rolled in again….

Just another ordinary day in the countryside of Japan.

Posted in Japanese Culture, Visit Japan!

At Home in Rural Japan part 1- The Heart of the Rural Japanese Home

My first article in a new series on Taiken Japan.

Before the sun rises over towns and hamlets that slumber between forested mountains, lights begin to flicker in kitchen windows across the valley. In cold weather kerosene or wood stoves are lit, they bring warmth and light as the heart of the Japanese home is awakened by the woman of the house. In summer, windows are opened allowing the cool morning breezes to refresh while releasing smoke from the gas grill as she grills the morning fish.

Welcome to the rural Japanese kitchen.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE

Posted in Around Town, Little things I love about Japan

The Spring Countryside

We have barely had a spring here this year. It has been really cool, rainy and seeing the sun was a rare event.

When the sun was out (like today) then the particulate matter was through the roof and I wasn’t able to go outside. It’s such a shame -our area is so beautiful but in recent years we have had a problem with pollution blowing over from across the ocean. Today’s PM reading was 170!! That’s basically off the charts. I have asthma so even a moderately high reading is unhealthy for me. Today I would have needed a WW2 gas mask. People run around in flimsy little surgical masks when the PM is high but they don’t do much to really protect you. The stuff gets into your eyes, your hair…everything.  It deposits a fine yellowish grit onto everything.

I hide indoors with the windows shut.

BUT about two weeks ago we had such a nice day so I threw my chores aside and hit the road. Gosh did that ever feel good! I walked 11 kilometers.

What a perfect day-sunshine and moderate PM readings.

The fuji was in bloom and I didn’t even realize it until I came up over the hill and there it was-cascading down the trellis in the old playground. Because the spring has been so gloomy I haven’t been out much to really notice.

I wandered down the road just enjoying the gardens. I think that is one of my favorite parts about living in the countryside-the cottage gardens.

Usually located right around the house or in the sunniest spot on the property. No home is really complete here without some form of vegetable patch.

I saw that the clover was also in bloom. The rice farmers plant a crop of pink clover in the rice fields as green manure. Right before planting time it will get cut down and plowed under.

I stood here for a long time watching big chubby bees drifting from flower to flower while dozens of butterflies played tag.

May 5th is boy’s day and I saw several houses already flying the carp…

My husband told me that these are extremely expensive. Some sets cost up to $10,000 USD. I have no idea why anyone would want to spend that much on carp flags. The are pretty though.

There are several old farm houses that I love looking at. I hope that I don’t make the occupants feel uncomfortable when I stand out on the road for several minutes and just stare at the house. I’m fascinated by the way they look. They remind me of old fairy-tale homes.

Just look at this old place.

It looks like one good sneeze from the farmer could reduce the place to matchsticks. He still parks his tractor in there!

Here are a few shots from the other side. I wish I could just wander around there and take photos. I’ll just bet there is some interesting stuff laying around!

Wildflowers were in abundance along the roadside,in hedge-grows and creeping from crevices in old stone walls. Actually they were just everywhere!

As I got near the foot of the mountain I noticed these interesting plants. I have no idea what they were. They kind-of looked like some sort of bamboo.

This little lane looked so inviting to me. For some reason it brought back childhood memories.

I passed by this gate that I’ve never noticed before.

It took me about 45 minutes to reach the foot of the mountain and the waterfall.

There is a different sort of beauty up here. A rugged and wild kind of beauty.

I spent a little bit of time listening to the powerful sounds of the river and the waterfall and then I slowly made my way back home.

There is a fence along the way that I always look forward to seeing because it changes with the seasons.

I’ll leave you with a photo of it….

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Blogging

Blossoms

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I believe I am correct to say that these were the first blossoms to emerge in the neighborhood!

As the spring draws near and the first shoots poke bits of green through sleeping earth and dry branches begin to show signs of life- I start to keep a keen eye on the old sakura across the street.

I know which branch will begin to flower first. I know this because I have been watching this tree now for over six years.

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It’s always the same branch that hangs over the stone stairs that are now almost buried under rotted leaves. Since Mrs. K passed away no one sweeps the stairs anymore. I’ve never seen any of her family since the day they came and carted off all her possessions.

When she was alive she too watched the tree. She used to stand on the stairs peering up into the branches, calculating the days when the first blossoms might emerge.

Without really thinking about it, I’ve taken over for her. As I stood on the top most step the other day taking these photos I thought of her.

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Next Sunday we will have our Hanami party. My inlaws are uber excited! I am so happy that we can do this for them. They can’t really do all the things they used to but as a family we try our best to help them enjoy things to the best of their ability. Fortunately our engawa faces the sakura tree so even if it rains-the party will go on!

Today was rainy, cold and quite miserable but looking at the forecast tomorrow and onward it looks as though perhaps spring blew in today with the thunderstorms. I see the temps are in the 60’s and 70’s for the week. I expect the garden will take off now.

As a matter of fact, I think I better get the potato sacks ready. It appears, according to my last year’s garden diary, that I’m late to get my potatoes in. Maybe that’s okay because it seems everything is a bit behind this year anyhow. At any rate-I’d better plan on doing that this week.

I saw the komatsuna, spinach and carrots have sprouted when I peeked at the garden this morning-before the thunderstorms moved in.

We’ve already eaten several salads from our lettuce.  Looking forward to the weeks to come! Grow garden grow!

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.

🙂