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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Posted in Around The Yard&Garden

Farmer Green Jeans….

Winter has just begun in earnest here but I’m already thinking about the garden this coming spring. I plan on doing gardening “for real” this time. Last year and the year before I grew a few crops that really contributed to our meal preparations. I’ve learned a few things now and I think it’s time to step up the game.

I was looking through some old photos of the garden and trying to decide what I wanted to plant. I always seem to be late with panting some things but not this coming year. I’ve already spent some time consulting the elderly experts around these parts.

A photo from last spring.

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My father in law told me that the sunappu endo seeds (sugar snap peas) need to go into the ground in February. I’ve got that on my list already.

I’m going to do some overhauling of the general design too. The front area gets a lot of sun but the rear of the garden doesn’t so I’ll work on redesigning everything to work with the sun. I decided to grow cucumbers that will climb up my little arch way. That will free the side trellis for the sugar snap peas. This strange little curved section is going to be enlarged because this is where the sun hangs out the most.

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Those bricks need to come out and the whole area enlarged. The left side will hold the green pepper bushes. They get pretty big so I think that’s all I’ll be able to fit in that little bed.

I was out there today studying and thinking and I noticed that a few daffodils were blooming. Funny-even after six years here it is still kind of hard to get used to the different seasons.

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I’ll just let the flowers grow over by the wall. Two years ago I planted ox-eye daises back in that corner and they just keep coming back year after year. I can already see all the little seedlings. I love that area all wild and colorful and bursting with flowers.

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Below is a photo from when we first moved in. What a disaster.

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It helps me tremendously to keep a log of my garden. Gardening can be a touchy affair. One year everything is going great and the next year nothing works out-or half goes to the bugs. I love seeing old photos of the garden because it helps me remember that I can be successful at it.

Already looking forward to getting out there and rearranging things.

A peek into my neighbor’s garden….she’s got a citrus tree. Not sure if they are edible or not. Some aren’t-way too sour. They look lovely though, don’t they?

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She’s also got some bushes that are flowering. She moved into a nursing home about three years ago. Her daughter takes care of her house and garden although the garden is nothing like it was when she took care of it herself. I really miss her lovely roses and dozens upon dozens of over flowing flower pots.

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Posted in Around The Yard&Garden, Cooking

Summer Tomatoes

I planted each seed and lovingly tended it. When the seedlings were about six inches tall I transferred them to the ground.

Last year I put the seedlings into pots and I didn’t have even half of the yield that I have this year. Not even close. They must like the garden much better. I have had buckets full of cherry tomatoes!

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The plants go all the way around the little path to the left. They grew so big that I didn’t plant anything else in my little plot.

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Each morning after I cook breakfast and bento I go out to water and pick whatever is ripe. I fill my apron pockets.

Our summer has been beastly hot and I’ve needed to water daily. Temps have been between 98-112 F. Last week with the heat index it was 122 degrees F. I think I said that in a previous post.

As I’m writing this I’m wondering why I didn’t add any mulch.

For a few days we’ve had it a bit cooler…around 95. Imagine…95 felt cool. This morning at 9:00 am it was already 98.

As I was filling up my pockets with tomatoes a wasp flew over my head and landed in the water garden to grab a drink. Everyone is thirsty. I drink gallons a day at the moment.

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We discovered that our favorite way to eat our tomatoes is grilled. I throw them whole into a fry-pan with a tiny bit of oil on low heat and just let them roast until they are soft and crack open. Sometimes I add a bit of garlic sauce or just a tiny bit of salt/pepper.

We eat virtually salt free so, many times I don’t add anything. Yesterday for lunch I threw a handful of tomatoes and several shishito peppers from my bush into a pan. I grilled them and then I threw in a handful of shredded cheese. I had a couple pieces of home-made whole wheat flat bread with it and a glass of ice-coffee. Awesome lunch!

As I was tending to the tomatoes today I realized something. I realized that my once long time dream of simple living was being realized.

Sometimes people think that “simple living” means “no work”. Nothing could be further from the truth. I do a lot of work by hand. I walk to do shopping and errands. The distances I walk are quite long…sometimes it takes me an hour one way to get to a certain store that I frequent. I am rarely idle because there is always something to do.

Simple life isn’t a life of idleness….but it is a life filled with peace and contentment.

But…. more on that later. The stars of this post were my tomatoes….

 

 

 

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Posted in Around The Yard&Garden

Garden

It’s so incredibly hot that I’ve given up most of my gardening except for my tomatoes. Yesterday it was 117 degrees F with the heat index. It’s cooler today, only 105.

Ive raised these from seed and they are doing wonderful. I get a basket of tomatoes every morning. 

My efforts to hand pollinate yielded one kabocha. The first try at growing them. I learned a lot.

I’ve also got seen peppers growing but they are slow this year. Last year we had them coming out our ears. 

The cucumbers are done now. I need to go out and take down the vine. Maybe when it’s cooler……

Posted in Around The Yard&Garden, Japanese Culture

Netsuchūshō

NetsuchÅ«shō  –English : HEAT STROKE

I can’t tell you how many times I hear that word during the summer months. There are a few different words for “heat stroke” but netsuchusho is the one that is most commonly used in our area.

As soon as the rainy season fades into the sweltering hot days of the Japanese summer the word “netsuchusho” is heard constantly. So frequently do I hear this word uttered- that it has become a signature part of summer for me.

 I can’t imagine a summer without these anymore.

Delicate glass wind chimes hang from my back porch tinkling with each hot breeze. I’ve hauled out my stash of hand fans and put one in each handbag that I regularly use. You really don’t want to leave home without a fan or a hankie.

The rice fields are already teeming with red dragonflies. I had several visit me in my garden today as well.  As I was pulling weeds  I also saw several tell-tale holes in the ground-the summer cicada have begun to dig their way up out of the ground. I noticed quite a few empty “shells” stuck to tree and shrub branches. They climb out of the ground and shed their hard exoskeleton which stays glued to tree limbs, trashcans, fence posts and just about any other object they happened to climb onto.

Soon the air will be screaming with the sounds of summer semi (cicada). They are SO loud that at times I literally have to cover my ears because the pitch vibrates my inner ear in such a way that my ears literally feel like they are going to pop.

I was talking to my mom on the phone once and she said-

“What on earth is that sound”?

She was astonished when I told her they were bugs. She said that it sounded like a dozen or more car alarms going off.

I got up very early today to work in my garden which needed a complete overhaul after all the rain we’d been having.

During the rainy season the mosquitoes build up their ranks. You can’t work in the garden without lighting several mosquito coils….another icon of summer here. I do have the traditional clay “pig” that is usually used for burning coils but today empty cans and the big burner will do.

IMG_4718 As I was donning my garden gear-long pants, a long-sleeved, high collar shirt, garden apron, gloves and arms covers and last but not least my Japanese garden bonnet…my husband said…

“mama-be careful….NetsuchÅ«shō” !

Indeed-the temps got up to 101 degrees F ! I was outside before 7AM and it was already 86 degrees. I managed to get everything done that I wanted to do in the backyard. There was a lot that needed to be cut back. With all the rain everything was over grown. I gathered six huge bags of cuttings and such from the backyard.

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We have to buy special “regulation” trash bags. The “garbage men” (sorry for the not-so-politically correct name) will not take any trash that isn’t in regulation trash bags. Each area has their own bags. They aren’t cheap-10 bags for 600 yen.

It was HOT. I’m a fairly strong person but today just about knocked me over. I had to take a break every thirty minutes or so.

I harvested the cucumbers. Checked the tomatoes and staked them. I surveyed the kabocha and saw that my efforts to fertilize might be working so I left them alone. The plan was to rip them out if they were not going to produce anything. I saw that the Japanese bell peppers have tiny peppers growing and my blueberries are getting ripe.

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On the ONE day that I need to be outside, the toilet vacuum truck was making the rounds. To say that the neighborhood “stank like heck ” as a true Wisconsinite would say-is an understatement. Toilet vacuum trucks are part of life in the Japanese countryside. In the summer they are horrid. The entire neighborhood and the house stinks for hours after they have been in the area.

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They were at the neighbor’s house…parked right beside my wall…exactly where I was working.

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So I worked in the backyard until noon, took a lunch break, soaked my head in cold water for a while and thought I might be able to get the front yard done too.

I was out front for about an hour and suddenly I felt dizzy and sick to my stomach….and the word NetsuchÅ«shō came to mind. Just at that moment my neighbor opened her genkan to put something outside and she saw me….

“konnichiwa, it’s hot..be careful…NetsuchÅ«shō”!

Yes indeed I think that is exactly what was going to happen if I didn’t stop right then. My husband said there have been several heat related deaths in the past few days .

I gathered my tools, lugged them to the backyard storage with great effort, sweating profusely. I was getting dizzier by the moment.

Standing under the cool shower was such a relief.

Japanese summers are insanely hot and humid and Netsuchūshō is a word to heed!

Posted in Around The Yard&Garden, just thoughts

Where is your sanctuary? 


Mine is here in my hodge-podge little garden. It’s my favorite place in the cool early mornings. It’s not very fancy or well ordered but, that’s ok. 

It is a reflection of my life in a way. A joining of odds and ends, growth, weeding out, planting new, watering….

Seedlings, mature plants, fading plants and eventually dead plants. I see my life here so many times. 

I talk to God here. I work through issues, I rejoice, contemplate, weep and rest here. 


I have learned to face reality and come to terms with life issues….in the stillness of my morning garden.