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The Local Matsuri

I finally had some time to download the few photos of the local festival that I had on my camera.

No matter how many times we go I always find the annual festival interesting. Every May on Mother’s Day weekend the Itoda Town festival is held with gusto! Itoda is a small town tucked into the Tagawa-gun area. One of those blink and you miss it kind of places. Nothing much really happens in Itoda so when the annual festival rolls around you better believe people get excited!

The “float” building starts about a month and a half ahead of time. Every night and on weekends the float builders get together to put these huge things together. There is a lot of creativity, manpower and I think beer and BBQ that goes into making these. I say beer and BBQ because the float-building process seems to be a festival in itself!

Some of them have wooden wheels on them and the float handlers pull and push the thing along the streets. Then there is the tough-guy group who omit the wheels and install huge logs that they actually carry this entire thing by. This is a photo from the last post but if you look carefully you can see the scratch marks on the road. You can also see that some of the men have triangle shaped pillows hanging cross ways on their bodies. These pillows are shoulder cushions. They put these pillows on their shoulder and then slide their shoulder under the carrying “log”. I wonder how much the cushion actually helps though. The yama in this photo is being carried.

The floats are built in various locations and then brought to the main festival grounds by either pushing and pulling them or carrying them.

You always know where the floats have been (actually called “yama” in this area) because the streets are all scraped up.

There are always a variety of interesting characters to see at the festival grounds. We like standing in one place and just watching everyone.

I love all the colorful costumes.

We have been coming to the festival for about 18 years now. Before we actually lived in Japan we would plan many trips to Japan around matsuri time. Generally the matsuri is peaceful and everyone behaves. Some get pretty drunk but even the drunks are mostly peaceful.

On occasion a fight breaks out but the local security force is always around to make short order of any trouble.

Last year there was a bit of excitement when a fight broke out but it was quelled by a few men that had witnessed the incident-my husband of course had to jump in and lend a hand to stopping things before they got out of hand. He was a “fighter” in his day and still thinks he can do what he used to do. Thankfully the younger guys watch out for him. 🙂

At night is when the action starts. The yama are electrified and look beautiful when they are illuminated.

The yama musicians sit on board! Can you imagine carrying one of these PLUS the musicians? In the middle is a little space where the drummer sits.

Notice the little one sleeping on his granny’s lap? He must have been really tired because the event is pretty noisy.

These kids were excited to be on my blog!

It is a fun event. There are concession stands selling yakitori (BBQ sticks), cotton candy, Japanese sweets, roast corn and other typical Japanese festival foods. There is of course a beer tent. There are no open container laws here so walking around with an open alcohol container isn’t against the law – however public drunkenness is not ok- although I think they only arrest drunks who make trouble. Surprisingly most people behave.

We had a short but fun time. The folks tire quickly so we didn’t spend a lot of time here. But that’s ok…I’m so glad my MIL and FIL were able to get out a bit. We were surprised actually because it has been a while since they wanted to try and walk up to the festival. Years ago there was a terrible accident so my MIL doesn’t really like to attend.

As fun as it is, it is also a bit dangerous. At a certain time during the evening things start getting a little rowdy and the floats begin to “tease” each other. The float handlers on the wheeled floats begin to violently push and pull the floats back and forth and then rock them from side to side. After that they spin them crazily around in a circle.

I know- I can hear you thinking…what??? Yes- they do this and they compete with each other to see who can get the craziest. They line up on opposite ends of the street and charge towards each other stopping just inches away from one-another. All the while the musicians are sitting calmly on the sides playing their flutes and drums. When the accident happened things got out of hand. There was too much beer that had been consumed and instead of stopping they smashed right into each other. One of the float handlers slipped….and his head was crushed between the ends of the two logs.

They stopped the festival for three years after that. This was many years ago when my husband was a teen.

When I see them try to maneuver through the narrow streets I’m always amazed. Some of these yama are so tall that someone has to ride on the very top. The top-most rider has a rubber covered pole that he uses to carefully “lift” the power lines out of the way. Japan is a spaghetti of power lines. I always hope the top most man waits until AFTER the matsuri to enjoy his beer.

The streets are so narrow that they sometimes scrape house gates and such going by.

It is an interesting event to attend! Thankful that another year went by and there were no injuries.

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Recovery

I didn’t do much to it but the garden seems to have recovered. Once it stopped raining so much the fungus or whatever it was seems to have cleared up. I guess pinching off the diseased leaves when I did helped.

The tomatoes are standing strong at the moment….for now. You never know what can happen. A freak wind, a herd of wild bugs, cats….and that’s it. There go your vegetables.

And yes-in Japan “herd” is the correct word ….you should see the monster bugs we have here.

The cucumbers are starting to climb and flower. My experimental eggplant is flowering. Experimental because this is the first time I’ve tried growing any. I basically just “stuck” a seedling in the garden to see what would happen.

The accidental potato is coming along. This is part of a potato that I threw in the compost heap and it just started growing. Happens to me often. Sometimes my compost veggies are better than the ones in the garden proper! It isn’t too big but I left it alone. It’s growing..might get an evening’s meal out of it.

Even the corn that I thought for sure was going to die-is still puttering along.

The snap peas were a failure-I harvested the eight total pea pods and called it quits with them.

But this Passion Flower….this thing is a monster. I actually ripped this entire thing out a little over a year ago. I even dug up the root…or so I thought. Just look at it! It never gets any fruit but it does flower and boy does it grow!!

The liatris loves the new dry corner I moved it to.

And soon the ajisai will be glorious! Already the first tinges of color are emerging.

I heard the other day that the fireflies are already starting to be seen along rivers and streams. Tonight is “date night” so after dinner we will drive up to the waterfall area to see if there are any fireflies floating around.

At the moment the front garden looks nice. I rarely ever feature it in any photos because…honestly I often times neglect it and it looks wild. Today it looked rather nice.

Last week was the neighboring town’s matsuri or festival. We usually go every year but this year was a bit different. We’ve taken much more of an active role in the care of my in-laws so instead of going to the festival like we always have, together just to have fun, we took my in-laws by the arm and walked slowly with them to the festival grounds.

We saw festival participants dressed in their costumes -making their way towards the action area.

It was a gorgeous afternoon for a walk.


(trying to maneuver the “float” through extremely narrow roads)

I wasn’t able to take many photos but…the in-laws had such a great time!
On the way back to the house I saw a small purple tassel on the road…evidence that the festival floats had passed this way…

 

 

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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!

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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….

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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.

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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!

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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…..

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If you can read this could you kindly let me know?

Well-when I was making the decision to revert back to the free WordPress I specifically read that my readers would be redirected to the old site — at anyrate- that was not the case.

So  trying to decide who can see this. If you can see this post could you just hit the like button? That will help me decide if I want to continue this blog or not. I’ve been looking at Yola blogs..Much better deals over there.

Thanks readers. Sorry for the trouble.