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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.

Posted in Blogging

A Day of Buzzing Things

It is safe to say that early spring has arrived. It was such a lovely day today. After breakfast hubby decided to go hit a few golf balls at the local range and I had Sunday afternoon to myself.

Bright sun shining and temps in the upper 50’s – I heard the garden calling…

When we first moved to Japan I didn’t know a lot about gardening but I learned that if you pay attention the garden will teach you. I made lots of mistakes but I think the garden feels more confidant in my handling of it now. We seem to have developed a better relationship.

Our planting season starts now and I didn’t waste  a moment-my arms full of supplies I headed outdoors.

Taking a walk around I silently observed the little changes. There are buds on the blueberry bush now. I noticed fine threads also…little garden spiders have moved in already.

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I saw the Lenten Roses were blooming…they needed a clean up too…

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If you carefully observe the garden will tell you what to do. I set to work with clippers, shovel, rake. Vines were clipped and some clippings were potted in the hanging planters-the vines will grow lush and full and cover the old lattice at the back of the garden.

The back of the garden is also where my little garden tool storage is. Such a handy little space. It’s a kind of crawl space that goes back under part of the house. I use the front part of it to store my garden supplies.

Once I crawled way back in there with a flashlight. It was only later that I noticed a spider in there-its body about as big as my hand. Now I don’t venture in too far anymore.

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As I dug around in the dirt turning over the clods I appreciated the smell of the earth. How many people long for such an experience. To toil in the sun-pruning and trimming and planning what vegetables will go where.

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My garden and I have a love relationship. It isn’t the biggest or fanciest garden around but it fits me. It is like me in so many ways. I heard people say when they see photos of my garden they see me…this is true.

As I worked around on my hands and knees, bent over or sitting on the cool earth -the season’s first buzzing things could be heard. A big black buzzing thing came lumbering by while I was clearing leaves out of the corner and tying up the long lanky leaves of the early Daffodils.

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Little tiny buzzing things flew madly around me as I trimmed the mint.

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Earthworms came wriggling up through the dirt that I had turned over. I love earthworms-they help me so much. I tucked them back under the soil and went about my business sticking my snap pea seeds in the ground by the trellis.

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Even the water garden was cleaned and the potted plants given a once-over. I saw new shoots and I smiled. They are coming…

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I remembered Mrs. Umbrella as I peeked over her wall into her garden. I wonder how she is over at the nursing home. I wonder if she misses her garden. What a lovely full garden it was! Every single morning at 5am she was outside taking care of it. Now…it’s rather sad. Most of the plants have been ripped out by her daughter. I saw a few flowers had come up on their own in one of the pots looking rather lonely and forlorn…as if waiting for her…and she never came.

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My 3pm snack of hot coffee and a small piece of cream-sponge cake was heavenly. I think the most expensive 5 star restaurant can’t beat sitting in my garden looking out over the valley and the mountains beyond.

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Soon the bush that looks like nothing more than a bunch of sticks now-will be full and lush and beautiful….filled with huge pink and purple hydrangea. It is already full of buds.

I was so wonderfully satisfied at the end of the afternoon. Things were cleaned, seeds had been planted…and dozens of seedlings were already coming up in my flower beds.

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Now it’s time to get to work doing the serious planning of what goes where. I have some idea but the rest will be hashed out this week.

Spring…wonderful spring…

 

 

 

 

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NOTICE

Notice to my readers-on the 24th of February my premium theme runs out and I am not renewing it as it’s a cost I can’t really afford right now. What that means is that CONNIENAKA.COM my custom domain will not longer exist. WordPress will revert my address to the old address——->

https://connienaka.wordpress.com

As far as I know it should not affect readers-but you never know…so I’m posting the old address here for you now…just in case.