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…..

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.

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…

 

 

 

 

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.

The First Day of Spring part 2

February here is still very cold. Most days the skies are grey and overcast. At first glance over the landscape the trees are still bleak, leafless and dreary.

However, if one kneels down and inspects closely, the tips of tiny green shoots can be seen shoving aside the earth and making their way upwards. The same thing happens upon close inspection of the trees.

I stood and observed a few sakura trees beside the roadside. Grey fuzzy nodules lined the branches- a sure sign that in a few weeks our area would be in its spring glory!

It is always interesting to me how this is citrus season and I marveled at all the heavily laden fruit trees.

The way to the historical home takes you through the older part of town where many of the buildings are so tipsy looking that it seems as if a strong wind could knock them down.

There is an old shop along the way that I always stop and peek into. It’s reminiscent of the old-style Edo period shops with big wide doors that are kept open to the public. As I peeked in I saw big bottles of sake, bags of rice, crates, wooden boxes and more. I’ve never gone in and really looked around though. Every time I have stolen a look- there wasn’t anyone in there despite the doors being open! Amazing.

A bit further down the narrow road sits a small park with a rather curious statue. I have photographed this statue before and asked around a bit regarding the significance of it but no one seems to know.

She is bent low to the ground -completely naked. I have pondered many times about what this statue could represent. There are no signs around describing her-so I guess I’m left to wonder.

Before crossing the street I stood for a bit and admired the remnants of an old gate and building structure that had been incorporated into a newer home. I am fortunate here as we have so many old buildings and structures that remind of days gone by. Standing for a moment I envisioned kimono clad citizens, their wooden geta clacking loudly as they hurried on their way.

Directly above this property sits the Japanese traditional villa “Nogata Saiji Kan”. It was the same home I featured in last year’s Hina Matsuri post. If you missed it-don’t worry as Hina Matsuri is coming up soon.

The home was not open but I saw the garden gate open and decided to sit for a while.

It’s a good thinking spot. There were two other ladies sitting on the veranda chatting. I decided to visit again when the weather was nice and warm. I’ll bring some tea and a notebook, sit on the veranda and gaze out over the gardens and city below. How grand to have been the mistress here at one time.

I stayed only a few minutes. The little old ladies chatter kept me company. Noticing the climbers on the way out I got an idea for my garden.

It was almost 2:30pm and time to slowly make my way back. There is a little strip of shops along the road that are as unique as can be. The main shop sits rather in the middle with several other little shoplets all around it. Everyone of them quaint and delightful-selling all sorts of handmade items, pottery and beautiful handkerchiefs. Antique kimono and various accessories, linens, wall hangings and such are in another. The main shop has all sorts of trinkets, chopsticks, washi-paper and adorable postcards-and that’s only the half of what they have for sale.

They also have free coffee so I made a pit-stop for a cuppa and picked through their selection of seasonal handkerchiefs because I thought it was time for a new one. For 500 yen I walked away with a beautiful and delicate new handkerchief featuring teacups painted in four-seasons flora.

So far I had spent 675 yen out of my 1,220 yen total. My stomach was growling and I had 545 yen left jingling in my pocket. I counted it twice to make sure. I knew just the place where that would be more than enough to fill my stomach for the 45 minute walk home-the train station coffee shop.

A cup of coffee, half a bacon-cheese pita bread and a sweet-bean bun later I was ready to hit the road home and…I still had around 43 yen to spare!

It had gotten a bit cold, especially as I crossed over the long Ongagawa River bridge where it is always guaranteed to be windy. There were so many ducks on the river and in the distance I saw people preparing the area where the annual tulip festival is always held.

A hot cup of cocoa and a short nap were wonderfully delightful after my (cheap) day out.

The First Day of Spring-part 1

Risshun marks the beginning of spring on the old Japanese calendar. The day before Risshun is Setsubun – the bean throwing festival.

To celebrate the beginning of spring I always do a little something. Mostly that “something” is get in the garden and start to get things ready. But I had not been out for a long walk for a while-since I came down with- strepinfluenzaasthmaarthritis. (yes all of those at once). I decided that on Setsubun my camera and I would go and explore the local shrine.

I am very fond of spending as little money as possible. We live a very minimalist lifestyle. I rarely ever carry a lot of money and I don’t allow myself a very big personal spending budget.

On this day I had 1,220 yen or around $12.00. All in coins. I love making a game out of seeing how far I can stretch my little budget.The reason why I’m including this in the post is because people always seem to think Japan is so expensive and you need a wheelbarrow full of money to enjoy a day in Japan. Not so-come on along I’ll show you.

A ten-minute walk to the bus-stop I caught the number 3 bus down to the train station–cost 170 yen.  With my leg still hurting a bit I thought it better to take the bus most of the way down. Walking to the train station takes me about 30-45 minutes. I wanted to save my leg a bit.

Walking from the train station to Nogata Shrine takes about 10 minutes.

Signs of spring were evident. This is nanohana. Soon the fields will be a filled with yellow and my nose will run. The flowers are edible and make very tasty tempura.

It looks like a big city in the background but It isn’t really.

There were a few people walking up the steps to the shrine with me. Since it was Setsubun I guessed they were on their way to pray.

First stop was the hand washing station or the purification well. The water was cold as I washed first my left hand then my right and poured a little into my right hand to rinse out my mouth. Drying my hands on a clean white towel I sat for a moment to enjoy the daffodils and take a bite out of the chocolate bar I tucked into my bag.

I always love the big old heavy doors of the shrines. They remind me of castle fort doors.

I expected there to be people here but besides the old woman tending the small festival tent, I was the only one here.

I threw a 5 yen coin into the offertory box and prayed for my family and then wandered around a bit enjoying the beauty and stillness of the shrine grounds.

The ume trees were blossoming and soon the branches would be laden with pink.

A few others trickled in and out to pray.

I stayed for a few moments and chatted with the woman who was tending the festival tent. She gave me a wonderfully delicious cup of ginger/citrus tea.
I stood by the wall over looking the city and thought about where to wander next. I wasn’t far from the old historical home so I started off in that direction.

So far I’d only spent 175 yen.

To be continued….

 

 

Recipe for Home-Style Japanese Miso Soup

Miso-the ancient super food. First brought to Japan from China by Buddhist priests around 1,300 years ago it was originally consumed by nobility because it was considered a delicacy. At that time it contained rice which was expensive.

Miso’s fame spread when it became known for its rich energy-giving properties and was adopted by samurai as a staple part of their diet.

Miso is made from fermented soybeans and grains and contains millions of beneficial bacteria. It’s also a good source of  B vitamins, vitamins E, K and folic acid. There are various types and blends but the most common is made from fermented soybeans. This is usually the kind that I use daily. Sometimes I use mugi-miso or barley miso. Some miso is saltier, some sweeter and some fermented longer.

Miso is a protein-rich paste and we add it to various dishes. It adds a wonderful flavor base to soup. I also muddle it with mirin and use it to season stir-fried vegetables. Sometimes I spread it on fish that is cooked in a pan. It is lovely muddled with mirin and added to stir-fried eggplant that is then sprinkled with sesame seeds.

There are a variety of ways that you can make miso soup-this is how I make ours.

Basic Home-Style Japanese Miso Soup

Ingredients:

Vegetables-carrots, Chinese cabbage, seaweed (dried or fresh depending upon what I have). Sometimes I add sliced onions and mushrooms.

Dashi- I used to use powdered dashi which is made from fish. When my husband was diagnosed with diabetes we started to order liquid dashi that is made from kombu or seaweed (kombu is seaweed-not to be confused with a concoction called “kombucha” which is not Japanese and not seaweed). We switched to the liquid kombu-dashi at the recommendation of my husband’s doctor.

on the left-powdered dashi made from fish-on the right kombu-dashi

Miso-I use either plain soybean miso or a barley-soybean miso.

I use a 5 cup sauce pan.

Making the soup: One note-my husband is a diabetic and needs a very low salt diet so my measurements are for his diet. You can adjust the dashi and miso to suit your taste. The recipe is flexible. Although-I eat the same food and am much healthier for it. My blood pressure was high before but, since I started eating low salt, my blood pressure is normal. No more headaches either.

First you have to make the dashi- or the base. I fill the sauce pan about 3/4 full of water and add a tablespoon and a half of liquid kombu-dashi.

Then I slice the carrots, I cut the Chinese cabbage into small pieces, maybe some sliced onions, even a few mushrooms-and add them all to the pot. I throw in a spoonful of dried seaweed or add fresh seaweed if I have it. I let the veggies simmer for a few minutes.

Many people add a potato cut into small cubes. Because of my husband’s dietary restrictions I don’t.

After about 5 minutes or so I add 2 tablespoons of miso paste and use my long-handled cooking chopsticks to stir the paste around until it is pretty much dissolved.

Then I turn the gas down low and simmer the soup until the vegetables are cooked.

That’s it. It is a very easy soup to make and it is very flexible. Different areas around Japan might have their own twist -but this is how it is generally cooked in our area.

If you have an Asian store near you with Japanese products you will probably be able to find the powdered dashi. It is a staple product and can be found in almost every Japanese kitchen. Every Asian store that I have ever been in (outside of Japan) has this product.  It is called hon-dashi and made from fish.

Happy cooking-let me know how your soup turned out!

Familiarity and Morning Soup

This morning as the aroma of simmering miso soup permeated our kitchen I realized how familiar and ordinary this  was to me now.
As I gently stirred the miso paste into the pot with the long cooking chopsticks the pungent smell of miso brought back memories. I remembered the trips to visit my husband’s family in Japan before we moved.

Every morning my mother in law (Okasan) arose early to cook breakfast and we were awakened to the smell of simmering miso soup, a standard part of the Japanese breakfast. We would lay quietly for a few minutes, snuggled warmly under the thick futon blanket in the tatami room and listen as she bustled about the kitchen-the aroma of simmering soup drifting under the shoji doors.

When we left and returned home to Saipan I remembered how the smell of simmering miso always aroused a homey and warm feeling as it reminded me of Okasan and the times we spent in Japan with family.

This morning as I bustled about the kitchen preparing the same breakfast Okasan always prepared for us, I realized that the aroma of simmering miso -something that was once part of a memory that belonged to a foreign country- was now part of my everyday life.

But deeper than that, this foreign country was now a part of my heart. It was no longer “foreign” to me.

I can now say-I’m home.

Hints of Spring

I worked in the garden today and noticed signs of spring everywhere.

Taking a little break I wandered down the road a bit and saw buds and little blossoms beginning to cover branches. The ume trees are beginning to blossom. It is actually the ume tree that heralds the spring in Japan.

The old sakura across the street is sprouting little buds too. Soon the stores will be selling sakura “everything”.

I’m starting to think about our Hanami already.

How lovely it is to live in an area where we enjoy such a short “winter” if you can even call it that. Maybe I shouldn’t say anything-who knows we might have another “historic” snow storm like we did last year.

I took full advantage of the sunshine and mild temperatures to putter around the garden rearranging, potting and building.

I was thinking of not cutting down the dead tree. Perhaps I’ll just cut some of the branches off and leave the tree up for the birds. We are in the process of creating kind of a bird rest-stop.

I managed to photograph some of our recent customers.

These are mejiro メジロ, 目白- or Japanese white-eye. If you are fond of looking at Japanese art you will see this bird depicted often. My husband told me that when they were kids they used to go into the forest and put some sort of sticky substance on a branch with fruit as a bait-and then wait until an unsuspecting mejiro was attracted to the fruit and got stuck on the branch. They caught them and caged them as pets. These are common to have as pets. They have been exported to other parts of the world and sold as cage birds. I love to see them in the wild though.

I removed the bowl and replaced it with a homemade bird-feeder. We will build a few more and place them up around the yard.

Hopefully the vines will grow up into the old dead tree because we’d like to keep it as a bird stop.

The mint at the back of the garden is starting to fill out. Some of it is now sitting on my kitchen window in this little pot. It reminds me of my granddaughter who loved to go out early in the morning and pick a handful of leaves. We’d make it into tea for our tea-parties.

As I strolled down the road I noticed Mr.K had harvested his daikon. This year the daikon is just delicious. The other night we had daikon -chicken nimono–delicious!

This week February will be here. I had better purchase my seeds soon so I don’t forget. I can’t believe we are at the threshold of spring already-where has the winter gone? Gardening has shortened the winter season for me considerably. I start thinking about planting seeds at this time of the year and gathering my supplies. Makes the winter fly on by!

I wanted to share a video with you. It is actually part of a whole series that you can find on youtube. It is a regular program here in Japan. The woman in the video is named Venetia and she lives in Ohara, Kyoto. I love watching her videos! They are in Japanese but she does narrate in English-but even if they were all in Japanese you would still love them. You will be swept away to rural Kyoto watching these. Actually much of the scenery looks very similar to our area. I truly hope you enjoy them.

You can read about her here.

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