Mists

I woke this morning around 6:30 am and went about my morning ritual of opening the engawa curtains and letting the morning light in.

Standing a moment, I drank in the peace of the morning garden and then gazed out over the valley and Mt. Fukuchi beyond. This morning the valley and Fukuchi San were blanketed by fog. Actually it had already dissipated a bit as the sun was making its way up over the mountains.

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This was the first morning that I had seen the mist this season and as I was cooking breakfast I made a note to check the ancient Japanese calendar.

Sure enough-exactly correct.

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What is most interesting to me is that someone in the past had such a keen sense of the subtle changes of the seasons and noted them down. Makes me wonder how many other things aren’t noted.

We no longer hear the shrill morning cries of the cicada. They have gone silent. They have such a short life span above ground. Their larva survive for up to 17 years underground before emerging during the hot summer months to a life span of only about a week or so. Incidentally the song is loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss in humans should the cicada sing just outside the listener’s ear.

There is a haiku by Matsuo Basho that I love:

Nothing in the cry
of cicadas suggests they
are about to die

They sing with all their might after having lived in darkness and seclusion for years and years even thought they have but a week or so to enjoy life in beautiful sunny gardens.

They always remind me to choose joy no matter what the circumstances.

It is Friday morning here. I am going to go bake challah for the Shabbat and enjoy the slowly cooling temperatures.

 

The Spring Countryside

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

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

I hide indoors with the windows shut.

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

What a perfect day-sunshine and moderate PM readings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just look at this old place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll leave you with a photo of it….

 

 

 

 

 

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.

🙂

 

 

 

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!

Everywhere You Look-Christmas Cake

Cake frenzy is almost here. One more day and you won’t be able to park anywhere near a cake shop. There will be no open parking spaces for miles around.

No Japanese Christmas would be complete without Christmas cake.

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Christmas cake is THE star here on Christmas. I wondered how this custom came about so I did a little research.

“After World War II, American soldiers led the work of rebuilding an occupied Japan. The Japanese economy was in shambles and food shortages were common. Even rarer were sugary sweets. The sweet treats from the U.S. that the Americans handed out were a memorable luxury to a people still recovering from the ravages of war. Sweet chocolates, above all, given by American soldiers epitomized the utmost wealth Japanese children saw in American lives,” cultural anthropologist Hideyo Konagaya wrote in a 2001 paper on the history of the Christmas cake published in the Journal of Popular Culture. Sweets fed a longing for wealth and a desire to Americanize” full article here

The custom started because American Christmas conveyed an image of prosperity to the Japanese. It was never about religion.

The most popular type of Christmas cake is a type of sponge cake filled with strawberries and whipped cream and frosted with whipped cream. There are usually strawberries on top of the cake along with maybe a little Santa ornament. They are actually really good- specially with a hot cup of coffee.

I read in the article that most cakes are red and white because the Japanese flag is white with a red circle in the middle. So while Christmas cake and “Christmas” represent American wealth and affluence..the cake remains nationalistic. Just interesting information you learn if you dig.

We have never ordered a Christmas cake. They are  fairly expensive-a little cake will cost you 3,000-4,000 yen (about 30-40$$). My husband being a diabetic can’t eat much cake anyhow and my hips don’t need more than half a Christmas cake. Just saying’.

Mother-in-law orders one on occasion and then we go over and have coffee and cake with them. I never say no to an invitation of coffee and cake.  🙂

As you may know, we have a little dog. I stopped by the pet shop a couple of weeks ago and saw that they had a counter set up advertising Christmas cake for dogs!

See this photo below? I took it in the pet shop. All these delicious looking desserts are for DOGS! Not sure if cats might like them too.

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Eighteen bucks for a large sized doggy Christmas cake. With the tax almost 20$.

Japan never ceases to amaze me. I have a blast just walking around in the mall by myself sometimes and looking at all the unusual and different things. Cheap entertainment. Life can’t be all work.  🙂

 

That time of Year Again

As I’ve said before the time before New Year is a busy time in Japan. Wrapping up the old and getting ready for the new. There are a lot of year-end parties going on- although I don’t have any on my schedule to go to. Hubby does.

My year end schedule consists of getting the osoji ( big cleaning) completed. It is customary to do a general cleaning and get did of this year’s grime before ringing in the new year. Not that we have a lot of grime to get rid of. I will say that old Japanese houses are magnets for dust and mold though. No matter what I do I just can’t keep this house clean.

This past weekend was spent on osoji activities. Three closets were cleaned and rearranged and we even got the pole installed in the big futon closet that we use for a clothes closet. Japanese homes are lacking in closet space. They have big huge closets that are meant for storing futons….but not for clothing.

We now have a huge pile of futons and other items that are bound for the dump. It is difficult to throw out these sorts of items here and I suppose that is why many homes here are liked high with junk because it’s so hard to throw them out. It’s not cheap to get rid of garbage in Japan. The futons need to be dumped because they are old and dusty and beyond cleaning- they belonged to my sister in law’s mom.

The supermarkets have kagami mochi on display…. these were cute. More about New Year traditions later…

Tonight we went out to our favorite family restaurant and four big sumo wrestlers were there for dinner.

They sat in the next booth. You can see the traditional hairstyle peeking over the booth divider.

They were nice enough to take a photo with me…I’m actually a fan of sumo wrestling. I have a friend in town whose son is a famous sumo- Kaiyo Hiroyuki. There is a big statue of him in front of the train station.

Looking forward to getting the cleaning and such behind me. Pardon the rather blah post. The daily grind is exhausting even here.

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The Autumn Fog

We have officially entered the doldrums here. Kyushu autumn and winters are one long dreary affair. Of course one can do things to brighten the days , which I usually do. But if you relied solely on the weather you’d be out of luck.

These days are wonderful though for conjuring up all sorts of stories. There is this certain mystery in the air. I especially love it when a thick fog hangs over everything. It sets the imagination rolling. Makes photography a lot of fun.

Yesterday morning was such a morning when the entire area was shrouded in a misty haze.

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It hung so thick that you could barely see past the garden wall. I never noticed the cobwebs until now when little drops of moisture clung to the fine strands of web making them visible against the foggy background.

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I could even make out all the webs that clung to the neighbor’s house. I never knew there were so many. Amazing, when other things are hidden the hidden things come to light.

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I’ve made my peace with spiders since moving here. I used to be terrified of them like many. I’ve learned to view them differently. In Japan spiders are our friends -eating harmful insects for dinner and keeping them out of our dinners. These pictured here are harmless garden spiders. We have resident house spiders-huntsman spiders. Everyone has them just about. I give ours names and they become less frightening to me. Right now we have Sharley and her children living with us. My husband named her. She is quite large-about as big as my hand but skinnier. I know-I can hear some of you gasping. I assure you that’s just how I felt at first. You’d be surprised at what you can overcome and learn to accept when you don’t have a choice. Japanese never kill house spiders. That would be bad luck.

While I was out photographing the garden I heard shuffling coming up the road. Then I heard someone singing a marching song so I hid behind the bushes (really). I figured there was an interesting photo op coming up.

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I was not disappointed. It was our neighbor. His wife is almost completely blind and she also still walks the road. It frightens me- I always worry about her. This is her husband. I don’t know them personally as they live a ways down the road but my other neighbors tell me that they are probably the nicest people in the neighborhood. I’m thinking about bringing them a fruit basket or something for Christmas. They don’t celebrate Christmas but that’s okay.

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He was singing his marching song as he shuffled slowly up the road. I heard him continue to sing it as he disappeared into the mist….

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Planting Winter Vegetables

I took time out from my catch-up. I think also I needed to get out and see the beauty and peace our creator has for us in this world. It’s been a while since I’ve explored the rice fields and cottage gardens where I love to wander.

There is a little service road that runs across the tops of the rice-fields from the farmers market. On one side there is a bamboo thicket and on the other the rice fields. It makes for a lovely little walk.

Today I saw the ancient gardener planting her winter crop. It gave me such joy to watch her work that I almost went down and asked if she needed help. I watched her and thought, work is good for us. Especially working outside. When you have a big garden to care for you have no time to complain about things that don’t go your way.

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I watched as she slowly hoed the ground. Little by little she loosened the soil until it was loose enough for planting her seedlings.

Not seeming to care about anything except her garden chores. I was lost in the moment with her.

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Working the soil with her hands not caring about anything except getting the seedlings in the ground.

There is so much on my heart right now. So much I want to say to thousands of people but it would be useless. Instead I’ll just say this. An honest day’s work is worth it’s weight in gold. Complaining gets you no where. We don’t always get what we want but if we are wise we know how to live and prosper under any conditions.

As I watched her work I felt such a deep appreciation for the simple things in my life. I too work in the dirt. Many times my hands look like hers and I love that. I love it because it means that I’m not wasting my time-I’m working the land and doing something useful.

Imagine what would happen if everyone would do something useful? Something to help someone else-something practical in love.

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Fascinating, unusual and shocking facts about gift-giving in Japan

I’m sure that most have heard about the culture of gift-giving in Japan. There are some things that you may not have known…..I just wrote an article about this topic on Taiken Japan……here is an excerpt:

 

“From the biggest shopping mall to the smallest tourist stall one can find all manner of items intended for gift-giving. Some are so exquisitely wrapped that you don’t even want to open them! There are whole companies dedicated to producing prepackaged gift items. In many department stores you can find a display section with an assortment of boxed gift items. The varied assortment of items surprises many foreign visitors. Most of the items aren’t exactly what most non-Japanese would consider “gifts”. Gift items can include boxes of laundry soap, bar soap, shampoo and conditioner sets, instant coffee, assorted juice sets, hand towels and nori (dried seaweed)!”

To read the rest of the article click here:

Fascinating, unusual and shocking facts about gift-giving in Japan

 

Higan-the Autumn Equinox

The day of the autumn equinox is a holiday here and I’ve always loved that because Autumn is my favorite season.

There is a saying in Japan:

“The summer heat or winter cold doesn’t last after Higan.”

Higan is said to be a turning point in the season and it is- as far as I have observed.

Higan or Ohigan is actually a Buddhist tradition observed on both the spring and autumn equinox. It is similar to Obon. It’s a time when families visit cemeteries to pay their respects to ancestors.

I’ve noticed that it is also a time when merchants turn the tide from summer to autumn wares.

I love it simply because it is the official start of Autumn.

The equinox, when summer officially hands over the keys and bids a final farewell. The last threads of summer were washed silently away in the mist. Not even a leaf stirred. There was no sound except for the ever present caw of the giant crows-karasu.

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Even the scarecrows stood reticent guard over the elementary school rice field as  giant black karasu sat perched above on the electric lines…. eyeing up the persimmon trees that were now dotted with orange fruit.

As I walk about town I see that several of the persimmon trees have already been ravaged by the birds. During this time of the year it’s best to avoid walking under a persimmon tree. There are several that grow up over the walls above the sidewalk. Smashed fruit and bird-droppings smear the old concrete walks beneath them.

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It seems that Higanbana have sprung up everywhere over the past few days. A sure sign that autumn has truly arrived. In ditches, lining the edges of rice fields and poking up in clumps in hedgerows and road-sides. Their spindly red blossoms add bright autumn color to our landscape.

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This is also the time when moon viewing is at its best.

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There is actually a moon-viewing festival here. Everywhere actually. It is a Japanese traditional festival called Otsukimi that usually takes place on the 15th day of the 8th month of the traditional Japanese calendar which is different from our modern calendar.

Otsukimi dates back to around the year 710 and was mainly celebrated by aristocrats who held moon viewing parties and read poetry, drank sake and generally had a great time out in the cool autumn evening.

Observing Otsukimi is wonderful. Traditionally round white mochi (rice dumplings) are eaten during this time and it is common to see decorations of the full moon hanging in the night sky while rabbits below pound rice into mochi. Americans talk about the “man in the moon” but Japanese say there are rabbits on the moon. I had no idea until some friends in ladies group explained the meaning of the rabbit/moon motifs.

first day of Autumn
my heart is pounding wild
Ah! The full moon

Matsuo Basho

The big cemetery across the valley reminds me that Higan is here. A week before the spring and autumn equinox the huge Kanji character “dai” is illuminated on the mountainside.

I can see it clearly from my back garden.

The “dai” blazes across the valley as the harvest moon illuminates the tops of now fading azalea leaves. A slight cool breeze gently stirs the faded bamboo sunshade as crickets chirrup from one side of the garden to the other. Sitting quietly in the dark I smell the earth and the tangy aroma of autumn fruit.

It is good to be alive but it is good to be reminded that everything changes.