Travel and Transitions….

I just returned from almost a month of awesome family time! The photo above is my daughter’s back yard. They bought a beautiful home in the states. It’s situated in the deep countryside surrounded by forests, rivers, farms and lots of wildlife.

Deer were everywhere.

It was such a (reverse) culture shock for me to be in a home with such a huge front and back yard. It’s so big that they have created their own family campground down at the lower end of the property-complete with a pool, campfire pit, horseshoes and more! It was such an amazing time and actually quite unexpected time. My daughter surprised me with a round-trip ticket for Mother’s Day.

The trips back and forth to the states seem to be getting longer-either that or getting older makes the trips harder. For the most part the travel went well although I have to say that the “long-haul” between Korea and my first port of entry into the USA was hard–13 1/2 hours non-stop to Atlanta is a long time for me to try and keep relatively still. Thankful that my daughter booked me in isle seats the entire flight. Getting up often helps my leg cramps.

At any rate-I’m home and from the looks of it things as they were when I left are not what they are now.

I try not to reveal too many personal family issues on my blog because the privacy of my family matters to me and it matters to them so please bear with me as I attempt to reveal what the future holds without revealing too many details. I apologize ahead of time if you ask questions that I don’t fully answer-for the sake of privacy.

There have been times where I have blogged about the possibility of us moving from this lovely little cottage home at the foot of the mountains into what is actually our home located about thirty minutes away in a smallish “nothing really happens there” town-which is actually my husband’s hometown.

This little cottage home belongs to my brother in law’s wife-actually it belonged to her parents but they passed on several years ago. We knew when we first moved to Japan that this home was only transitional as eventually we’d have to move into our home in the little town of “nothing much happens”.

While I was in the states the pages of our lives seem to have flipped forward to the next chapter.

In short- both of my husband’s parents have had a sudden and rapid decline in health. So much so that at a family meeting it was decided that they can no longer care for themselves. Very soon they will be moved from their (our) home in the town of “nothing much happens” to a situation where they will be safe. That’s all I can really say about that for privacy’s sake.

So-that means the time has come where hubby and I need to start preparing to move into a very small home in a very small town.

Interesting.

Interesting because recently I have really become fascinated by “tiny homes” and sort of a hobby of mine is pouring over photos and videos of tiny home living. I’ve got lots of ideas floating around in my mind about how to make the most of a very small space.

And believe me, the home is very small. Like-really small. I’m guessing that it would be considered apartment sized in the USA. Small apartment. My kitchen here is large compared to the narrow little kitchenette in our home. My mother’s apartment in the senior apartment complex that she lives in has far more space than our tiny home has. The narrow little kitchenette in our home is SO small that if I am standing at the sink and my husband passed behind me our bodies would touch-and I’m not a very large person. It has just about zero work counter space. And I mean zero. There is a teeny little area-I’d say about a foot and a half square-next to the cook top that MIL used for prep work. Other than that-no counter space.

But….I have ideas. Thankful for all my tiny-home interest lately. Thankful for Pinterest too.

There is no garden either. At least not on the property. First of all- there is no space for a garden and the teeny-tiny bit of space that is around the house is concreted.

I do envision plants in pots though.

My father-in-law has a very large proper garden plot that I could easily access by jitensha -Japanese style bicycle. It would probably take me ten minutes to bike over there. He’s been wanting me to take over his garden for a while now anyhow.

Most of you that have been reading this blog for a while now know that my faith plays a major role in the way I view life and it’s changing situations. I have come to learn that it is best not to hold onto “things” tightly. You only end up miserable when your happiness and contentment centers around your “stuff” and having that perfect living space or awesome vehicle or hefty bank account.

Or whatever-fill in the blank.

Some of you probably don’t know that several times in my life I have literally lost or had to give up all my “stuff”. That’s just the way life was dealt to me. It wasn’t because I didn’t work, made bad decisions, had some sort of destructive addiction…nope. Every single time the loss was created by a situation that was totally out of my control. I look back now and I am humbly thankful for all the practice I’ve had in having to make major adjustments in life. I’m thankful that I was able to walk through fire and come out the other end not even smelling like smoke.

This situation we are heading into is going to be balanced with things that I like/love and things I don’t like and may hate.

I know though, in the end, it will all have been for my good so, keeping that in mind, I move forward with a positive attitude.

Yeah…I’ll miss my mountain view and garden and walks. On the other hand they might even be more special because I can take the trolley here and be walking around in my favorite places within 30 minutes. I can still have little “get-away” adventures and visit friends and such. It’s not a big deal and will actually make for a special adventure day away from the town of “nothing much happens”.

I will be further from friends  but…in our new town-to-be we have many connections because most all the family lives there. I already have many opportunities waiting for me and we don’t even live there yet. There will be colorful characters to write about and the every-day life of a small town where everyone knows everyone will make for some awesome blog posts!

You know that festival? We will literally be living in it when it happens. Some of those big “floats” will pass pretty much right in front of our house.

There are lots of kids in the neighborhood. I like kids. I miss having kids around.

We will never miss another rice planting or harvesting season again because the family rice fields are within walking distance.

I could have replaced everything I wrote above with something negative but, I ma making a decision to steer clear of any negative thinking. Life is change. Make the best of it. Nothing ever stays the same.

I will end this post with a short garden update. I left to a modest garden and came home to exploding growth!

The corn that I didn’t think would grow is still plugging along.

The tomatoes have gone bonkers. I really need to get in there this weekend and tie up some of those leggy arms, cut out some of foliage. The sunflower that the birds planted has shot straight up!

The cucumbers are doing well! I’ve got bell peppers over on the other side that are growing well too. Hubby did the best he could-he is NOT a gardener so the fact that everything is still alive and well is great. It’s a bit over grown but I’ll get it back into shape soon.

That was my little harvest from just the few minutes I spent out there. There were more tomatoes but they were really cracked open because they should have been harvested already.

The forecast calls for rain so I guess I’ll have to get out there in-between the showers.

Well…it’s now a little after 7am-been up since 4. Jet lag. Going to go see about getting another pot of coffee on and then get about my day.

peace all

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.

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…

 

 

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!

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….

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.

 http://i.imgur.com/87MHWfI.jpg

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.

At Home in Rural Japan part 1- The Heart of the Rural Japanese Home

My first article in a new series on Taiken Japan.

Before the sun rises over towns and hamlets that slumber between forested mountains, lights begin to flicker in kitchen windows across the valley. In cold weather kerosene or wood stoves are lit, they bring warmth and light as the heart of the Japanese home is awakened by the woman of the house. In summer, windows are opened allowing the cool morning breezes to refresh while releasing smoke from the gas grill as she grills the morning fish.

Welcome to the rural Japanese kitchen.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE

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….