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October 31, 2007

Here we go


The tour went well - a lot of improvements to be made, but for our first time I will take it as a victory. The worst thing about the trip was that I (thankfully it was me and not one of the clients) crashed and injured my shoulder. Even worse yet, I had my camera around my shoulder and slightly damaged my most expensive lens. Still, we could not be more excited. All four customers were great - making it easy to provide a fun trip.

The thatched roof harvest project was not so successful. Two days of heavy rain on Friday and Saturday cancelled the harvest. Nine of the volunteers came anyway to take advantage of the short tour of the area which we had arranged, but a drive through the most spectacular fall colors I have ever seen is still no comparison to getting out there and working your body for a good cause.

I have a ton of photos to show, but am still busy with the move and other business. Today Tomoe and I borrowed a light pickup truck for our final moving trip to Hakuba. We somehow managed to fit all of our remaining belongings and make it safely back to our new home. We still have farming work to do, house-cleaning, floor-replacing, wood-burning-stove-installation, business presentations, kaya harvesting, a welcome party to attend, and I am scheduled to help out with an Outward Bound Japan course in November. I also want a chance (though I think it is too late) to get out and take my time taking some photos of the amazing fall colors of the area.

Did I mention that Tomoe's parents are coming this weekend? Just when we thought we could relax, everything is picking up. Here we go.


October 14, 2007

Our Life Follow Up


No new photos from today's activities... I am too busy to get the camera out.

Today I woke up and a neighbor stopped by to give us a load of wara (rice straw) that we wanted to make natto (fermented soy beans). I then went to collect a poop-load of old floor boards which a friend had collected from demolished farm houses. For some reason the village people like to destroy their beautiful, well-built, classic, traditional houses and build cheap modern houses in their place. Baba (the friend) is always there to collect the wood. He has a pile of wood that he has collected over the past twenty years, and we received enough to re-floor our living room, any other rooms, our kitchen walls, and make a deck in the backyard. It would have cost us several hundred dollars at the lumber shop for the same amount of inferior quality wood.

After an amazing lunch of fresh veggies, potatoes, and genmai, we spent the afternoon selecting the unfortunate weak sprouts from our garden that will be tomorrows dinner in order to make room for the stronger spouts to become December's dinner.

After that we were answering some emails about the tour - I still can't believe that we have so many participants without actually advertising! The emails are not only about our upcoming tours, but also people who want trips next year or in November and December. Although I feel smart in that I made these tours, I feel like an idiot in that I didn't realize how popular it could be.

We just got back from a walk to the local hot spring bath which we visit four times a week. I realized tonight that we have only taken a shower five or so times this entire summer. The rest of the time we have bathed in either a hot spring onsen bath, or the beautiful Lake Aokiko (in August). Life doesn't get any better than this. It makes it even better that our bath is located in the very village we live in - only a five minute walk. All of our neighbors also use the same bath, so it is great for meeting people and "connecting" with the locals.

Finally, I want to direct you to a site that embodies our philosophy and the One Life Japan philosophy. I feel sorry for people who don't "get it". Joseph's story is similar to ours. We (Tomoe and I) both had a time when we thought that "the good life" was just around the corner. It was not until we decided to live the good life now that the good life actually came to us.


October 13, 2007

This is our life... it ROCKS!

Organic carrotsChestnutsMyoga

In no particular order, this is what has been going on here in Sakae Mura. I can't believe our life ROCKS so hard!


The house is coming along. We broke down and purchased some eco-unfriendly akudome to stop the stains from coming through and it worked miracles. Now the kitchen is amazingly beautiful (compare the photo above with the before shots. Everyone who saw it before we finished is amazed. The living area is next, but it is not as easy because we decided to leave the sand walls on and just paint over them. This was a mistake as the walls suck up a lot of akudome or paint (whichever we happen to put on as the first layer). In retrospect, we should have taken an extra night to scrape off all the walls in there too.

VeggiesVeggiesOrganic carrots

Something else that makes the kitchen amazingly beautiful is that it is filled (I mean really filled) with fresh veggies and other goodies that we have either received from the neighbors or picked wild. The photos above shows only a few of the veggies that we received (including two tomatoes that had fallen off the vine and we saved from rotting).

Chestnut GatheringChestnut GatheringChestnut GatheringChestnutsChestnut Gathering

Yesterday we were excited to find a farmer in a nearby shuraku (cluster of houses) that, according to her website, makes chemical-free rice. We stopped by to visit and buy 10kg of genmai (brown rice), but were disappointed to find that while her veggies are chem-free, "it is impossible to make chem-free rice". It looks like we will go back to ordering our organic genmai from the same place in neighboring Nigata prefecture which we have always used.

Still, the trip was not wasted. Of course she gave us a box full of organic veggies and, better yet, we stumbled across a chestnut tree that still had not been picked over. We gathered a kilo or two or three. Tomoe is off right now with the neighbor gathering more from the neighbors private tree somewhere in the mountains.

Tomoe picks shisoOur FieldOur FieldNaeTomoe picks shiso

We have a field up the mountain where we have planted some seeds (although everyone says it is too late). We also planted some baby cabbage and cauliflower which we received from the neighbor. A few days later, however, the neighbor who is using the fields immediately behind our house said we could use them. We planted all the sprouts there and scavenged all the "left over" crops that she did not want - such as shiso. The photo above shows Tomoe picking shiso leaves which will then be pickled and mixed with rice or tsukemono. We also have free reign over one of her kaki (persimmon) trees which will give us lots of great vinegar and dried persimmons! Life is awesome!


Yesterday we joined a study session about trees in Sakae. As we hiked through the mountain road in search of the elusive "Fujiki" tree, we found mukago vine after mukago vine. Mukago is a tiny potato like vegetable the size of a marble. Unlike "regular" potatoes, they grow above ground on the vine. They taste great raw, and even better boiled with a little salt. We saw a 1kg bag in a little shop in Nozawa village the other day for 850 yen. We picked at least 2kg on our hike.

Harvesting Black BeansHarvesting Black BeansHarvesting Black BeansBaba and his mukagoOrganic carrots

Today we were supposed to go to a new natural-bread-baker friend's house (pictured above) and get some free floor-boards for our living room, but he called yesterday to say that one of the old farmers in the village had passed away. The friend used to buy organic egoma (kind of like sesame) from the farmer for use in his bread, but the farmer's widow is not able to harvest all of it by herself. We volunteered to help the friend pick it all. After a brief stop at the widow's home where we met her family that had come back for the funeral, we went to the field only to find that the egoma was not ready for harvest. Instead, we found a patch of black beans that desperately needed harvesting. In return for taking the beans back to the widow, we were free to take our pick of some of the gigantic organic carrots they had growing there. We will be back to pick the egoma some other time.

To top it all off, we have gathered 25+ people for the thatched roof restoration project (that's 22 more than they had last year), and we just got a call from our fourth customer for the Fall Bike & Hike tour.


October 06, 2007

Enemies, Allies, and Ninja Painters

Ninja Painter

The house is our enemy. The neighbors are our allies. In an attempt to brighten up the nicotine stained house, we spent one day scraping the sand walls off, another day cleaning off all the remaining sand particles, and a couple hoursspreading some eco-friendly natural white paint. Even before we finished we could see the evil mold and stains fighting their way to the surface. Now, a few days later, the wall is just a white version of the same crappy looking wall we inherited with the house. We have been browsing some eco-friendly coatings to stop the stains from coming through, but have only found one option that is maybe kinda OK for the environment. Anybody have any ideas?

The kitchen was mostly dirty with obachan (old lady) dirt from cooking and walking and touching walls. The living room walls are unbelievably yellow with tobacco stains.

The living room tatami mats were in pretty bad shape, but we had planned to put them back after a week or two of drying in the sun. Lucky for us, a neighbor stopped by to day and offered to give us enough flooring wood to cover the living room. Another neighbor (a lumber dealer) has some left over wood that we will use to cover the cheap looking panels that surround our kitchen and living room.

The kitchen floor is also cheap panel flooring, and quite worn out. We don't want to pay a lot to replace it, so we are looking into staining options - to cover the un-removable dirt. Tonight I just applied a layer of eco-evil stain. It hurts. But for the other wood, which is in good shape and just needs some staining to match the newly darkened floor we are experimenting with kaki-shibu (fermented persimmon) stains and paints. This is a traditional Japanese method, eco-good, and only slightly more expensive than the stuff that requires masks and gloves. Tomoe had to spend the night upstairs because the fumes from the stains I used on the kitchen gave her headaches.

Below is a photo of some of our nice neighbors - they make the work we are putting into this house worth it.

Neighbors in Sakae

October 03, 2007

A Day in The Life


Despite living the "relaxed" life in the country, I have no time to write a long post about all the things I want to write about. I tell myself that this is because we just got here and there is a lot of work to do -such as painting and scrubbing an drying futons, as well as getting back to people who have offered to help out with the kaya harvest.

Is "life in the country" really slower? I don't know. I guess it depends on what you make of it. Our rent is free, but we are spending money on making the place livable. Averaged out over one year, this may be equivalent to about 15,000 yen per month - so it is not free. It *is* however, much cheaper than an apartment in Tokyo.


The photos here are of our current life in our new really really really dirty home. It looks a bit worse that it really is because these photos were taken at night.When some sunlight is streaming in it look a bit better. Once the walls (which we spent two days cleaning and sanding to prepare for tonight's paint job) are white it will look much better.


We eat breakfast and lunch in our yard next to our pond used for melting snow in the winter (can't wait for that!). Dinner is usually in the dark, tatmi-less living room.


Tomorrow we will head to our field to plant the sprouts we started in Hakuba. Everyone says it would be to late to plant seeds in the first week of October, so we started while we were in Hakuba, but we are going to plant a row of seeds tomorrow as well - and then another next week - to see how they turn out. They are all winter veggies, of course, daikon, nozawana, carrot, hakusai, etc...


October 01, 2007

Selling Our Wares

Organic VeggiesHand Made Asalato

Tomoe and I have been quite busy getting moved into our new house, her preparing and presenting a booth about macrobiotic and natural food at a local festival, me helping to get the festival set up. We thought we had totally blown our chance at promoting an upcoming volunteer program to help preserve a traditional thatch roofed house in Akiyamago, a part of the village we are moving to. (Volunteers get free accommodation and three meals at one of the local family inns in exchange for one days work in the field which should be surrounded by amazing fall colors).

We are not the organizers of the event, but it is just the kind of thing we want to do with One Life Japan so we are helping to promote it - hopefully if we get a few more people than last year we will win some points with the locals, and it will give us a great opportunity to start relationships with some of the local inns we will be depending on in the future. We have also added a little extra tour in the hopes that we can at least cover the costs of the fliers we printed and the time we have spent so far.

We set our goal at finding three people to join the kaya harvest, and are now blown away to already have several confirmed entrants, and at quite a few more verbal commitments and highly likely participants. Its great to know that people are interested in this type of event. Our hope now is that we don't bring more people than the inns can handle!

Candel MakingMothersDancer in Shirt we Sold Him

In an effort to promote it to Japanese people (so far its mostly foreigners who read our website) we spent the day at a local flea-market and outdoor festival put on by the PolePole Organic cafe in Omachi. This time instead of selling Tomoe's macrobiotic lunchboxes, we took the opportunity to sell a lot of the "junk" that is coming out of our new home. Much of it is still quite usable , but there are way more dishes than we need, and the clothes don't fit us. We hated to throw it away so we lugged a bunch back to Hakuba for the flea-market.

Tomoe Selling Stuff

When we arrived we almost chickened out, thinking no one would want this junk, but as soon as we put it out, our area was swarmed with people. It may be because we were selling everything at a 3 items for 10 yen (about 10 cents) price, but it may also have to do with the "hippy-ness" of the crowd. Most of our stuff was extremely vintage, and would not look right on your average salary man.

Hand Made AsalatoBand Member (in Jacket we sold her)

Anyway, we sold a lot of great clothes and I was happy to see people wearing their new bargains that very day (as in the photo above - we sold her the jacket). We also enjoyed the food from the other booths, lots of cheap organic veggies, and the music. The best part, however, was finding several people with extreme interest in the thatch roof repair project.

Organic VeggieOrganic Veggie

We are packing up The Pug again tonight for another trip to Sakae. We should be there for a week this time, then we come back here with a 2-ton truck on loan from the good people in the villiage. We say our "see you laters" to folks here in Hakuba, and high-tail it back to Sakae to finish the house and preparations for our Fall Colors Bike & Hike trip. We now have more participants than we expected!!!

More photos from the Pole Pole Cafe event.

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