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December 28, 2007

Holiday Update

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Why our traditional hand-painted Christmas cards and holiday wishes will - once again - be late in arriving at your mailbox:

In the beginning of December we were just having fun in the snow and playing with Buna (BOO-na), the baby cockateil. "Buna" is the Japanese word for a Beech tree. These trees are native to Japan, but have been chopped down in many areas to make room for faster growing plantations of sugi (cypress). trees. Now, the value of Buna forests for holding vast amounts of water and preventing landslides is scientifically recognized, so people come from all over Japan to see the buna forests of Sakae Mura.

Later in December we took a trip to Tokyo to give English language guided tours of the Eco-Products exhibition in Odaiba. While we feel guilty about taking the Pug (our light-van) instead of public transportation, we justify it by having reduced our accommodation footprint. Instead of staying at hotels and hostels that use ridiculous amounts of energy to heat when no heat is needed, we slept in the Pug with our sleeping bags. There is no better feeling than waking up 30 minutes before work, putting on your suit in the back of the van, and stepping outside with just a five minute walk.

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Of course, we also saved lots of money by staying in the van. Paying only 500 - 2,000 yen per night for parking instead of 7,200 yen for a youth hostel, and even more for conveniently located business hotels. Sure we had to pay 400 yen each for use of nearby public baths, but it is so much nicer than a youth-hostel shower. The only snag came on the third night when the police knocked on our window at 2 am thinking we were druggies shooting up in the car. Once we told them why we were in the area, they lightened up and politely asked us to leave. We ended up getting very little sleep, parked on the side of a bridge along side other car-campers and resting truck drivers. Every time a truck passed the bridge would tremble and shudder violently - only re-enforcing my fears (the real reason I couldn't sleep) that "the big one (earthquake)" would finally strike that night and send us plunging into the frigged Tokyo Bay. That didn't happen though, and this is chalked up as one of my favorite "unusual places I have spent the night" memories.

Once we got back from Tokyo we had only two days to prepare for 12 people joining our Christmas Snow Country Event. We suddenly realized that we should have made a maximum limit, but we were so anxious to share the beauty of our village that we readily accepted everyone that applied. Luckily, only 7 people actually made it, and that was plenty of stress itself.

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We took advantage of the free opening day skiing at our local ski-hill, followed by a "Christmas" dinner (Tomoe made stuffing and pumpkin pie with real pumpkins) at our home. On the second day some of the group opted for more skiing, while some (including one man from Vietnam who had never seen snow in his life) opted to walk with traditional Japanese kanjiki snow-shoes through a buna forest. We were lucky enough to run into a friend who took us out to pick mushrooms and fukinoto, which I had always thought of as a wild spring vegetable. Apparently, thanks to the insulating effect of the snow and low altitude of Sakae Mura, here it buds and grows in the winter as well.

We spent the night at a local year-end party for the village young people (average 50 years old). I have eaten very little meat since I was in University, but I can tell you that if I could have a constant supply of beef as good as it was that night... It was fresh from the farm on the hill just a few kilometers from our home. So fresh, in fact, that it tasted best completely raw with a dash of wasabi.

Because we were all drinking, we took a bus home (we missed the bus to get there so had to drive), which meant that I had to get up early the next morning to ride my bike up the mountain to pick up the car. My alarm woke me at 6, but the sound of thunder like I have never hear it before convinced me to sleep in until 8:00 when the guests awoke. We had planned to head up to Akiyamago for the day, but rain down here meant snow up there and we decided not to risk driving on the narrow roads. Instead, we took the opportunity to visit the local geta (wooden Japanese shoes) maker who lives and works a short walk from our house. He is in his seventies, and the last true geta craftsman in Nagano. I had seen videos of him working, but it was a real treat to watch him in person and hear his explanations about every step.

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As the weather cleared up on the 25th, we took a ride up to Akiyamago where we were delighted to find a meter of snow with a fresh powder covering. One highlight was a long conversation with a traditional woodworker who showed us a $12,000 tea-chest he had just made for someone with too much money. A lunch of hand-made soba noodles and a hot bath followed by great views of Akiyama's steep snow-covered mountains competed the experience.

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Once the customers had gone, Tomoe and I took an evening to relax before we had to start work again the next day - this time (aside from answering a ton of emails) we were checking out some possible kanjiki snow-shoe courses near our home. One is up the mountains directly behind our house, the other takes advantage of the ski-lift near the main station. From the top of the lift we can walk even higher for amazing views of the entire village and the distant mountains. While the course we originally planned turned out to be too long for our "general" trips, it was a lot of fun for us as we had our animal tracking guide with us. The photos below show Tomoe inspecting rabbit poop, the dug up earth where a wild boar wallowed, and what may be a bear (or monkey) print.

DSC_2776_1.jpgWild Boar TraceBear? or Monkey?

December 11, 2007

Invite to Christmas In Japan's Snow-Country

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Before we take off to Tokyo in two days (we will be giving English language tours of the Eco-Products Exhibition), I wanted to invite anyone nearby and interested to join us for a Christmas in the Snow Country with free skiing, traditional kanjiki walking, dinner with the locals, and possible snow-harvest. Details are here. (Don't be afraid to invite your friends!!)

Christmas In Japan's Snow-Country (Dec 22-25)
雪国ホワイトXmasスペシャル3日間

December 08, 2007

Old Photos of Tomoe

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Lots to write about, no time to write it, so I post these old photos of Tomoe.

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December 07, 2007

They Grow So Fast

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Nothing special to write about - just some photos of the baby. My how she/he has grown! Compare these with the photos from a few days ago.

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http://www.bastish.net/cgi-bin/mt/mt.cgi?__mode=view&_type=entry&id=1377&blog_id=1

December 06, 2007

Snow Harvest

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We were introduced to a new winter activity yesterday that is more fun that I could have ever imagined. The snow this year stuck early, setting a record for November snowfall. As a result, many local farmers did not harvest their crops in time - expecting the first snow to melt, as it usually does. Even before the November snow had a chance to melt, the first snow ofDecember dropped almost a meter on some of the higher elevation areas of the village.

The vegetables are still fine - it never gets cold enough under the snow for the crops to freeze, and spending some time under snow even makes many taste better. The problem is that, for many elderly farmers, hiking through a meter of snow to get to the field is the least of the challenge. Having to dig through a meter of snow just to pick a head of cabbage almostguarantees that these crops will be lost when the spring thaw causes the snow cover to freeze, losing the preservative effects of winter snow-cover and causing the veggies to rot.

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Yesterday we joined two university students here to study agriculture, and a representative from the Green Earth Center, which organized their visit. A local farmer drove us through the snow as far as possible before we set out on foot to the field of the family that invited us to lunch earlier in the day. When the truck would go no further, we set out on foot with a shovel and a sled to haul back the harvest.

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It was only a few hundred kilometers to the area that we identified as the field based only on barely visible mounds in the snow that indicatecabbages deep beneath the snow. I can't even begin to communicate the feeling of digging through waist deep snow and hitting green! Its like digging for buried treasure. The best thing as that you can then walk a few feet in any direction and dig again, never knowing what treasure lies beneath - sometimes a cabbage sometimes spinach, sometimes a beet or a daikon radish.

Perhaps the reason it was so fun is that it legitimizes "playing in the snow" for adults. A child would not need a vegetable to make it fun, but somehow we have learned that fun for fun's sake is shameful. The winter harvest lets us have fun for a "good cause", helping us to feel proud, knowing that we were doing a good deed, helping someone, saving good food resources from being wasted.

In the end, though, I was most excited by the fun of it.

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December 02, 2007

Haiku

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Further procrastinating the preparation of a presentation we have been asked to make at a gathering organized by a social venture fund two weeks from now in Tokyo, we took a three-hour bike ride to one of the village hot-springs we have not yet been to. We arrived back just in time to meet with a friend in our neighborhood who is in charge of the local haiku club. Earlier we had agreed to write some haiku and join the year-end party this week, but some other work related stuff popped up on the same day so we had to cancel. Not wanting to make it sound like we are just not interested, we spent much of yesterday and this morning working on poems that would prove our interest. We had much more fun writing them than we ever expected.

Here are mine. They come with translation for those who can not read Japanese, but I did not spend any time trying to make the translation fit the 5-7-5 sylabic/sound rule. Also a note, many "modern" haiku don't pay attention to or require seasonal key-words, but they are a must for traditional haiku, which is why these are all focused on early winter in Sakae Mura.

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枝で熟れ十一月に落柿かな
eda de ure jyuuichigatsu ni rakushi ka na
Ripening on the branch, I wonder if the persimmon will fall in November.

小雪や吹雪いてつづく隙間かぜ
shousetsu ya fubuitetsuzuku sukimakaze
In the onset of winter, drafts rage.

初雪は残らぬと言いそばつぶれ
hatsuyuki wa nokoranu to ii soba tsubure
Even as they say the first snow doesn't stick, the buckwheat is squashed.

ごろっとんザザザップップ屋根雪崩
gorotton zazaza ppuppu yanenadare
gorotton, zazazappuppu (words to depict sounds), an avalanche from the roof.

玄関につもりゆくもの蜂谷柿
gennkann ni tsumoriyuku mono hachiya kaki
The thing that piles up in our entrance way, bitter persimmon.

吹き続き障子やぶれや隙間風
fukitsuzuki syouji yabure ya sukima kaze
The draughts from the holes and gaps between the shoji (paper doors) blow constantly

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As you can see, the baby bird is growing quickly. All the other eggs were duds, which is a bit of a relief for us, as we were preparing ourselves mentally to drop the chicks that we could not find homes for into the pond.

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