« April 2008 | Main | June 2008 »

May 28, 2008

Life (the entirety of) in rural Japan

Untitled-4.jpgBeach Girls

In Tokyo, we went to work with people around our own age. If someone retires, we hold a party for them and say our goodbyes. We never witnessed what happened to these people outside of our office setting, people around us get old and move on. Usually, we don't see them die unless we are old as well. Every once in a while ours, or a co-worker's parent or grandparent dies, and we feel sympathy for their loss. Still, for someone in their 30s, really knowing someone who dies is a relatively rare and often tragic experience.

Monday night when I went to the volunteer fire-brigade trumpet practice, I heard that a previous trumpet brigade captain had died earlier that day. While the name was not mentioned, I deduced that it was the old inn-keeper in Akiyama which we frequent often. He was over 80 y/o. Aside from his own traditional hunting skills, passed on by his own father - a matagi hunter, he took with him an incredible depth of knowledge about the area and traditions - he shared his knowledge at the annual yakibatake (field burning) event which is an attempt to keep alive an important tradition of the area. He was also recognized and honored by the emperor of Japan for his own hunting skills and contributions to keeping Japanese culture alive. It is a big loss.

I was invited to take a hike up Naeba with him this spring, but felt I was "too busy"... so I cancel led. I lost a truly "One Life" opportunity.

What does this have to do with the difference between my previous live in Tokyo and the reality of where we live now? Well, most of the neighbors we see and talk to on a regular basis are in their 60s or older. Our next-door neighbor, whom we love chatting as much as she loves snooping into what we are up to, is 87. The only surviving geta (wooden sandal) maker we visit often is in his late 70s. The famous ex-mayor of Sakae, who just retired last month, is 79. The neighbor we learn all our farming from is in her late 60s. Most of the people I chat with in the bath are in their 80s. We often visit one of the oldest women in the village - the 96 year old Ise-san, whose family was killed in a large avalanche that buried their house in sixty years ago.


Life and death is so much more real here. Sometimes it means Tomoe being upset that her sprouts died because they were left too long in the sun, or the peanut plants killed by ants, and sometimes its an amazing organic farmer that died last fall before we even had a chance to meet and learn from him. Now we visit his widow every now and then, but she will most likely be gone within ten years as well.

Living in a community like this, I know many more people who die in the next ten years than I ever would have in Tokyo, where my activities were restricted to work and play with "young" folks. Here I will (and do) know three or four generations of the families around us. I spent an hour at my rice-field the other day catching frogs with the five-year-old granddaughter of the neighbor who was hospitalized two weeks ago after a motor-scooter accident. He is 80+ and lives across the the river, aside from seeing him and simply waving because of the roar of the rive that separates us, I often met him in the bath or on the street. He shared his home with me on New Year's day and I promissed to go back soon, and this time bring Tomoe. I now regret that I have not been back.

What made me start to think about this is that when I heard about the hunter's death, I felt sad, I felt loss (despite the fact that I have only talked to him a few times). I took on the "appropriate" expression and said something about how sad that is. The young (30s - 50s) people around me continued smoking, laughing, discussing it matter-of-factly. The mood did not change one beat as they decided who would go to a memorial event to blow their trumpets. (I can't really make the trumpet sound like it is supposed to, or I would have joined). I realized that they are much more used to or in-tune with reality of life and death. They see it all the time. One might say that they are just "cold" or "numbed" to it, but I think that they felt just as much (much more for sure) loss than I did, but they also were not so sheltered so as to dwell on its sadness.

Am I really mentally and emotionally prepared for life in a place where the "young people's party" consists of 50 year olds?


May 25, 2008

Sold Out

Tomoe Selling SansaiYukinoshita & Fuji no Hana

This morning we set up a booth at the local sansai (mountain vegetable) festival. To our surprise, we sold out within two hours, and are kicking ourselves for not picking more. The problem with most unprocessed sansai however, is that it is really only good to sell the same day or, in some cases, two days after picking. If we had taken too many bamboo shoots and were not able to sell them, we would have no idea what to do with so many leftovers.

Tomoe Selling SansaiMagare Take no ko (bamboo shoots)All you can grab - 300 yen

I think we were the first to sell all ours because of our innovative marketing strategy -basically, do something unique. Most of the people had the same goods, and many of them were higher quality because pros just "know" which warabi or bamboo shoots will sell, and so don't pick as many "lower-quality" as we did. In order to differentiate, we offered a little game whereby customers can take one shot at grabbing as many of our "too-thin" bamboo shoots as they could fit in one hand for about half the price of our 500g bundle. This drew enough people to our booth that we soon had to start refilling the "dud" pile with our "good" shoots - which were also selling extremely well at the higher price.

I also got up early this morning and rode into the mountain in the rain to pick the purple flowers you see in the photo. These are from the Fuji tree, and are said to be quite delicious as tempura. We had never had them ourselves, but told everyone how great they tasted while adding a bit of exoticness and color to our table. It worked, and we even sold all ten of the flowers we brought.

While we didn't really make a whole lot of money this time, based on what we know now, we could easily make enough to live on just doing this each weekend. Hmmm....

Our Sansai (wild veggies)

Other things you see at our table, left to right: gyojaninniku (field garlic), Yama Fuki (stems only), warabi (a type of edible fern), take no ko (ne-magari-take) (bamboo shoots), yama udo (Japanese Spikenard), Zenmai (another type of fern - you can seephotos of how they are processed on a previous post), and finally, the tempura tray - fuji flowers, yukinoshita (strawberry begonia), and kogomi leaves.

Our Sansai (wild veggies)

Big thanks to our neighbor who showed us where to pick, let us get some from her land, and also spent a long time teaching us how to prepare them for sale.

Help from the neighbor

May 24, 2008

July Bike Trip (advertisement)

Sakae Mura, Naganogoogle_earth_overview_4 copy.jpg

July 19-21 is a three day holiday here in Japan. Why not spend it riding in the mountains?

We are trying a new, more challenging trip that will start closer to Tokyo, ending in Sakae Mura, near our home. Along the way we will ride over 2,000+ meter passes, off-road, on-road, even carrying our bikes - anything it takes to get from Kusatsu Onsen Village, over the only highway in Japan that can only be navigated by foot, into Akiyamago.

Its cheaper if you bring a friend of two, so If you or anyone you know are interested in this, please let us know. (Even if you can't make it, if you refer someone who can to us, you will get special treats and discounts if you ever do make it out to our neck of the woods!)

Look here for more details.

google_earth_day_1 copy.jpggoogle_earth_day_2_alternate copy.jpg
Join us as we stake out a new route from Kusatsu onsen village over the only mountain pass (navigable only by foot and bike) into the remote Akiyamago Valley, Nagano. Accommodation for this 3 days / 2 night trip includes a family inn in Kusatsu, and a bear hunter's lodge or preserved thatch roofed house in Akiyamago. Hot-springs are abundant, including one that requires digging into the riverbed.

This is a challenging ride for anyone with an average level of fitness that is willing to push themselves. On-road altitude gain of up to 800m over 50km, and off-road downhill ride which may require some walking over terrain impassible even by bike will give you a greater sense of accomplishment than if you just stay home and spend your three-day weekend surfing the web. Nightly hot-spring baths and hearty meals (bear-meat stew anyone?) will make you all-but-forget your saddle-sore butt.

Look here for more details.

My Sister Just Adopted twins


I received a comment a few days ago asking how the baby girl we adpopted was doing. I hope that was tounge in cheek, because I didn't mean to mislead anyone when I posted that. I was actually joking. It is actually my younger sister who was adopting a child in Korea (she lives in Korea and is married to a Korean). She just sent me word that they had actually adopted twins! I should let her write the details on her blog, but maybe it is safe to say that for them, adopting twins was just as unexpected as couples in that cliche movie scene were the first baby pops out, the mother thinks its over, and then the second one suprises them all.

The most unexpected thing was that her twins a bit older than anyone would have guessed, but hey... who am I to argue with Korean customs?

This photo was by Cosmic Kitty on Flickr

May 23, 2008

Rice Rules


Just taking a lunch break now. We have 1.2 fields planted. The photos are from when the neighbor came by to help out for a bit and make sure we were doing it right.

We met our "adversary" again today. He told us that the area we are planting in is actually the recipient of a government grant, and that if we screw this up we screw it up for everyone. He said that they *will* spray it with as many pesticides as possible, and that we have to put as many fertilizers into the soil as possible. He told us that we can not just "plant" sunflower seeds (as we had planned in one paddy that decided was too big for us to handle), but that we have to make sure they are all in nice neat rows - or it will put the grant at risk.

Now we finally understand why he was being so grumpy all the time. How we handle the field actually does have an impact on him. We just wish someone had told us there were so many rules and consequences before we agreed to work the fields (at the request of the owner who didn't want to do it). Until now, everyone (but Mr. Curmudgeon) has been telling us we can do what we want with the field, that it doesn't matter if our crop fails - they were supportive that we try something new.

Actually, we don't think the owner or our neighbor who helped us get it and till it, even knew about the grant. Now we are locked into a first year of traditional chem-laden farming. It looks like we may just bite the bullet and make rice in our sunflower field as well, pulling out all the stops - using big tractors to plow, plant, and harvest using as many chemical fertilizers as our neighbors (its all in the water anyway), and just hoping to get the first harvest out of the way so we can focus on a mountain field that no one cares about for next year.


May 22, 2008

Getting Back To The Land (again)

Tomoe in Backyard Field

More shameless advertisements for One Life events coming soon, but this time I will just post some photos.

Tomorrow morning we begin planting our rice. The neighbor has been bugging us to hurry up, but we have been way to busy lately with "office" work. We have been so active in the field lately that the neighbor (who is a GREAT mentor) seems to have forgotten that we need to make a living too. Tomoe described the sad look on her face when she came to the door the other day and Tomoe said "Sorry, no time for farming for a few days".

Today we (mostly Tomoe) handed in an application for a government grant for one of our projects. If we get any money from this, it will be a great relief on our finances, and maybe we can offer some trips at prices closer to the budget of people like ourselves. (Or maybe we will just be greedy and raise our prices).

Neighborhood KuraBackyard

It is getting HOT here. By hot, I mean mid 20's (mid 70's F) - nothing like Tokyo, thank god, but still hotter than I remember Hakuba being last year. Along with the heat has come full-on green trees. No more bright green buds, just plain deep green adult leaves. Our crops are mostly beginning grow, and the bugs are beginning to attack them. Tomorrow we have to find some sugi trees to burn and make an ash/vinegar mixture which will (according to Tomoe's research) keep the bugs at bay.

DSC_7722_1 copy.jpgOur Rice Babies

Just a few weeks ago, when it was still spring, we had some friends here helping us in the field. At that time, we had just scattered some rice, and already it is about a week away from being ready to plant. The first photo above is Paul helping us a few weeks ago, the second photo it was it looked like a few days ago. It is even bigger now.

Our Paddy

The photo above is Tomoe weeding around our paddies. We were a bit confused about why to weed, but the neighbors said "you just have to". It turns out it is to reduce the areas for bugs to call home. This contradicts the natural farming methods we have read about which say to keep lots of weeds, so the bugs will live there instead of in your rice. Still, to keep the peace, we weed.

The rest of the photos are just random shots of the village today. As you can see, many people are already done planting their rice, but the old guys in the bath tell me that in the old days, rice didn't get planted until June. There is no reason to plant so early, but it just makes people feel more productive.

Rice is plantedNeighborhood

May 21, 2008

Opening Mt. Naeba


So anyone want to climb Mt. Naeba (Nagano) and stay at the hut on the first day of the season?

June 1 is the shinto ceremony at Naeba Shrine deep in Akiyamago to "open" the mountains. After the ceremony some people will be climbing and staying at the mountain hut on its first night. Tomoe, myself and two customers are scheduled to attend. We are a bit disapointed that there are not as many other people climbing as we had hoped. We were anticipating a lively night at the top, but I just talked to the organizer of the event and heard that two more people canceled.

It should be a great hike, with lots of snow left on the ground, but lots of green on the trees. The hut will be warm, as will the sake. The cost for a night in the hut is 7,000 yen, including dinner and breakfast and great sunset and sunrise photo-ops.


These photos are from a trip to Naeba last fall. It will be snowier this time, but just as beautiful. If you are interested in making the hike, contact me for more details.


Still Snow up There


Thanks everyone, for encouraging me to keep the blog going. I don't intend to stop, but I am trying out this twitter thing because recently it has been too sunny to spend any more time on the computer than I have to.

That said, I will give in to pressure and make another quick post right now. Mainly just to get some photos out of the queue. I was waiting until I had all the photos from Golden Week done, but it looks like that may be a while. For now, you can see that there was still snow (and snowmobiles) near the top of a nearby mountain. Paul, Akiko, Miguel, Mika and I took a little trip to see it. It's a strange feeling when the trees are green, but there is still this much snow on the ground. It has no doubt melted a great deal in the past two weeks since they were here, but there is still some up there.


Most of the village snow-plows and snow-blowers are put away for the season, but there are still some up here to clear a road that leads to Nonomi, a man-made lake at the top of the mountain used to store all that snow melt for use in the rice paddies below during the drier time of year.


I liked this photo of Paul and Akiko, but it still looks a bit faded on my PC screen. I have never been able to properly calibrate the external monitor for my iBook, so all the photos I work on turn out faded in the PC. I know there is a difference between the color handling, but I wonder why other people's photos do not have the same fading when I look at them in both monitors. To try to remedy this, I used my PC to calibrate my photoshop monitor yesterday by simply putting them together and trying to make the photoshop monitor look as close as possible to what I see on the PC. Lets hope this works.

Sorry Miguel, no photos of you and Mika together yet. I will get to them soon.


May 19, 2008

What I Have Been Doing

DSC_7357_1 copy.jpgDSC_7353_1 copy.jpg

Against my better judgment, I have started using another new-fangled web application. I have found that keeping a blog is too much work with all that is going on. Especially keeping a photo blog. I only can take photos of a small fraction of all the great stuff that happens to us, and I never find myself with time to edit those photos, let alone write about the amazing experience. Yes, as much as I complain about the stress, I am always amazed about something every day. SO, I have started experimenting with Twitter. Here you can find short updates about what I am doing (or have just done) at the moment I write it. No photos, no pressure.

For those of you still stuck in the 2005's, I will also write about what I have been doing here on my old-fashioned blog.

Since I last updated:

The silkworms have finally started to grow, after I killed a bunch by dropping their box on the carpet, and then later leaving them in the sun where a hundred or so died. The survivors are strong and moving into life-stage II. I may be able to make that silk jock-strap I have always wanted.

DSC_7495 copy.jpgDSC_7451_1 copy.jpg

Our rice paddies are ready to be planted. We just have to find time. We expect it to take ten to twenty hours of work to plant them by hand. We wanted to till it by hand as well, but were informed that unless it is well tilled, it will not hold water. It would be a major inconvenience for the farmer down-stream if we end up using all the water, so to keep he peace, we paid our neighbor to till it with his machine. Despite this, the farmer down stream was complaining again today (he complains every time he sees us) that we took too much water - despite the fact that we asked several neighbors how much we are allowed to take.

This down-stream farmer is actually great. He is our first "adversary" in this village. It gives us drama and something to gossip about (but only amongst ourselves - we would never talk about him to our neighbors). He hates the way we are trying to make rice shoots on our own, rather than use the village chemical shoots. He hates the way that we are weeding by hand, rather than using a gas-powered weed-whacker. He hates that we are planting the rice shoots by hand, rather than using a machine. According to him "nothing will grow" and "It will be a burden to all the fields around you". Although, the owners of all the fields around us (aside from him) are extremely supportive. The also say "it wont grow", but they follow up with "But it's great that you are experimenting. Good luck!". Everyone but him is rooting for us.

In fact, our rice babies are growing, and so are all the seeds we planted in the field. So far so good. Today our neighbor showed us how to use the rice-planting machine, but we are (for now) opting to do it by hand.

DSC_7414_1 copy.jpg

We have been trying to move forward on many fronts. The spring mountain vegetable picking is pretty much done, but we do have one more opportunity, where we will be picking bamboo shoots to sell at a local sansai (wild mountain veggie) festival next week.

We have been putting a lot of effort into cleaning the house, but even when we take all the old useless junk (that was here when we moved in) to the dump, we end up bringing back just as much useless junk. Well, maybe not so useless, but still, we have no place for it. Shovels, crow bars, bikes, snow-dumps. We actually took two crappy snow dumps to the junkyard, but brought home two slightly less crappy snow dumps. One thing I am happy about is two pairs of skis that have the old style back-country bindings. Something I have been looking for but not willing to pay for.

DSC_7383_1 copy.jpgDSC_7376 copy.jpg

Speaking of collecting junk, the photos above and below show Tomoe rummaging through an old house that was set to be demolished over the Golden Week vacation. We found LOTs of great junk there - an old fashioned mino (rice-straw raincoat), ladders, lots of wood (which we used to build a composter and garage for our bikes), even a few rice-straw cat houses that are famous in this area and are sold for quite a bit of money. Now that the house is demolished, we are the proud owners of all the wood. Some time soon we have to borrow a chain-saw and turn it into fire wood for our not-yet-existing wood burning stove. One thing we will not burn, however, is the antique dresser we found there. The photo below shows us drying it in the sun after washing off many years of dust and mold.

DSC_7366 copy.jpg DSC_7391_1 copy.jpg

Despite my constant whining about money, One Life is actually doing quite well. We have enough work that we are considering turning people away. While it is not actually enough to be profitable this year, it could turn into too much if we want to do the farming as well as keep our long-term focus, and work on what we want One Life to become. We also want to go hiking for a few days without worrying about our To Do list.

Finally, a few weeks ago I learned of a hunter in the area who had accidentally shot a mother bear, not knowing that she had cubs. In the old days, if a hunter accidentally killed a mother, he would raise the cubs himself until they could be released into the wild. This time, the hunter took the cubs home and turned them over to a zoo that specializes in returning wild animals to the wild. Still, I got a chance to hold a bear cub. It was the size of a dog, and it chewed on my fingers like a cute dog, but its claws were way more ferocious than its teeth. I have scars on my arm still from when it tried to wriggle its way out of my grasp.

DSC_7352_1 copy.jpg

May 13, 2008

Rich And Wonderful Life


I live a rich and wonderful life.

The photos are from one of the breakfasts I recently enjoyed at home. It was Golden Week, and we had visitors from Tokyo and Chiba. While I joined them for a morning walk around the neighborhood, Tomoe whipped up an amazing breakfast.

When was the last time you had fresh-baked, no-sugar breakfast cakes? The green cakes are from our neighbor, who runs a bread shop in the village.

I have so many "projects" in my head. One of which is to make a photo/word display of some of my favorite people. The bread maker who made us these green treats would be one of them - as would his family. I remember a book by Shina Makoto called "Ima, kono hito ga suki". In it he wrote of random people in his life and what they ment to him.

It would be great to have as much time as "a writer" does...


May 11, 2008

Silk Worms (kaiko)


This is the English portion from my new blog documenting the life of my silk-worms. The blog is in both English and Japanese.

DSC_8020.jpg DSC_8018.jpg

Yesterday, the local grade-school teacher gave me a brood of kaiko (silk worm) eggs. Many of them had already hatched, but there are still some eggs left. The silkworms eat kuwa (mulberry) leaves, but I had no idea where to gather the leaves. This morning I awoke to find hundreds of hungry worms waiting for breakfast. Luckily, the sensei appeared at the door with a handful of kuwa leaves, and took me out to show me where to find them on my own.


Today's Silkworm Observation Report
Growth Stage:
Room Temperature:13.5 - 14 c (however, we do not heat our home, so the night time temperatures must have been cooler)
Weight:To small to weigh

Things I noticed: As I picked them up with tweezers, they were already spinning silk threads. I wonder if this is something they always do, or only something they do when they are surprised or afraid. If it is something they do constantly, they must have an enormous appetite. I have a lot of work ahead of me to gather enough leaves.

While I was looking at one under the magnifying glass, it committed suicide, leaping to its death from my finger in to the carpet. As much as I searched, I was not able to find him among the long fibers. Rest in peace Thomas (that was the name I had given him just before he jumped).


May 10, 2008

Sansai Extravaganza

Warabi in Ashes

Well, our morning run turned into a hard morning bike ride (easier on my knees which will soon turn 34). What was supposed to be about an hour, turned into three. The the spring veggies within morning walk distance are, for the most part, too old now. Ride a bike to the end of the mountain road, however, and there is still snow and the sansai wild veggies there think that spring has just begun. This is our harvest today.


What you see here:

The first photo in this post is young warabi covered with ashes in order to remove the astringents. While some of the other Sansai are just about finished, this is just now coming out. We have an exciting week ahead of us.

DSC_7971.jpgDSC_7982.jpgDandelion stem insect repel ant

One year worth of tsukushi buds (the flower of horsetail) for pest-control. Thanks to Tomoe's tireless research, we learned that tsukushi is not only delicious (Craig, if you are reading, that is one of the dishes you really liked), but it is also an effective insect replant. The only problem is that you have to find them when they are young and still have the pollen in them. Unfortunately, we did not know about their natural pest-control properties before, so when young tsukushi were abundant in our area, we ate them all for dinner.

Luckily, there was still a secret patch of pollen-filled tsukushi up in the higher altitudes, so we picked what we expect to be a year worth. (1kg - note, this is not enough to cover all of our plants for the entire year, but the same stuff should not be used all year long, and different seasons bring different pests, which call for different plants to control them)

The second photo shows the infertile part of the horsetail, called sugina in Japanese, and yomogi. The bottom photo is dandelion. These too are quite delicious as well, but in this case we picked them for use as a fungicide and to stave off diseases in our crops.


The red flower is Tsubaki (Camellia). This is also for insect control. Apparently, drying them and boiling them to be sprayed around your crops will keep the bugs at bay for a short time. It is said that tulips have the same effect, so we will be collecting tulips from our neighbors as they die, and planting some ourselves for use in the future.

As an aside, tulips are especially popular here because although we have three meters of snow, the ground never freezes, so unlike cold areas, tulip bulbs can be planted quite shallow, and they are eager to shoot out once the snow melts.


In addition to plants for natural pest and disease control, we also gathered lots of goodies to eat.

The photo above is tar-no-me -the buds of the Tara tree. These are excellent a tempura. Our neighbor cultivates these for sale (a great subject for another interesting post) and gives us his left-overs, but when we ate the wild ones it was quite different. Maybe it is just that we picked it ourselves, but somehow they tasted amazing. Tomoe claims that today's was the best lunch she has had all year.

There are other poisonous trees that look similar to tara, but don't have the spikes. These are urushi, or Japanese Sumac. Great for making lacquer, but not so great to touch (or eat!). Somewhere this year, Tomoe and I have both come into contact with urushi, and have itchy spots in various places on our bodies. It is supposed to spread, but we are lucky that so far it has remained in one spot.


In our soup, we had nemagari-dake bamboo shoots. (a type of sasa. These are just coming out now, and the mountain side is filled with these thin bamboo relatives. This is also what we used to make kanjiki snow shoes.

Peel the outer layer away to reveal the tender inside, boil it to remove to bitterness, and you have a sought after delicacy in Japan.


Zenmai (Japanese Royal Fern), is a staple sansai in this area. We have been collecting it for a month now, gradually moving higher in altitude, but still able to find some near our home. Most people around here have a field where they are cultivating the fern. It is a lot of work to dig out a wild zenmai fern and transplant it into a field, but with a lot of fertilizers, they can grow much larger than the wild natural version.

The problem with zenmai, is that you have to process it the same day you pick it, and processing is time consuming. First, you have to peel away all the fuzz on the outside. In the old days, this fuzz was used to stuff pillows and futons. Then, you have to separate the male from female, and pluck the heads off the male. Once everything is ready, you boil them (our neighbor is helping out in the photo above) and dry them in the sun, but have to massage them every hour or so to make sure that they do not get too tough and stringy. Its a big challenge every time we see a patch of wild zenmai - we have to decide if we have time to take care of them that day, or if we should leave them until next time - when it may be too late.


There are two more vegetables we harvested which I did not get good close-ups of this time. The first, the big green pile in the upper right corner of our sansai harvest pile is fuki. Most people know this as "the taste of spring", and its buds are eaten as tempura. The ones we picked are considered to be a little too old, but it is delicious none the less. In the areas where snow still remains, there were a few buds which Tomoe did include in her lunch yesterday.

Finally, there is a small plant in the lower left corner. I will have a close up soon enough, but this is itadori (Japanese knotweed) - a plant that taste very much like rhubarb. Rhubarb is hard to come by in Japan, and I was happy to find this. After some experimenting, I have now learned how to remove all the fibrous materials that make it inedible, and leave only the oh-so-sweet sour flesh. Yesterday I made some "rhubarb" sauce (it is not actually in the rhubarb family), and it is amazing. I can't wait to gather all that I can find in the next few weeks. The Japanese also eat this, but for some reason with salt instead of sugar. Tomoe's theory is that this oversight is due to the lack of availability of sugar in the old days. I just think Japanese people are crazy.

Finally, the photos below show some of the beans Tomoe has been spouting in the hopes of growing our own this year. Anybody know what they are?


May 08, 2008

lost in the countryside


From reading my blog and looking at the photos one may get the impression that life here is all happy and cheery - that we are living in a state of bliss, every day a new and wondrous happening.

Not so. In fact, I have gained a bit of weight since getting here (I am not allowed to mention if Tomoe has or not). While it is true that every day has its amazing moments, I also can not remember feeling so much stress.

Part of this is about finances of course. We are on our own here, responsible to creating our own work. Even if we want to go back to the stress-free (at least that's how it seems now) life of an employee, there is not an employer to be found in the village. No, whatever happens, we have to make it happen ourselves. We are fine for a little while, but just getting out of Tokyo was a drain on my bank account, causing much more anxiety than I know it should.

Part of the stress is just having an enormous to-do list. This is nothing new - I have always had too many things to do and too little time, but the difference now is that almost everything on the to-do list is something new for us. Whether it is trying to plan an event in a town we only just moved to eight months ago, or trying to grow rice shoots in a non-conventional way, and having all the neighbors (with full support) tell us "It's not going to grow".

We don't know what to plant where or when. Our neighbors have started planting sprouts that they made in their greenhouse, but have no greenhouse, and we are starting from seeds. Our neighbors use plastic black sheets, while we are using grass, straw, leaves, and other mulch gathered from the mountains. Our neighbors use chemical fertilizers while we are planning to use Tomoe's home-grown organic version. We have no one to look at and learn from in these respects, yet we find ourselves looking around and judging our success based on the size of our beans compared to Shimada's

All this anxiety and stress and just plain not knowing what to do is creating a fierce feedback loop. We wake up filled with doubts and it makes us want to stay in bed. We stay in bed and miss our chance for a morning jog. Knowing that we need more exercise, but were too lazy to do it leads to more anxiety about not "getting done what we want to get done". More anxiety causes us to panic, narrowing our view and decreasing our creativeness. A lack of creativeness magnifies all the problems we are facing for the first time with no answers. Not being able to find an answer decreases our confidence and causes us to procrastinate or "research more". Procrastination means we get little done and we go to bed feeling like losers, and then it starts all over again.

We talked a lot today about how to break out of this. We have decided on two courses of action for tomorrow. 1) We will make sure to get up at 5am for a jog or power-walk into the mountains. Not only will the exercise do wonders, but it will allow me to cross one thing off my to-do list and start the day on a good note. 2) We will take a pile of garbage to the local dump. Something so simple, yet that pile has been sitting there for months as we always felt it would be more productive to work on OneLife, or farming, or something more immediate. The hope is that by picking such an easy task, and one that causes me anxiety every time I see the pile still sitting there, we can knock one more thing off of our to-do list, and there is little anxiety about failure, because we KNOW how to drive to the dump, and the result is immediate.

I'm also going back to the "positivity journal" I used to keep - where I take time each day to write down three good things that happened that day, tracking my negative thoughts and anxieties and consciously asking myself if the outcome of failure would really be as bad as all that, and finally, trying to force myself to take a few moments to imagine the life that I want.

This all helped me get out of Tokyo. The problem I think, is that I somewhat looked at simply getting out here to a place we love as "success", "the end" - and somehow forgot that I still have 60 more years left to live.


Morning Walk

DSC_7517 copy.jpgDSC_7506 copy.jpg

Stress levels are running high recently as some important deadlines draw near. We have planted about 1/3 of our fields, having spent a lot of time just getting them ready to use. Some of them were abandoned and overcome with weeds, others were tended by our elderly neighbor who was not able to remove all the big rocks which took us a few days to dig out.

We have so much to do, and so little time. Everything here changes so quickly. I had hoped to get photos to "document" the year, but if I miss even one day, the scenery has changed. I completely missed any photo-op with the cherry blossoms, and the budding of the leaves - when everything is a different shade of green - jumped up on me and is now finished.

DSC_7537 copy.jpg

We have finally been getting the hang of waking up early, taking morning jogs or walks at 6am (although the sun comes up at 4:30). Along the way we pick bag-fulls of fresh wild vegetables growing on the mountain sides. It is addictive. We know we have other work to do, and it is getting late, but we just cant stop picking as long as there are any in sight - and there always are.

Add to that the fact that every turn in the road is so beautiful that I end up taking photo after photo, and you can understand why ours is the only rice-paddy in the village that is not ready to be planted and the neighbors are all talking.

DSC_7524 copy.jpgDSC_7535 copy.jpg

May 02, 2008

This One's For You Bob


I have a good feeling that you may be enjoying many more posts here, and that people who email me may enjoy more timely replies.

Using the computer is FUN again! I finally broke down, and against my better eco (and budgetary) judgment, I bought a new, bottom of the line Dell PC laptop. (Mac rant follows. Note: I am not a windows lover, or a mac hater. I am just interested in having my needs met.) I had just grown so sick of the slow response of my iBook. When I first bought it, other mac lovers said "don't worry, you'll get used to the slowness. And other things make up for it." Well, I never got used to it, and the only thing that used to make up for it was having a Unix environment for my programming jobs. Well, I don't program anymore. Now I just want a computer that is easy to type in - one where the letters show up at the same time as I type it. As I try to spend less time at the computer, and more time in the field, I want a computer that can copy and paste in less than 5 seconds. Using Tomoe's computer sometimes only made me more discontent with my own.

I still have to use the iBook for Photoshop, but it is a relief not to have to close it every time I want to write an email in Gmail, which has always run like a snail compared to what Outlook used to be like when I worked in an office.

I don't have Outlook this time, as decline to purchase MS Office, opting for open-office (can't wait to see how it works). To keep it within my non-existent budget I got the bare minimum. It set me back 70,000 yen (how much is that new mac again?), but I figure that my slow replies to potential customers (because I hate using the iBook) cost me much more than that, and my inability to keep up the blog and OneLife website (because I hate using the iBook) has cost even more. It would have taken me twice as long to write this with BBEdit, and now I have my lover once again - UltraEdit.

On top of all of this, there is also the practicality of having a lap-top that actually works like a lap-top. No more external monitor or keyboard to lug downstairs (full disclosure - the most recent external-keyboard I was using crapped out because I spilled water on it). This new computer also has wireless - something I declined when purchasing my iBook because it was already way to expensive. As expected, I never really needed wireless until just about 3 months ago - but by then the iBook monitor had long-since crapped out and wireless would do me no good anyway because my computer has not been portable since 2005.

Anyway, the point is, expect more (and wordier) posts from now on.

DSC_7146 copy.jpg
Powered by
Movable Type 3.2