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June 30, 2008


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Finally, a few minutes to rest. The past week has been consumed by a family (of six!) trip, followed by volunteer fire practice yesterday morning - which always ends up in a drinking party for the rest of the afternoon so my whole day was shot.


The photos are from the past week when the family visited us for a bike trip. They kept it a secret from us that their youngest daughter had just learned to ride a bike two days earlier, but by the time she left us she was a die-hard biker. I asked her what her favorite part of the trip was, and she said "riding the bike". This is a pleasant surprise because this past week every thing seemed to work out perfectly - from the night in our favorite 250 y/o Nozawa inn, to their lunch at the local sushi shop where the chef dressed them up as chefs and taught them how master the art. We joined first and second graders at the local school for a mochi pounding party, and the boys had two pairs of wooden geta custom made by the last kiri geta craftsman in Nagano.

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With all this culture going on, however, it was difficult to fit in as much riding as dad would have hoped for. On the third day we had planned a long and challenging ride through our village, but the children's desire to play in the rice paddies and catch frogs won out. While the "official" activity was helping us weed the paddy, not much weeding actually got done. Luckily, the way we weed the paddy is to push all the weeds down under the mud and smother them - something that happens naturally as the kids chase the creatures around.

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Another highlight (to my surprise) was the fireworks we brought along on a whim when we spotted a package in the 100 yen store the night before. We were staying in an amazing 150 y/o house on the edge of the mountain with nothing but rice paddies and fireflies all around it. After a late dinner of bear meat stew, wild boar in miso, and raw deer meat (all from the local hunter), everyone was passed out until the fireworks came out and miraculously everyone was genki again.

The last day was sad and crammed as everyone prepared to leave on the 2:30 bus. A lesson in painting picture postcards from the curator of the museum himself gave us a chance to write thank-you notes for everyone we had met along the way, and the museum folks were extremely excited to have so many foreigners in their museum. They insisted we take a tour, despite the children's obvious desire to get riding, and we were an hour late to meet dad at the top of a mountain (where he had ridden his bike to while we painted postcards). After a quick junk-food lunch (sorry about that Sarah), everyone chose to take the challenging dirt road down, instead of the smooth paved road. Remember, the 8 y/o daughter had only learned to ride a bike one week earlier! I am often worried about making the routes too challenging - not because the kids can't do it, but because the parents complain. This time the parents made the decision to take her on the dirt road, she herself wanted to challenge the dirt road, and she did AWESOME! I no longer accept complaints from parents.

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June 12, 2008

Farming and Hiking

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A few photos from two weeks ago with our visitors from Hawaii. Activities included lots of walking and photo-ops at temples and shrines, gathering wild veggies for dinner, planting rice, gathering mulberry leaves for the babies. While we were visiting the preserved thatch-roof house in Akiyamago, we happened to meet the old woman who was born and raised there. She now lives in a more modern house in the village.

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June first is also the day that Mt. Naeba is officially opened. We joined the ceremony and the lunch party afterward, as well as made an attempt to climb it. This was the first time in their lives to see so much snow, and walking was slippery even with the crampons, so we made the decision to turn back for safeties sake, but not before enjoying the breathtaking sunset views of Akiyamago.

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June 10, 2008

Everybody Loves Poop

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Today was eventful.

This morning I had another run-in with our "nemesis" who is tending the rice field below our own. I arrived in the morning to check the water level and he started screaming at me about how his field had no water. I tried several times to explain that my field had no water either because there was no water coming down the irrigation ditch for the past two days - and that, in fact, I closed my field yesterday so that his would get the water. When he wouldn't let me get a word in edge-wise I finally couldn't take it any more and started yelling back at him, telling him that he should stop complaining and squealing "gya gya" like a woman (wife), and instead try to be helpful, like a real man. (no of fence to the women out there - I chose that because I thought it would get under his skin as a typical male, insecure, power-hungry, bully type.) Until now we had spent a lot of effort trying to appeal to his sense of helpfulness, always countering his attacks with questions and pleas for his help to make us better farmers. Today it became clear, however, that as long as we let him bully us, he will.

Once that was out of the way, we took a trip to the local ski-hill where they are keeping a herd(?) of sheep. We borrowed two to test in our field as weed-eaters. What we found is that it is much more efficient to weed by hand. Putting the sheep in the rice field meant either setting up an elaborate gate system to keep them from running away or eating the rice shoots, or tying them to a post and keeping constant watch over them to make sure they do not strangle themselves. This time, because we were at the field anyway, we tied them to a post. In the time it took Tomoe and I to cut weeds over 50% of our field, the sheep had eaten about 3 square meters.

Still, it was a fun experiment, and we love the sheep. They are outside our house tonight because we were afraid to leave them unattended at our rice field. Tomorrow, we take them for a walk to the local grade school to share with the children. With any luck, they will poop and pee a lot. Seeing an animal poop and pee is always fun - unless it is in your car.

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June 09, 2008

Ant Attack

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Yesterday I was just about to leave for some rice-planting with the local office and a group of people interested in moving to the country, when I noticed my silk worms doing a crazy new dance. Closer inspection revealed that they were being attacked by ants! I was able to quarantine the "infected" bunch, and proceeded to pick the ants off one by one while the silk worms squirmed in apparent agony. I rescued most of them, but some had already given up the fight by the time I was able to pick the ants off.

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June 07, 2008

Family? Customer?

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As professional as we try to be with our One Life Japan bike tours, it always ends up being more like entertaining family. This last week was no different. A couple from Hawaii visited, and for the most part I felt as though it was the same as a visit from an aunt and uncle. The big problem with this is that I would never charge my aunt and uncle, yet we charged them.

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June 05, 2008

Buna's Big Adventure

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This morning Buna, our baby cockatiel, experienced a few fleeting moments of freedom. While Tomoe and I were in the field behind our house, we heard a familiar scream and looked up to see a white streak across the sky. Buna - Awii and Klees' baby hatched in November. We dropped everything and scrambled up the river bank in the direction we had seen her fly. After a few frantic moments, Tomoe spotted her petrified on the neighbor's roof and we watched and waited, wondering where she would fly to next. Little did we know, we were not the only ones watching and waiting.

Buna seemed terrified, and did not move for several minutes, so I ran home to fetch Awii (her father) in a cage, hoping that Awii's calls would lure Buna from the roof to a place where we could grab her. After about 30 minutes with no reaction, I took Awii home and put his age in the upstairs window hoping that being bit higher might make it easier to Buna to come to him. Still no movement.

Our options now were to hope that 1) Buna somehow decides to go to her father. 2) I can climb up on the roof without scaring her away, or 3) She dehydrates and passes out making it weasy to catch her. We didn't feel like waiting for her to dehydrate, so I climbed up on the roof and got quite close when Buna took off. In the house she has never been a skillful flier, but out here she was brilliant.

The moment she took off I scrambled to the ladder while Tomoe watched to see where she flew to. Before I even made it off the roof, however, I heard Tomoe's panicked screams about a crow. By the time I made it down, the only thing I saw was a large black bird speeding into the mountains with a small white puff of feathers in its beak. I chased it along the river, but when I saw it fly across the valley to the other mountain, I ran home to hop on the motor scooter, hoping that I could at least follow it wherever it flew, and *maybe* have chance at hitting the crow with a rock or something that would cause it to drop Buna.

By the time I arrived at the area where the crow was last spotted with Buna in its beak, I had pretty much given up hope.

Just a few days ago we threw away a brood of Klee's newer eggs because we didn't want more babies. Today we put a nekozukura in their cage. This is a traditional craft of the village, a rice-straw cat house (before child welfare laws, it is said to have been babies were kept while mothers worked in the field). Awii and Klee have been checking it out as a possible nest ever since we recovered it from an old house. Now we hope they will make use of it.

We plan to go to the mountain tomorrow to look for any traces of Buna.

I have very few photos of Buna. Although I took one of her on the roof today (just in case) the best ones are from the months after she hatched. She is also the white bird in the background of the first photo in this post.

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