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August 25, 2008

Weed Patrol

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Just some shots of Tomoe and Mayu trying to tackle the hie problem I mentioned last post. We try to burn it, but it is too wet. Instead we parked on top of the big bridge and dumped it off the edge. It was quite exciting - despite the fact that there is nothing wrong with what we did, we felt like we were disposing of a dead body or something.

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The photo above shows two of our four rice paddies - the ones on Tomoe's right and left. We have weeded almost three of them so far with one left. The one that is left is the worst, so bad that we are considering just cutting down all the rice with the millets and although it is not yet ready for harvest, our birds love it anyway, so we can give the rice to the birds.

Looking at these photos I can't believe that we did this all by hand.

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August 24, 2008

Dang! We missed it!

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We made a little mistake last night at we went to another hamlet in our village to attend the festival that has the oldest dance in the area, dating back centuries and passed down through the generations. We stopped at the nearest hot spring for a bath and were told that the festival was actually tomorrow. Disappointed, we set up camp (we had brought a tent and sleeping bags for Mayu's first camping experience) in the park next to the hot sping

It was a great night, it even rained, which is one of the best in-tent experiences, and we woke up late just in time to see everyone preparing at the Kitano Ten Mangu shrine for the nights festival.

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The problem, however, was that the festival we *wanted* to attend was in the hamlet up the road, and that *was* last night. We thought about going to tonight's festival as well, but apparently it is just a bunch of stalls selling food outsourced to a professional "festival company" - with no connection to the locals other than that we are paying them to come here. We have decided to stay home tonight, and are kicking ourselves that we did not join the real festival last night.

Oh well, it was still fun camping, and it was probably more fun watching the villagers prepare or the festival at 6 am, than it was actually going to the festival tonight.

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The photos mostly depict the preparation of the festival. There is also this photo below that shows the two wooden statues that are at the bridge to the shrine. This area has been ravaged by famine three times in the edo period. While most of us think of famine as drought (no rain) in this area it is actually too much much rain that can ruin a village. If it is too cloudy and too rainy, the crops don't get enough sun and the rivers swell up and wash away the rice fields.

This was the case many years ago, and just when everything was thought to be lost, a priest happened to be walking by and instructed them to get a large rock from the river that was threatening their barely growing rice field. He proceeded to write a prayer (or something similar) on it and told them to throw it back in the raging river. When they did so, the river somehow diverted course and their rice fields were saved.

These statues are (I think) the priest that saved the village.

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August 23, 2008

There goes the neighorhood

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Our neighbors are rolling their eyes at us again. This time, not only do we have our pop-corn drying on the front step, but we have a pile of the dreaded hie (sawa millet drying as well>). This is looks like a rice shoot until it starts to bear seeds, at which time it becomes painfully obvious that what we thought was a nicely growing rice paddy, was actually a paddy full of weeds.

The big problem is that if it goes to seed, there will be hell to pay next year. I have been out there for hours every day and have all but one of the paddies "mostly" cleared. The traditional way to dispose of the millets is to throw them in the river so that they wash up into someone else's field downstream. We thought that is a bit motainai (wasteful) since the millet has all of the nutrients from our field in it. So, we tried a little test, giving some of the not-yet-ready millets to our birds and the love it. Since millet is so similar to rice, we also have hopes that we can use the dried stalks to make straw goods, as one of the problems we had last winter was that there is no straw available because everyone uses a machine to harvest now, which apparently renders the straw useless.

The neighbors are all worried, I'm sure, that the millets we are drying will get into their field or paddy.

I would write more about it, but I am off to the tambo to pick weeds before I join Tomoe and her niece at a local festival, followed by camping at the shrine.

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Gateball

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I was invited to stop by the shrine across the river from us to watch the rojin (old-folks) club play gateball. They comtinued playing long after I left, but I think I was there long enough to get a general idea of the rules... We are planning to ask them to teach a group of twenty customers we will have next weekend.

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August 22, 2008

Obon Festival

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We had a family of five that left in the middle of the Obon holiday. Our new customers arrived a day before that. Luckily the family of five were from Hawaii and of Japanese descent. They could speak a little Japanese which helped make the night at our home with Tomoe's father and niece one of the funnest of the entire "tour".

It's too bad the family couldn't stay another day because they missed out on our local Obon festival. This is by far the biggest event of the year here. EVERYONE was back home for the holiday and the bath was more crowded than I had ever seen it. I was supposed to be practicing for a part in the festival ceremonies, but work caused me to miss so many of the nightly practices that I ended up stepping down.

The part I was to practice for was either playing the flute or drums for the "shishi" dance. This is a mask that is supposed to represent a female lion. Apparently this is a tradition passed from the Chinese influence on Japan, as there are no lions here. A nearby shuraku (hamlet) has a male lion and I am told that the dance is a lot more violent.

While I did not take part in the shishi dance, I was also recruited by the folks in our "kumi" which is like a city block - although there are no blocks here - to help carry our lantern through the streets as the flutists played on and people left their houses to follow the procession to the local shrine.

I had not realized how involved everyone is at a local festival like this. From the nightly practices for the people who participate in the shishi dance, to a 6 am wake-up call by drumming at the local shrine where there is a ceremony followed by the men of the community setting up all of the lanterns and tents and anything else needed for the festival that night.

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  • 3 weeks before: Nightly practice begins for people involved in the shishi dance and ceremony to cleanse all the houses of the village of evil spirits.
  • 2 nights before: Obon festivals begin in other hamlets. Everyone wants us to come to theirs.
  • Morning of our hamlet's festival: I am awakened at 6am by the sound of the drum coming from the local shrine. Only later do I find out that I was supposed to be present at the ceremony followed by hanging lanterns and other preparations for the night's festivities with the other men of the village. (women will make the god jealous and cause bad luck)
  • 10 am: I join the men of my kumi (the 7 or so houses at the end o our road) to help build our kasaboko (pictured above) which I will then carry through the streets in a procession with the other kumis' kasabokos
  • 10:30 am: We gather for beer, sake, and lots of food in the living room of the kumi-cho (the person in charge of collecting fees and hosting gatherings for the kumi. This duty is passed from house to house each year.) The wife of the kumi-cho is allowed to join this because she cooked the food and has to keep our beer glasses topped off.
  • 7 pm I am told to meet at the kumi-cho's house again to carry the kasaboko, but that was mis-information. I run frantically through the village looking for everyone as the sound of the flutes and drums signals the start of the procession.
  • 7:30 pm Luckily the procession starts on the other side of the village from another shrine where I have found the kasaboko waiting. Once the procession arrives here, everyone will light the lanterns and walk together to the main shrine.
  • 8:00 pm Lots of beer and takoyaki as the shishi begins its dance. Followed by a cucumber eating contest (I lost) and a raffle (I won a garden hose)
  • 8 am the following day We are awoken by the sound of drums and flutes again. Our neighbor comes over to warn us that we have 20 minutes to clean the entrance and living room because the shishi is visiting every house in the hamlet to do a dance inside the living room that will keep us free from evil spirits for another year. It takes them all day to visit every house.
  • 2 pm The men of the hamlet gather again at the shrine for a closing ceremony with a Shinto priest. After the ceremony everyone drinks a cup of sake and we move to another shrine down the road for another smaller ceremony, and another cup of sake.
  • 3 pm We are supposed to clean-up the shrine grounds, but its raining so we postpone it until tomorrow.
  • 7 pm Those who were part of the shishi procession take a bus to the nearby town for a well-deserved otsukare-sama dinner with lots of booze and some "companion" women who have been brought in from as far as 2 hours away to help pour beer and laugh at the men's jokes.
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August 20, 2008

Mayu In the House

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Ahhh, the slow life in the countryside.

The only reason I am finding the time to write this is that my mom has been sending me emails every day asking if I am still alive. Yes, I am - despite a crash on my bike last week that left me with one less toenail, and unable to use my right butt cheek. It's getting better now though.

We've decided to take a two-week summer vacation - mostly. While we still have office work to do, we have declined any customer requests til the end of August to give us some time to focus on our weed field. I can't even remember what we planted there.

Joining us in our summer vacation is Mayu, Tomoe's niece. She will be here until the end of August helping us in the field as well as attending the local grade school from next week.

The reason I have only posted two updates in two months is that we are just so dang wonderfully busy! We just finished a five day family bike trip which followed a couple smaller more "private" trips, including a newlywed couple who asked us for "the hardest you've got", a business-women who thankfully enjoyed the ups and downs of the Akiyama area, and two random strangers who agreed to ride over the 2,000 meter Mt. Shirane.

When we were not riding bikes we were suffering in the Tokyo heat where we gave a presentation about our lifestyle, and a workshop about "seeing connections" at an event organized by a socially conscious human resource agency. Preparation for the workshop caused a lot of stress and fighting between Tomoe and I, but the results were good. I think people left having learned something new.

Now we are focusing on getting all the millet out of our rice field so that it does not go to seed and screw all the neighboring rice fields. I spent several hours there today weeding, but am far from finished. Our other fields are overflowing with cucumbers and goya and peppers. We are drying our popcorn in front of our front door (to the neighbors delight).

There were two "unproductive" days when the village Obon festival took place. Part of my duties were to build the float for my block, and carry it through the village. I was originally signed up to be part of the more important group of people who wear a mask and perform at the festival, but with customers coming I was unable to attend the practice. Maybe next year. I will try to post photos related to this tomorrow...

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Finally, one of our baby birds died a few weeks ago. Tochi, the only white bird must have flown into a wall or window and damaged her internal organs. Now there are only four birds flying crazily around our living room.

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August 01, 2008

Checking In

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Just checking in to say that I am still alive. It has been a busy busy summer. We have hardly had time to pick the vegetables growing in our garden, let alone weed. August should be a bit calmer as we have figured out a lot about how to make a great experience, and we are also turning people away to give ourselves more time.

Our neighbor's grandson has been staying next-door for a few weeks. When we have time we play with him, or walk to the bath together. Fun stuff. He has never been camping so I plan to take him next week when we are back from Tokyo.

Oh yeah, we have to go to Tokyo again today. A series of meetings (both for work and for fun) and a workshop that we are giving to some young job-seekers about "connection". We have to figure out what to talk about as we ride the train today.

The photos are of our neighbor's grandson. I took them for a newspaper article Tomoe and I have been asked to write about "seasonal change".

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