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October 31, 2008

Insatiable Abetite

Tomoe With ScytheScythe

It finally came! The scythe we ordered from England (because we couldn't find one in Japan) is amazing! What used to take us several days to weed by traditional Japanese kama (hand-held blade), will now take us a few hours! I love the snow, but now that we have the scythe, I can't wait for next year's rice season!

We tried it out today in the sunflower field. While there is probably no practical reason to cut down the weeds and the sunflower stems this late, we felt it would be good to show the neighbors that we didn't just let it "go wild". It was also great exercize, and it took only four hours to complete what would have taken four days without the scythe. Anyone with an abetite for self-grown food and for great abs should try it out - my abs are killing me after a few hours of scything.

Tomoe With Scythe

Snow in Akiyamago!

Akiyamago SnowAkiyamago Snow

It's snowed the other day! Well, not here, a bit higher up in the mountains in Akiyamago. A neighbor of ours beat us to the photos, so I have stolen his, done a little photoshoping, and reposting them here. I recommend clicking on them for the larger version.

For the originals, see 気ままな日記

Akiyamago Snow

October 30, 2008

A Month of Autumn

Shiga KogenShiga KogenMom & Dad @ Shiga Kogen

The great thing about this place is that fall last for a month. Over two weeks ago when my parents were here, the Shiga Kogen looked like the photos above, while Akiyamago looked like the photo below.

Yashiki in Aiyamago  秋山郷 屋敷

Then, when we had our fall bike trip, the Shiga Kogen was past its peak, but Akiyamago was amazing. (see previous post).

Just toward the end of their visit, Nonomi was reaching its peak - and kept on peaking. As you can see below, I wasn't the only one there with a camera hoping to take advantage.

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The lower areas (around 200 meters) where we live is just starting now. This last shot is of the "one-man-car" that runs along the Iiyama line between Nozawa and Echigo Kawaguchi. This is from Yokokura - the nearest station to us, located in the little hamlet you can see in this photo from the mountainside. Next week should be great as well! Anyone want to come out and join us?

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October 29, 2008

Sick of Tokyo?

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A few photos from this weekend when we had one customer who just couldn't stand Tokyo any more. Who are we to deny her a few days of relief? We were busy on Saturday, so she took a map and a bike and made her way through our village. On Sunday morning, Cara and I took off in the morning for a 2.5 hour ride completely uphill - 800 meters up (starting at 200 meters) to be exact. While the fall colors have started here now, they are amazing betwee 700 and 1,000 meters.

These are a few shots from that day. (Mostly from the downhill portion)

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October 28, 2008

Cow Birth

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Yesterday we got a call from the local dairy farmer saying that a calf was about to be born. I have been waiting for an opportunity to observe this, but for the past few months it seemed to happen when I was unavailable. Tonight lucky for us, for the dairy farmer, and (maybe) for the calf.

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The farmer called me earlier in the day to alert me, but I was taking a customer to the top of a mountain so could not rush over to the dairy farm. As it turned out, the cow did not give birth as early as they expected and we got another call around 8pm. We hopped on our bikes and sped to the dairy farm with camera in hand. Once we arrived we waited and waited and chatted with the farmer and his seven year old daughter for over an hour before the dairy farmer's father came in to check on why the cow had not given birth yet. He just walked in, rolled up his sleeve, and plunged his hand into the cow up to his armpit. Within seconds he announced that it was a male calf - not what the farmer wanted to hear because this was a high-producing cow and they had paid more to have high quality bull sperm in the hopes of making another milk machine.

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He announced that they would have to help the delivery as the calf was turned in the wrong direction. Now the younger farmer grabbed a belt and reached in to attach it to the calf's legs. He pulled as his father attached the other end of the belt to a winch and they proceeded to winch the calf out. There were several minutes where only the feet were showing, then suddenly the entire calf literally popped out and was laying on the floor before I even know what was going on. The placenta was still wrapped around the calf, which means that had the cow given birth later in the night, when the farmer was not there, there is a good chance that the calf would have suffocated. The farmer and his daughter (seven years old, remember) jumped into action and began wiping the calf clean - something that the mother usually does by licking it. In this case, they were more worried about the mother getting enough calcium, as with hard labors like this the mother often gets too week to stand and can die as well.

Apparently, we saved the calf's life. Had we not been there to watch, the farmer and his wife would have left when it appeared that the cow would not give birth - expecting it to give birth in the middle of the night.

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October 27, 2008

Old Photos of Baby Birds

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We're busy busy busy catching up on farm work on this, our first day off in three weeks. I have a lot of photos waiting to be published - including some of my parents, some from the fall bike trip and weekend visitor who left yesterday, some from our peanut harvest, and some from the birthing of a calf at the dairy farmer who lives down the street.

Those photos all have to be proccessed, but looking through my archives I found this unpublished jem - this is our baby Buna sitting in a bed of silkworm cocoons. Click for a larger image. I think it is worth it!

Below you see Tomoe feeding the baby, and a shot with all three (one has since died) when they were first born in August.

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October 26, 2008

Fall in Akiyama

Akiyamao AutumnFall Bike Trip

A few shots from our one week fall bike trip.

Nakatsu River in Akiyamago

October 16, 2008

One Fast Week

Mom, Dad, Tomoe in FieldMom & Dad Visit

So, I have a lot I want to comment on about that last post and other people's responses, but I have been busy with my parents who were visiting for a week to check out our new life. In some ways they were our "easiest" customers, and in others, the hardest.

They were our easiest because they didn't need much help to entertain them. Their motto was "just do what you do every day so we can see you do what you do every day". I think they got more than they were looking for when Tomoe and I had our tri-daily fight.

They were the hardest customers in that... well, no I guess they were not that hard.

Mom & Tomoe

Although I told them to bring a book because this is not Tokyo and there is not as much to do (depending on the person), their days were filled with helping us harvest soy beans and sorghum, gather mukago, separate the shaft and the seed from our bird-seed harvest, shuck walnuts, and even using our new antique pedal powered dakkoki to take the sorghum seeds off of the stalk.

When they were not working, dad was helping me to build a little storage shed for our rice-straw in the winter, and our bikes in the summer. We did have enough time to take a few drives and bike rides through the surrounding areas, and I recommend that anyone in Japan get to the Shiga Heights this week. The colors are at their peak and I am worried for next weeks fall color bike trip. The Akiyama Valley is not quite at the peak, but by the time the bike trip arrives, it should be brilliant.

I have more photos, but these are the only ones ready to post now as we have to get to work preparing for the one-week trip that starts in 1.4 days. Here you can see mom and dad spending their nights looking at the Internet, and their days working in the field.

Family Night

October 06, 2008

Dakkoku

DakkokuRii-san Helps

They said nothing would grow. They said that we need to put in their fertilizers and weed killers. They said that trying to harvest by hand would be too hard. They said lots of things.

But...

Despite our neighbor's prediction that we would get about 150kg of rice from our .8 tan of rice field, we have successfully harvested almost 300kg. Granted, that is a very small fraction of what our neighbor gets from the same size area, but we are happy that their earlier predictions that nothing would grow without chemicals was not accurate. We also would have had more, but we left one section unharvested because there were just too many weeds and we were too busy to deal with it. I concede that we would have gotten more rice had we used weed killer, but we are also planning to sell our excess and expect that if we sell it directly to people who care about their food we can get double the price they get from the local farm coop where they dump everything.

While we will not get rich (obviously) by selling a few extra kg of rice, we also did not put as much money into the production as our neighbors would have on a similar plot of land. The only machinery and gasoline used was to till the field before planting (something we wanted to do by hand but the neighbor insisted on doing with the combine) and to take the rice off of the straw (which is depicted in the photos in this post.) Oh yeah, there was also one instance when we had to use a weed-whacker to cut the area around the field in order to live up to community standards of "tidiness", despite having no apparent functional logic. We are attempting to remedy this next year by ordering a good old-fashioned scythe which (we hope) will help us to trim the weeds much more efficiently than using the hand held kama blade that people in Japan used before gasoline powered devices were introduced.

Bringing the Rice Home

Harvesting the rice didn't go as smoothly as we had hoped, however. There were two days of clear skies and sunshine, which meant that our rice, drying on racks, was dry enough to run through the de-kernelizer. We weren't ready to take the kernels off that day, but the forecast called for rain the next, and we will be pretty busy for the next two weeks after that, so we decided to at least collect the bundles of rice still on the straw and store it under a plastic sheet or in our basement. It took five van-loads and about an hour before sundown.

Once our neighbor saw it sitting in front of our house, however, she felt obliged to help and the next morning she came over to tell us that their entire family had rearranged their plans to help us harvest the rice. It is the guiltiest I have felt since we moved here. Her husband had to cancel his official duties as a village official in order to help her in their rice field so that her son, who was originally supposed to help her, could instead help us use the machine that she had agreed to let us borrow (but failed to mention that she didn't want us to use it alone). What's worse, they had to harvest their field before the rain that afternoon.

Another neighbor came out to help us bundle the rice. This is the same neighbor that showed us how to cut and bundle the rice stalks by hand, and seems to be very happy to have people doing it "the old way". Once we had prepared the rice for dakkoku (taking the kernels from off of the straw), we called the neighbor's son (also our neighbor) to run the machine for us. He didn't speak a word the entire time. Ouch.

After three hours, we had finished the vast majority of our rice. What was supposed to be five bags, turned out to be nine. The biggest problem now is finding where to store the leftover straw. We want to use some in the winter to try our hand at making traditional wara crafts to make our own natto. The rest we will use for natural mulch in our fields next year. The straw that will be used for mulch can be left in the yard to be covered by snow, but the straw we want to use has to be someplace that will be less enticing for mice than our warm basement. For now we just stacked it against the wall behind our house.

Straw for the winter

In exchange for their help in the morning, and because we "forced" them to change their plans, we went to help them finish their field. In roughly the same space, they harvested over 30 sacks - twice what we took in!

We were glad to help, and happy for the physical labor. The only downside was the loud machine that ruined the beauty of being out in the mountain filed. Of course, harvesting that much rice by hand would have taken a looooong time, and this was only one of their fields. With so much to do each year, I see why they need a machine, but it reminds me of how such machines that make agriculture easier, and greater yields easier, is exactly why we need easier agriculture and greater yields. On the micro level, they need to produce more to pay for their investments in the machinery and chemicals. They need the machinery to handle the increase in yields. Zooming out (to something I don't want to get into), it seems that the more food we make the more people we can feed, and the more people we can feed the more people we can make, and the more people we make the more food we need. It all just seems like a bad, bad, spiral into...

Rice Harvester

October 02, 2008

Real Life Sucks

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"Real life" has finally caught up to us. We have had to spend these past two days indoors despite the long awaited sunshine. Tomoe has been working on a newsletter to be shared with past customers and the village people to let them know what is going on this past year, and I have been sitting behind the desk working on a major revisions of the One Life Japan website. Now that we have a better idea of how next year will turn out, and how we can push it in the direction we want to take it, the old website (which has not even been updated since before the summer) will not work.

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To help us remember what it is like to be outside, I decided to post these photos of Tomoe enjoying a rest at the top of Mt. Naeba after waking up early to watch the sunrise.

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