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April 29, 2009

Second Thoughts

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Sunday we joined a local bike group for a ride along the river. A friend from the hamlet across the river joined us, and asked me to lend her a helmet. Being the bastish that I am, I brought her my volunteer fire brigade helmet. [sinister laugh]

The riding was not so great, as I had a lot of other to-dos on my mind, but the area we met everyone for lunch made me feel like we have made a big mistake purchasing this house. Another area just twenty minutes down the road is so nice with all the old houses left, and the best thing is the lack of concrete. Every yard is a field, unlike our neighborhood where concrete reigns.

We always tell ourselves that we made the right choice because we have good neighbors, but does that mean that anyplace else would have bad neighbors? I suppose it is possible, as there are a few people in our hamlet that I would not like to live next to... Anyway, I guess I can't complain too much, and heck, at the price of a house around here, we probably get one over there too.

Anyway, gotta run. Its time to put up the chicken fence and get their room ready. They haven't even arrived yet, and I am already anxious to get a goat.

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April 28, 2009

Finding Soil

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Thanks to people who responded to the translation post I felt really good today about going out and working in the field. No more anxiety about that translation project that I don't have time for! Yeeeeeeehaaaaaa!

Today Tomoe and I spent the afternoon working on a pile of fertilizer that we had hoped to be ready for our rice field, but it was not fermenting as planned, so we are guessing it will simply be used to feed our backyard field.

We were happy to find that the nearby dam sells a truckload of composted leaf and organic debris that gets caught in its filters, for only 100 YEN! That's about $1 - for a truckload! Until now I have been making daily trips to the mountain with my shovel and wheel barrow in order to gather good soil. It would take me DAYS to gather a truckload that we can now buy for only 100 yen!

So, I would like to say that we are going to spend the next few days getting and spreading the soil, and building a fence around the portion of our yard that we want the chickens to tractor, but... I have to go to the opening of the volunteer fire department opening ceremony tomorrow, and for a few days after that we have customers coming to help work on an old thatch-roof house.

The photos are: Tomoe in the yard X 2, a carrot that has been trying to grow all winter, and our dairy farmer neighbor with his vet who was visiting today because of an udder infection in one of the cows... cow flu???????

Off the beaten pathTomoe in Field

April 27, 2009

English Japanese Translator Wanted

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Any Japanese -> English translators reading this blog? If you are open to do a rush job (a book) in the next two months, please contact me! (I think the comment form is broken, so send me an email kevin@kevincameron.net)

In other news, the rhubarb is exciting me (photos above and below). I can't wait till harvest time. The gummi and plum trees and raspberries (photos above) are also genki.

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A Small Victory

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I feel like we have just had small victory in the battle to take our dream back.

When we moved out of Tokyo, the dream was to have zero cars or trucks - maybe just a little scooter. Instead, we would use the spare time that we have from not working to pay for the vehicle, to peddle our little wagon to and from our field. Having so many guests, however, means having at least a small van, so the dream was crushed. Having the van means that we become lazy, and instead of riding the bike to the field, we throw our tools in the back and drive up. Instead of pulling a log down from the mountain, we throw them in the back and drive them.

After a while, we noticed how dirty the inside of the van was getting, and don't like the impression it gives customers so started thinking about getting a little "k" pickup truck - considered an indispensable farm tool.

We asked our friendly neighborhood car-dealer if he could find one within our budget and he came back a week later with a sturdy little truck for a reasonable price. In the end, however, we passed. While we can afford it, and it would be very convenient to have, we started thinking about having yet another cost to think about - imagined how much more we would have to work to pay for it, and, considering that we have already basically missed spring, decided that even working one more day a month was unacceptible.

The plan now is to get more use out of the wagon (photo above) I hobbled together with stuff from the dump, try to figure out a better to way keep the van clean, and save the money the truck would have cost, to buy a bottle of sake for whatever neighbor lends us his truck if we ever really need it.

It feels good to be a bit freer.

And, finally, I couldn't resist sharing these great remixes of old cartoons: (via Drawn!)

It's a Pup Dog from Word Worms on Vimeo.

This clip explores the joy of owning a puppy. It stars a group of animal rights activist gnomes that live in the wallpaper.

Many more cartoon remixes here.

Alex Gorosh has created a project called WordWorms in which he takes old public-domain cartoons and remixes them, adding his own beats and lyrics to create fun rap cartoons geared towards kids.

This one is great too.

Panchito the Gaseous Donkey from Word Worms on Vimeo.

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April 24, 2009


Candidates Wife

For our monthly newspaper column, Tomoe and I decided to focus on the election. For a while we were struggling to find something to photograph that would not be biased toward the local candidate that Tomoe is helping to campaign for (such as a photo of him or his car with his name on it). To make it look more fair I followed another candidate for a half-hour or so, but got nothing good so I decided to drop by our neighbor's (Tomoe's candidate) home. While the candidate is out disturbing the peace with his loudspeaker, there is always a group of men sitting in his living room, I can see them from our bathroom window, and was under the impression that the were "strategizing".

When I knocked on the doo,r I felt bad, as if I was interrupting some important work. It only took a few moments to realize that the important work everyone was doing was sitting around drinking tea, watching TV, and talking about mushrooms and other farm-related matters. I took a few shots of them, but soon realized that a more interesting story was going on in the kithcen.

The wife of the candidate seems to be committed to much more than that candidate himself. The day I was taking photos there were only four women (the wife, the sister, and two volunteers from the neighborhood) who were working in the kitchen preparing meals for all the men who were "strategizing" in the living room. I'm told that the day before there were six. The volunteer women take turns helping out. The sister came back from Tokyo to help out during the campaign time.

Its not just the election though. The council member is expected to host many guests throughout the year. One candidates wife threatened to leave him if he ran, and our other neighbor (the wife of the departing councilman) turned to tranquilizers because she could not sleep with all the work and stress - and this is a woman who was used to sleeping only four hours per night for 15 years as she raised her kids and tended to her farm. If she can't handle it without drugs, what hope do I have when Tomoe decides to run for mayor?

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April 22, 2009



The village is abuzz with election fever. Having the car with the loud speaker assault our house is nothing new to anyone who has lived in Japan longer than a year, but this time it's personal. Not only has Tomoe been sucked into being one of the loud-speaker ladies (she was practicing making her voice annoying last night and will be out all day today) but we actually know, on a personal and business level, 6 of the 14 candidates.

Perhaps the biggest introduction I feel to the dirty world of politics is that Tomoe's public support is decided by the village we live in, and the support we receive on a regular basis. Regardless of his views (not at all bad), we feel a duty for her to support the candidate from our hamlet. Who she votes for... that is another question - the thing is, it is difficult to tell other candidates "I am publicly supporting XXX, but I will vote for you". although I am sure they would understand as often candidates are even related and family members have to decide who to support.

I never thought I would ever be in a position where I actually *know*, and have drunk sake with, at their homes, almost half of the candidates on a ballet.

I also never thought that I (well, in this case it is Tomoe, really) would ever have such a direct influence on the outcome of an election. This is nothing like the BS I know from absentee ballets sent to the US. This feels like it makes a difference. And yet... it doesn't. For the most part, people just vote for the person from their hamlet. Even if they don't, the candidates have no expressed public stance (as is the norm in any election). One is promoting the creation of special education for mentally challenged children in the village (although her child is the only one who we know of that would benefit). Others are running on a platform of increasing "green tourism", which seems like something we would like, given our business, but I feel much more strongly about encouraging young farmers to settle here - tourism is just a temporary patch to take advantage of a small boom. I have no delusions that a village like this (we are NOT like Hakuba) can base an entire economy around tourism.

So, anyway, Tomoe is out today politicking, and I am trying to catch up on email and strangely miss the loudspeaker cars coming by our house today. Something I hated in Tokyo, but its much nicer to hear the voice of and to wave at people that you know. I just don't understand what effect it has on any outcome, considering the only information you can get from the loud-speaker is the candidates name.

The photos, in order, the sign at the corner with all of this year's candidates, a pile of cow manure, a neighbors house, and finally, one of our "new" fields which we are borrowing this year. We just went out and made the rows two days ago - just to show the owner of the field that we are on the ball. This is more for our own records - so we can visually see its progress through the year - how many weeds can we grow this year?


April 19, 2009

One Fine Day

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It was a perfect evening for a little hunting and gathering last night - despite anxiety about having yet another day slip by without getting any work done. We went outside in the morning to measure and plan the space for our soon-to-arrive chickens, and ended up spending the entire day out there.

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Above is a photo of our favorite road for a short walk to gather vegetables. There are other places a bit further away, but this was fine for now - especially as I am trying to shed my soft "winter feet". Along the way we found plenty of kogomi (pictured at the top of this post), and made note that the zenmai (photo below) is almost ready to be picked.

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Along the way we stopped at one of our fields (above). The only thing there now are some gyojya ninniku (the leafy plant pictured above that tastes like garlic), but by August this will be filled with weeds - and maybe a vegetable or two.

Nearby, was a small patch of wasabi flowers (photo below). Usually people know wasabi as the ground root, but we eat these flowers and tender leaves in early spring.

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April 18, 2009

Gummi, Raspberry & Rhubarb!

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The rhubarb is growing well, despite my worries that it would not be cold enough here for it to grow well, and my even bigger worries that I had stepped on it and killed it earlier this spring.

Our raspberry plants are out of control. We just transplanted a few bushes from a neighbor last year, but are excited to have an entire patch already.

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Finally, my gummi (Silverberry or Oleaster) tree is looking healthy. I hope I can get at least 100 berries this year.

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April 17, 2009

More Than Expected

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A few photos from a recent group of university kids who had no idea what was in store for them. I am proud to say that they had a great time riding up 1,000 meters only to find that their long awaited downhill was actually covered with snow and they had to WALK down in sneakers. Tee hee hee hee... I LOVE my job! (but I hate how I am getting a bit chubby - see photo below)

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Anyway, despite all their moaning and complaining along the way, their response was an overwhelming "AWESOME!". One has even changed his major (almost) to something related to outdoors and physical activity. The photo above shows them rejoicing in the hot-spring after riding up-hill for an entire day.

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Aside from some hard uphill biking, they also enjoyed outdoor BBQs and breakfasts at our home, helped us in our rice field, visited the rare Mizubaho flowers with the help of our favorite neighbor's truck, and spent the night at a great little 3,000 yen mountain hut (two meals included!) that is only reachable by hand-pulled cable car across the river from an amazing out-door hot-spring.

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April 12, 2009


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We have been busy with a group of college kids who have never even slept in a tent before! How can one get to be in their 20s but never have slept in a tent?!?!?! We will try to remedy that tonight. Young folks like this are "easy" customers because as long as they have their cell phone to stare at they are satisfied. They are also a lot of fun and ready for anything - today we ride a loooong way up a big hill - still, I am looking forward to a "more mature" couple vi sting from England tomorrow.

I have plenty (200 or so) photos from the university kids, but for now here are two that I took three days ago when the Japan Agriculture Newspaper called to say "Hey, what's up? You missed the deadline" for my monthly photo feature. I doubt that this is what they has in mind, but for me this depicts "life in a farming village". Last year at this time there was 20-40cm of snow on the ground. This year the old ladies are already weeding.

As I was out looking for something to photograph, I accidental received two more fields that we now have to plant. The owner of the fields thought that there was not enough dirt in one of them so he asked another neighbor to fill it up. I wasn't even sure that we would be using the field, so I later went back to the neighbor and told him not to bother with adding dirt, but apparently he didn't understand me because a few hours later there was a pile of fresh dirt in the middle of the field.

The other field we received is right next to a road so we plan to just plant a few flowers or something that is nice to look at as people drive by. We already have too many vegetable fields, and not enough people to eat everything we grow.

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