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October 24, 2009

First Kill

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Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I killed something bigger than a fish. (On purpose, that is.)

One of the three remaining Lucies has been sick for a while and we considered helping her out of her misery a few days ago, but she seemed to get a bit better, and was eating a lot more. We gave her a few more days, but yesterday it was clear that she would not make it. So, I forced Tomoe to watch as I took my natta (Japanese machete) and chopped off her head.

I expected blood to spurt everywhere and the headless body to run around the yard. Well, actually she was quite sick so I didn't expect too much post-mortum running, but I did expect way more blood than there was - which was none. Maybe that is what was wrong with her.

Well, in order to keep from being accused of sensationalist blogging ;P, I will warn you not to scroll down any further if you do not want to see what some might consider gruesome. I myself am fascinated. As I said, it is the first time I have ever killed anything this big, and it was obvious that she was suffering, so I feel fine about it (I hope someone will do the same for me some day). It made it easier in that this was as much a pet as it was an egg machine, and I wouldn't want a pet to be sick and suffering with no hope for cure. In fact, when I put her on the stump and ran to get my machete, she sat waiting patiently, and even smiled when I returned.

So now there are only two left of the original six. Two dies from sickness, one drowned in the pond, and one was killed by a weasel. They may have been the lucky ones. The last two Lucies will soon find their freedom taken away. Once the snow starts to fall, they will be confined to our garage. We have opened up a much larger space in which they can walk around without bumping into a wall, but there will be no dirt scratching or dust-baths for more than a few months.

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October 18, 2009

Cleaning Up

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Maybe, if your lucky, these will be the last photos from the rice field. (But probably there will be more). Yesterday we were cleaning up after the record harvest. I was loading all the rice and straw into the car, and Tomoe was doing what she loves best - burning things.

We have about three bags of rice that was still not dry enough because it did not have enough time on the drying rack. This we have to spread out on big blue plastic sheets in our neighbor's driveway for a few days until its moisture content drops to 15% or less - measured with a little device at the local rice center where everyone takes their rice to be sold to the JA (Japan Agriculture).

What you see hanging on the rack in the photo is straw that is not yet dried. THe rice has already been taken from it.

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The straw will be used for fertilizer and as mulch for next year's fields, instead of using those ugly black plastic things that everyone else uses. We *might* sell some to the beef farmer to feed his cattle if we can get enough to buy a truck-load of manure for next year, but I doubt we would get much money for the little amount we are willing to part with.

The biggest challenge now is finding space to store all the straw and rice until it is used.

I also somehow convinced Tomoe to give me a sexy pose. As you can see in he photo, she doesn't look six months pregnant. I am beginning to wonder if she is just making it all up to get out of work.

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October 17, 2009

Shock of the Year!

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Yesterday we finally finished our rice! The only thing left now is cleaning up, and drying a few bags that were not dried enough.

We could have done it earlier, but the TV crew that has been hounding us for the past year wanted to shoot us picking the rice so we saved one half field to harvest for the camera, and then did the dakkoku (taking the kernel off the stem) in the afternoon. Our neighbor, a veteran rice-farmer who lent us the machine, thought it would be about an hour. It took five hours. She was completely surprised to see that we got so much rice despite our insistence on no-chemicals.

We were also surprised. Last year we had 9 bags of momi (rice with the husk) after harvest. This year, although we doubled the amount of land, we planted a variety (akitakomachi) that has less yield than last year's (koshihikari), planted them further apart to make it easier to weed, and still somehow managed take home 25 bags! Now what do we do?!?!!

It's not that I am complaining, mind you. I loved when the neighbor wondered how we got almost as much rice from one small field as we had last year from four. Not that I have an answer, but it feels good and smug.

These photos show our neighbor helping us, along with our friend who has been a big help all ear taking care of the fields when we were busy, the TV crew interviewing Tomoe and taking exciting shots of the rice, and Tomoe tying straw ropes to bundle the rice straw for storage with part of our bounty in the foreground.

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October 15, 2009


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October 14, 2009

Autumn in Sakae

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Just a few more gratuitous autumn-in-the-country shots. You see here walnuts, tochi (horse-chestnuts), millet, beans, onions, and some other stuff.

Sorry I don't have more time to write. Despite putting a freeze on customers, we are still stuck with lots to do. Among the top five is get ready for the TV crew that will be coming (yet again) in two days to film me harvesting rice that should have been harvested a week ago, but we left it for them. It was supposed to be a three day shoot, but they keep coming back. I don't know if it is because they can't get enough of me, or because they can't get enough *good* footage of me to make a simple ten-minute story...

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In this last photo you can see our rice field and our rice drying. We were the first to start harvesting, but the last to finish. Scandalous!

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October 13, 2009

How to Crack A Wild Walnut


In response to a question about how to crack a walnut, I attempted to make some cool cartoons showing the process, but in the end the scans looked like crap, so I will just write it out.

The LOOSER Way: Buy a hard-core nut cracker (like we did).

Cracking my nuts

The COOL Way:

  1. Wash your nuts thoroughly. I'm a bit lazy about this, but Tomoe gets real mad if I don't. And the 80 year-old neighbor also comments on how dirty my nuts are, so I am trying to make it a habit.
  2. Dry your nuts thoroughly. Not sure why, but I guess it is because if you don't use them right away, they could get moldy.
  3. When its time to actually use your nuts, roast them in a normal fry-pan until they split ever so slightly. Don't need a big crack, but just enough to fit your nata into.
  4. Place your nuts on an old cutting board (Tomoe gets real mad if I use the normal kitchen cutting board). Grab your nata* carefully place it in the crack in the shell.
  5. Whack the hell out of it. It should break clearly in half with just one or two whacks.
  6. Pick up all the little pieces of your nuts that have been strewn all over the room.
  7. Use a little nut picker to pick out the meat.

* A nata is a Japanese machete

Even if you use the fancy cracker in the photo above (about 2,000 yen at your local farm-tool shop), you probably still want to wash and roast your nuts.

Cracking my nuts

October 11, 2009

Buckets and buckets and baskets

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Buckets and buckets and baskets of walnuts. This is a bumper year, unlike last year when we didn't even fill one plastic grocery bag. I spent the afternoon washing them, and once the sun comes out the drying begins. We still have a stash from two years ago, because of last year's walnut drought, we were afraid to use them, but now it will be walnuts in the morning and walnuts at night, and anytime in-between!

The umbrella Tomoe is holding is actually for gathering mukago - tiny potatoes that grow on vines. We hold the umbrella below the vine and shake it (the vine) causing the mukago to drop. Unfortunatly, the area we saw tons of mukago a few days ago, was bare after the typhoon and rain apparently knocked everything off the vine into the underbrush where it is almost impossible to find them.

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October 10, 2009

Help Wanted

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Fall is here. The colors are changing just short of 1,000 meters. the air is crisp, and despite finally putting the stove away a month ago, it is time to get it out again.

The wall nuts, and chestnuts, and acorns and mukago (Dioscorea) are waiting for us to gather them, and that is just what we will do today now that the typhoon has passed and we have a sunny day. Its really nice to be on paternity leave, and be able to focus on getting ready for winter (and our daughter, of course!), cleaning the house, finishing up the last minute farming chores, and planning for next years One Life Japan activities.

With Tomoe being busy with the baby, I think that instead of doing so many all-inclusive family trips, which take up a lot of her time, we will try to make a longer one-month Outward Bound style "rough" trip where young people can study and use Japanese as they ride around Japan camping and crashing wherever there is a hot bath nearby (parks, cemeteries, shrines, etc.)

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If anyone reading this is a relatively fit multi-lingual (English / Japanese) that can swing two months in the summer next year, and would like a job as assistant guide or Japanese teacher, please let me know. Dates and salary are not yet calculated. The trip will most likely be four to six weeks, and we will need you to spend about two weeks preparing and going over the course and details.

I will make a more "formal" job opening announcement once I have had some time to really figure out what is needed, but I just thought I would throw it out there.

These photos are from our last customers of the year, and it couldn't have been a better group. It was just two (father and son) which made it really easy, and they totally lived up to my expectations of Australians (although the father is actually originally from England). These are the first customers to actually be excited about staying in the shrine by our house despite having a warm futon waiting for them indoors. A great way to end the year for me.

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October 04, 2009

Everbody Loves Australians

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Tomoe and I are considering giving special discounts to Australians who join our tours. We just had two Australian groups in a row and just can't get over how laid-back and smiley and love-every thingy they are. The father and son who will be biking with us for the next four days are also Australian, so the pressure is really on them to live up!

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Among the highlights of last weeks trip for me was a visit to the Akiyamago grade school, where there are only eight students of various ages. It is the smallest elementary school in Nagano prefecture, and there are more teachers and staff than students. We spent an hour or so teaching each other games and the grand finally was the Akiyama kids wowing everyone with their ability to ride a unicycle.

On the last night, we had a BBQ with the visiting family and a few of of our friends and their children at the local shrine. Everyone had fun playing tag and trying to speak Japanese or English to each other, but what made Oliver (the son in our visiting family) claim that this had been "The best night of my life!" was the chance to use fireworks at the BBQ.

I don't want to give away any secrets to our competitors, but fireworks seems to be the only thing we need to provide to make customers happy if they have children and especially are from a dry region where fireworks are banned. If the kids leave saying "That was the best night of my life!", then likely the parents are happy too. (Then again, I have not yet tried hiring a prostitute for family trips with teenage sons - while the son's reaction may be the same, i suspect the parents' reaction may be a bit different)

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October 03, 2009


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This pot of lentil sprouts is a trial run of our "FGHGEW" project .(an acronym for Fresh Green and Home Grown Even in Winter, pronounced "fuh-guh-gew"). We are looking for some help making a catchier name for the project. Any suggestions are appreciated.

Of course, we didn't grow the lentil, but in the winter we will use our own soy or Kentucky Wonder Beans (thanks dad) for the sprouts.

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Rice Update II

Rice Fields in September

Despite slicing off my finger, Tomoe and I were able to cut and hang most of our rice. This photo is from a week ago and most of the neighbors' fields are already done now (it only takes 1/2 day with a combine). We were busy this past week with customers so we still have one small field left. My first vacation is today but the weather is grim, and now the TV people want us to wait until they can come and film us harvesting (what was supposed to be a two day shoot has turned into a year-long drama). It doesn't matter though, because we have another four-day trip to run starting Monday. It looks like, although we are the first to start harvesting, we will be the last to finish.

One we are done, we have to dry on the rack for at least ten days and then borrow our neighbor's harvester to take the kernels off of the straw. We won't be done rice for at least another two weeks. It may be so much of a scandal that we are not invited to join the harvest festival!

Though it was tempting to plant a field of soba (buckwheat), I am now so glad that we didn't. (photo below is a neighbor's soba field)

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