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June 28, 2010

Where the taxes go

ConferenceClean-up


I am recuperating from a half day of boring fire-brigade ceremony, and a longer half-day of slightly less boring drinking with the crew (apparently it got less boring as the afternoon wore on.)

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I know I post photos of the fire brigade every year at this time, but it just sucks up so much of my time and I have to find some way to make it more interesting. The novelty of how rigid and ridiculously structured everything is has worn off. There is a contest between hamlets to see who can put out the fire first. Of course they only use a target that has to be hit once with the high-preassure water blast. This I see as valuable - being able to assemble the equipment quickly and aim and manage the hose. But they are also judged on things such as the angle of their feet, and the order in which they adjust their uniform, and even the distance the hoses are from each other before they get around to putting out the fire. Above, you see a photo of them measuring to make sure. In the mean time, people are jumping out of the second story windows to escape the flames.

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It is all worth it, though, even despite two hours of daily practice in the busiest time of the year for farming and One Life work. For one thing, just the fact that I show up (regardless of if I can play the trumpet or not) gives me street cred in the village, and I get to meet and drink with a lot of the other young people that I would normally not see. While we don't get paid for joining, I suppose it pays off in favors. A discount from the fellow trumpeter mechanic here, a tip on an event to take customers to see there, and lots of "free" booze and food.

I have yet to fight a fire in three years of service. The biggest thing I did was spend two days searching for a lost man in the mountains. We never found him, but we had a lot of fun and drinks afterwards. I can imagine something like this causing outrage in other places... why is tax-payer money being spent on parties for a few men in the village?!!?!? I see tremendous value though in terms of community building (the only reason I am a part of it). While the conversation at the drinking parties gets a bit boring at (more than a few) times, I can't imagine how, if I lived in Tokyo or Bay City, MI (my home town), I would have an opportunity to be forced to hang out with so many people without a specific unifying interest related reason, such as "I like manga" (I don't, by the way), or "I like raising chickens" (I do, by the way).

Every year I wake up and mutter "oh shit. I have to go to trumpet practice again tonight. I am just going to quit." (and I have a good excuse - I am technically not supposed to be in the group because I do not have Japanese citizenship). But every year I go back. I will go back again tonight...

WaitingPractice in the rain

June 24, 2010

Best since the last best that was before the best before them.

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So, I know I have said this before, but last week we had our best customers since our last best customers. This time it was a family of three who, after we turned them down, persisted and went so far as to get a Japanese travel agent to hound us on their behalf. How could we resist? I am glad we didn't.

Above is the family with Tomoe and Mona and some of our favorite inn-keepers (I highly HIGHLY recommend Ikeshou if you are visiting Nozawa Onsen.

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It was supposed to be a four day trip, but I liked them so much, and apparently they were not too turned off by my armpit stench, that we extended the trip another day and made a not-too-easy ride deep into the mountains. This is something I have stopped doping with families due to complaints about the difficulty, but their eleven-year old did it faster than me. It was a great week. They are now officially on my FOOL list (Friends Of One Life). People who I feel confident to invite back for a more challenging trip (once i get something organized).

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I know there are too many photos, and some are not suitable for anyone under eighteen. Please forgive me.

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June 21, 2010

Gumi & Matatabi

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Have been out for five days with an amazing family of three, so I haven't had time to process and post these photos of when Tomoe's mom and aunt came to visit for a few days. We spent one night here at our home, and one night at an inn in the Akiyamago area of our village, about an hour away.

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If you are planning to travel to Akiyamago, and for some reason don't consult me, I heartily recommend Enokami for accommodations. The owners are a native of the valley, and his wife who is from Tokyo and a master of natural, organic cooking. Some of the photos are of the inn-keepers picking our lunch, and also some rhubarb transplants for us to take home. At least two of them have taken root. They also make some really great Gumi and Matatabi booze.

Matatabi and Gumi WineTomoe in AkiyamagoTomoeGathering Dinner

June 20, 2010

Father's Day

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For Toby and Tim

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And can't forget Yung-hoon.

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June 14, 2010

Vacation Time

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Just procrastinating before I start final preparations for a four-day family bike trip starting tomorrow. It may seem like I am always on vacation, but it is stressful for both Tomoe and I making sure customers' needs are met, so last week Tomoe and I did take a working vacation. I say "working" because wherever we go we are always looking at it in terms of how we can use what the area has to offer in the future.

This time we took a trip to Hakuba, where we lived for one summer, to pick up some chickens from a friend I had only known via his blog for a few years. They are definatly a couple we will be going back to meet in the future. Perhaps to enjoy one of his back-country ski tours.

We also met with a friend (also my previous boss's wife) and loaded up on hand-me-down clothes for Mona, who is quickly outgrowing anything we already had, such that Tomoe had to cut the legs off of some of the suits. (don't worry, she did it when Mona was not wearing them).

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A visit to a goat herder friend, we realized we might have to be careful with Mona around our own goat (she seems to be quite tasty). Of course later we were informed that there is no need to worry because we have been asked to please not keep a goat this year due to the recent foot and mouth outbreak in Japan. If our goat got it, all the beef and dairy farmers in our area would be forced to kill their own animals.

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We also paid a visit to a couple of fellow "I-turners" - people who have left the city for the countryside. This is a couple we knew from our days in Tokyo and they moved out at the same time we did. The state of their house indicates that they are obviously more organized than us, they spend less time fighting and more time working, or they just had more money to hire professionals to renovate, as opposed to having a completely non-carpenter Kevin trying to do it all by hand (all the while fighting with an equally non-carpenter Tomoe about what is the best way)! Their house is amazing and is going to be a stopping point on our future tours.

They have nice goats too.

Finally, on the way home we had a nice picnic at a shrine along the way, and Mona enjoyed (until the diarrhea came) her first taste of fresh veggies.

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June 08, 2010

Best Customer Since the Last Best Customer

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I spent last week with a customer. With apologies to my past best customers, he is also my best customer ever. We had originally decided not to take customers this spring, but he sounded too perfect when I talked to him on the phone. He was perfect. Even when I told him the first two days are someplace I would like to explore, but have never ridden myself. he readily agreed. When I told him he may have to sleep in a shrine or graveyard, he readily agreed. When it was pouring cold rain he never complained. He begged to have Tomoe's macrobiotic cooking instead of complaining "Where's the meat?". And, best of all, the hardest part was getting him to put his camera away so we could stay on schedule. He could have spent an hour just in a fifty square meter radius of our house.

I want to go trough an hour by hour story, but I have other things to do. Instead, I will give you the bullet-point version:

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  • Attempt to ride to coast (I get hypothermic and we have to hitch a ride to the nearest inn)
  • Sleep with 15 junior high-school girls (they were in different rooms than us, but technically we slept in the same inn.)
  • Spend ten hours riding 85km to our second day's inn. (awesome!)
  • My Camera brakes and I loose two days worth of photos.
  • We boil eggs in the hot-spring.
  • A knee injury allows us to Catch a ride from the inn-keeper (Ikesho) to our home where Simon explores on his own and I vacuum.
  • Next day we pick bamboo shoots, cook and eat them with our neighbors at the local festival.
  • I am too drunk to do the rice planting, so we put it off until early the next morning.
  • After planting rice we head to Akiyamago where we spend the night at Naebaso inn - a 400+ year old inn where we enjoy a traditional meal of wild vegetables and bear meat.
  • Wake up early and head to the Mt Naeba Opening Ceremony. Take lots of photos.
  • Climb Mt Naeba (one of Japan's 100 famous mountains)
  • Wake up the next day at 4 am
  • Hike down and happy to find that the bikes we hid in the forest had not been stolen.
  • Ride down to the great outdoor bath only to find it closed.
  • Ride to another outdoor bath that is too hot to sit in for more than five minutes.
  • Visit the sake brewery that is closed in the summer (sake is best brewed in the winter), but offers all-you-can-drink tastings. Perfect for the remaining ride down the hill!

Yes, it was over a week ago, but I feel I should acknowledge one of my best customers. I feel like I should have paid him.

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June 06, 2010

First Bra

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Because no one complained, and I was not able to edit (though I had many more than you see here) you get to see another hundred or so photos of Mona.

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Mona tries on her first bra. I think it is a bit early, but she insisted. Then she and Tomoe did their daily morning exercises.

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Sorry, Mona

oilspill

I found this interesting. This is what the BP oil disaster would look like if it was me that had accidently broken an underground pipe while I was digging a post hole for a wind turbine.

Sorry, Mona.

Created at If It Was My Home

June 04, 2010

Rare Footage

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Somehow, I think I forgot to post these. This is rare footage from the lost archives of Mona's childhood.

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Tayasumi & Bamboo Shoots

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I have been having a great time with a lone customer this past week. Getting lost and almost hypothermic in the rain, riding ten-hours in a day to and from the Japan Sea, almost all up^-hill, climbing Naeba where there is still two meters of snow at the summit, and enjoying our local tayasumi (break after finishing planting the rice) festival.

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At the festival we, and some friends visiting from Tokyo, helped pick and peel bamboo shoots with our neighbors. I have no photos of the picking because I lost my glasses in the forest, and it took me twenty minutes on my hands and knees to find them. I can only see a few inches in front of me without my glasses.


As you may have guessed, Mona was a big hit at the party.

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