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April 29, 2011

More Mona

Mona wants to play with Punky22_large

Just a few more photos by friend Sakko. We had a nice birthday party for niece Mayu today. She and her friends searched for candy eggs around our and our neighbors house. They did not find them all. I can see some from the window. I suppose they will melt in the rain.

In the photos Mona is trying to get to Punky (the chick), who has a cage outside the window.


Mona Through a True Photographer's Eyes


Despite my jealousy, I am posting these photos taken by a friend who visited from Outward Bound in Otari village with her husband (my boss when I work there). I hate that her photos are so much better than mine. I will blame it on her camera being newer and better than mine - but I know that is bull shit. She's just naturally a great photographer.


A few years ago I was giving her tips on photography. Now the teacher has become the student. (Sigh...)

The only reason I admit to my defeat is so mom and dad can see the photos.

Mona & MuuMona & Muu11_large10_largeMona & Muu

If anyone wants to hire her for a photo shoot, I would be a bit upset that you didn't hire me, but I would completely understand. I Love the photos she sent me of Mona.

I hope I didn't use up all the good photos on this post (which would be impossible, as I have already chosen about 90 that will eventually be posted, but here are a few of my favorite 80.


April 21, 2011

Futons in the trash


I figured that not everyone bothers to read all the comments. But this last post about the dump got a few that I wrote long replies to. I have a more detailed summary of the situation but have not "perfected" it, and probably never will. So having spent the morning writing replies, I will just repost them as a full-on post. Please keep the questions coming. It helps me to know what I should spend time writing about.

And just to lighten the mood, a photo of Mona doing her lion impression, and Punky chikkin' by the heater. (we stopped the fire stove for now because the glass broke and there is only one month of stove-required weather anyway.)


i'd love some of those futons and doors. they'll all be burnt will they? seems like such a waste! are there any empty houses about?

Posted by: becca | April 21, 2011 05:10 AM

Why is all the bedding in the trash? It still looks good.

Posted by: MOM | April 21, 2011 06:18 AM

wow, look at all of those futons....

Posted by: illahee | April 21, 2011 06:50 AM

Kevin, I appearently missed something. I thought I read all your blogs. I only remember you being in the shelter because of the potentially weak dam and then all this. Why was all this stuff distroyed? Water damage, earthquake damage or old age damage? Why could the farmer not keep going with the dairy farm except that it was marginal even before the quake and he wanted out. I didn't know the quake damage in your village was that great.

Posted by: billy | April 21, 2011 07:01 AM

Sorry, Uncle Bill, I have not kept up the blogging recently. I have a draft of a post with more detail about everything laying around here somewhere, but to answer your question in brief:

There are several houses which actually collapsed. Many more that are unlivable due to structural damage.

I just visited a friend who lives in an area where we could not access due to collapsed road and landslides. (after the quake they were brought to the shelter by helicopter). Their house has literally "jumped" about a foot off of its concrete foundation. That house will have to be torn down and rebuilt. There are many more like this.

The cow farmers are out of business because their barns where they keep the cows are half collapsed. The dead cows are because part of the barn collapsed on them.

I suspect that the dairy farmer already had plans to get out, but he is in the family biz, and couldn't. This is his chance. His son was already set to go to high-school in Hokkaido, where the wife is from, and where dairy man went to study dairy-ing.

If it were not for the tsunami, we would be in the Japanese news a lot. I was asked a few days ago to join a webcast news show about our village. I didn't want to say "this is nothing compared to the tsunami area", because there are people still in the shelters who have lost their home or business (mushroom man also out of business, and prefectural treasure last wooden shoe maker also out of business, our only supermarket may have to rebuild - if they see it as feasible). But really, this was nothing compared to over there in the tsunami area.

Our house, and all the other houses on our road were fine because we are on a very solid rock base. Just 500 meters away, on the other side of the river, where it is a very sandy base, there is a lot more damage.

Also, the extent of the damage is not yet known, since many roads are still under snow. If the roads are damaged, or if there are landslides blocking them, many farmers may not be able to get to their fields in the mountains in time to start the spring planting. (though people are pretty good with heavy machinery and organizing emergency efforts like that here). A bigger problem would be if the rice paddies are damaged and can not hold water. This is not such an easy problem to fix. It could mean a lot of people can not make rice, or not as much.

I just received another order for our rice today and I had to refuse because I don't know yet if we can make it this year, so I wanted to keep what we have left for ourselves to eat.

But probably the *biggest* negative effect of the quake will be the loss of people (not dead, just moving away). We were already considered an official "village in danger of dying", and now even more so. There is at least one hamlet that is now extinct (granted there was only one old house with an elderly couple living there) but still, even some of the larger hamlets will not be the same.

Of course this effects my business as well, since the people are a big part of our tours, but there are areas nearby that I can expand into, so I am not worried. Once foreigners start coming back to Japan I will be OK. And we have other ideas too.

Posted by: kevin | April 21, 2011 09:38 AM

@mom and illahee

Yeah. It is hard to go there because I want to get all of it, but no where to put it. Mayu had homework yesterday to think of things to do for the people in the tsunami area. Of course there were many ideas like writing letters sending cookies, etc. I suggested sending some of this stuff! I have already collected a bunch of perfectly good musical instruments that the school was throwing out. I was officially told to stop, but am allowed later to "steal" them.

Those can all be sent over there and maybe brighten some kids days. I don't know...

But yeah, it is painful to see what gets thrown away. Whenever I go to the dump to clear out our house (still going there after four years) they weigh the car on the way in and on the way out. I am afraid sometimes it will weigh more on the way out. But I have gotten some good stuff there that I use all the time.

Part of this massive purge is because many houses are now unlivable, people have to tear down the house, and have no place to store their stuff, so I guess this is a "fresh start". Some if it is because going 30 minutes to the official dump was too troublesome, and now for a limited time, we can just go five minutes to the school parking lot. People are taking the opportunity to get rid if things they always wanted to get rid of. Me too.

Posted by: kevin | April 21, 2011 09:51 AM


I would love to send you some, but I think it would be cheaper to just go to the nearest Jusco and buy a new one.

Before the quake there were 80 empty houses in the village. It was very difficult to get people to allow anyone to rent or buy them for a variety of social reasons. I had tried to find a place to house employees so I could expand my business, but found nothing. There is (was) a waiting list to get into the village.

Now I suspect many people will take this opportunity to use whatever money thet get from the government to tear down the open houses that are deemed "unlivable", instead of rebuild them, since they are not being used anyway, and it costs money just to have it there - they have to pay for shoveling the roves, maintenance, tax, etc.

It will be a very different landscape.

This has been a very depressing comment answer session...

But maybe, just maybe, some people will be more willing now to offer houses to outsiders. And since probably no one wants to come to an area that 1/3 or more of the population may be fleeing from, it might be easier. Posted by: kevin | April 21, 2011 10:15 AM


The Dump


Today was supposed to be a light blogging day (I have had many of those lately) But here are some photos of the local dump - which is not even the local dump.


This is the parking lot at the local junior-high school. Everyone in the village brings our "destryed" stuff here, and people with big trucks go back and forth to the incinerator, which is about thirty minutes away, and it would cause major problems if, after the quake, everyone tried to drive there themselves as we usually do - but not all at once.


Many people, including us, are using this as an excuse to get rid of extra baggage. I can't complain about the amount, because I have taken two van-laods myself, and have another on the way (stuff that was in the house when we moved in - of course). But it is really sickening to see. Understandable, but sickening.

Remember this is one or two day's worth of garbage for the village, and many people have not even entered their homes other than to get valuables.


Foot in mouth


I am going to make this short and sweet. (after finishing writing this, that is where I have put my foot in my mouth, apparently) I have lots going on in my head and have written many amazingly insightful blog-post-drafts in my head, but that is always when I am chilling at the bath or working someplace away from the computer.

The goat at the local school finally gave birth to two kids. For a while, we were worried about her and I was going there to help her stand up. Many thanks to our goat hearder friend in Hakuba for advice!

The kids are out, and there is a boy and a girl. We are interested in keeping the mother and the girl, but it most liekley will not happen due to worry in the village of foot-and-mouth desiese.

We have four immediate neighbors who make/made their living on with dairy cows or beef cows. After the quake, the Dairy farmer lost his house, and they spent two weeks living in the cattle shed, but ended up selling all the cows and are moving away to his wifes hometown in Hokkaido. He was a friend, I spend some time teaching english to his two children. I took customers to his home for dinner to get "local interaction". They made amazing ice-cream. It is sad, but I completely understand their position. Their business was shaky as it was, but with this, it is the perfect time to start over.

Another beef producer just brought me a couple bags of "left-over" grass-straw to feed Mari (the mother goat). A few weeks ago, after the quake we went to their hamlet to check on them, and they where laoding the cattle into trucks to sell. There was also a pile of dead cattle with a blue tarp spread over them until they could take care of it. I just visited their place again today and the hamlet was pretty much empty.

There are two other beef farmers in my hamlet. Both make extremely high quality beef, only sold to the best restaurants. Sometimes I get to eat it. It made me turn back from vegetarianism. I savour it raw. Just a slice, maybe a bit of soy-sauce. Ohhhhhh Mmmmmmm Gggggggg!

Anyway, both of these farmers had major damage to their barns, but they are still in business for the time being.

Which brings me back to the point... We really want to start keeping a goat (or two or up to five), and have plans to start selling cheese on a small scale etc, but if our goats got foot-and-mouth (not to be mistaken with foot-in-mouth, which I have a chronic problem with) they would have to kill any remaining cattle they have.

I am guessing we will have to decline. I think we will have to purcahse the milk from a dairy farmer in the next village. A shame, since until now all our cheese was made frome our neighbor's milk, or from Mari the school goat's milk.

On the bright side, another friend of ours has apparently decided to purchase the ice-cream machine and booth at the local tourist-stop from the dairy farmer, and continue on with the business that the dairy farmer is leaving (minus the cows). We will be purchasing the milk from the same farmer in the next village, and he will rent us space to sell our cheese, and other goodies that Tomoe makes.


April 15, 2011

Porn question for dork friends

Question to my dork friends with kids:

What porn-blocker do you use?

Not that we think Mayu (11 year old niece living with us now) is trying to find porn, but until now she has really no contact with the web. We are teaching her to use it.

She has learned that she can watch anime online. We are willing to let her go that way because we think it is good to speed up her computer-intelligence, but worried about the fact that a lot of anime sites have adds for weird porn (not that we want her to watch regular porn, but I think you know what I mean). Tomoe is worried she will click on a link by accident (or on purpose) and be sucked into the matrix of porn.

So, dork friends with porn protectors on their computers... What do you use? We have MacBooks, but might end up letting her use an old Windows PC laying around somewhere.

man. i am going to be one frustrated dad...

April 13, 2011

Monya-tan kawaiiiiiii

OK. I was going to post about something else, but I forget what it was... Oh yeah, it was about my niece, who is apparently no longer the little girl we discussed having move in with us... BUT, She seems to be doing well, and since her grandma, who she has been living with for the past few years, can't read English, I am free to say that she is already returning to a "normal" state in terms of human relations. (Grandma has her own issues, but not grandma's fault.)

Hence-forth she, the niece, shall be referred to with her real name - Mayu.

So Mayu had her first day of school today. I cant wait to upload the photos/videos of the media circus it was. Not because of Mayu (Though I thought I should tell some of the reporters because it would make an interesting story, But in the end I thought the headline might be too long.

"Girl moves from safe area to go to school in small country town after earthquake that caused possibly 1/3 of population to move away (including some of the already small school's student population) and now lives with Aunt and Uncle... oH, and yeah, Uncle is a foreigner.")

The reporters where all there because one of the other grade schools had closed (planned before the earthquake) so they can make a good story about a dying village, and now this earthquake stuff, and the kids going back to school after the terrible tragedy. Even better. I realized I don't want to be a reporter.

So this post is actually another apology post about videos that are too long, and poorly taken. These are form a few weeks ago at the shelter. You can see that Mona is a goddess here.

In both videos you will see a girl with a pink shirt harassing Mona with love. While Mona was terrorized, the girl (Mao) had no ill intention. She is the daughter of a Chinese woman who came here and married the brother of my next-door neighbor, although they live in another hamlet now. I have known them for a few years, but never really "known" them until now. Fortunately there is no need to translate, since the only thing the kids say for ten minutes is "Mona-tan"

Sometimes earthquakes have good effects too. Spending ten days in the shelter was one of the highlights of my life.


The videos are kinda long, but if you are my mom, you will want to watch through to the end.

Halfway through the first one, after Mao drops mona on the ground, Mona starts making a clicking noise. This is something that Mao's mother makes to Mao, and though I have not asked, it appears to be a kind of poppo. (for those Korean illiterates, that means chuu (Oh, wait, for those Japanese illiterates, that means "kiss")

Anyway, despite being lovingly harassed by Mao, Mona now knows how to do a click-kiss. She does it often. I find it wonderful that we have not thought her the English or Japanese word for kiss, but she can now do it in two other languages. (though, not sure if click is actually a language unless you are from South Africa)

The second video was taken by one of the girls who I gave my camera to. Sadly (for me) it is better footage than I got myself. When they keep saying "Mona kawaii" That means "Mona is so cute".

At about 3 minutes into it, the kids start talking about how Mona is more cute than Maki, etc. and that she is "the cutest girl on earth".

Proud dad.

April 01, 2011

"Spending" Time

So we have been talking a lot about what will happen this year. With the earthquakes and the nuclear crisis, which was just reported today to be expected to last at least three more months, and a travel advisery against coming to Japan from most foreign governments, and many foreigners fleeing (something I recently learned is called "fly-jin" ("gaijin" is the Japanese word for foreigner.)). Well, with all this happening we were wondering how to make money.

As I mentioned in a recent post, the English teacher option is still on the table, but the people in our area have troubles of their own, maybe financial troubles. Not sure how viable that is at this point in time.

I have a website development job from the village, which has a grant to make a photo contest, as this is designated as one of the 100 beautiful countryside areas in Japan.

We do still have people registering for tours as early as July, and that is nice. But, recently we have been crunching some other numbers.

This is a stretch, but we have been thinking about the price of educating Mona. University, especially sending her to the US (which we most certainly would) would cost a lot.

We started running the numbers, and it might make more sense to spend most of our time making Mona smart. Spending as much time with her as we can, instead of spending our time trying to make money and leaving her to other people, only to end up spending all that money on her education later, but miss the chance of guiding Mona through her educational experience.

With our low income, she will be more eligible for a scholarship, and having spent so much time learning from us instead of just the normal school system, she will be much more likely to be able to get one. Financially, it seems to make sense... Work our ass off to pay for school, while leaving her to the public school system, or spend that time making sure she is smart - both book smart, and "real" smart.

And it would certainly be more enjoyable to spend time with mona than working... (though I really really love my work!)

By the way, this does not mean we are planning to home school. We love the school here and have faith in it. I just want to be around as much as possible to supplement her education. Maybe somedays she takes off from school to go do something with us, and she has her own side projects, making her own businesses etc.

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