Autumn Harvest

Originally posted on facebook Oct 29/2014; Revisited Sept. 04 2015

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It doesn’t matter which season, they are all “the best” when it comes time to enjoy whatever grows at that time. Now it is time for nameko mushrooms (nothing makes better soup) and mukago (tiny potaotes that grow on vines)

We took Mona out of school today because of the beautiful weather and some mukago bushes that have been waiting to be harvested.

I couldn’t find any English info on Mukago – in fact google has a post on my blog from 2011 as the number two result. I wonder if Mona remembers this…

Flashback Fin.

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Present day:

I am now sitting in our apartment in Nagoya. It is September, but it does not feel like September. It feels the same as it was a week ago, and two weeks ago. The only difference is that I noticed a lone cicada crying yesterday, compared to a few weeks ago when the children’s main activity was searching for the loud cicadas. Oh, and the building being built along the walk to Mona’s school is progressing well, so there is some change see – even if it is not seasonal.

We will be going back to the village later in September, and hopefully we can share in some of the mushrooms and mukago, though it might be a bit too early.

More photos from 2014:

Foraging for the mukago potatoes. This is not really foraging though, because we are just taking them from a neighbor’s field where she is growing the large “nagaimo” under the ground. The “mukago” are just an unwanted byproduct for her. We are happy to take them home though and eat them – either fried or boiled with salt, or else we put them in the rice cooker together with the rice.

To be completely honest though, we left a big bag of them behind because we could not use them all. Another big value for us is just picking them together with Mona. The umbrella is because they fall very easily from the vine, so we put the umbrella below and shake the vine.

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While taking a break we took a short one hour hike through the surrounding area. Nothing extreme, but thanks to the good weather it was a nice walk.

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And then Mona and Tomoe decided to take a nap sandwich.

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Little Doll House in The Prairie


Photos originally posted on Facebook 2014/11/24. Current reflection Jul 25, 2015

Update on the dolls.

Last night and today we worked on making some more dolls to add to the doll house that was built out of a drawer turned on its side, and a simple roof.

Now there is a dad/mom (turning the head around makes one or the other, as it has a mom face on one side and a dad face on the other) and a dog, and a christmas tree.

This is the doll house I made. I felt sad that she did not use t much, but was really happy that when we moved to Nagoya a few months ago, this was one of the toys she chose to take with her. She still plays with it. The biggest problem is that she does not have time to play with any one thing for a long time. Only five years old and I find myself trying to change activities to give her a big variety so she can learn English, and learn to ride a bike, and learn to play soccer, and learn to draw, and learn to play guitar, and spend time in the onsen, and play with fireworks, and enoy traditional Japanese activities like “suikawari”.

Too many things to do, and too many things that I think she “should” do, and no time just to play with her wooden dolls. I even find it ironic that I want to find time to watch “Little House on The Parie” to show her how Laura was so happy with just a simple doll, but showing her those videos takes away from the time that she has to actually play with her dolls.


Home Made Dolls

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Photos from Oct 28 2014. Written on Jul 23 2015.

I write this with the benefit of hind-sight.

When I first made these dolls for Mona, this is what I wrote on my facebook page:

I think I found my new career.

In Michigan Mona had a chance to play with her cousin’s doll house and enjoyed it, so I have had “make a doll house” on my to-do list for a while now. A week ago Mona and I sat down to draw up the plans, and ran into a snag when we tried to figure out how high to make the ceilings.

Mona doesn’t own any dolls.
So I set out to make her a doll, checking out lots of wooden doll pics on the web, and trying to copy them with failure every single time. Today I just gave up and screwed some rectangular arms and legs to a square block and…. Mona loved it. “Wow!” She says. “This is really good! This one is a girl and I want you to make me a boy doll!”

I have a few glitches to work out before I start selling them (like one has a sharp nail sticking out of it that would require a duct tape covering to pass the child safety inspections)

It is now July 23, 2015. Mona has played with these dolls much more than I expected, but not as much as I would have liked. To be fair, it is not her fault. There are constantly new toys and distractions coming into her life. People (myself included) giving her gifts, or me coming up with a new project, and no possible way that she can do all the new things – ride a bike, play in the field, catch bugs for the chicks, draw, paint, learn to play the uke, etc. and still have time to play with these dolls.

I did make a doll house for her, and we have spent some nice nights on the yet-to-be completed home improvements, much like our own real life house that never seems to be completed. We have made furniture, painted windows and cut out scenery to paste into the windows from magazines. We have made stairs (that promptly fell apart) and have done surgery to re-attach the wood-dog’s leg several times.

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In general, I was very pleased with the reaction I got from these dolls – especially considering that I thought making them would be the main event. In reality, she actually was very proud of them and showed them off to visitors to the house.

Now that we have moved to Nagoya, I am not sure where they are. Maybe packed away in a box somewhere. Maybe they will be pulled out before she is too old to enjoy them, or maybe she will spend her time riding the bike (as we did today) or maybe playing soccer (as is planned for next weekend) or maybe just wasting all her play time by eating dinner so slowly that there is no time for anything else, as she does every night.

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Wataame and Taiko

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Went to the village shukakusai (harvest festival) today where once again we realize how lucky we are to live in a small town like this and attend events like this where everyone knows everyone and we can let Mona run free and she always finds someone to hang with. Its also great to live in a rural area like this where I can take Mona for a 6km bike ride over the mountains and through the hills with beautiful fall colors and no cars. Mona completed the ride like a trouper with fewer complaints than I get from some adults.

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Aside from the beautiful bike ride, and meeting all the people we don’t get to meet so often, Mona had her first taste of cotton candy, and nothing goes better with cotton candy than taiko drumming.


I really don’t know why I ever worried about getting firewood. I already have too much, and it just keeps coming. People are hunting me down to give me their wood. Thats what happens when you live in a small town where word travels fast and someone spots me gathering wood from an old house. I feel bad turning people down.

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Sometimes they are doing it to be nice, sometimes because they are grateful to have someone take away the wood that is simply garbage to them. Today I was asked by a neighbor to please take all of a persimmon tree she had just chopped down in her yard. Of course the wood would not be usable this year, but very tempted to get it for next year assuming I can find someplace to store it until its time to season it. I was a bit worried – afraid that the astringents that are in the persimmon are also in the wood and cause troubles similar to burning urushi, but it turns out that persimmon is supposed to be an excellent fuel wood.

In the photos, Mona is helping me to take care of some old floor boards that we had laying around. They are old and rotted enough that can be easily broken with a karate kick, but perfect for a fire starter. I filled up my kindling box with this today.

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Sick Day

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Mona’s teacher asked that we keep her home from school today because she is “sick”. She didn’t get much rest aside from getting a chance to sleep in for an hour or two longer than normal.

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I had inside office work to do, but the weather was too beautiful, and with Mona home there was little chance I would get it done anyway, so we first head out to cut the last of the “good” wood from the old house that was recently demolished. I was able to collect almost two weeks worth of winter heat while Mona hung out with our neighbor in her garden.

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Later we head out to collect our first persimmon of the year which we peeled and hung to dry tonight. Tomorrow is another beautiful day, so we will gather many many more and spend every night for the next week peeling and hanging. Mona was way into it and did much better than I had anticipated. She can’t wait to get more tomorrow either.

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We also took a walk up the road into the mountain to find some walnuts, but our favorite tree appears to be dry this year. While there were no walnuts to gather, Mona found her new favorite play place in a big pile of boulders. She told me that it is a lot better than the playground at McDonalds that she liked when we were in Michigan.

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It’s that time of year again, and we were caught completely off-guard. Sort of. The plan from last Spring was that we would not be living here most of the time over the next winter, so I didn’t make any effort to gather fire wood. Plans change, and suddenly the cold winter is bearing down on us.

Luckily, a neighbor who tore his house down last year was swindled by the house disposal company he had hired to dispose of his house. They just left it there – a common scam against older people who they figure don’t have the fight (or the years) left in them to take it to court. This neighbor does, but while he is battling in court, he gave us the OK to take whatever we need.

This is sugi ceder tree, and very old and dry, so far from the best wood for our stove as it burns fast and dirty. But at least it burns – and it burns easy.

I took the chainsaw over today to check out how much there is and get a few logs for tonight to see how it burns. There is way more than I expected and more than we can fit in our wood racks, so plenty for a winter or more. Tomorrow I begin the big task of cutting as much as I can and carrying it home to split and find someplace to store it. Wood this dry is murder on a chainsaw even if it is not riddled with hidden nails, so I am not looking forward to what will likely be more hours of sharpening than actual cutting.

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Mona, however, *is* looking forward to splitting it. She was practicing today on a smaller piece, and hopefully can graduate to something more substantial by the time she is ten.

* * *

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We also took advantage of the beautiful fall day to head out to the nearby forest shrine and gather some fallen ceder branches and leaves. As I mentioned above, dried ceder logs is not ideal for a fire stove (unless you want to heat a room really quickly) but the leaves are wonderful for getting the fire started.

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While we were there she took a moment to think about Punky and Pyo – the two slikie chicks she had been raising that were eaten by a cat this week. Just as we were down the to the bottom of the hill from the shrine, she suddenly stops and says “Oh! Daddy! I forgot. Can I go back?” So we climbed back up and she paid her regards as in the photo below.

“What were you doing?” I asked.

“Thinking about Punky and Pyo.”

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This is for Grandma, who doesn’t know what mulberries are, despite somehow managing to teach us the nursery rhyme “Here we go round the mulberry bush”, and despite me posting photos of them every year when they are in season.

Mona and I have been waiting anxiously all spring for the fruits to finally ripen and our patience has paid off. There is one particular tree right along the walk to school that we pass by and search for the day’s sweet purple berries, leaving the red ones to ripen for the next day. If we can manage to harvest a large amount, they will be great for jam or pie, or to add to our yogurt in the morning, but the only thing we have when we get home are purple teeth and fingertips.

And a little known fact, one that I have yet to validate – the unripe fruit and green parts of the plant have a white sap that may be stimulating, or mildly hallucinogenic (or toxic).

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New Habits Die Quickly

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In June I had decided that this year would not be a repeat of last year, when I was not able to keep up with customers and was forced to take a bus up a mountain while they rode their bikes. I made a big effort to ride almost every day, and was actually getting good at putting in a few hours at least four times a week.

Not sure what happened to that habit – somewhere along the way I got too busy, and with Tomoe spending more time helping her family in Nagoya, and Mona being here with me, I wasn’t able to sneak out of the house in the mornings for a ride for fear that she would wake up find me not there and take the opportunity to eat all my chocolate.

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Now, a I write this, it is almost November and snow will be my next excuse. Hopefully before the snow comes, and there is still some colors on the trees, I can get a few more good rides in. Then maybe over the winter a trip with a friend around Shikoku.

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Another habit I got into for a while was fishing in the small river behind our house. It was nice being able to go out any time I want and catch a few fish for dinner, and Mona liked it too, so I really can’t use her as an excuse for falling out of the habit.

I am not sure if it is off-season now, but maybe there is still time before the snow. I guess I should get up early one of these days and see if there are still any iwana out there.

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Camping and Tayasumi

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Also in May, a family joins us from Tokyo to get out of the city, enjoy some camping in a nearby shrine, and the main event – our annual tayasumi (rest after planting the rice) and bamboo shoot festival which is held every year on the morning of June 1, to allow everyone to take a (very short) breather before they start up on their next farming related tasks that very same afternoon.

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After picking the bamboo shoots, the good ones are bundled and go to market. The rejects become a delicious soup that is shared by all the members of our hamlet.

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More Mud Play

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