Farewell

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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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Kuwaichigo

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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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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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Ta-ue and Doronnko

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Although we did not have our own tanbo (rice paddies) to plant and play in this year, Mona was invited to several events with other children, so she at least had an opportunity to get her feet, and more, muddy.

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After the mud play and planting, she and I decided to walk several hours back to our house. Along the way she made friends with a little spider that she carried with her the entire way, and tried to rescue some bugs drowning in the pitcher plant. We only made it about 1.5 hours before we came upon an ice cream shop at the michi-no-eki, and decided to just call mom to pick us up. Needless to say, we waited with fresh soft serve melting in our hands.

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Where did May go?

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May. What happened in May? Wish I had kept the blog going. I didn’t so I am writing it now – in October.

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Probably the biggest thing I remember about May is that we did not, for the first time in six or seven years, tend to rice fields. It was sad a first, as I really loved the work. I always refered to it as my most expensive hobby considering the amount of money and mostly time put into it that could have been spent on paying work. If my hours are taken into account, we could afford to buy the highest quality organic rice in Japan (which is pretty expensive even if Tomoe can get a discount because she does consulting work for the producer).

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I thought I would miss doing the farm work, but truth be told, as May came and went, it was actually quite a load off. At first I felt very strange and was worried because I had so much free time, something must be wrong, but soon got used to it.

I do feel bad though, that we did not have a chance to share the rice farming this year with Mona now that she is more aware than in past years. She didn’t seem to mind much.

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Still, we were able to attend some planting by hand activities with Mona, and it was really great just to show up, do the fun part, and not have been involved in any of the other traditional “88 steps” of rice farming. I felt the same come September when I got to do some harvesting for only a half day with customers without any of the worry and work of using my own fields.

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It also felt strange with all the nae seedlings out in front of the convenience store and us not having any to plant ourselves. In fact, our garden was pretty much a mess most of the summer and Tomoe decided she didn’t want anything planted there, so it was pretty much rulled by leftovers from last year, and lots of pumpkins.

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I remember taking Mona out to ride, and thinking for sure she will be riding without training wheels by the end of this year. That didn’t happen. Mostly my lack of getting her out on the bike, but also she just isn’t so interested in the bike. A bit sad, but maybe someday she will want to ride together with me on a longer trip.

There are so many things that were on the plan to do a lot of with her – running, biking, hiking, fishing, swimming, going to the beach, that never happened. Often

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Camp Tama

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Last week Mona and I traveled to Saitama to go to a camp with some other mixed nationality families. I was a bit sad that despite having mountains and trails and camping areas literally a ten minute walk from our front door, we had to travel five+ hours on the train, but it was worth it.

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Mona is very fluent in Japanese now, but struggles sometimes with English. I have to constantly ask her to repeat what she has said to me, but use English instead. Sometimes she does, sometimes she doesn’t. At the camp though, there were children and adults who don’t speak Japanese, so she was forced to struggle through and she did wonderfully. I could see on her face as the little gears in her brain worked to find the words in English, and since we have gotten back she initiates a conversation in English with me without me having to pretend I don’t understand.

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It was also worth it because the camp was held at Tama Hills Recreation Area – a hunk of nature in the middle of the city that is owned and operated by the US Armed Forces – only those with an invite from a service member can get in. Aside from being able to buy American snack food with $US, it was also very “American” in that it was much more loose and relaxed than uptight Japanese camp areas, no one complained about us taking an axe into the forest and gathering our own firewood, and everything was “American sized”, right down to the gigantic playground play set and miniature golf course. They also had horses that Mona was not into riding this time, but she had a lot of fun feeding and brushing them. Next time we get there maybe she will ride the pony and I can get some people together to use the paintball field.

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Anyway, Mona loves sleeping in the tent, loves ‘smores, and loves the playground (enough that she peed her pants with excitement when we arrived, and ended up going commando the rest of the weekend after refusing to put on a clean pair), so she obviously loved the weekend.

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Rice Shoots

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These are rice shoots being prepared for planting. They are grown in trays that fit into the planting machines. This was taken only about ten days ago and already most of the fields are planted while ours sit sad and dry, probably wondering why they have been forgotten by the tilling machine this year.

The spring is going by so quickly. Oh so quickly. Seems like only yesterday I looked out the window and the trees still had not begun to bud, and now they have passed through tree-puberty, and reaching their last stage of adolescence before they take on their deep summer green.

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Poor Little Future Olympian Girl

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At school-bus stop:

Neighbor: Oh good you made it on time today. I saw you walking the other day.
Me: Yeah, that was by choice.
Neighbor: Kawaiiso! (Poor little girl)
Me: No, we choose to walk.
Neighbor: (Chastising me for being selfish) *You* may like to walk, but walking is not good for the children until they are in first grade. It is too far.
Me: No, it was Mona who wanted to walk.
Neighbor: (grudgingly says) Hmmm… maybe because you make her walk to the bath every day.

I didn’t mention to the neighbor the fact that last time I went to the bath with Mona she wanted to run. She ran the entire way and I was actually hoping she would get tired – because I was. When she is 18 there will be a summer olympics, so I am going to start prepping her to be the cute Japanese female athlete that dominates Olympic coverage in Japan every two years.

Anyway, some photos from the walk to school. The buckets are spent tara-no-me branches – tree buds of the Japanese Angelica Tree a delicacy here in spring time. Behind them are the rice shoots being raised for planting later this month.

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Yomogi Mochi

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One of the most preliferous wild vegetables in our area is yomogi (Japanese Mugwort). A few years ago we had calculated that we could work hard for a few months in spring, and cruise by the rest of the year on all the money made from foraging and processing/selling this weed. And in fact there are people who do this. Of course, you have to be satisfied living a simple easy life, without lots of stuff, and you can’t worry about ho other people see you. In the end, it was not a prestigious enough job or something so the idea was dropped.

The upside of not doing much foraging this year is that we don’t have bags of drying, never-to-be-used yomogi vieing for floor space with rotting fukinoto (bog rhubarb), suiba (Japanese Knotweed), and others.

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Still, at least Mona did get a chance to take advantage of this wonderful surroundings we are lucky enough to live in, and made some Yomogi Mochi with her mom.

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