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.

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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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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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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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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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