Camping and Tayasumi

DSC_7150_1_1 copy
DSC_7225_1_1 copy

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.

DSC_7137_1_1 copy
DSC_7179_1_1 copy

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.

DSC_7184_1_1 copy
DSC_7248_1_1 copy



More Mud Play

DSC_6858_1_1 copy
DSC_6869_1_1 copy
DSC_6825_1_1 copy
DSC_6870_1_1 copy



Ta-ue and Doronnko

DSC_7110_1_1 copy
DSC_7060_1_1 copy
DSC_7047_1_1 copy

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.

DSC_6991_1_1 copy
DSC_6981_1_1 copy
DSC_7004_1_1 copy
DSC_7009_1_1 copy
DSC_7033_1_1 copy
DSC_7094_1_1 copy
DSC_7091_1_1 copy
DSC_6808_1_1 copy

DSC_7100_1_1 copy

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.

DSC_7116_1_1 copy
DSC_7123_1_1 copy
DSC_7011_1_1 copy



Where did May go?

DSC_6638_1_1 copy
DSC_6546_1 copy

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

DSC_6569_1 copy

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).

DSC_6559_1 copy

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.

DSC_6737_1

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.

vDSC_6689_1 copy

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.

DSC_6574_1 copy

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

DSC_6566_1 copy
DSC_6564_1 copy
DSC_6596_1 copy



Camp Tama

DSC_6432_1
DSC_6535_1

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.

DSC_6435_1
mona

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.

DSC_6515_1 copy
DSC_6494_1 copy

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.

DSC_6458_1 copy
DSC_6481_1 copy
DSC_6509_1 copy

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.

DSC_6540_1 copy
DSC_6429_1



Rice Shoots

DSC_6439_1
DSC_6442_1

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.

DSC_6444_1



Poor Little Future Olympian Girl

DSC_6413_1 copy
DSC_6403_1

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.

DSC_6417_1
DSC_6411_1
DSC_6410_1



Yomogi Mochi

DSC_6324_1 copy
DSC_6335_1 copy

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.

DSC_6329_1
DSC_6349_1

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.

DSC_6338_1
DSC_6366_1
DSC_6364_1
DSC_6358_1

DSC_6323_1



Last Year / This Year

DSC_6390_1
DSC_6385_1

Last year Mona was still a girl. She did not know that you are not supposed to walk outside barefoot, she did not know that you can’t eat with your fingers, she did not know that getting dirty is wrong. Somewhere along the way she has learned these things, and now, when I try to take her out for a walk to pick some sansai wild vegetables, it is like pulling teeth. She just wants to get back home and watch Tomoe’s youtube or NHK cartoons, or even just watching NHK daily news – as long as it moves.

I did manage, after much kicking and screaming, manage to get her out yesterday to do some token wild vegetable foraging. We didn’t pick anything that will end up on the table, but at least we got to touch some green, and she still really enjoys her suiba (Japanese Knotweed).

The other thing I noticed while looking at some photos from last year’s May foraging season (below), is that her pants are really getting shorter.

Spring 2013
Spring 2013
Spring 2013
Spring 2013



Sad Year


DSC_1668 copy
DSC_1529

There is something even more sad than not being able to grow my own rice this year – even more sad than the fact that I will still be called on to mow down the weeds in and around the field (which is almost as much work as, or more, than growing rice, as we found a few years ago when we left just one plot fallow.)

A group of University students who had come out last year to help plant the rice and spend a week learning about food will not be returning this year. Its not because we have no rice fields to plant for them, and we got good reviews from them last year, even were in discussions to bring other departments over to study other aspects of Japan than just food.

DSC_1688 copy
DSC_1462

Aside from learning about and planting rice, gathering and preparing wild veggies, making mochi, making soba, miso tasting, making natto, followed up by an Iron Chef style competition where the students broke into groups which planned their own recipies visited the supermarket to try to find all the needed ingredients, and spent a day cooking to be judged by the local experts.

DSC_1678 copy
DSC_1707 copy

Their food was so good that I felt bad for the inn-keeper who might have been feeling inferior.

Anyway, for whatever reason they are not returning this year, so I really gotta find some rice fields to plant.

DSC_1701 copy
DSC_1664 copy