Christmas, I guess

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I often don’t know what date it is, so I barely noticed that it was Christmas, or rather Christmas eve here, until I began to wonder why all the Facebook traffic stopped. I thought maybe it was the Mayan end-of-the-world thing. Come to find out, that was several days ago, and then I got a great package from Mona’s cousins and it all clicked. It included some long lost photos of me when I was Mona’s age which I will post if I get my hands on a scanner. I would have written about it sooner, but I spent an hour or two reading about The Adventures of Little Bear (the book Toby and Molly sent) with Mona.
Grandma and Grandpa should watch (or at least skip) to the end.

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In the mean time, for Mona’s grandma and grandpa, I post this video of Mona opening the package they sent earlier this week. It came the very day that Mona and Tomoe were headed out to Nagoya to visit her Japanese grandparents. Came just in time to be opened, but we did not start eating the cookies until they got home yesterday (or was it the day before?)
Tomorrow is Christmas, I guess, and Mona will be in school. I will try to get some work done that I did not get done this weekend because it was a three-day weekend in Japan and Mona was home. The week before that, while Tomoe and Mona were in Nagoya, I had a potential suport staff/partner for a project I have had on the back burner for about six years now, and maybe, just maybe will get off the ground this summer. For now though, I was just busy soaking in the river hot-spring, and getting my kanjiki snow shoes cold for the first time this year.
Just because it happened around Christmas time, I will consider it my present from fate, but I found an open office space to share just a few minutes from my house, and even fewer minutes from the ski-hill, that is currently being used by a new outdoor education/camping NPO. Not only can I get some time to work in peace, but also should offer some great opportunities for collaboration.
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Christmas Tree Hunting

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Took Mona out of school Wednesday to go Christmas tree hunting in the forest near our house. We opted to go to a local shrine to avoid inadvertently cutting down a neighbor’s tre by accident. Mona picked out the two Charlie Brown style trees you see in the photo above.
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I spent the afternoon with her making and painting decorations (the ornaments that Mom gave her last year are too heavy for the tiny little branches on the tree) and Tomoe will be baking some ginger bread cookie ornaments with her after school today. Then maybe we watch “The Baby Show” (Raising Hope) and make popcorn strings.
I never thought I would be doing this kind of Christmasy thing, but somehow mona saw it on TV and has been bugging us for a tree.
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Comparing my village

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Above is an google map of Sakae Village. The place I live. To be precise, I live just about in the middle of orange road (rt 117) and train track pass through the village in the North. It is difficult to estimate scale by looking at this image, but we will get to that later.
I live in a small valley in the North of the village along with most of the other people. There are a few who live along Rt 405 in another narrow valley, but not many. All in all, we are about 2,200 people. We live and farm in about 10% of the 272 square kilometers. The rest is forest and mountain.
I recently was introduced to a cool mapping program (thanks Joe) that allows me to superimpose the outline of my village with anyplace in the world. I had fun using it and imagining lots of things. You can move my village at this link.
My village is ranked among the most sustainable in Japan – meaning if there was a major tragedy, we have all the resources we need to live here (except for guns to keep all the other people out, but that is a different story)
Before I start, I don’t want to say that we are better because we happen to have abundant natural resources and low population. We are just lucky. It has always annoyed me when people looked to Sweden as a “Sustainability Model”, yet there are many times more people in Tokyo than in the whole of Sweden. Its easy to be sustainable when no one really wants to live there (its really cold and dark in winter).
I wanted to see what our sustainable village looks like on a map compared to what is probably the most unsustainable place on earth – Dubai.
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Dubai fills our village with people and streets and buildings, yet they have no were near the life-giving resources we have. As is true with any of the upcoming big cities, more people live in a single apartment complex than our entire village.
A lot of people ask me why Japan can not make money on rice and farming.
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Look at this image of our village imposed over a random area in kansas. It is completely filled with fields. Remember that our village is 90% forest and mountain, as is most of rural Japan. Kansas is not a big rice grower, but California is. I was musing with a rice farmer in nearby Matsumoto a while back about how if it was California or Kansas, the entire area of the Matsumoto Valley would probably be owned and operated by only a few people or companies. The Matsumoto plain is pretty big by our standards, and there are many many many many farmers who live and work there.
Along the theme of sustainability and guns, this is our village superimposed over Tokyo.
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In November I read that Fukushima is worse than they thought, and that another huge earthquake might require the evacuation of Tokyo. The first thing I thought was that I gotta get a gun (assuming my area would still be safe to live in).
A few weeks ago I visited a friend who had a great apartment in a high-rise in Yokohama. Within two years of purchasing it another apartment was built next door and she complained that it blocked her view.
Both buildings together probably house more people than my village.
What happens if they have to evacuate?
I will gladly offer my spare rooms and futons, but even then I can only house twenty people.
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A big deal was made of the earthquake here last year? Last last year? I was not too impressed. Compare that to past quakes in L.A., or Tokyo (see previous Tokyo photo above)
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One thing I love about our village is the open area, and a few years ago when I was hiking in the cascades with Outward Bound, I marveled at the fact that you can stand at the top of a mountain and not see any populated valley. Also that it would take days to walk out if someone was injured. I couldn’t imagine that in Japan, although my village is thought of as “wilderness”.
Above is our village in the Cascades, and in Yellowstone.
This made me want to see us in the outback, so the photo below has a blue dot that looks like a lake to the right of “Western Australia”. And just for fun, I noticed that our village fits almost completely into the Amazon River.
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Below, my village superimposed onto my home town, in both map and satellite form. And also Grand Rapids (because my brother and his family live there). In the Bay City map you can see where most of the 2,200 people live – right along the Saginaw river between Essexville and the Euclid Bridge.
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San Francisco and New York and Chicago fit nicely with the outline of our village, so I added them too.
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Fresh, Near Organic Koshihikari Rice For Sale: 2,500 yen / 5kg

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We have harvested way more rice than we can possibly eat this year again. Partly because we were obligated to farm more fields than we had originally intended, and partly because we planned to use it for Tomoe’s bread. Tomoe has been very busy with some other work, so has not had a chance to bake her bread for a while, and we feel like it is a bit sad to use fresh “shinmai” rice in the bread when fresh rice is meant to be eaten fresh. Every year around this time we can fill up on rice alone – no pickles, no sauces, no nothing. Just plain fresh rice.
Anyone interested can contact me at kevin@onelifejapan.com.
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Now, that same fresh rice that causes me to gain 10kg in a week is available to you.
Technically, it is considered “shinmai” until January, but we keep ours in momi form (in the husks), so it lasts longer than the packaged rice you see in the supermarket.
Our rice is as close to organic as we can get. What this means, is that for social reasons in our village, we do have to use a small bit of medicine on the shoots before planting in the spring. This is to prevent the spread of imochi-byo. a disesase that would could not only wipe out our crop, but everyone’s around us. Even if it was not our rice that spread the desease, if we did not use the medicine, the finger of blame would land on us, and we would never be able to grow rice in this town again.
Our field is also neslted among all the non-orgnic growing farmers, and water source is shared. This means that there will most certainly be small traces of whatever they put into their fields getting into ours. I can be confident, however, that not much of their herbicides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers get into our field – the proof is in the weeds, bugs, and slow growth of our rice.
We offer brown or white Koshihikari rice (considered one of the most premium brands in Japan), and if you happen to have your own household polisher, we can send you momi rice (in the husk).
Please help us to empty out our rice locker.
Please enjoy some fresh pretty-dang-close-to-organic rice.
We will send you Tomoe’s expert rice-cooking tips as well, to help you to get the most out of it.
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We will send you Tomoe’s expert rice-cooking tips as well, to help you to get the most out of it.
The company Tomoe is consulting for sells their organic rice for 7,500 / 5kg. We are only asking a mear 2,500 / 5kg + Shipping
(shipping outside of Japan will cost more, but we are making a visit to Michigan in January, so for a limited number of customers, we can take the rice with us and ship from within the States.)
Wait, there’s more! Since it is the season of giving, we will donate 100% – yes! 100% – of the procedes to a needy (but cute) little girl’s college fund. She will send everyone a thank you letter updating you of her progress in University (*assuming that paper and pens still exist 15 years from now)
Anyone interested can contact me at kevin@onelifejapan.com.
I will post more details and shipping estimates as well, but I just wanted to get this out there before it becomes January and then February, and then we still have ten bags of momi in the locker at next-years harvest time.
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One Last Monkey

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Forgot to add this last monkey to the previous post about monkeys. Mona won a raffle at a festival a while back, and brought home some super high-class beef for the family. A few nights ago we enjoyed some rare yaki-niku. Just like once you taste good beer it is hard to go back to the likes of Budwiser, Kirin or Asahi, so too when you taste real good beef, it is hard to stomach the poor man’s stuff.

Monkeys

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I often take customers to see the famous Japanese snow-monkeys in Shibu-onsen/Yudanaka. I always take photos, but until recently haven’t really shared them much because they all seem cliche, with a multitude of photographers taking the same shots. This time, though, I was a little bit happy with the results.
Durring the winter I will be in Michigan for two weeks, but other than that I am running Japan Snow Monkey Tours. Day trips and multi-day trips that include other sites and experiences in rural Japan as well. Contact me at One Life Japan.
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More from last bike trip

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I finally got around to finishing the photos from the last bike trip. I have been too busy recently battling the snow in time to build the snow shed to keep the snow off of our windows and wood pile. In previous years I shovelled a trench in front of the window and wood, but I figure a few days of work on the shed will save me many more days of shovelling.
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Above: Dinner at a local farmers inn. Just a regular family that rents some rooms and serves some of the best meals.
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And, to whoever can read the name of this woman who is trying her first Japanese caligraphy, I will give you my 1,000 dollars if the facebook guy that won the lottery chooses me to give his spare 1 million to.
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Contrasts

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Its a time of contrasts.
This is the scene from nearby our house a few days ago, and then two days ago. There is even more snow now. We already have a Michigan winter and it is only December 1.
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To make even more contrasts, see the photos from the bullet train and a friend’s apartment in Yokohama (near Tokyo) where I went for three days last week for a conference/workshop. It has been quite a while since I have been to the city. Its nice for me to watch the countryside turn into city as the train passes, and try to imagine what customers think about their rural Japan experience as they leave us for Tokyo.
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Snow Monkeys

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Just some shots of Japan’s famous “Snow Monkeys” of Jigokudani (Literally, “Hell Valley” – a little different feel than California’s, though). These little guys are the most northern living primate in the world (that don’t wear clothes). Well, not this particular troupe, but this species. There are more living further north in Japan.

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I will admit that it is not really my favorite attraction in the area, but it is right there, and only takes two hours to visit before setting off in the morning by bike, so I usually give my Rural Bike Trip in Japan customers the option of going up to see them, and its always hit or miss. Sometimes the customers LOVE it, and want to spend more time, sometimes the reaction is “Is this it? We walked twenty minutes to see this?”

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For camera dorks it is a great place to go what kind of gear people use, and the camera watching is better than the monkey watching.

I have trouble being interested in taking photos of the monkeys, but recently I enjoy taking photos of the tourists that visit. I find it interesting that while cameras in the people hot-springs are obviously prohibited, no one thinks twice about photographing these close relatives in their private grooming and bathing time. (granted, the monkeys don’t care either)

Likewise, in our village, there is a $200 bounty to kill a monkey, because they steal peoples crops, and even go into houses to steal things, but if a hunter were to shoot one of the many tourists who steal the wild vegetables and sometimes even crops out of the fields, that hunter would probably go to jail.

Its a strange world we live in.

If anyone will be in the area, or wants to be in the area, send me an email. If I am free to guide/join you I will (I do regular old van tours too, so no need to worry about riding a bike in winter), otherwise, I will recommend my favorite inns, and activities.

One Life Japan

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