Tuesday, September 18, 2012


It has been so long since I have written! I have been home for four months now. Japan, unfortunately, seems very far away in both past and future. Since I'm in college now though, I am studying Japanese again and am very glad for the insight my time in Japan has provided me! Though I thought it was amusing when my sensei mentioned she could tell me "accent" was normal and when I told her, Kumamoto, she wasn't very surprised at all:)

I'm also in a class called "Japanese Food Cultures" and have to keep a blog for that one. Here is a link!

I do not regret doing a gap year one moment. It is was perfect for me because it gave me enough time to clear my head, feel out my goals and bring myself to focus for these next fours years of a new kind of adventure - education!

I've met many people here who have taken gap years, because it is becoming a lot more common. Not one person has regretted taken a gap year. I completely encourage it!
Not all learning is done in a classroom. There is a whole wide world out there to explore and learn about.

I'm planning to go back to Japan for study-abroad - maybe I will see you there!


Sunday, May 13, 2012


It's Saturday, I'm going home in ten days.

Last night Ojichan had jyuku while Obachan and Ema had a meeting/get together at the high school so I got to ride in Kazu's cool car and we went out to eat Hiroshima style Okinomiyaki. I told him I'd just have the normal one, but he ordered us the "special". Which was amazing! Normal okinomiyaki is basically cabbage, meat, flour and water and maybe eggs mixed together into a batter then cooked. But the Hiroshima style is a whole different thing. First they brought out soba noodles and started cooking that before pouring a little bit of plain batter on the grill, the woman used the laddle to smooth the batter out into a thin sheet. Then there was a lot of sliced cabbage, like 3 inches piled on top. She started cooking mochi seperately at that point. Then on top of the cabbage was set shrimp, squid and pork. Next was the egg, she cracked it on to the grill and same as the batter, smoothed it out into a thin sheet. The noodles went on top of the egg, mochi went on top of the noodles, then the cabbage and meat and pancake portion was flipped ontop of the mochi. It was absolutely massive. Spices, sauce, and mayo decorated the top and it was moved to the part of the  skillet close to us. It was really good:)

Today I went to Hashirigata for the morning, but decided I'd try to spend some time with the family during the afternoon. Since yesterday was harvesting day (since today was the morning auction at the market) I hadn't really spent any time in the green house. But the market is not open on Sundays so Satuday is always a green house day. I finished picking the new sprouts and adjusting the support strings on the tomato plants so today I got do something new. I sat on a little cart that could roll, and clipped off the bottom three "branches" of each tomato plant stalk. I know it doesn't sound that hard, but the tomato plant vines are kind of woven into eachother. The green house is 50 meters long, so I went up and down the row in 2 hours. I couldn't believe it took me so long but I listen to the RKK radio station while in the green houses...so first it was "mamonaku, kuji ni narimasu- ba ba baaaaaaan" then the next thing I knew "Mamonaku, juuji ni narimasu - ba ba baaaaaaan". Today the radio show wasn't very interesting. I guess they don't do the 8:50 AM horoscope reading on Saturdays...and luckily the "bag" talk is over. For about two days straight there were all kinds of discussions and stories about people and their bags...which was interesting at first but got kind of dull after a little while. I also think that about 5% of everydays radio talk time is made up of "sou desu ne~" or basically just "ne" in general. It makes me think of when Dad "speaks Japanese" which basically his a very exagerated " desu NE~~~"  and I end up laughing because all of Dads Japanese imitations are actually really on the spot:)

I left at 11:30 and got back to Uto around 12. Kazu and Ojichan had already eaten lunch and were doing their own things so I ate ramen, apple and mini cucumbers while watching some TV before working on packing. I think it will all fit... then I showered and decided to go on a bike ride.

I first visited Obaachan and Ojiichan's grave because I haven't this time. The day was beautiful and the view of the mountains from the cemetary was really beautiful.

Next I went to the Todoroki Spring, where I always go. Last time I went though it was winter time and I had been the only one there. Today was warm (I decided to be a proud foreigner and biked around in a tank top today, proper Japanese girls don't do that sort of thing, you'll turn brown if you do!) and because it was warm there were all kinds of people at the spring. A group of about six little kids were playing in the pool of water while other people were collecting water from the top of the spring. It was a gorgeous day, the sun was golden and everything seemed to glitter with beauty and joy. Listening to the children's voices and the birds and the water trickling - I was in a very happy place. I remember playing there too, with mom and Elijah and Ema and Kazu. I don't know when that was...I think it was when I was in 5th grade.

Then I walked a little down the road to where there are ruins and mossy steps, bamboo and giant trees. I'd gone there too in December, but it had a completely different feel now that it was warm and green. There was a pool of water and a little stone bridge before the steps and in the pool a turtle had its legs stretched out as it sun bathed on a rock. The turtle and I enjoyed the forest together for a little while...it was really beautiful.

Just in the past week I can see how much the tabacco plants have grown, some have the flower already. I think that perhaps after the tabacoo comes rice. Around the end of this month they at least harvest the wheat and start to prepare the fields for rice. Apparently the wheat harvest is really finicky and if the weather doesn't hold up, you can lose the whole crop. Apparently Chizuko-san's cousin lost all ten fields because there was took much rain and warmth and so the grains started sprouting...they then use a tractor to just mixed it all into the earth...natural fertilizer. I also learned that after harvest there is certain plant that is scattered over the fields that aren't going to be used in the spring so that when it gets time for planting rice, they can mixed that flower into the earth and it is an especially good fertilizer for rice. Pretty cool.

I came back from my bike ride and had a nice talk with Ojichan before he had to get ready for his 5:00PM class.
Tomorrow is the MTB race, two hour enduro followed by onsen and buffet lunch at the hotel that's hosting the event. Ojichan organized it so he isn't participating, but Ema and her high school team are. We are leaving at 5:00AM since it is about an hour and a half away in the northern part of Kumamoto. Kazu has to work tomorrow so he wont come. He's been outside washing and working on his car for about two hours now...he really, really loves cars.

I have a lot of time to think...so I've been thinking a lot about home...as well as my experience in Japan. It really does feel like it has been the fastest eight months of my life. I don't really know what to expect when I get back to Oberlin... if it will feel different...if I will be different. It seems so surreal that I'll be sleeping in my own bed soon, that I'll be fighting Elijah for the good side of the couch at Dad's house, that I'll be able to pet my cats and cuddle with them, that I'll see my family and friends, that I'll be speaking English, that I'll ride my own bike across town and see all the familiar sights that are Oberlin. What's it going to feel like to take off from Osaka? To land in Cleveland?

I like running through all my favorites memories from Japan, like flipping through a photo album - just snap shots here and there that I hope to never forget. A facial expression, a wave, kind words, gesture - like Hana-chan's joyful face while harvesting shiitake mushrooms together...just a moment...but all that good feeling from that moment is still here and that's what makes it so special to me. For some reason I can recall everyone's laughing face pretty well - maybe because everyone laughed often enough it is now printed onto my brain...whatever it is, I'm very happy that is something I will take home with me.

It's still not the end, but from her it is a lot of good byes... not until I land in Cleveland will I get to say "hi!" or "it's been a while" again:) But that will feel really, really nice.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Kagoshima was really wonderful. Kazu dropped me off at Uto station (in his new, cool car that has the engine in the back instead of the front so I got to put my bag in the hood of the car! whoa!) and then took the train to Kumamoto, found platform for shinkansen, rode shinkansen for like 45 minutes got to Kagoshima. Megumi was waiting for me at the gate and we took a taxi to the ferry and then took the ferry to Sakurajima, the "used to be island" volcano in the middle of Kagoshima. That ferry is famous for udon so we ate that during the ride. Then Megumi's friends picked us up at the otherside and we drove into the mountains of Teramizu to the campground where we met Megumi's college professor and about 25 other people for the overnight camp. Megumi's friends are mostly guys - I think due to the fact she went to technical school for woodworking and what not. One of them was "Joe" who lives in Miyazaki - he is the same age as Megumi and really kind and hilarious. "Testu" and "Gaku" (shortened names because they have terribly long names) were also really nice. They were 29 and 30, but they didn't treat me like a little kid which I really appreciated.

We set up camp and then the five of us plus three other women went on a river walk which was fun and perfect activity for the hot day. When we got back to camp other people had started tempura and BBQ so we basically just got to eat. Another of Megumi's friends came later , Shogun- he works at the nearby by chicken meat/egg company. I got to eat all kinds of strange tempura - even ocha leaf tempura!
There was a night hike for the kids (there were about 8 kids, elementary age)  and after chatting and drinking some more I got tired and went to bed while everyone else stayed up but it was fine. Megu, Joe, Shogun and I had plans to get up at 5AM and climb a mountain to see the sunrise. The night was cold so I slept on my belly with my arms under me - which I haven't done since the Smoky mountains while hiking the Appalachian Trail. Anyway. I was the first to get up and somehow we managed to get Joe up (who had been awake till 3) and we climbed the mountain. The valley of the mountains is where the chicken company is, so it is dotted with the houses for them. But the place is famous for the azaleas (which had just finished blooming) because the mountain we climbed and part of the valley is basically entirely azaleas - it is a major attraction during the blooming season. We had a late start so about half way of the mountian the sun came up over the other mountain. But the top was still incredible - rising sun to one side, view of the bay and Kagoshima, a view of the valley of azaleas and chicken houses and a perfect view of the valcano that happened to start spouting ash while we were up there (that happens 3-4 times a day). Joe had a pretty difficult time making it to the top, but it made him feel a lot better so it was fine and back at camp we made coffee and tea until everyone got up and we made breakfast.

We were done with camping stuff at 12 when Megu and I met another friend - Rumi - near the port. She was going to drive us around Sakurajima. She was born and grew up (with four older sisters) and still lives there with the ash spouting volcano. We ate lunch before driving around the island. One side of the island where all the ash goes is really rocky and only has pines, while the other side seems pretty normal. Cars that have been parked too long are dusted with ash, the city gives the residents bags to collect ash so to keep the place clean. One area looked like it was dusted with flour - the trees and plants were all whitish. I couldn't live there...it even gets in your eyes and hair and clothes and stuff when it's bad.
Rumi was really cool - she too treated me like an adult, and we listened to Monkey Majik (aweomse band) toured the island and even got to see her families mikan and loquat farm. The island is famous for the smallest mikan in the world and the largest daikon in the world - pretty funny.
We also went to see a giant Nagabuchi memorial...which was both amazing and amusing. We ate mikan ice cream before she dropped us off so we could return to Kagoshima for the night. I'm really hoping Rumi and Megu come visit me in America together - Rumi is learning English so she was excited to meet me and the idea of going to America.

We took the ferry back to Kagoshima and went to a little tonkatsu restaurant. The city is also famous for "kurobuta", black pigs. So I got to eat kurobuta tonkatsu that came with cabbage, miso soup and rice. It was a tiny little traditional style restaurant - and the tonkatsu was delicious.

After that we got breakfast materials and snacks for the next day before taking a taxi to Tetsu and Megumi's friend's place who is in charge of a house that is actually an NPO office. It's emtpy during breaks and nights so they were letting us stop there for the night. The house was beautiful. Shiny and clean and new Japanese style with wide open wood floored rooms and lots of windows. We ate snacks and drank tea and chatted before taking baths and falling asleep.

In the morning I made yogurt/apple/banana mix while Megumi prepared this thing (which I forgot the name of ) but is like mochi/dango but is made with rice that is cooked with ash water. You eat with kinako and black sugar powder mixed. It was really good! I could eat it all day - and I know Mom could too:)

Then we went to the sweet potato sweets cafe/shop that Megu used to work at and got to try some samples:) After that Megu rented a car, we went to Tsutaya to rent CDs (Nagabuchi, Monkey Majik, Blink 182 and I think "Ikinogakari" or something like that). Then we went to the other shore side to see the Sand and Flower Festival. Basically a sand version of the Sapporo Snow Festival. It was super hot but also incredible - my famous piece was done by an Italian woman, a sculpture of the Wizard of Oz. It was really beautifully done. I can't imagine making such pieces of art from sand...I can't even make a mini sand castle. We walked the route and enjoyed sand scultpures of Star Wars, Broadway, Titanic, Totoro and more! For our first lunch we got shaved ice and shared a sausage on a stick. After that we made our way back to Kagoshima, bought souveniers, ate our second lunch of sushi and chatted before she took me back to the station.

It was really sad saying good bye. She waited at the station with me, and stood right outside my window until the train left the station. She cried a little and I was kind of surprised. I think one of my faults is I don't really trust that people truly care about me or are genuine until a display of emotion like that...it's kind of pathetic on my part. I was really touched. I know how I feel about Megumi...I think we will be friends for a long time. It's pretty amazing that in this big world we happened to meet at the right time in the right place. Before she came to Kikuchi, I almost chose that time that she was coming to go to Mashiki, but the way it went we got to meet and clicked right away. Very amazing.

I'm looking forward to either the day she comes to visit in America or the day that I get to return to Japan.

I'm back in Uto and it is really hot. Today I went with Ema and Obachan to see an art show of bead work. It was incredible... tiny little beads, such beautiful artwork - the time it must take! The patience and steadiness! Not for me, but what a sight to see!

Right now in Hashirigata it is still very busy. Almost 200 boxes of tomatoes today and lots of cucumbers. I went with Yoshifumi-san to the market when taking the cucumbers. There was so much there! Boxes and boxes of carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, daikon, eggplants and watermelons...filled the place. I bagged the tomatoes and cucumbers that can't be sold in normal stores for the afternoon. Tomorrow I'll  go for a full day, because I only went from the afternoon today. I think I can get through the houses one more time clipping the sprouts...

I wrote that portion on Sunday, but now it's Friday and I haven't posted yet!

I finally got through picking off the little sprouts of the tomato plants - twice. Yesterday I spent the whole day lowering the strings of the tomato plants...hard to explain...but it was kind of tiring. I literally did the same thing for like 5 hours - but it gives me a lot of time to think and luckily there was a cool breeze that managed to get into the green house. It's been 29 or 30 degrees Celcius recently...hot.

I went to eat a unagi dinner with one of my mom's friends - Eiko-obachan on Tuesday. It was very beautiful and very, very delicious. Eel has recently gotten more expensive than usual becuase for some reason the population has gone down...oh no!

Sunday is another MTB race with the family, which I'm looking forward to. Everyone is so busy, it is rare I get to spend a day with the family.

11 days.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

leaving 菊池 and coming to 宇土

It's been a while since I've written...that's not because I haven't had anything to write about. Just gotten lazy. But Dad sent me an email and he wrote he was going to check my blog so I decided I better get on it.

I've left Yamaai Mura and am now in Uto. My last week and half or so at the farm was a little tough for me...I think leaving there anytime would be leaving too soon. The weather held up for me - so the place dazzled in sunlight and beauty of spring. Muto-san took me to see a giant sakura tree in Aso area, some of the large branches held up by stilts to keep stirdy. Hiro told me before that a large branch of the tree fell during a hurricane...it used to be a lot larger. The tree when I went with Muto-san was basically all little golden green leaves rather than flowers - but still beautiful with the mountain background, yellow flowers in the foreground and blue sky. After we had seen that Muto-san said, "Well, since we have come all this way we might as well go to the crater!" So we did and the gas wasn't strong like it had been the other times I'd gone so I could see in and enjoy the view. Aso is such a gorgeous area...maybe one day I can explore there more thoroughly. Hiro went to college there and tells me about cool little shops and restaraunts - I guess you might really need those 4 years to see everything there is to see.

Before I knew it, it was Firday. My last full day. We were having a party that night that was supposed to be a Birthday party for Hiro and Ayumi and partially a last night for me. In the morning Muto-san went to pick up pigs, Katsu fed pigs, Hitomi and Hiro collected takenoko (bamboo shoots) and I cleaned out the grill room for in case it rained that night. In the afternoon it was basically party prepping. I made "tiramisu" (improvised in some areas) and cut veggies and things. There was a TON of meat for the grill. Muto-san prepped the pizza oven. Then Hitomi brought "loose sushi rice" (chirashizushi), an apple pie, these mini chocolate biscuit cakes. Ayumi's children were there, and soon Hana came with Hiroko. A previous WWOOFer and her 3 year old son were also there - tons of children - the best:) Makoto came later, and Dai-san (the owner of the cows next to us) came, after their work Ayumi and her husband came as well. Pizza, veggies, meat, home made apple pie, cakes, chirashizushi - it was all delicious. They even gave me gifts...which caught me off gaurd...but I was really touched and very grateful. They feel like family...they really do.

After it got dark I played soccer with Yuto, Fuma and Aina then afterwards the kids challenged adults to different body contortions that come naturally at a young age. So I got to see Hiro and Ayumi do hand stands and hand walking and Makoto attempt a handstand and Katsu the bridge and the adults acting as obstacles as the kids leapt over them...they will seem so grown up in 4 years! But they are such good kids, maybe they will still play a little soccer with me next time...

I packed that night and exchanged photos with Muto-san. It still hadn't really hit me that I was leaving. It never does until I'm gone.

So the next morning I got up early and washed the dishes and collected the eggs because I wanted to...as if I weren't leaving. Put my things in the car. Ate leftover pizza, fruit and yogurt with Muto-san while watching NHK like usual. Hiro washed the eggs while I dried. Then it was time to go...so Katsu came back from pig feeding and we took a group photo at the entrance. I hugged them and thanked them and Muto-san drove me down the road to my great-aunt's house because one of Mom's cousins was going to give me a ride to Uto. Muto-san said, "I think I'm going to have to come to America afterall." I really hope he does. He has been so good to me - they all have been. I'm already looking forward to going back college. I think I've made a second home there... but I don't think I can never thank them enough for what they have done for me.

Sato-san, Mom's cousin, drove me to Uto along with her daughter and grandson. We went to Hashirigata (The cucumber and tomato farm) to see everyone there and eat lunch. Chizuko-san and Obaachan had prepared quite a spread (chicken, bamboo/bacon dish, dango, salad, greens, cucumber salad, miso soup, warabi sticky rice). A little after that, Makito-Ojichan came to pick me up and took me to the house. Everyone was home! I was surprised since it seems rare in this very busy household, but it was Saturday. Everyone is happy and healthy I think. Kazu is working now at the mechanics and Ema is now a senior in high school. She is thinking about taking a year off after graduation to go to an English study school in the Philipines before going to college in the states. That is pretty adventurous! She can definitely do it - it will be fun to have her in America:)

Since Ojichan is busy with teaching, Obachan with working at the day care, Kazu at mechanic and Ema at school, I am going to help at Hashirigata again. On Sunday I didn't go, but spent most of the day relaxing and going shopping. Monday I went. I was really nervous about working in the green houses now that it is warm out because inside the house it was really hot even in the winter time. Also in Japan women cover up every inch of skin so they don't burn. So now I'm wearing long pants, long sleeve shirt, arm covers, towel around my neck and baseball cap, which is definitely the MOST I've ever worn in a 25 degreen celcius situation. Today was hotter than yesterday, but still, what I was expecting was a lot worse...but it's still April. Yesterday I clipped the new sprouts on the tomato plants in the morning then helped sort tomatoes, made boxes, then in the afternoon clipped some more. Then another of Mom's cousins that has a melon and cucumber farm came by. Yoshifumi-san had mentioned that I'd like to see the melon farm to her, but they had just harvested so when I come there wouldn't be any ripe ones so she brought melon for us to taste. And yes, it was amazing:) She had sliced it and even brought little forks for us.

Today it was clipping all day - it becomes medative - and I got better! I helped Obaachan make lunch too - and she made one my favorite sweet mashed tofu dishes - I think I can make it now tooooo!

It's nice to be here with the family in Uto. It feels so relaxed and it's nice to hear about everyone's days and how work and school went and eat dinner together and take turns washing dishes...like home.

I'm one month away from home...which basically means, before I know it, I'll be there.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A beautiful day - winding down...

April 11th

Today was an interesting day - due to the weather. It started out as a kind of miserable rainy day. Grey and dark and with the rain coming down steady and humming... After I did the chickens (there were a lot of eggs this morning, probably because I went later than 8:30 due to watching some NCIS that I rented) I didn't know what work to do. There wasn't even any rice to sort. Muto-san and Hitomi-san had collected some vegetables and herbs- italian parsley, asparagus, long green onions and some more - washed them, and then wrapped them in newspaper for Miyata-san to come and take them away for a restaurant... I'm so cheesy, but I find something really poetic and beautiful in how they go about that...maybe it was just the sound of the rain today that has gotten me a little sappy...Then they left for errands and things. I had the house to myself...on a normal day like that I'd probably do cleaning but I was really unmotivated to do anything productive. I was thinking about trying to bake cookies but there as no butter. So, I grew weak to another disc of NCIS. I started watching NCIS at home during the later seasons, so I've been watching some of the earlier episodes that I'd never seen  before. I really, really love that show! So after that I decided I'd make some lunch - tuna/boiled egg/ cucumber/ tabasco sandwich with leftover miso soup (that was STUFFED with onions, sweet potatoes, fried tofu, normal tofu, chikua, yaakon, burdoc, long green onions, wakame, carrots and more) with apple. The sandwich was kind of lopsided due to my very terrible bread slicing job and therefore basically fell apart and had to eat the thing with chopsticks. More NCIS. Then I made a can of zenzai (sweet bean soup) and some quick make dumplings to put in it...then feeling guilty about being so lazy I decided to go on a walk. The weather had changed considerably - white, fast moving clouds, blue sky, shining golden sunlight everywhere - the world glittered due to the wetness left after the rain. Absolutely gorgeous. However, it was also hot and humid with only an occasional breeze so I got pretty uncomfortable with jeans and a long sleeve shirt.

All of the spring flowers are still out and beautiful. There are these beautiful bright yellow flowers that grow in bunches and sometimes like entire fields - there are still daffodils, purple wild flowers, some remains of sakura, the fallen tsubaki flowers, and a lot of little white flowers and even tinier blue ones. The grass that is growing underneath the black barked, still bare chestnut trees is amazing, literally glowing green and the blades fleshy, the grass is thick and tall and perfect - like green fire - beautiful.

When I came back Hitomi-san and Muto-san were home (and with doughnuts!). I ate soy powder doughnuts - they were chewy and delicious:D

I have only a little more than one month left here in Japan. I leave here in 10 days to go back to Uto. Everyone here has been so wonderful to me... it's going to be hard for me to leave but I know that I'll be back. Hitomi-san said it's going to be lonely around here without me... I told her I'll be lonely without them as well.

Hana-chan (Katsu's 1.5 year old daughter) came yesterday, since her mother works every Tuesday. Last week, we watched Totoro three times in one day. Yesterday, it was a record of four. She is adorable - wanting to play outside then wanting to see totoro, and after she sees totoro, it's back outside, then she wants mama and papa then she wants totoro and so on and so forth. However, she finally knows my name! She went from calling me "Older Brother" (Oneechan) to "Older Sister" (Oneichan) then to "Leah" (my name). It makes me so happy to hear her tiny little child's voice call out my name " ria?" Makes me feel so warm and fuzzy inside:)  I get to see her one last time next week. Then probably the next time I'll see her, she will be 5 years old.

Michael leaves for the Pacific Crest Trail in three days. Before when I was skyping with Mom, Michael came and did a harmonica performance for me - he's been practcing. I hadn't heard the sound of a harmonica in so long...it was really, really wonderful. I just think how in a little bit, he will be exactly where he has been dreaming to be for a long time, somewhere in the wild - in nature and beauty - I can see a campfire and him sitting there playing the harmonica in the dark and only orange light from the fire... :) I can even smell it... I hope that David and Michael stay safe and healthy and have an incredible time - they have been looking forward to it, working hard for it and really deserve it.

Monday, April 2, 2012

April is here!


It's April.
The flowers are stunning all over. Forsythia, daffodils, cherry, plum and peach trees and so many more that I don't know the names of. The sky has been a cloudless blue for nearly a week straight. Sun has been warm and just enough of a breeze to keep things from getting hot. The best weather. I love autumn the best out of the seasons, but spring is pretty amazing too.

We've been going to the mountain almost everyday to work on putting the shiitake mushroom bacteria into the logs we cut in November. I didn't realize what a process it was. For some reason I really thought of needle inserting some liquid into the trees like a flu vaccination. Of course, it's nothing like that. There is a drill with guard on the head to make sure you can only go so far and makes these perfect little holes about the same width as my pinky finger. In one log, they drill about 14 holes (more or less depending on the diameter of the log). After that there are these little cork-like plugs that are the bacteria. They fit into the holes pretty well, but you have to use a hammer to make it go in all the way. In one pack of the shiitake bacteria there about 1,000 pieces. In one afternoon if we are fast we can go through 3,000. Hitomi-san told me the people who are really fast go through 10 packs in one day, that's 10,000 pieces. Wow...

I tried drilling but it didn't work out so well. I have to hold the log up and spin it with one hand and then drill with my other hand. With small logs it's fine, but there a lot of big ones that I can hardly lift so I got tired just after one pile. I'm good with hammering.

The two grandboys, Fuma and Yuto (Muto-san's daughter's sons) came for most of the week. They stayed overnight at the main house and came with us to the mountains to work (and to play as well). They really seem to enjoy working here and are overjoyed when they find the many eggs to be collected and collecting weeds to feed to the goats.

Okay, now it's actuallly April 3rd since I neglected writing this for a little while.

The weather has been incredible, sunny and warm and blue skies for a week or more, then one day of rain, and another beautiful week - my kind of weather!

On Saturday it was Hitomi-san's birthday. I didn't realize it was kind of surprise, but we did a party for her. A "tako yaki" party. Tako  yaki is a cabbage pankcake EXCEPT in ball form, so you have to have a special grill for it. You can put anything in the middle so of course we had tako (octopus) but there was also mochi, weiner and cheese. I spent the afternoon shopping for food items with Muto-san then trying to make deviled eggs and fruit shish kabobs for the party. But when we had gone into town, the sakura trees were blooming all over the park/hill that leads to the city. Muto-san parked and walked me around the path. He said they were only in 80% bloom, and it will become even more beautiful. I'd never seen so many trees like - everything was white and pink and completely stunning against the blue sky. With a sight like that, you feel so at peace and so appreciative - there is such beauty in the world! People were sitting beneath the trees eating a drinking as is custom.

I had never made deviled eggs before, but I figured it was pretty American party food and I'd give it a try. Hiro and I mixed the batter and cut up things for the tako yaki while Hitomi-san made onigiri. Muto-san had bought a cake for her, strawberry cream:) There were two grills, an electric nonstick pan and a cast iron one that we used on a table top stove.  I was sitting near the cast iron one with Katsu and Hiro so worked that one - pouring in the batter so the cups were half full, putting in cabbage and a filling, then pouring more batter over it. Then your had turn the little balls with sticks earlier enough so that the batter was still liquidy enough to create an actual ball when you turned it over and late enough so that you could turn it without ripping it to shreds. Basically, we sucked in the beginning but by the end not only were they pretty but we could do very quickly. Hiro had made enough batter for 200 Tako Yaki:D Which was good because Katsu and his wife and Hana-chan were there, plus of course Hitomi and Muto-san, Hiro, Obaachan and then their daughter, Ayumi, came with two kids, Fuma and Aina-chan. It was really yummy and fun. Hiro said he used to have tako yaki parties with his friends during college - and that I should too! Ayumi gave me a small tako yaki grill, I think I'll mail it home with winter clothes...then I really cane make tako yaki.

We sang happy birthday and distributed cake while Hitomi-san opened presents. Last, she opened a gift from Muto-san. I'd been bugging him before about what he should do for her (flowers, card and a big diamond necklace!). But then he told me he had actually gotten her a necklace. I was really surprised (but really happy) and I told Hiro, who told Katsu and they said that they don't think he's done anything like that before - they thanked me for giving Muto-san advice...  (and I had just been joking around and being annoying!). Katsu told me later that after Hitomi-san opened the pearl necklace, it looked like she was about to cry. I had been watching Hana-chan and Aina-chan so I hadn't seen that...but just hearing Katsu say that made me melt a little inside. I'm glad...happy for her.

On Sunday there was a picnic for just this neighborhood - I think the day for honoring their ancestors. Hitomi-san made an incredible display of obento and we drove up to a hill where the local shrine is and set up a tarp and food. We were the first ones there (they said that that was a first and they were almost always last in previous years) but soon more and more people came. Then there was a little speech, a toast and we started eating and drinking under the blue sky, bright sun and blooming sakura trees. Hitomi-san had made onigiri, inari sushi, karage chicken, fish, shrimp, noodles, seasoned spring vegetables and a lot more. Plus there was sushi, sashimi and basashi (raw horse). Three years ago I tried basashi... but I hadn't really been able to stomach it... but Hiro kept taunting me, "It's really good, you should try it again, I'll even let you use my soy sauce!" So I tried one more time. This time, it tasted pretty good, but those beautiful horse eyes and that soft nose still floated guiltily in my mind. It's not really my kind of food. Many of the men were drinking quite a bit and people started mingling and there was a lot of laughing... Hiro and Katsu told me I can take the afternoon off and they'll do the chickens since it was Sunday anyway. But I said it's fine because I don't really have anything to do...then Hiro reminded me that I can work on my scholarship essay! I told him he sounded like mom:p But now that I had that hanging over my head, I cleared off the tree deck back at the farm and brought tea and some snacks and sat down to write. And, I finished it... just some editing and what not left to do.

Monday was especially warm. T-shirt weather and not too windy so I opened up the windows all over to air out the house and even hung my blankets out on the line. I then decided I would clean out the goat pen... the rice shells (that they used like we use straw) were basically all gone and it was just dirt and poop so I shoveled some out. It stunk like crazy and I remembered when I went to farm school all those years ago... for some reason I always seemed to get the worst jobs (probably because I was too shy to raise my hand for the better jobs or something). One bad job was watering the apple trees. The apple trees were on a hill (which in my memory is more like a steep cliff) and there was a pond down below. We had to fill 5 gallon buckets and carry them up to the trees, one bucket for one tree, and me and some other kids had 4 trees each. One kid took one bucket and split it between the four and declared to be finished. Another kid started freaking out and crying and saying she felt to sick to do the work so she left after one bucket. So then me and this other kid had to make up for them... that was tough. But the real bad job was cleaning out the goat pen. We shoved tons of tissues up our noses, but it didn't block out the smell one bit. So there was...yesterday doing it of my own accord, just because I like how the clean rice shells look and because I thought the goats would appreciate it. It only took me maybe 45 minutes to do it all... but everything stunk.

In the afternoon we went into the mountains and did about 2,500 shiitake corks by 5 PM. After that, since it was Monday - badminton!
Before badminton, Hiro took me to see the night time sakura. The sakura are lit by lamps and a string of lanterns, winding around the walking path all over the hill. It had a completely different feel from the day... a softer, more mystical feel. They glowed in the lantern light, and in the black of the night, it looked like a pink shimmery powder had been sprinkled around in the dark. There were food stands, we got "Sasebo Burgers" so we could eat and walk. I believe Hiro said that Sasebo is a place in Nagasaki famous for this burger - and it was tasty! Tomato, lettuce, onion, egg, meat, salt and pepper, some kind of other sauce and ketchup. It was about as big as my full flexed hand and took me basically the whole time we walked to eat it (mostly because I was busy taking photos and video). Mom had told me I had to see the night time sakura...and ya-ta! I hadn't seen anything like that before...and when the petals fall it is like twinkling little snow fall. So many trees...

Badminton was great like last week. There are the young guys who are really good (and fun to watch) that play, but I am now being included in the "Okay" people. I think they are mostly just being really nice to me. At first Eriguchu-sensei (who runs the open badminton) helps me by teaching/warming me up. My favorite is being close to the net and hitting it back and forth really lightly, it's the most fun. My arm was SO SORE last week, and it seemed that when I started playing yesterday all that pain woke up again, but soon it went away and left only fun behind! They are really nice to me (even though I suck) and everyone seems to have fun so it is quite enjoyable. When I first came, I just watched, but now I am included in the games! I told them I'll practice during college and when I come back I'll be stellar:p We'll see how it goes!

Today is a rainy day...but this morning there were more eggs than usual. 91 just in the morning! And they were also cleaner than normal, so it didn't take too long to wash them. Though it is rainy and windy, it's also pretty warm. Spring.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

back on the farm for the last time

I've been back at Yamaai Mura farm for five days now. The weather has been wonderful, which means I have been busy too! Hiroko-obachan and Keichan drove me here from Mashiki on Sunday afternoon. The last time they will have to do that for me. I will see them again briefly before I leave for Osaka. Speaking of Osaka, there was a WWOOFer from Osaka there when I came. She was 28. We dropped her off at the bus station Tuesday night.

In the evening Muto-san prepared a Japanese barbeque in the room next door with the traditional ash pit with red hot coals. We had chicken, cabbage, onions, shiitake, carrots, beef, shrimp and fish. On the side there was fish and octopus sashimi. Makoto came, bringing chocolate, chips and drinks. We listened to music, ate, chatted and had fun. We even got to talk to Evan and his dad on skype briefly before my battery died.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were similar. After the rain there was a ton of shiitake, especially now that it has gotten a little warmer. We diveded the picking into three days. After we harvested a third of the shiitake, we took them to the drying machine (where we lined the mushrooms up in rows face down on plastic sheets to go into the machine). Then lunch and whatever other work there was to be done. In the early mornings we packed the shiitake into boxes for the market. It felt busy, but there was also a lot of chatting with Hitomi, making boxes and doing laundry... I guess. On Tuesday, Hana-chan came. When we went to pick shiitake I got to hold her. After that, she seemed to really like me and didn't really cry. I was happy! I held her and walked with her and played with her. She even helped me pick shiitake for a little bit. She called out my name when she couldn't see me anymore...I was touched...and very appreciative.

On Tuesday afternoon Muto-san took me and Kuro-chan (from Osaka) to a Korean puppet show at the community center. It was definitely for children, but cute. Mixed with Japanese and Korean folk songs...afterwards we all went to a room to enjoy strawberry daifuke (homemade by the elderly women in the area) and chatted with people and the visiting Korean performers. Makoto was there too, and he sat with us as we enjoyed the treats.

That night Muto-san and I said good bye to Kuro-chan after enjoying a sushi dinner.

Hiro has started coming more. He can walk fine now, though he still has to be careful. Today was fun because the two young grandboys came. I think around 6 and 8 years old. They seem to really like the farm, and are a delight to watch. We harvested yaakon and carrots in the morning and then they invited me to lunch at their house. Ramen, rice and yaakon/carrot dish:) Yummy! We watched a movie called "Monsters" which I didn't really like...

After that we went into the mountains to start putting the shiitake bacteria into the logs, but the drill started acting funny really soon after we started so we went back and cleaned up the vegetables that we harvested in the morning. I kicked a soccer ball around with the two boys for a while too...it was fun.

I don't know...I'm glad to be here again... I like the animals and the shiitake and the routine of it. I also went on a run yesterday and today...I'm very sore now but in a good way:)

It's supposed to rain tomorrow, then be sunny again.

Oh, Spring.