Monday, January 29, 2007

Wildfood festival rival

In New Zealand there is a special festival called the "Wildfoods Festival" which is held every year in a town called Hokitika. It features many "wild foods" such as huhu grubs, fish eyes, grasshoppers etc. that you can try and has now become a very big event (anyone interested in reading more about it please click on this link: food festival)
The reason I mention this festival is because I think I might be able to start a rival festival here in Japan soon. Today I went leaf gathering again and along with huge piles of leaves I also found many many big grub thingies which look perfect for putting onto a skewer, barbequing and selling to someone in need of a challenge in their life! The photo doesn't really convey the size of the grubs, but believe me they are big! I later discovered that they turn into stag beetles (like the one in the picture) - a common pet for children here..... strange, but true! Maybe I should start breeding them to give away as gifts to visitors!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

More guests

Last night my friend Mickey and her two friends from Hiroshima and Okayama came to stay in the cottage. It was the first test of having different guests two nights in a row and I think it worked out well. The kids definately enjoyed it, although I'm not sure how much the guests enjoyed having the kids around them. They tended to get a little excited.... I'm hoping they will learn to calm down a little more if the number of guests increases further!
After a Japanese style meal with the guest on Friday night, I made a traditional New Zealand meal for Mickey - roast lamb, roast veges, salad and of course pavlova for dessert! I won't be able to make it for very many guests, but it was nice for a change! It was also really nice to be able to talk with everyone -although I'm not sure I would be able to keep the chat up until after midnight every night if the guests increase!
This afternoon we also had the children's piano concert - 4 hours in total.... another story which I won't go into here! Needless to say I'm looking forward to farewelling the kids on the bus to kindergarten tomorrow and then heading back to bed for a morning nap! Mind you there is a forecast for heavy snow tonight so maybe the bus won't be able to come at all......

Friday, January 26, 2007

A growing trend

Tonight we have a man staying in the cottage who is part of a growing trend. He is one of the "baby boomers" who has lived his whole life in a big city and is now looking to retire to the countryside (who wouldn't!). He has come to find the perfect place to live so is going around different towns looking at what they have to offer.
The number of people doing this kind of thing has grown so much here lately that there are now organisations set up to help these people find properties etc. Some people are trying to make big money out of them, while others are trying to attract them to their area to help boost the economy and also improve the atmosphere of their towns etc. Either way, those entering retirement now are seen as a huge market in Japan. I wonder if we can attract a few more to the cottage for weekday stays......
Anyone living in Japan who is interested in reading how one NPO is trying to attract these baby boomers to Oita please check out this link to the "Oita Yuki" hompage.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

And then there were four

Okay, so they took a little longer than first hoped, but.... the final stained glass windows were fitted today - yippee! Following on the New Zealand theme the last two feature kowhai flowers and kowhai leaves. Now all I need is for my kowhai tree in the garden to actually flower so I can show people the real thing too!
The photos don't do the windows justice - I really have no idea how to take photos of them so you can see the proper colours etc. so you will just have to come and see for yourselves! We now have a mini art gallery up our stairs.
Of course the lady in the photo is my friend Kayo, the creator of the windows....

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Breaking the rules

Over the last week I have been cleaning up the garden. At times I really feel like a "strip miner" as basically everything in the garden is weeds at the moment. Last year at this time I was flat out picking and packaging rape flower buds so it is really nice to be able to get out into the garden and get it vaguely ready for sping. Unfortunately removing the weeds makes it look very barren, but by spring I'm hoping it will be back to looking good again. I keep discovering little plants that have survived under the mountains of weeds that will hopefully survive the winter when it eventually arrives.
Here in the countryside there are many unspoken rules. One of them regards the time at which you should break for lunch. Not many people actually wear watches in the garden, but there are sirens that go off at 12pm and again at 5pm to let you know that it is time to go inside. Actually because we live on the border of two towns we get to hear them twice - one is a real siren and the other is some lovely music to signal the break time. However, as I said before, the weather has been really good this year and so I try to stay out as long as I can before heading in for lunch (knowing that I will probably never make it outside again). This proves to be a problem though as I then have to explain to all the neighbours who are heading back home for lunch that yes, I will stop for lunch soon - I just want to finish this weed pile... And, yes - I did hear the siren, I just want to finish this weed pile!
I remember my husband's grandmother talking about the siren and saying that even though she wanted to finish early she had to wait for the siren. Sometimes I would see her sitting on her push chair thingy in her garden on the hill waiting for the siren to go... I hope I never become that controlled by the siren - but it is nice to have an excuse to finish some times!

I wrote earlier about my attempt to attract birds... I seem to have been successful in one way. The other day my husband discovered a hawk in our garden taking away another bird.... I guess I wasn't doing the birds any favours by giving them a nice place to play! I have also discovered that the worm farm is proving to be a much better feeding table than the bird table I made in the trees....oops!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The big smoke

Last week we left the nice quiet countryside and headed for the big city to see my mother on her way back from England. Coming from a reasonably small city in New Zealand and then of course living in the real countryside of Japan I always find Japanese cities a little overwhelming. Tokyo has a population of over 12 and a half million. New Zealand has a population of around 4 million...... Actually there are around 35 million people living in the greater Tokyo area, but who is counting!
To get to Tokyo from our house we took the train - well two trains actually. The shinkansen (bullet train) is definately a little faster than the trains in New Zealand - reaching speeds of up to 300km per hour. Of course it still took about 6 and a half hours to get to Tokyo from our house and still costs a lot of money, but the seats are far more comfortable than an airplane seat and free for kids under 6 !
For me the concrete jungle and endless people in Tokyo just make me tired. There are some good places to go - we made it to Tokyo Tower and of course Disneyland. For shopaholics I am sure there are many more things to do, but for country folks like us the pull of the garden, frogs and snakes was greater than the urge to stay amongst the millions of people who seem to spend their whole day commuting to and from work.
Of course it was great to spend some time with Mum though - and you can never stop at enough coffee shops to rest your legs!

Sunday, January 14, 2007


The Japanese have made one great invention to help deal with the lack of insulation in their houses - the heated table or "kotatsu". A very basic one consists of a low table which has a heater attached to the underside of the top. The entire table is then covered with a thick blanket and you put your legs under it and are snuggly warm. This works really well until you have to go and get something from the kitchen or head to the toilet - at which point you just make a mad dash for it and hope to get back to the warmth of the table before allThe Japanese have one great invention to help your bits freeze off! Traditional Japanese people hold to the belief that if your feet are warm and your head is cold you will remain wide awake and alert, whereas if you head is warm you will become sleepy..... judging by the number of people I have seen sleeping while sitting in these tables I'm not exactly sure if the thinking still holds!
The table in the picture above is at my husband's parents' house and is one of the old style ones. There is a pit in the floor and in the very bottom of the pit there is a can to hold a big chunk of compressed charcoal. The charcoal is lit and the temperature inside the table is controlled by opening and closing the vent on the side of the can. Because you can sit with your legs inside the hole it makes for a much more comfortable seat than a regular low table. In general a very comfortable, warm, odourless way to sit! Mind you there have been stories of cats curling up to sleep under the table and dying from the fumes. I guess no invention is perfect!

Heating in Japan

There are a few things that we have done here that I have regretted, but putting in our fireplace is not one! The majority of heating here in rural japan consists of kerosene heaters or airconditioning units. The smell of the heaters as they are turned on or off gave me headaches for years (as well as the increasing cost of fuel...) until we finally gave in and converted one of our cupboards into a fireplace. Now we have a really nice warmth (in our living room anyway) all winter long.
The only problem is that very few other people have fireplaces here. Which means.... you can't just call up the firewood place and order a trailer-load of wood. So every year around this time we start collecting wood and chopping it ready for next year's winter. My husband contacts the different road works companies, electricity companies etc. and when they need to cut down trees they contact us and we go and collect them. Environmentally friendly and free! Of course once the wood is obtained the real work begins.... here's hoping we can get lots of visitors to Kiora Cottage soon who really want the once in a lifetime thrill of chopping wood!

One of the other big problems with Japanese heating is that the houses are so badly insulated (if at all...) that all the heat that is generated is immediately lost through the walls. To deal with this they have made a great invention though - for anyone interested see the next blog entry!

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Okay - so I have been waiting and waiting for something interesting to happen to give me something worthwhile to write about... but all I can come up with is cabbages! To some people these "cabbages" might seem a normal part of your garden, but for me I have always been intrigued as to why at this time of the year so many people here in Japan feel the need to plant cabbages in their flower pots... However this year I was given some so I have planted them as a test to see if I will actually come to like them or just have it reinforced that cabbages belong in the vegetable garden! See I told you I had nothing to write about at the moment!
At the moment I am spending most of my days trying to get the garden in order (today I piled the asparagus patch high with soy bean husks) and my evenings are being spent trying to get our homepage made - not exactly an easy task considering how computer competent I am.... I am also starting to work on some ways to build a network for hosting overseas visitors with local families here (as well as with us of course..) but the red tape involved here is a little overwhelming! As long as the host families are involved in agriculture or have 6 rooms to spare they can apply for a permit to host people, but as far as I can tell if you just want to have someone come and stay in your spare room and receive money from them it is not officially possible. Maybe I will just have to work out a donation system! If anyone from Japan is reading this and has any more information regarding this problem or is interested in hosting overseas visitors please let me know.
Another booking is in for the end of the this month so hopefully things will start to pick up more and more by spring. Thanks Mickey!
For anyone who wants to read of someone having slightly more adventures than I am at the moment please have a browse on Rob Thomson's site again. That's right - he's the crazy guy from New Zealand who is biking from Korea to England. As you can see from the photo he is facing temperatures around minus 23 degrees at the moment in Turkey. His site is: 14 degrees
Click on the blog tab on his site to check his progress.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Final day

Amanda and Hannah left on Wednesday for their big adventure to Hiroshima, Mt. Fuji, Tokyo and Kyoto. This morning's report from Hannah was very positive and here's hoping that the phone call from the hotel tonight saying that they hadn't yet arrived was a sign that they were enjoying Hiroshima so much that they left late in the day rather than that they got completely lost!
Before they left we showed them a couple of Japan's greatest inventions - the massage chair (I don't know if it was actually invented here, but they seem to have enough to supply the whole nation....) and revolving sushi.
The massage chairs are supposed to be very good - and for the amount of money they cost you would hope so! The one Amanda is sitting in was on special for about 430,000 yen (approx. NZ$5,200). However, judging by the look on her face as the rollers went up her back she wasn't overly impressed and hence passed on trying to pack one into her suitcase....
After a short massage at the electronics shop it was on to revolving sushi for lunch. For anyone who hasn't been it works like this.... the sushi just keeps going around and around on a conveyer belt and if you see anything you fancy you just take it off, piling up the empty plates for them to count when you have finished. Of course most of the time you have absolutely no idea what it is that you are eating, but as long as it is not moving it can't be too bad.....
My husband even taught Hannah some more Japanese - just to complicate her learning the things in sushi restaurants are called different things than in other shops.... for example the vinegared ginger which is found in all sushi restaurants is called "shoga" in general, but in a sushi restaurant it miraculously changes to "gari". Soy Sauce, water, "I've finished" etc. all have different words in a sushi restaurant too. I guess the question you are all asking yourselves is "why" - the answer.... I have no idea, but it gives you something to talk about while you are waiting for your favorite sushi to make its way around the room to you!
By the way, I just heard that there were about 360,000 people who visited Usa Shrine between January 1st and 3rd. I knew it felt a little crowded!

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Years Day

With the excitement of New Year's Eve over we moved on to New Year's day. No picnics at the beach here - just a trip to the shrine to pray for a year of good luck - along with the entire population of Kyushu island!
Of course to do this properly you really need to get dressed in kimono so my mother-in-law spent about an hour and a half getting Hannah, Amanda and the little ones dressed up and ready to go. Of course once we got there they discovered that most people were just dressed normally - but nothing like a cultural experience to start the year off!
For anyone who has been following this blog for a while you may remember an entry on November the 30th (you can check the archives if you are not sure) about the Usa shrine which is about 10 minutes from here. The photos on that day showed no people, a slight change from today! It really felt like half the population of Japan had come to pray with us - which makes for quite a different atmosphere! Hannah and Amanda were shown the correct way to pray at this shrine (apparently there are different ways to pray at different shrines) - throw the money, bow 2 times, clap 4 times and then bow once more while making your wish.
It didn't help me to win the lottery, but here's hoping it will lead to a good year in 2007 for us all!

Japanese New Year's Eve

I often think that Japanese Christmas and New Year is kind of like the reverse of New Zealand in that Christmas here is a time to spend with friends, whereas New Year is a family time. To be honest, having come from a country where New Year is celebrated in the middle of summer with large parties etc. I have always found Japanese New Year very quiet and relatively boring..... Each year we go to my husband's parent's house, sit around watching a TV program in which two teams (the red and the white team) compete against each other by singing different songs and then wander home once the kids hit their peak...
This year we basically did the same - eating, among other things, lots of raw fish (Amanda's chopstick skills are improving rapidly...) then playing board games before we came home to play a good game of 500.
Just before midnight Hannah and Amanda were taken to the local temple to help ring in the New Year (literally). It is tradition to have the bell rung 108 times at each temple - the reason for which is (as quoted from wikipedia...)
This is to announce the passing of the old year and the coming of the new. The reason they are rung 108 times is because of the Buddhist belief that human beings are plagued by 108 earthly desires or passions (bonno). With each ring one desire is dispelled.

Judging by the video that was taken Hannah and Amanda had no idea what they were doing, so here's hoping all their desires and passions haven't been completely dispelled!