Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Rice seed planting again

The year is going too fast again .... here in the outbacks of Japan time is measured mainly by what state the rice fields are in. Right now we are back to preparing the rice fields for planting and of course starting to raise the trays and trays of seedlings needed to plant the fields (this year we planted 280 trays...). For a more detailed description of how the seeds are planted please look at last years entry... the link is: rice seed planting
There are two main differences in the rice seed planting this year - the first is that they are being left outside, rather than in the tunnel house (which means I can use the tunnel house a lot earlier than I could last year!). My father-in-law is a little bit of a perfectionist and therefore he has made an incredibly square, incredibly flat area to lay all the trays on in one of the rice fields. I think it took him two full days to complete the frame.... it should look impressive as the rice seedlings start to sprout.
The second difference is the timing of the planting. This year the planting has been delayed more than a week in order to try and counterbalance the effects of global warming. Apparently rice tastes better if it has experienced a frost before harvesting, and with the current temperatures that means the planting must be delayed in order for this to occur. The smog from China has currently disappeared, but there are still environmental problems everywhere!

I'll try to keep you updated on the rice progress.... but until then another helpful hint! Put a bay leaf or two in with your rice when you are storing it to keep the bugs away. Not such a problem for those of you going into a New Zealand winter, but for those living in Japan and heading into the sticky season it really does work!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Kyoto again

Okay, so my big plans to write the blog as soon as I got back from Kyoto didn't quite eventuate... too many jobs had been left undone while Dad was here!
Anyway, for those who didn't know, last week Dad and I headed to Kyoto for a few days before he flew out of Osaka. Kyoto is the ancient capital of Japan and has over 1600 Buddhist temples, more than 400 Shinto shrines and 17 Unesco Heritage sites (well that's what the lonely planet guide says anyway!). In other words there is plenty to see and do! This time we opted to take the overnight ferry from Beppu to Osaka rather than the fast bullet train. It isn't cruise ship quality, but you do get a plastic pillow, a thin sleeping mat and a blanket and of course it is only about a third of the price of the train..... We were converted by a man who was out to save the world, completed many sudoku puzzles and discovered a great icecream vending machine. Of course we were also woken at 4:30am by all the early birds in our room, but it was definately a Japanese experience which I wouldn't mind repeating.
Having finally made it to Kyoto we did the usual touristy things, but with a couple of extra bonuses. The first was our first night's accomodation ... we opted to stay in a temple and we ended up being the only guests there. They had amazing courtyard gardens and we were also able to participate in the reading of the sutra in the morning with the temple priest. It was definately worth getting up at 6:30am to watch him doing his thing - including beating the big drums etc. Total devotion. Of course we were also treated to a real Japanese experience in the evening too... a trip to the local bath house. Nothing like sitting on the floor to get under the shower head to wash your hair while the locals look on in wonder (sorry no photos of this great sight!)
My favorite three places from this trip were
1. Nijo Castle. For anyone who has read the trilogy by Lian Hearn (if you haven't you really should! Check out her homepage) then this castle is a must. It is not a traditional Japanese castle, but it is incredible in terms of its size etc. It has wonderful floor boards which are called "the nightingale floor" which squeak whenever anyone walks on them. The construction of them is reasonably complicated and they were made as a way to detect any intruders.
Of course it also has amazing gardens to wander and wander and wander in too!
2. Kinkakuji (the golden pavilion). This is a really beautiful building in yet another beautiful garden. It is completely covered in gold leaf and on a nice day the reflection in the pond is incredible. Unfortunately May seems to be the peak for students to visit Kyoto so we had to share the paths with zillions of school children in their uniforms. We made it into a game though and Dad managed to get in many photos with the students. I think he was a little shocked by the level of English though. He asked one boy on a bus "Where are you going?" and the boy had no idea what he was talking about.... he had been studying English for over 2 years!
3. Kiyomizudera
This is a buddhist temple that has been built basically on a cliff. From the top you get a fantastic view over Kyoto city and of course the construction of the temple is pretty impressive too. Because we were staying close to this temple we decided to get up early again and went to see it at about 6:30am in an attempt to avoid the crowds of school children again. The plan worked and we had a really nice time wandering around the gardens etc. with only a few other early birds.

So - there you have it, a brief summary of another trip to Kyoto. I am getting more and more used to showing people around there so if you ever need a tour guide, just let me know!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Childrens Day

Tomorrow night I head off to Kyoto with my father for 2 nights (well 3 nights really as we will take the overnight ferry....). Because the children have been going to school and kindy each day while Dad has been here we decided to devote today completely to them......
We spent all morning at a great park near here. It is a huge park which is designed around a lake made by a dam. There are places to play all around the park - with a ladybug train/bus to take you around if your little legs can't quite make it. Today we even discovered some duck racing.... only in Japan?

After lunch we headed to the monkeys - as usual finding it hard to work out who were the real monkeys! For more information on these monkeys (which are wild, but running around your feet - literally...) see my previous entry at the following link: Monkey magic

So... as I said earlier, we are off on an adventure from tomorrow so there will be no blog entries until at least Friday. I hope you will check in again then and keep looking at it occassionally even after Dad goes home....

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Food, food and more food

Food seemed to be the theme of our day yesterday. My husband took the day off work and we went to the south end of Oita prefecture to a city called Usuki. It is very famous for its stone buddahs, but now it is also famous in our house for its "okonomiyaki" or Japanese style vegetable pancake.
We sat by the counter and the owner kept us entertained with his cooking skills. There are two types of Okonomiyaki - one originating in Hiroshima (where they basically make a very thin pancake and then pile huge quantities of cabbage, pork, noodles, egg etc. on top and let it steam/bake) and the other is the Osaka style (all the ingredients are just mixed up together and cooked like a very thick pancake). I highly recommend both varieties....

After our outing during the day we then went with my husband's family to a Japanese restaurant for dinner where we had the "course" menu. I think we had at least 8 courses - with small amounts of beautifully arranged food continually being brought out. I really like the Japanese style of restaurants as although it was a really beautiful restaurant, they still cater well for children and in general you are given an individual room so there is no pressure to get the children to sit still, be quiet etc. (not that my children are ever a problem.....). Of course the food isn't bad either!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bringing Happiness

Today we ventured back to the samurai town of Kitsuki. After wandering around some nice (and not so nice...) streets for a while we went back to my favorite (and now Dad's favorite) tea shop. I am not an expert on green tea, but the tea that you get there is pretty good. More than that the conversations that you get there are even better. The current owner of the shop is the 10th generation owner and the shop has always been in her husband's family. She always drops everything she is doing when a customer comes in and tells wonderful stories of the things that have happened in the shop over the 260 plus years the shop has been operating.
The shop contains urns from the very start of operations, some of the very first glass ever made in Japan over 100 years ago and a couple who share an incredible passion for tea and for the customers they come in contact with. For me the tea could taste terrible and I would still take everyone I know there!
One indication of just how devoted they are to maintaining the history of their shop is that when road improvements were made about 20 years ago they opted to spend 4 months shifting their shop 3.5 meters backwards rather than demolishing it and building a new one (a much cheaper option!).
I must say that although she is a fantastic woman, she may have a little sight problem though. The first time we went there she didn't realise that Dad was my father... she thought he was far too young! Once she discovered that he was in fact my father and not just some other tourist she gave him presents and tried to give us free tea too. Maybe I will suggest an eye test next time I see her!
After our happy time at the tea shop we wandered along to one of my favorite restaurants, which was shut... fortunately on the way we discovered a 200 year-old miso shop that was home to at least 3 nests of barn swallows. Like in some other countries it is considered very lucky to have a nest of these birds under your house eaves as they are said to bring you happiness. I'm not sure I will be encouraging them in our house, but they were neat to look at inside someone elses!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


The other day it was pretty hazy and my husband told me that it was due to the pollution coming from the factories in China. To be honest I thought it was a load of rubbish - China and Japan are a long way away.... also there is so much burning off of the fields going on that I figured that was to blame. And then I started doing some research....scary stuff! This is a photo that Dad took directly into the sun on a cloudless day. The hills that are usually visible for miles are impossible to see. There are children being sent home from school or kept inside in some areas (in Japan) due to worries that their health will be affected. Analysis of the smog shows that it is originating in China. If it is this bad here in the countryside of Japan then I hate to think what it is like in China. I have no idea what I can do to try and improve this situation, but I am starting with not buying any fruit and veges grown in China.....
If anyone is interested in learning more about this problem the following links have some good information:
Smog from China 1
Smog from China 2

On a different note - I'm sure everyone will be relieved to know that Dad made it all the way to Kokura on the train and back again without too many problems today. He'll be a great tour guide yet!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

More hills and more buddhas

After a day of people yesterday we headed back into the hills to the peace and quiet of an amazing temple that has been built into the side of a mountain. The name of the temple is "rakanji" and it is somewhere that I will never tire of taking people. I think what is so beautiful about it is the number of different things you can see within a very small space - and of course the location is particularly spectacular as well - up a cliff in the middle of the mountains. Today we discovered another section to the area - a garden which although it is pretty overgrown in parts was a wonderful place to relax.... something Dad seems to be able to do very easily! He will have to wake up a little more tomorrow though as he is venturing off on the train by himself for the day. Here's hoping I don't get the "help, I have no idea where I am...." call at 10pm tomorrow night!
For more details and photos of the temple that we went to today (Rakanji) please look at the following entry from when Hannah was here.

Previous entry for Rakanji

Monday, May 14, 2007


Today we headed into the mountains to the resort town of Yufuin. We had a great guide who is slowly learning how to make jokes in English - thanks Mickey (and baby Bob). The town was developed into a tourist haven about 20 years ago and although it has very beautiful scenery the shops have become very touristy and the numbers of visitors have sky-rocketed.
However, Mickey took us on a really nice walk around the smaller streets of the town and also gave us an insight into some of the history of the area.
There are two major religions in Japan and most people incorporate both into their daily lives. Over Dad's trip we have seen many places in which these religions, Buddhism and Shinto, are combined in areas, as well as areas where they are separated - Shinto was the national religion, however after World War II Japan was forced to separate religion and politics and Shinto and Buddhism were separated as a result. One example of this is the shrine gate in the lake at Yufuin - it was shifted from a temple after the religions were separated. The result is a very peaceful tori gate.... with a not-so-peaceful history.
For more information about the religions in Japan the following link has some quite good information: Japan Guide

Sunday, May 13, 2007

How much can one man eat?

After the big mountain climb yesterday we had a lazy day today. Of course if you come to Japan the one thing you have to experience is revolving sushi! As you can see Dad really took a liking to it(no wonder he is smiling!). The sushi here is somewhat different to New Zealand with no chicken to be found anywhere, but just about every kind of fish that you can think of and many that you can't. Sea urchins, many forms of raw squid, octopus and even raw horse meat....
The kids don't miss out either with sausage, meat patties etc. plonked on top of the rice too. The sushi just goes round and round until someone is brave enough to take it off or it gets so yucky looking the chefs discreetly pull it off.....

Saturday, May 12, 2007

To the top again

For those who haven't heard - we have a mountain at the back of our house. The name of the mountain is "Tsuwado" and the chinese characters for its name can be translated as "the door to the tsunami" - probably because the sea was originally right up to the back of it and it protected the community below from the sea.
Anyway, this 529m high mountain is part of a pilgrimage trail and along the track you can find 88 small buddhist statues. Of course parts of the track are so steep that you often don't have time to look sideways to check how many you are passing - as Dad found out. Fortunately there are chains to help out in the really difficult parts and of course if you have a big sister she is not too bad a helper either!
I think Dad survived the climb really well, although he did go off to bed at 8:30pm...

Friday, May 11, 2007

More Buddhas....

It has been confirmed... the best way to get more people to look at your blog is to have people come and stay! Hello to all the new viewers of this blog..... I hope you stick around after Grandad Donut has headed home!
Today I managed to fool Dad into thinking that I didn't know where I was going. We started out by going to the big buddhas in the hill (for more information about these see this previous entry: Buddhas)
Then after climbing up the zillion steps I could see that Dad was needing a bit of a rest so I suggested we go to see a rock carving in the middle of a river - of course it wasn't too far away if you took the standard route, but as Dad needed some extra recovery time we took the mountain route through some fantastic scenery. I was also aware that Dad really wanted to eat soba noodles and I knew there was a great shop just beside the carving in the river. If we took the standard route we would have arrived too early for lunch so I tried to do enough detouring so that we got to look at the carvings and the temple near by and then were ready for lunch at exactly 12pm. Perfect timing!

The afternoon was spent weeding and searching for wild strawberries - not an easy task at this time of the year and even more difficult when you are colour-blind!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A new place to visit

After visiting the Samurai house (thank you Mr. Nishi!), the tea shop, and a restaurant for lunch, we went to a temple that I have been meaning to visit for a long time. It is called Futagoji temple and is famous for granting child-bearing wishes (not that we are thinking of having any more children!).
It turned out to be a pretty magical place. Originaly founded in 718 it is set in magnificent gardens with great steps to walk up at the entrance. The priest we talked to attempted to describe some of the special aspects of the temple, but it is so difficult even for Japanese people to understand so for someone like me it is almost impossible.
As with a lot of the religious places around this area you can find a mixture of the two major religions in Japan, Buddhism and Shintoism, all in the same place. The two Deva kings who stand at the base of the stairs are the biggest Buddhist images on the Kunisaki peninsula, and the gate at the top is said to be unchanged for over 900 years. Pretty hard to fathom when you come from a country with a relatively short history like New Zealand!
A great place to wander around - with nice little surprises around each corner. Rudolf was just one of the little friends we found!