The way it was

All the talk of houses on MIJ got me all nostalgic about the time we bought our house and I dug up the photos we took when the realtor showed us around.  

From the front.  Notice all the crap lined up on the left?  That's in front of the outside bathroom.  You can't really see it but the car on the right had two flat tires as well.  And the white thing on the door?  Someone with an urgent need to get in had bashed in a pane of glass and the owner stuck some cardboard there.  Nice!

The backyard.  The old house on the right and the roof of the shed on the left.  HUGE pile of branches/ garden junk in the centre.  It had been a jungle and they'd razed it before showing it.  Again piles of crap EVERYWHERE!!

Half the genkan.  Could you fit anything else on that shelf??  The place was the height of style in it's day (early 70's) and the massive waste of space in the genkan and stairwell are the pretension of the day.  Stupid in a cold area though as it's like the Arctic in there.  We now have curtains running across where the genkan steps up to the house and block it off in winter. :)

The parlour.  I can't believe I cut the chandelier out of the picture!  The previous owner was in construction and this was his room for meeting clients.  I don't know how they concentrated!!

The kitchen.  Look at the back of the chairs.  blergggh.  Did I mention we inspected the house in our outside shoes?  And that mat on the floor?  It's plastic tatami lookalike. There were three layers of it.  Each one worse than the next.  I think instead of cleaning they just waited till they couldn't stand it and put down a new floor- presto! problem solved!

Ahhh my favourite room- the bathroom.  That's a HUGE, shallow, tiled sink with mushrooms growing out of the grout.  No lighting so the naked bulb is rigged up there and the gas water unit had blown up and been disconnected so only cold water came out.

The actual bathroom.  Points to note- washing machine on left.  with outlet stuck in open hole acting as drain.  Green moss growing around said hole.  Mysterious cement growth on right near tub.  Marble tub.  3 taps in view (3 more out of view) of which the one over the bath was the only one connected.  There was no running hot water here either.  You filled the tub with cold (icy, we weren't connected to mains water and snowmelt is icy!!) and cranked the heater to get it going.  Wait 30 min and use the bucket to bathe.  This was seen as quite a modern arrangement as many of the neighbours still have wood heaters in their bathrooms!

So what do you think? A bargain at half the price?  M was 18 months old and I was 6 months pregnant with A when we moved.  It's only been 3 years but I can't imagine how on earth we coped!!

Shortcut to Nirvana?

I was out having my relaxing evening stroll walking the girls while shouting out warnings to M who was playing at Evil Kneivel on her bike (look mummy no brakes all the way down the hill!!!) and pushing A who refuses to pedal and instead spends all her time ringing the bell and erratically weaving all over the road with random handlebar turns requiring sudden and stern corrections from hunchbacked me (is it just me or are the handles on kid's trikes designed so only a 10 year old can comfortably push?) when screaming around the corner comes the jolly local priest.  His temple is at the top of our road and backs onto the mountain so that's as far as the road goes.  There's no other road out and no other priest in the area so he goes past probably 3-4 times a day.  Now I know he's a busy man but he drives like he's on an autobahn rather than a steep residential road with blind curves, hidden entrances, random old people chatting in the middle of the road and children who consider the road their front yard.  Granted some of those obstacles aren't exactly faultless but still- shouldn't the priest set an example??  He's ALWAYS smiling, seriously he greeted me at a neighbour's wake with a big cheesy grin, so I'm thinking he's pretty sure there's a nice cushy afterlife waiting for him but geez, everytime he goes flying past me grinning away I wonder whether being knocked flying by a jolly priest is a free pass to Nirvana?

Oh, and I was kidding about the walk being relaxing.  My kids will probably be 12 before they can ride a 2 wheeler.  That's how much I hate taking them out on the bikes.  We live on a 10+% gradient with all the problems I described above.  Going anywhere by bike takes a year off my life.  :(


Gardening with the girls

My dream is to be self sufficient for vegetables- and eat the things I like.  (If I was happy to eat nothing but daikon, hakusai and negi all winter self sufficiency for winter would have been achieved but I like a little more variety than that!)

I work three days and a couple of classes a week and have my 2yo at home when I'm not working so there's not a lot of time to garden the way you need to where weeds grow overnight.  So I usually garden in snatches.  'Hey! Let's walk up to the big garden!!' (stuff seed packet in pocket) 'Hey! Who can find the biggest leaf?' (quickly scatter seeds and cover with soil) then move on before my little darlings want to help.

It's not that I don't want them to help.  I dream of the Nescafe Ice type relationship with angelic daughters but mine are more the 'Mummy, look!  I dug up all the lettuce seedlings but there's no carrots on them! (true story.):(

Our latest one is to empty a bucket of water on some bare soil and let them play mud balls while I work.  As long as I stop before the mud dries out or there's a territory dispute it works well.  I had thought they were so engrossed they weren't aware of what I was doing but apparently not.

I was feeding the chooks last week and thought 'aaahh peace.....' 

I should have known it was too good to be true.  M had the hoe and pick out nd was making  garden in my lawn. :(

Me 'WHAT are you doing???????'
M 'I'm making a garden.'
Me 'Without asking Mummy? Is that a good idea or a bad idea?'
M 'A good idea.  There's no flowers here.

So after a this-will-never-ever-happen-again talk and a garden-tools-are-very-dangerous-and-not-toys talk and a mummy's-lawn-is-not-the-sandpit talk we planted pansies and radishes in M's garden.


A jar of spaghetti sauce...

What do you think about when you shop?

I'm usually in complaint mode:

"The price of milk has gone up again???"

"Why are all the avocados so unripe?"

"Is it too much to ask for to have some different cheeses here?" (Forget cheddar, brie and gouda, we have a huge variety- shredded, for pizza, melting, sliced, and hotel!)

"They want how much for a watermelon?"

But since I moved here I am beginning to appreciate what goes on behind the scenes of the food we eat.  

We are the only household in our neighbourhood not to belong to the local chapter of JA.  Everyone else is a primary producer of a combination of apples, grapes, plums, blueberries, tomatoes, cooking tomatoes, corn, wheat, kiwifruit, various leaf crops and soybeans.  There is no flat land here so no rice but many families own a rice paddy for their private rice crop down on the flat.  The main crop is apples and we're actually one of those JA brand areas for apples with big posters hawking our stuff and everything.

So anyway, before I moved I had this romantic notion that farmer's familys had it easy.  Three meals a day together, plant stuff in Spring, watch it grow in Summer and pick it in Autumn,  Winter is your season off.   I wouldn't say no!

Well, in the three years since we moved I think my neighbour has only missed three or four days in the field that I'm aware of.  A couple of New Years Days and a funeral in another prefecture.  Every other day he is out there doing something or other.  Rain, blistering heat, hail, snow, freezing cold, you name it.

A lot of the vegetable crops are contract farming.  JA wants 100kg of soybeans.  They find a willing farmer, provide seeds, fertiliser, poison (ok agricultural chemicals but it's the same thing!) and set a delivery date.  The tomatoes for juicing season is in full swing.  All day long people are driving their k-trucks around hauling tomatoes to the JA weigh station and hurrying back to get more.  JA Matsumoto won't accept tomatoes after August 29.  No matter how good they are.  So it's all hands on deck getting as many as possible before then.  You have no idea how guilty I feel walking my 2yo around the block on her pink beribboned tricycle as everyone's head down bum up in a tomato field.  I need a t-shirt that reads- 'I would love to help if I could but I can't.  And remember- a 2 year old is no picnic either.  And it's 24/7!'

So anyway, I have gone from thinking the farmers were all lucky devils with easy lives rolling around in all that money they were squeezing out of me with their 1200 yen watermelons to feeling sorry for them and thinking the factories with their mad contracts and schedules were the evil ones.

And then today I made spaghetti sauce.

Not to do anything by half we started with 60kg of tomatoes, 20kg of onions, 10 kg of potatoes, ...... etc and ended up with 187 jars of spaghetti sauce.

The village runs a bakery/ jam/ juice kitchen and small shop.  If you volunteer there and get trained you can rent the commercial kitchen and make what you like.  My neighbour got so good at making jam they hired her and she can now lead a team of 4 people in the kitchen for her own projects.  (Gotta love that meshing of beurocracy AND in group/ out group at the same time!)  I was invited to be in the in group for spaghetti sauce making- the leader of course chooses what to make, who to make it with, and what recipe to use.  We lowly lackies nod and smile and adore our leader for choosing us. :)

So I packed my darlings of to hoikuen and scooted over to the dream workshop.  Yup, that's it's name-夢工房.  I arrived at 8:40 (the pay-by-day hoikuen for A doesn't start till 8:30 so that's the earliest I could get there) and the other women had already washed, sorted, cut and were boiling the tomatoes.  Did they sleep at all last night???  Desperate to prove my worthiness and willingness for hardwork I took on the prep for potatoes and onions.  Wash, peel, wash (all under running water, it's only water...) and boil in great cauldrons.  The knives are freakishly sharp, the vegetables all homegrown knobbly and crooked and the entire kitchen is designed for a WAY shorter person (I'm only 176 cm but I feel like a giant here sometimes!)  Grinning through onion tears I only nicked one finger and moved on to eggplant (wash, peel, cut, wash, boil) capsicum (wash, peel, cut, wash, boil) garlic (wash, peel, cut, wash, boil) carrot (wash, peel, cut, wash, boil) etc etc for celery, negi, apple and probably more I've blocked out. :)  After all that boiling we use huge ladles (like a saucepan with a handle on steroids type huge) to ladle the boiled veg into vats to cool slightly before painstakingly whizzing it in regular size blenders half a ladleful at a time.  We all down tools and head over to the cauldron of tomatoes to empty 100 deg tomatoes by the bucketload into an extractor machine to remove the skin and pips and then bucket it all back into the cauldron again.  Then it's back to the whizzed stuff which is poured into a third set of vats and added to the boiling tomatoes (my poor neighbour has been stirring the tomatoes for 3 hours straight by now.)  It's getting really hot in here with all that boiling going on but no fan- gaman gaman.  

While the other two women get stuck into cleaning all those huge pots and vats and ladles with enough water to fill an Olympic swimming pool- what's wrong with a plug????? I get to finely chop 500g each of basil and parsley.  That might sound paltry next to 60kg of tomatoes but damn that's a lots of chopping.  Parsley is really light!  We take lunch in turns as you have to stir the sauce constantly or it will burn it's so thick by now.
The herbs and spices are added at the discretion of our great leader and then the decree that the sauce is done.  Whoopee!!! It's 2pm.  I don't have to pick the girls up till 4:30.  Visions of Starbucks float through my head.....

BANG!! Down to earth.  Out come boxes of jars by the trolley load.  Open box remove jars, check for cracks, lie in wire baskets, ease baskets into sterilising unit simmering malevolently away at 100 degrees.  Count out equal lids for jars and add to steriliser.  After 10 min remove basket load of jars CAREFULLY- they are full of boiling water now.  Move jars from basket to empty vat wearing supposedly heatproof gloves tipping hot water on floor with gay abandon as you go.  Ladle boiling sauce into piping hot jar and repeat till all jars in vat are full.  Move heavy vatload of 20 brimfilled piping hot jars of near boiling sauce to bench.  Grab boiled caps and quickly (before heat of nearboiling sauce in piping hot jar seeps through supposedly heatproof gloves onto hand) screw lid on and place jar upside down, repeat x 187.  Then all you've got to do is wash the outside of the jars, check the seals and clean up.  Phew.  It's 4pm.  Damn it,  no starbucks for me but, hey, I finished in time to get the girls.  

Bang!  This is Japan- we have to do the money dosey-do.
Obasan1: Room fee 3000 yen, jar fee 3670 yen divided by 4 is....
Obasan 2: Oh no no no that's not right.  You brought the onions- you pay less.
Obasan 1: Oh no no no in that case, you brought the apples AND the carrots- you pay less.
Obasan 3: How much was the vinegar?  Who brought the white pepper?
Me: We all know this is going to take 15 minutes, we're all going to mention every flipping ingredient and then we'll agree to split it by 4 anyway so can we cut to the chase?

...Ok I didn't say that, I may have gone all Japanese and said 'Oh no no no, I didn't bring ANYTHING, just lunch and the paprika so I should pay the most...' while trying to force a 5000 yen note on anybody and everybody but I was THINKING the above. :)

So, quibbling behind us we divvied up the jars- still boiling hot but what's another blister between friends? and I made it to hoikuen with one minute to spare.


So, with my new understanding of secondary industry I am much more sympathetic to the prices in the supermarket and need to find a new bad guy to blame.  Supermarkets?  Distribution companies?

I am bone tired, I ache everywhere and the box of sauce has yet to make it further than the genkan but it was an amazing experience and the sauce tastes wonderful so I think eventually I will feel it was worth it.  

Not before a long soak in a radox bath, though!


Why here?

When we moved here the conversation went like this:

Curious/ nosy  neighbour/ passerby: Where are you from?
Me: Ookubo (name of our neighborhood- I don't like the question so I always aim to frustrate.) ;) 
CNNP: Where are you ORIGINALLY from?
Me: (feigning surprise) Oh! Australia.
CNNP: (miming for my sake) ski! ski!
Me: No, Oosutoraaaaaariiiiaaa
CNNP: Oh....  Your husband's in apples?  (Now I wear a wedding ring but I got this question even while wearing gloves.  See, women of a certain age around here....)
Me: No, he works for a company.
CNNP: Oh, your in-laws look after the apples?  You married Nagasaki's oldest, yeah?
Me: No, no apples.  My husband and I bought Nagasaki's house.  He died.
CNNP: Oh... Your husband's from around here?
Me: No, Fukushima.
CNNP: Kiso-Fukushima (town in far south of Nagano)
Me: No, Fukushima in Tohoku.
CNNP: Ehhhhhhhhhhhh?? Why are you living here?


Why here?  Well let's go right the way back.

I was a JET in a tiny village in Fukushima, nothing but rivers, rice, mountains and cows.  I loved it.  I met my DH, I loved him.  He worked at a national company in the next town.  We were going to live happily ever after in our rice paddy surrounded dream home and I would teach at the local schools and our kids would thrive there and I got pregnant, everything was going to plan and SCREEEECCCHHHH DH is transferred to head office in Tokyo.  6 months 単身赴任with him coming home weekends was too long.  I finished my contract, cried buckets and moved to Saitama.  DH was going places.  Literally, all over Japan and overseas too.  Chances of being transferred back were slim, even when he was based in Tokyo it was a 2 hour each way commute so I didn't see him between 6am and midnight.  M was born.  DH couldn't get time off work to visit me and they wouldn't bend visiting hours.  I lasted another 6 months and when I reached out for sympathy from other mums all I got was 'yeah, everyone's like that, the money's good though, right?'  

Enough's enough.  I need the country.  I grew up in the country, I want that for my kids.  The local park in Saitama was so in demand that people went in big groups to secure a spot and get access to the play equipment by pure force of numbers.  I was invited to join the 10:30 group- call if you're going to be absent. @_@

My wonderful DH had never changed job.  He'd never considered it, either.  The job he had was as a result of a recommendation from his Supervisor at Uni.  But he signed up with RecruitNavi and our requirements for his job hunter were: in the country somewhere between Hyogo and Niigata.  (DH doesn't like typhoons and I don't like long cold winters.)

Six weeks later he had a job!!  We drove up the night before the interview and stayed in a campground.  It was late August.  Hot in Saitama still but frigid at night in Nagano.  We froze, the baby wouldn't settle and DH went from tent to interview.  It's a miracle he got in! :)

So that's why Nagano.  Pure chance.  We got back to Saitama and found interview offers from companies in Osaka and Ishikawa.  But one night surrounded by Alps and I was hooked. :)  

And that was the start of my Shinshu life. :)

Gratuitous mountain shot.  

There's a marathon going on that's why there's all those hordes of people there.   

In my park.  

How dare they? ;)



I tend to go on about rain.

I grew up in the country in Australia. 

Water shortages are an annual event.  Don't brush your teeth with the water going.  Put dishes in last night's water to soak before washing.  Short showers etc etc.

Then droughts would come.  Dry Spring.  Record low rainfall.  No rain for February.  Drought relief for farmers.  Water restrictions.  Water restrictions stage 2- no washing your car, no watering the lawn.  Water restrictions stage 3- water the garden twice a week between 6 and 8 pm by hand only.  (No sprinklers.)  If it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down. etc etc.

Then we moved here.  The people on our street paid 2000 yen every two months for unlimited  
spring water.  Want to cool a watermelon? Put it in the sink and leave the tap on.  Hot day, kid's wanna play? Give them each a hose and turn them all on.  Big bath filled to the brim each night.  Wash the car, the truck, the tractor and the apple sprayer whenever you feel like it.   It's only water.

Last year we were connected to the sewerage (yup, I had high speed internet before I had a flush toilet- only in Japan!) and that necessitated being connected to the mains water.  We now pay by use the same as most people.  And it's taking them a while to adjust.  The day the first water bills arrived was frenzied as everyone ran around comparing and commiserating on their water bills.  For the record, the worst one I heard of was 27,000 yen.  For two 60 year olds and his 85+ year old parents.  Ouch!!

But even with less conspicuous water wastage I still feel so blessed and slightly guilty every time it rains here.  

You know, that really torrential dumping rain that comes down in sheets.  That rain that comes down like that for days at a time.  If only I could box it up and send it to my home town...

Today it rained.



local kid's festival

We went to the local kid's festival.  

When I say local I mean REALLY local.  

Just the kids in our neighbourhood association.

It was held at the baseball ground at the top of our street.

It's a really casual affair but obaachan sent us matching yukata for the girls and orders to take a picture of them wearing their yukata at a festival so this was what we came up with.

Getting ready to go.  A is holding her fireworks.  Yup, this festival is so small it's BYO fireworks!
'Don't tell mama'  M is hooked on secrets at the moment.  The local JETs held a cabaret and the MC sang 'Don't tell Mama' from 'Cabaret'.  Ever since M has thought that saying 'don't tell Mama' in someone's ear is telling a secret.  A is still transfixed with her fireworks.
(How worried do you think I was about those yukata!!) :O
What cuties, huh?  See the clothes pegs holding their sleeves back.  I didn't check the size and both yukata need altering. doh!

And what were they doing in their yukata? Tea ceremony? flower arranging? creating haiku? Nope.  Playing in the gravel.  A yukata does not a lady make, huh?

It was a great festival and we had fun chatting with all the locals.  The fireworks were a fizzer though as M is terrified of the noise so we went home about 5 minutes into the fireworks.  

Oh well, there's always next year!


Run baby run

Being (athletic) fairies in the front yard.

Summer is so much fun.