One of the mysteries in Izu ( Shizuoka )

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

At the beginning of December, we had a year-end party after a study meeting about economics. I often go to study meetings on economics in Numazu. The organizers know many different kinds of people and they invite guests to give us lectures. And for the December meeting, we had a person who is very familiar with Chinese related matters. He is Chinese but has been living in Japan more than 20 years, married a Japanese woman and became a naturalized Japanese citizen. He has published some books and occasionally on TV. His name is Mr. Hei  Seki.

As everyone knows, some problems underlie the relationship between Japan and China.

Personally, I’m very worried about it and so are my friends.

By listening to his talk, we got new ideas and understood the things better.

I think a person like him is a treasure for both China and Japan. He can help both of us to understand each other.

 

After the lecture, Mr. Seki and some of the members went to Heda village located in the western part of Izu. This village is said to be one of the most loveliest traditional Japanese villages, with a view of Mt. Fuji over the ocean, beautiful paddy fields, a fishing port and mikan orange orchards covering the hills. We all enjoyed eating fresh fish and drinking high quality Japanese rice wine from all across Japan.

The following day, some went orange picking. But I was in a group going to Shuzenji on my way home.

 

 

 

The weather was not perfect but we could see Mt. Fuji over Suruga Bay.

We also overlooked the Ose promontory as we drove. This promontory jutting out into the ocean has a pond called “ Kamiike “. “ Kami” means god and “ Ike” means pond. This pond is in the precincts of Ose Shrine, surrounded by a juniper wood, which is a protected plant. Strangely, the pond water is fresh, not salty, even though it’s located only 20 meters away from the ocean and only one meter above sea level. Fresh-water fish such as carp, crucian carp and catfish are living there. The water is not very transparent so we can’t see into the pond very well and no in-depth studies have been conducted on it because people say that if we investigate the pond, a curse will come on us !

I have been scuba diving in the nearby ocean but I haven’t visited the pond and shrine. I’d like to do so someday. This is one of the famous scuba diving spots in Izu with many kinds of sea animals.

This place has an interesting festival on April 4th. Many fishermen wear women’s costume and makeup and they go on board. In Japan, March 3rd is called girls’ festival, May 5th is boys’ festival. So maybe this festival in April, lying between March and May, could be a gay festival!

Mr. Seki seemed to enjoy himself viewing Mt. Fuji. Talking with him was a lot of fun.

 

 

Old railway and Hot Spring around Kitakata

Friday, September 28th, 2012

Kitakata itself doesn’t have a hot spring but if you go north you will find some very quiet hot spring resorts.

One is called Atsushio hot spring and another is called Nittchu hot spring.

They used to have a railway called the Nittchu Line. This railway connected Kitakata to Atsushio covering just 11.6 km and five stations. It was built in 1938. That time people planned to build a railway from Imaichi in Tochigi ( near Nittko ) to Aizu Wakamatsu, Kitakata and  Yonezawa ( Yamagata ).But because of the war, they couldn’t continue the construction work. Also high mountains made the work more difficult. That is why the line is so short. Still the line was used but was eventually abandoned in 1984.

 This line was mainly used by students to commute to school. Only four to six train services were available each day, just early in the morning and evening. People used to joke that the Nittchu line did not run during day time even though “Nittchu” means daytime in Japanese.  I pictured steam locomotives running backwards on their way to Kitakata and forwards on their way to Atsushio. It must have been wonderful. In Japan after this line was closed, we had a steam locomotive boom. The track the train ran on is now used as a cycle lane. I wish they had kept the railway and steam locomotive so that this line could attract more tourists or make railway enthusiasts happy. Just like Ooigawa railway in Shizuoka. However the terminal station and the old train carriages are kept in a nice way. The car at front is used as a snowplow. It snows a lot in this area. The waiting room has many pictures of olden times and very nostalgic.

 

 I didn’t have time to visit Nittchu hot spring but I took a bath at Atsushio hot spring. As the Kanji say, “atsu “ means hot and “ shio “ means salt. The hot spring’s temperature is said to be 70C and the water is salty. They cool the water down so that people can bathe. This hot spring was discovered about 600 years ago by a priest. You can see a Zen temple in the middle of the village. The water is hot and salty and that makes people’s body keep warm for a long time. It is effective for skin ailments and stomach problems. Also it’s good for women who wish to have babies or people who have poor circulation.

All in all relaxing in this peaceful and quiet place while bathing in the hot spring and eating natural food will benefit your health. Or if you like you can try out Zazen at the nearby temple.

Kitakata , the town of warehouses

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

Kitakata is located in northwest Fukushima Prefecture. Aizu Wakamatsu city is less than 30 minutes by car. You can find old warehouses all over the city. I heard there are as many as 4,000 in the city. This area has been blessed with good water and rice and that enabled people to make good sake ( rice wine ) and miso ( soy bean paste).

Kura (warehouses ) can keep the food stock in perfect condition. Many people worked hard to make money to build warehouses by the age of 40 in that area.

Long ago, refrigerators weren’t available but kura provided environmentally friendly storage. In summer the inside of the kura is cool and in winter it’s warm. Nearly 100 years ago, a big fire broke out and burned down many houses in this city but the warehouses were fire proof. After that people realized the value again. Thanks to kura, Kitakata keeps many old things.

   I stayed at an inn to find nice furniture in our room and asked about it. Then the landlord introduced me to the person who repaired it. I visited the shop.

 

I was very excited to see many fantastic pieces of furniture and goods he made and repaired. Also the old fixed drawers aren’t as expensive as I thought. He used the old chest of drawers as a cupboard. Since the top drawer was broken, he placed some cups on it. I like the idea. As he made tea for us, he told me that he can design and build houses. I really like the sink and counter which he designed and made. He finds some old things which are not in use and fixes them to make something new. Or he goes into the woods to find material for his new furniture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He knows which wood makes good chairs or tables. For example this chair looks very hard but when I sat on it, it felt warm, soft and comfortable. This chair is made of walnut. That reminded me of sitting on grandmother’s lap as a child.

According to him, trees are cut into wood and become furniture but wood is

alive so it makes us happy and provides us with comfort. He thinks to make good use of wood and keep using old wooden things are very important. By cherishing them, we can show our gratitude to nature.

 

Eels

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

This year 27th of July is called Doyo Ushinohi. Many people eat grilled eels at this time. Eels are said to contain a lot of vitamin A and B which can be a source of energy to overcome the harsh summer climate. So many people feel like eating this at this time of the year.?Also many restaurants advertise eels to encourage people to visit their places, and supermarkets offer pre-cooked ones. However I heard eels are said to be less nutritious in summer. A better time to eat is when it is cooler.

I haven’t had eel for more than three years. I have some reasons for this.

1.    Eels are too expensive.

2.    I couldn’t find any good eel restaurants I feel are worth visiting.

3.    Eels are said to be in danger.

But I went to an eel restaurant deep in the mountain. It’s a small restaurant.

They open the shop at 11:00 AM and when the eels of the day are finished, they close the shop. I arrived at the restaurant about 10:45 to find three people came waiting ahead of us I don’t like to stand in line for food since it looks like being greedy, but in fact I was very greedy that time. I skipped breakfast and got active before going to the restaurant. My mouth watered when I smelled eels being grilled on charcoal.

The eel served for us was very savory and tender. The sauce was just right for me.

The skin of the eel was lightly charred and crisp. We were all satisfied.

I don’t know what it takes to be a chef to cook eels. It must be hard to learn the skills.

Now some people are planning to put eels on the list of restricted imports. I think we have to take measures to preserve eels but I disagree with the idea of controlling eels by the Washington Pact.

Once it is ratified, things get less flexible. Poaching or smuggling will be prevalent. Some people try to make a lot of money doing it.

Eating eels and the skills to cook them are part of Japanese culture. We have to reduce the pace at which we eat them for a few years and we can make Kabayaki using different fish. The TV program said that catfish can be a substitute.

I know many people from abroad enjoy eating eel Kabayaki. I do hope eel restaurants and eel cooking skills are kept in Japan.

Rice Planting at Lake Kawaguchi

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

I learn how to grow rice in Kawaguchiko town in Yamanashi. Mr. Hirata organizes the study meetings and he instructs us on how to grow it.

Rice has been the staple food of Japan but many people haven’t had experience growing it. In fact it was my first experience to plant paddy in my life. It was such an exciting one. Walking in the mud was more difficult than I expected and the touch of the mud was amazing. Working in the paddy field is very good exercise. It can build up the muscles of our legs, back and hip.

As I was doing the job, I concentrated on it as I did Zazen. It was hard but I couldn’t stop it. Completing the job, I finally realized how much I was exhausted.

Nowadays many farmers use machines to plow, transplant and harvest etc., but that day Mr.Tobe who grows some of the most delicious and expensive rice without depending on these machines came to show us how he plants and grows rice. Originally, he started to grow rice in order to provide his children with safe and decent food but this ended up in him producing some of the most delicious rice in Japan. I hate to mention the price but the rice costs 3,000 JPY per one kilo! You can buy it at a department store in Tokyo.

He uses the rake he made by himself to mark where to plant. He did his job very accurately, efficiently and smoothly. When we plant seedlings, we put only one or two so that each seedling has enough space to grow and eventually we can harvest bigger grains of rice. Now each seedling looks a little helpless but soon they grow thicker and bigger. Mr.Tobe emphasized that growing rice isn’t difficult. He doesn’t use any machines but he can make more than enough rice for his family. 

 My image of farmers’ lives is very hard but he said that his family and he work from 5AM to 7AM in the morning and one or two hours in the late afternoon. That’s it. It seems like that before he gets started, he plans things very carefully and think how to save energy. Once he gets started, he works very fast. Sometimes his family members compete with each other in speed. It sounds like fun.

Many people in our group are worried about the food shortage and aging farmers in Japan. According to Mr.Tobe, the energy problem is more serious than food problem. I’m going to visit his place in Niigata in August to learn more about his policy and life style.

 

Minamisoma, Soma Nomaoi Festival

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

I went to back to my hometown, Minamisoma. I visited one of the sites where Soma Nomaoi Festival takes place. This festival starts on July 23 in Soma,

24th in Haramachi (which is now called Minamisoma ) and 25th in Odaka (another part of Minamisoma ). Each city has a Shinto shrine which is related to this festival. This festival has a long history over 1,000 years old. Riders on horseback appear on the street. They have a procession to a site called Hibarigahara, where they hold horse races. This is a photo of Hibarigahara in September.The first photo is from the city hall.

 

My childhood memories have a lot to do with this festival. Our summer vacation always started around this time of the year, just as the rainy season finished and the hot weather set in. But this year, things were different. Because of the earthquakes, tsunami and the nuclear power plants’ problems, there was uncertainty about putting the festival on. Some enthusiastic people made great efforts to hold the festival but it was downsized very much.

I have heard many sad stories around the world but I didn’t really understand until I experienced this sad incident in my hometown. It is heart breaking to remember what it was like and what it is now.

I’m sure this festival is a great asset for Japan and it should be kept.

In fact, some of my friends who have seen the festival from different cultures asked me if they can do something to help maintain the festival.

 

I was very stunned to read the news that Japan is to offer 10,000 free trips to foreigners to boost the tourism industry. I would like more people visit Japan but why do we have to do that now ?

The things are tough for Japan’s tourism industry, but we have to spend  our money, tax payers’ money on cleaning or fixing Japan. And that will do good for all over the world. Then everyone can live or take a trip without worries.

 

 

 

 

Going to Tohoku, Sendai

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

I went to Sendai, the center of Tohoku and where I used to live. I was very happy to catch up with some of my friends there.

One of my friends lost her house in the tsunami. But she was lucky. All of her family members are all right. Two other friends I met were affected in some way too but they have houses to live in and their families are all right, too.

Superficially, Sendai looks the same or even more impressive than before but people’s mind set seems to have changed. They became more family-, friend- or community-oriented. They had been too busy to ask each other how they are doing but now they are more supportive of each other.

Tokyo is too crowded and everything is centered on it. Japan should change. I think would better if more people spread outside Tokyo and each main city in each region maintained its own character, culture and center of gravity. It would be more interesting. Thanks to internet, working in the countryside isn’t as difficult as it used to be I guess.

I think it’s crazy how so many people working in Tokyo have had difficulties in going home because of earthquakes or typhoons. People should live nearer to their schools or workplaces as it’s safer and more productive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was also happy to drink rice wine from Yamagata called “ Jyuyondai, which  means  “14th generation. They don’t produce much so it is only available in special places. I love its sharp and crystal clear taste. I also missed this seafood called “ hoya “. Many people in other areas don’t know and haven’t tasted it. It looks kind of scary but it tastes really good. It goes very well with rice wine. I went to a Japanese a type of pub known as an “ Izakaya “ with my friends and was surprised to see the great variety of foods and volume of the portions served.

 

Let’s go to Tohoku in autumn.

 

Cutting down on electric consumption in Japan

Monday, August 29th, 2011

Our consumption of electricity of August went down by 44 % than last August.

We were all surprised to find out as we saw the bill from TEPCO. Given the fact that last August we were all away about one week in August, we have almost saved more than 50% of electricity.

 

Since the power plant problems, we have always been thinking about how to be free from nuclear power as much as possible. Then we did these things.

1.    Replaced incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs.

2.    Bought a new TV, a new fridge and a new washing machine. Three of the ones we replaced were more than 12 years old.

3.    Used air conditioning only for its drying function.

4.    Used a big electric fan in the living room.

5.    Planted bitter melons to make a shade. Bitter melons give us energy.

6.    Turned off the heater on the toilets.

7.    Cooked rice on a gas stove. It took only 10 to 15 minutes, while it takes 45 minutes

by electric rice cooker.

To save more electricity, I should stop using the dish washer. But we can save water by using dish washer.

 

My conclusion is that we all consume too much unnecessary electricity at home.

Also our houses are designed to consume more electricity. We are trapped.

 

It’s fun to think how to save energy.

Green tea in Australia

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

I had a chance to meet an Australian business consultant who has started a green tea business in Australia. He seems to be a very able and distinguished consultant. He is friendly, positive, has a sharp mind, and often told us jokes.

His schedule was quite tight but we all felt grateful that he visited Shizuoka to taste and talk about tea.

 

He is going to spread and enhance tea drinking customs and culture in Australia. They have already started to grow tea plants as a trial. I thought it’s a good idea because Australia and Japan are located in reverse climates. If we grow tea plants in both places, we can enjoy first fresh green tea not once a year but twice a year.

 

I guess agriculture isn’t that simple and easy, though. But it’s worth trying.

He also emphasized health benefits by drinking green tea. It is said that green tea prevents many kinds of illness, inhibits carcinogens, lowers cholesterol levels and high blood pressure and helps to reduce weight. Since I was a child, green tea was always with me. So I didn’t think it’s anything special. However I feel very happy that some people from different cultures appreciate its benefits and our culture. Having thought about culture,  many kinds of Japanese things stem from tea ceremony, such as flower arrangement, housing, tea utensils, calligraphy, and kaiseki cooking. I’m sure his plan will go well and will make people happier and healthier.

I was also interested in his occupation. I understand his mission is to encourage emerging businesses in Australia. I think it is challenging but sounds very exciting. I wonder if I could find something beneficial from different countries to introduce to Japan. To do so, traveling to many places and meeting people are important things.

Growing bitter melons

Monday, July 18th, 2011

It has been hot since mid-June. Many nuclear power plants have suspended operations in Japan and thermal power stations are working to make up for the lack of electricity. TEPCO and the Japanese government are asking people to save energy.

 

I feel very sorry for the people working in hot offices and factories.

Fuji city where I live has many plants and people are keen on saving energy.

If one company uses too much electricity it might be fined. Many car-related companies now have Thursdays and Fridays off and work on Saturdays and Sundays instead during Summer.?The point is to work on different days from other industries to avoid using electricity at the same time. Some people who work for a carrelated industry told me with excitement that he will start to play golf again. He can play golf for the weekday price, which is much cheaper and the course is less crowded. Everything has good points as well as bad aspects.

 

We are trying not to turn on our air-conditioners. To keep our place cool, we planted bitter melons on our veranda. They grow very quickly and form a wonderful cool shade. I love the sweet smell of their flowers and fruits. These days we eat bitter melons almost every day. We are becoming bitter melon addicts.?They are said to be good for health, activating the immune system. On the other hand, those who wish to have babies shouldn’t eat too many since their juice inhibits the production of sperm. On the other hand their seeds improve fertility. I heard in China, all parts of bitter melons are used as medicine. It is said that eating meat will cause heat in one’s body but bitter melons will neutralize it.

 

Many people say this summer is very hot but for me it’s better than last summer. Many people stop using their air-conditioners and it seems to make the locality cooler at night. If I use less electricity I can save money, too. I realize I had been using more electricity than I need. Some buildings’ windows can’t be opened and they have to turn the air-conditioning on and it will make the temperature higher outside. It seems like a vicious cycle. We have to change the design of our lives.