Sunday, August 23, 2009

What's all the noise about?

No, this is not going to be a rant about the loudspeaker vans passing through the village electioneering right now. Actually we don't get them very often, and being surrounded on 3 sides by mountains mean the slogans echo and reverberate and kind of sound like a Charles Ives piece.

And I'm not talking about the hot-dogging, top gun watching, U.S. airforce jets that scream overhead just above the trees.... though what a huge waste of resources they are......

I'm talking about these guys....


...Cicadas, or "semi" in Japanese.

Just as the frogs quite down they are replaced by the calls of the cicada. By now they have reduced their sound to a random buzzing, but when they first start up they start up in unison. It can be quite eerie, standing in the garden when suddenly all the cicadas in a few hundred metres of forest start up simultaneously.

There are about 30 different species of cicada in Japan, and they have long been celebrated in song and poem. The sound of the cicada used in a movie ( or drawn in a manga "nim nim nim") lets the viewer know the setting is the heat of the summer.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Anasenimasu Shrine


Anasenimasu Shrine, or Anashiniimasu in its alternate reading, is one of the oldest shrines in Yamato, and yet little is known for sure about it,... most references to it include lots of "maybe"'s.

It's located up the valley a little behind the Sumo Shrine, just off the Yamanobenomichi, and seems to be connected to Emperor Suinin.


The 3 kami housed in the unusual triple honden are Hyouzugami, Wakamitama, and Daihyouzu. Each is associated with the imperial regalia, the sword, mirroe, and jewels.

Some sources equate the 3 with Susano, Kushinadahime, and Onamuchi, 3 Izumo kami.


The main kami, Hyouzu is believed to be the ancient Chinese god, Chi-You, considered to be the ancestor of the Han chinese as well as the Koreans. He was a god of war with associations with metal and weapons, and to have had an Ox's head. Interesting that Susano, in Izumo at least, is associated with metal and weapons, and came to be equated with Gozutenno, the Oxhead king originally a Hindu god, but brought into Japan through Korea. Gozutenno is the original kami at the shrine now known as Yasaka in Gion.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Red hats.


Red hats on statues are fairly common throughout Japan, and often accompanied by red bibs.


It is said that the red caps on Jizo statues represent the amniotic sac, but the most common explanation for them is that red is the color that drives away disease and sickness.


Making the hats and bibs for the statues is in a sense an act of prayer.


All of these photos were taken at Mitakidera, a temple in the hills just outside downtown Hiroshima. It is my favorite site to visit in Hiroshima.


In a rock nook behind the spring above the temple even the snake representing the kami of water is hatted.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Scarcity and surplus.

Every year the garden is different. Some veggies grow better some years than others. It depends somewhat on timing, but more importantly on that enormous set of environmental factors that we call the weather.

This year has seen some unusual weather in this area. July was the wettest July in over 50 years. It was also the July with the least amount of sunshine.

The word is that many types of vegetables are going to be pricier this year. I expect to see lots of cheap Chinese veggies relabelled as expensive domestic produce.


Compared to our neighbors we have done well for pumpkins/squash this year. We will end up with more than 50 of them, and they store well through the winter. These are a cross between the Japanese kabucha and a butternut squash. The butternut is tastier ( to my palate) and the kabucha is bigger, so they are a nice balance. They make great soup, and of course pumpkin pie.


The other crop that finally came on recently were the tomatoes. I plant a lot of plants and let them run wild. A lot of fruit gets damaged by the rain, and the crows take some, but still we have enough to need to process them every few days. These are jars of home-made ketchup. Incomparable to factory-made stuff. We also can a lot of pizza sauce.

The strange weather was good for one crop this year... zuccini! usuall the zuccini plants are eaten and killed by a little orange bug by the end of June, but this year the bugs didn't arrive until just recently, so I had my best ever zuccini harvest. Now if only the damn eggplants will fruit I will be able to can gallons of ratatoille.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Obon in Gion


Just got back from a couple of days in Kyoto.

It's Obon season, and we were up visiting Yoko's family in Gion.

Last night we went up the hill behind Gion to visit the cemetery at the temple called Otani-san where Yoko has some family buried. The cemetery is all lit up with lanterns.


About half the crowds there were visitng and washing family tombstones, and the other half were tourists taking photos and enjoying the view over the city. There seemed to be more tourists than usual in Kyoto, probably there for the Daimonji fires that will be lit tomorrow night.


The long path leading up to the temple from behind yasaka Shrine is lined with lanterns.


Down around the main temple buildings all the lanterns were painted by local children.

Apparently Shinran, the founder of the True Pure Land sect has his tomb here.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Back from Vacation

Been away for a while but now its time to start posting again.

history of art

Here's an odd little thing I found recently. It's the oldest existing artwork of mine.
Over the years I have painted/printed/produced dozens of thousands of artworks. Most of them no longer exist. This one is from 1971 when I was in my first year of art school. Made with a manual typewriter, and indicative of both the style of imagery I was into back then and the absurd amounts of time I used to spend "making art"

Friday, July 17, 2009

Defending the garden


Before moving to the Japanese countryside, my experiences of gardening were all in the desert, so learning to grow food in Japan has been a long learning period. One of the main differences between gardening in Arizona and in Japan is that there are few animals and bugs in the desert. Here in Japan it is a constant battle defending the garden against critters. I don't mind sharing,.... I expect to lose a certain percentage of a crop to other critters, but there are some greedy critters.

Caterpillars of the white butterfly (called Cabbage White in England) will consume all the brassica family, cabbages, cauliflower, brussel sprouts etc. Most Japanese gardeners will use pesticide, but for me growing brassicas under net works perfectly.

The only other bug that is a real problem is a little orange bugger that feeds on the leaves of squash plants. Pumpkins will usually recover, but every year my Zuccini plants have been completely eaten and killed by the orange bugs. Every version of organic pesticide I've tried has been completely useless, so I now grow zuccini under net also.


My village garden now has a metal fence around it. The village put it up recently around the rice paddies, and my garden is in the same piece of land as the paddies. The purpose of the fence is to keep wild boars out. Not sure how much damage boars do to rice paddies, but if they get into a garden they will dig up and eat all the sweet potatoes and as many pumpkins they can find.


Down in the riverside garden the ripening corn needs a net to protect it from the crows. They will sometimes eat tomatoes, peas, and other veggies, but they really love newly ripened corn.
The blue fence is to protect against a creature I never knew existed in Japan, the Coypu, or Nutria, sometimes known as Beaver Rat. It is originally from South America, but has spread around the world as people raised them for their fur. It likes to eat cornstalk.

In the bamboo grove next to the garden is a foxes den, and people say the foxes damage the gaedens when they dig around for food, but they have never given me any trouble.

Both gardens have moles, but again they have not caused enough trouble to worry about.

Both my gardens are too far from the edge of the forest for the monkeys to raid, but my neighbors are constantly losing food to them. They particularly like daikons and onions.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Umeboshi,... an acquired taste


Umeboshi, pickled plums, can most often be found in bentos, where a single plum is placed in the center of the rice to look like the Japanese flag.

After picking when ripe in June, the plums are mixed with salt and shiso leaves (to give the color) and packed with a weight on top.

Later the pickled plums are sun dried, like these of my neighbors in the photo above.

Actually Ume are not true plums, being closer to apricots.

Not fond of umeboshi myself, though umeboshi-flavored candy is OK.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ainu-design bags


These bags were designed and made by my good wife Yoko. She is a dab hand with a needle, and makes a lot of clothes, curtains etc.


A few years ago she took some classes on Ainu embroidery from a couple of Ainu sisters, Machiko Kato & Sanae Ogawa. The Ainu now live mostly on Hokkaido, and are descended from the Emishi, the original inhabitants of eastern Japan before being driven out by the invading Yamato. A couple of years ago the Japanese government finally admitted that the Ainu exist, and there has been a resurgence of interest among younger Ainu in their traditional culture and language.


Ainu design bears a striking similarity to celtic design sometimes.


Yoko has sold a lot of these bags, each one unique as she doesnt like to repeat a design.


If you are interested in knowing more, or in purchasing any of them, please contact me. They go for approx 50 USD.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Season of the Frog Part 2: Egrets


With the flooding of the paddies in late spring, there is an explosion of frogs. This has effects on other species in the vicinity, not the least of which is us gardeners. There are dozens of frogs in my garden, and as frogs eat insects, I'm quite happy about that.


Snakes come out from the forest and feast on the cornucopia of small frogs, and this afternoon I watched a flock of egrets come in for the feast. They don't mind vehicles driving by, but will up and fly away if a human gets within 100 metres.


The egret, related to and often seen with herons, can be found all over Japan, and in total there are 18 different species, but I'm not ornithologist enough to be able to tell which species these were,


In the streams that run through villages and urban areas, the herons and egrets are less skittish.