Notice to my readers-on the 24th of February my premium theme runs out and I am not renewing it as it’s a cost I can’t really afford right now. What that means is that CONNIENAKA.COM my custom domain will not longer exist. WordPress will revert my address to the old address——->
It is safe to say that early spring has arrived. It was such a lovely day today. After breakfast hubby decided to go hit a few golf balls at the local range and I had Sunday afternoon to myself.
Bright sun shining and temps in the upper 50’s – I heard the garden calling…
When we first moved to Japan I didn’t know a lot about gardening but I learned that if you pay attention the garden will teach you. I made lots of mistakes but I think the garden feels more confidant in my handling of it now. We seem to have developed a better relationship.
Our planting season starts now and I didn’t waste a moment-my arms full of supplies I headed outdoors.
Taking a walk around I silently observed the little changes. There are buds on the blueberry bush now. I noticed fine threads also…little garden spiders have moved in already.
I saw the Lenten Roses were blooming…they needed a clean up too…
If you carefully observe the garden will tell you what to do. I set to work with clippers, shovel, rake. Vines were clipped and some clippings were potted in the hanging planters-the vines will grow lush and full and cover the old lattice at the back of the garden.
The back of the garden is also where my little garden tool storage is. Such a handy little space. It’s a kind of crawl space that goes back under part of the house. I use the front part of it to store my garden supplies.
Once I crawled way back in there with a flashlight. It was only later that I noticed a spider in there-its body about as big as my hand. Now I don’t venture in too far anymore.
As I dug around in the dirt turning over the clods I appreciated the smell of the earth. How many people long for such an experience. To toil in the sun-pruning and trimming and planning what vegetables will go where.
My garden and I have a love relationship. It isn’t the biggest or fanciest garden around but it fits me. It is like me in so many ways. I heard people say when they see photos of my garden they see me…this is true.
As I worked around on my hands and knees, bent over or sitting on the cool earth -the season’s first buzzing things could be heard. A big black buzzing thing came lumbering by while I was clearing leaves out of the corner and tying up the long lanky leaves of the early Daffodils.
Little tiny buzzing things flew madly around me as I trimmed the mint.
Earthworms came wriggling up through the dirt that I had turned over. I love earthworms-they help me so much. I tucked them back under the soil and went about my business sticking my snap pea seeds in the ground by the trellis.
Even the water garden was cleaned and the potted plants given a once-over. I saw new shoots and I smiled. They are coming…
I remembered Mrs. Umbrella as I peeked over her wall into her garden. I wonder how she is over at the nursing home. I wonder if she misses her garden. What a lovely full garden it was! Every single morning at 5am she was outside taking care of it. Now…it’s rather sad. Most of the plants have been ripped out by her daughter. I saw a few flowers had come up on their own in one of the pots looking rather lonely and forlorn…as if waiting for her…and she never came.
My 3pm snack of hot coffee and a small piece of cream-sponge cake was heavenly. I think the most expensive 5 star restaurant can’t beat sitting in my garden looking out over the valley and the mountains beyond.
Soon the bush that looks like nothing more than a bunch of sticks now-will be full and lush and beautiful….filled with huge pink and purple hydrangea. It is already full of buds.
I was so wonderfully satisfied at the end of the afternoon. Things were cleaned, seeds had been planted…and dozens of seedlings were already coming up in my flower beds.
Now it’s time to get to work doing the serious planning of what goes where. I have some idea but the rest will be hashed out this week.
February here is still very cold. Most days the skies are grey and overcast. At first glance over the landscape the trees are still bleak, leafless and dreary.
However, if one kneels down and inspects closely, the tips of tiny green shoots can be seen shoving aside the earth and making their way upwards. The same thing happens upon close inspection of the trees.
I stood and observed a few sakura trees beside the roadside. Grey fuzzy nodules lined the branches- a sure sign that in a few weeks our area would be in its spring glory!
It is always interesting to me how this is citrus season and I marveled at all the heavily laden fruit trees.
The way to the historical home takes you through the older part of town where many of the buildings are so tipsy looking that it seems as if a strong wind could knock them down.
There is an old shop along the way that I always stop and peek into. It’s reminiscent of the old-style Edo period shops with big wide doors that are kept open to the public. As I peeked in I saw big bottles of sake, bags of rice, crates, wooden boxes and more. I’ve never gone in and really looked around though. Every time I have stolen a look- there wasn’t anyone in there despite the doors being open! Amazing.
A bit further down the narrow road sits a small park with a rather curious statue. I have photographed this statue before and asked around a bit regarding the significance of it but no one seems to know.
She is bent low to the ground -completely naked. I have pondered many times about what this statue could represent. There are no signs around describing her-so I guess I’m left to wonder.
Before crossing the street I stood for a bit and admired the remnants of an old gate and building structure that had been incorporated into a newer home. I am fortunate here as we have so many old buildings and structures that remind of days gone by. Standing for a moment I envisioned kimono clad citizens, their wooden geta clacking loudly as they hurried on their way.
Directly above this property sits the Japanese traditional villa “Nogata Saiji Kan”. It was the same home I featured in last year’s Hina Matsuri post. If you missed it-don’t worry as Hina Matsuri is coming up soon.
The home was not open but I saw the garden gate open and decided to sit for a while.
It’s a good thinking spot. There were two other ladies sitting on the veranda chatting. I decided to visit again when the weather was nice and warm. I’ll bring some tea and a notebook, sit on the veranda and gaze out over the gardens and city below. How grand to have been the mistress here at one time.
I stayed only a few minutes. The little old ladies chatter kept me company. Noticing the climbers on the way out I got an idea for my garden.
It was almost 2:30pm and time to slowly make my way back. There is a little strip of shops along the road that are as unique as can be. The main shop sits rather in the middle with several other little shoplets all around it. Everyone of them quaint and delightful-selling all sorts of handmade items, pottery and beautiful handkerchiefs. Antique kimono and various accessories, linens, wall hangings and such are in another. The main shop has all sorts of trinkets, chopsticks, washi-paper and adorable postcards-and that’s only the half of what they have for sale.
They also have free coffee so I made a pit-stop for a cuppa and picked through their selection of seasonal handkerchiefs because I thought it was time for a new one. For 500 yen I walked away with a beautiful and delicate new handkerchief featuring teacups painted in four-seasons flora.
So far I had spent 675 yen out of my 1,220 yen total. My stomach was growling and I had 545 yen left jingling in my pocket. I counted it twice to make sure. I knew just the place where that would be more than enough to fill my stomach for the 45 minute walk home-the train station coffee shop.
A cup of coffee, half a bacon-cheese pita bread and a sweet-bean bun later I was ready to hit the road home and…I still had around 43 yen to spare!
It had gotten a bit cold, especially as I crossed over the long Ongagawa River bridge where it is always guaranteed to be windy. There were so many ducks on the river and in the distance I saw people preparing the area where the annual tulip festival is always held.
A hot cup of cocoa and a short nap were wonderfully delightful after my (cheap) day out.
Risshun marks the beginning of spring on the old Japanese calendar. The day before Risshun is Setsubun – the bean throwing festival.
To celebrate the beginning of spring I always do a little something. Mostly that “something” is get in the garden and start to get things ready. But I had not been out for a long walk for a while-since I came down with- strepinfluenzaasthmaarthritis. (yes all of those at once). I decided that on Setsubun my camera and I would go and explore the local shrine.
I am very fond of spending as little money as possible. We live a very minimalist lifestyle. I rarely ever carry a lot of money and I don’t allow myself a very big personal spending budget.
On this day I had 1,220 yen or around $12.00. All in coins. I love making a game out of seeing how far I can stretch my little budget.The reason why I’m including this in the post is because people always seem to think Japan is so expensive and you need a wheelbarrow full of money to enjoy a day in Japan. Not so-come on along I’ll show you.
A ten-minute walk to the bus-stop I caught the number 3 bus down to the train station–cost 170 yen. With my leg still hurting a bit I thought it better to take the bus most of the way down. Walking to the train station takes me about 30-45 minutes. I wanted to save my leg a bit.
Walking from the train station to Nogata Shrine takes about 10 minutes.
Signs of spring were evident. This is nanohana. Soon the fields will be a filled with yellow and my nose will run. The flowers are edible and make very tasty tempura.
It looks like a big city in the background but It isn’t really.
There were a few people walking up the steps to the shrine with me. Since it was Setsubun I guessed they were on their way to pray.
First stop was the hand washing station or the purification well. The water was cold as I washed first my left hand then my right and poured a little into my right hand to rinse out my mouth. Drying my hands on a clean white towel I sat for a moment to enjoy the daffodils and take a bite out of the chocolate bar I tucked into my bag.
I always love the big old heavy doors of the shrines. They remind me of castle fort doors.
I expected there to be people here but besides the old woman tending the small festival tent, I was the only one here.
I threw a 5 yen coin into the offertory box and prayed for my family and then wandered around a bit enjoying the beauty and stillness of the shrine grounds.
The ume trees were blossoming and soon the branches would be laden with pink.
A few others trickled in and out to pray.
I stayed for a few moments and chatted with the woman who was tending the festival tent. She gave me a wonderfully delicious cup of ginger/citrus tea.
I stood by the wall over looking the city and thought about where to wander next. I wasn’t far from the old historical home so I started off in that direction.
Miso-the ancient super food. First brought to Japan from China by Buddhist priests around 1,300 years ago it was originally consumed by nobility because it was considered a delicacy. At that time it contained rice which was expensive.
Miso’s fame spread when it became known for its rich energy-giving properties and was adopted by samurai as a staple part of their diet.
Miso is made from fermented soybeans and grains and contains millions of beneficial bacteria. It’s also a good source of B vitamins, vitamins E, K and folic acid. There are various types and blends but the most common is made from fermented soybeans. This is usually the kind that I use daily. Sometimes I use mugi-miso or barley miso. Some miso is saltier, some sweeter and some fermented longer.
Miso is a protein-rich paste and we add it to various dishes. It adds a wonderful flavor base to soup. I also muddle it with mirin and use it to season stir-fried vegetables. Sometimes I spread it on fish that is cooked in a pan. It is lovely muddled with mirin and added to stir-fried eggplant that is then sprinkled with sesame seeds.
There are a variety of ways that you can make miso soup-this is how I make ours.
Basic Home-Style Japanese Miso Soup
Vegetables-carrots, Chinese cabbage, seaweed (dried or fresh depending upon what I have). Sometimes I add sliced onions and mushrooms.
Dashi- I used to use powdered dashi which is made from fish. When my husband was diagnosed with diabetes we started to order liquid dashi that is made from kombu or seaweed (kombu is seaweed-not to be confused with a concoction called “kombucha” which is not Japanese and not seaweed). We switched to the liquid kombu-dashi at the recommendation of my husband’s doctor.
Miso-I use either plain soybean miso or a barley-soybean miso.
I use a 5 cup sauce pan.
Making the soup:One note-my husband is a diabetic and needs a very low salt diet so my measurements are for his diet. You can adjust the dashi and miso to suit your taste. The recipe is flexible. Although-I eat the same food and am much healthier for it. My blood pressure was high before but, since I started eating low salt, my blood pressure is normal. No more headaches either.
First you have to make the dashi- or the base. I fill the sauce pan about 3/4 full of water and add a tablespoon and a half of liquid kombu-dashi.
Then I slice the carrots, I cut the Chinese cabbage into small pieces, maybe some sliced onions, even a few mushrooms-and add them all to the pot. I throw in a spoonful of dried seaweed or add fresh seaweed if I have it. I let the veggies simmer for a few minutes.
Many people add a potato cut into small cubes. Because of my husband’s dietary restrictions I don’t.
After about 5 minutes or so I add 2 tablespoons of miso paste and use my long-handled cooking chopsticks to stir the paste around until it is pretty much dissolved.
Then I turn the gas down low and simmer the soup until the vegetables are cooked.
That’s it. It is a very easy soup to make and it is very flexible. Different areas around Japan might have their own twist -but this is how it is generally cooked in our area.
If you have an Asian store near you with Japanese products you will probably be able to find the powdered dashi. It is a staple product and can be found in almost every Japanese kitchen. Every Asian store that I have ever been in (outside of Japan) has this product. It is called hon-dashi and made from fish.
Happy cooking-let me know how your soup turned out!
This morning as the aroma of simmering miso soup permeated our kitchen I realized how familiar and ordinary this was to me now. As I gently stirred the miso paste into the pot with the long cooking chopsticks the pungent smell of miso brought back memories. I remembered the trips to visit my husband’s family in Japan before we moved.
Every morning my mother in law (Okasan) arose early to cook breakfast and we were awakened to the smell of simmering miso soup, a standard part of the Japanese breakfast. We would lay quietly for a few minutes, snuggled warmly under the thick futon blanket in the tatami room and listen as she bustled about the kitchen-the aroma of simmering soup drifting under the shoji doors.
When we left and returned home to Saipan I remembered how the smell of simmering miso always aroused a homey and warm feeling as it reminded me of Okasan and the times we spent in Japan with family.
This morning as I bustled about the kitchen preparing the same breakfast Okasan always prepared for us, I realized that the aroma of simmering miso -something that was once part of a memory that belonged to a foreign country- was now part of my everyday life.
But deeper than that, this foreign country was now a part of my heart. It was no longer “foreign” to me.
I worked in the garden today and noticed signs of spring everywhere.
Taking a little break I wandered down the road a bit and saw buds and little blossoms beginning to cover branches. The ume trees are beginning to blossom. It is actually the ume tree that heralds the spring in Japan.
The old sakura across the street is sprouting little buds too. Soon the stores will be selling sakura “everything”.
How lovely it is to live in an area where we enjoy such a short “winter” if you can even call it that. Maybe I shouldn’t say anything-who knows we might have another “historic” snow storm like we did last year.
I took full advantage of the sunshine and mild temperatures to putter around the garden rearranging, potting and building.
I was thinking of not cutting down the dead tree. Perhaps I’ll just cut some of the branches off and leave the tree up for the birds. We are in the process of creating kind of a bird rest-stop.
I managed to photograph some of our recent customers.
These are mejiro メジロ, 目白- or Japanese white-eye. If you are fond of looking at Japanese art you will see this bird depicted often. My husband told me that when they were kids they used to go into the forest and put some sort of sticky substance on a branch with fruit as a bait-and then wait until an unsuspecting mejiro was attracted to the fruit and got stuck on the branch. They caught them and caged them as pets. These are common to have as pets. They have been exported to other parts of the world and sold as cage birds. I love to see them in the wild though.
I removed the bowl and replaced it with a homemade bird-feeder. We will build a few more and place them up around the yard.
Hopefully the vines will grow up into the old dead tree because we’d like to keep it as a bird stop.
The mint at the back of the garden is starting to fill out. Some of it is now sitting on my kitchen window in this little pot. It reminds me of my granddaughter who loved to go out early in the morning and pick a handful of leaves. We’d make it into tea for our tea-parties.
As I strolled down the road I noticed Mr.K had harvested his daikon. This year the daikon is just delicious. The other night we had daikon -chicken nimono–delicious!
This week February will be here. I had better purchase my seeds soon so I don’t forget. I can’t believe we are at the threshold of spring already-where has the winter gone? Gardening has shortened the winter season for me considerably. I start thinking about planting seeds at this time of the year and gathering my supplies. Makes the winter fly on by!
I wanted to share a video with you. It is actually part of a whole series that you can find on youtube. It is a regular program here in Japan. The woman in the video is named Venetia and she lives in Ohara, Kyoto. I love watching her videos! They are in Japanese but she does narrate in English-but even if they were all in Japanese you would still love them. You will be swept away to rural Kyoto watching these. Actually much of the scenery looks very similar to our area. I truly hope you enjoy them.
About a week ago a reader had a question about Japanese onsen etiquette.
There are two types of spas in Japan-onsen and sento. Onsen, literally hot spring, are governed by the onsen law of 1948. To obtain an official onsen certificate a spa:
must have a natural spring that contains a defined amount of natural chemical components and is over a temperature of 25 degrees at its point of release.
There are a number of different onsen categories, according to chemical composition and temperature.
Japan’s onsen history goes back about 3,000 years. Basically onsen are geothermal pools. There are over 3,000 onsen throughout Japan mostly in the Kyushu and Tohoku areas. Japan is 75% mountainous with many active volcanoes and geothermal underground rivers and springs. It is interesting because many of the hot springs were discovered by hunters who followed wounded animals to remote onsen pools who, as legend has it, knew that the waters were healing.
Below is a photo I took when we were in Beppu over the New Year holidays. That is steam rising up out of vents. The steam comes from the geothermal streams that criss-cross under the ground. The entire area is literally sitting on top of boiling streams.
People visit an onsen for the healing quality of the water. There are various types of onsen. Our favorite type of is one that is located in a ryokan or traditional Japanese inn. I just love these type of places. Decorated in the traditional style most ryokan serve guests in the old style with generous hospitality in stunning surroundings. This is our favorite get-away ryokan.
Most hotels have a spa but not all are official onsen.
Sento are local community bath houses. These have changed over the years but in deep rural Japan you can still find a local village bath house. My husband said in the “old days” many houses didn’t have a bath -hence the village bath house.
In our area there are government built onsen in most towns because we live in a geothermal spring- rich area. The government onsen do not have overnight accommodations but most have a large tatami room with Japanese style tables and a TV where you can go to rest and lounge around before or after your bath. Some also have a restaurant. The one in our local area has a “healthy food” restaurant that we like to dine at on occasions-if we can get a seat. On most days they are really full.
There is a certain etiquette followed when visiting an onsen that Japanese know by heart however a foreigner visiting an onsen for the first time might not intuitively understand the “rules”. I’ve seen posters for foreigners in several onsen-here are a few that might make you laugh.
Obvious -I would hope.
I’m a bit puzzled by the last one-“Please do not walk around in wet body”. I am not sure how you avoid not walking around wet in a spa. I wonder what they meant by that.
A photo of a typical shower set-up. Notice the small stools and washing bowl. You would wash with soap here first before getting into the tubs.
No towel and hair inside tub. The idea here is that your towel should stay on the edge of the tub while you are inside. Although I always see women wearing their towel exactly like this-on top of their head. You should also refrain from dunking your head under the water.
This is a biggie for many foreigners. It is not okay to use the onsen if you have a tattoo. Why? Because tattoos are associated with the Japanese Yakuza-or Japanese mafia.
On occasion I have seen a Japanese women in the onsen with a small tattoo.No one said anything to them. I noticed that all of them were conscious of trying to keep it covered.
Probably by now you have noticed that onsen are not swimming pools. They are a form of bath house and therefore we do not use bathing suits or any type of “cover-up”-unless you opt for a mixed gender onsen. Yes-men and women bathing together. In this situation then it is proper for women to use a big bath-towel and wrap it around themselves and keep it on the entire time while using the tubs. Even in the water. We do not go to mixed gender onsen. I’m quite comfortable with nude bathing in an onsen where men and women are segregated-but I would not be in a mixed gender situation. No thanks.
I will say that we do use small towels – the size of hand towels- to cover up our private parts while walking around. You kind of hold the towel with one hand on your belly and let it drape down to cover yourself while you are walking from one pool to the other or just walking around inside the bath area.
You figure out the ladies side from the men’s side by the color of the door curtain-ladies is always red. It’s standard as far as I have seen. Many times they switch sides every morning so you can have a chance to experience each spa-most times they are each decorated differently.
Usually there are indoor and outdoor pools. The outdoor pool is called a rotenburo and most are set within a Japanese style garden often with a mountain or river view. Always stunning and deeply relaxing.
We have an older Japanese home with an old-style bathtub. It is kind of our private-mini onsen. I LOVE it. I can say with certainty that pretty-much every house and apartment in Japan has a soaking tub. The tubs are deep, when you sit in them the water comes up to your neck. In newer homes (some not all) and apartments the tub room is small. Really small-it’s like a one piece molded plastic unit. My mother-in-law has one in her home and it is a one person deal. Actually even for one person it is a bit of a squeeze.
Toilets are never inside the tub-room, they are in their own little “toilet room”. Except perhaps in a hotel room.
We have a lovely old-style tub room. The room itself measures 180 cm x 180 cm which is a little over 5×5 feet. Pretty big for a tub-room. It fits two people easily.
Below are a few images from this past December-right before New Year. We had our traditional (cultural) yuzu bath. Yuzu are a citrus fruit that are in season in the winter. There are many different varieties. My friend has a tree and she never fails to bring us a bag of yuzu right before yuzu bath day.The tub is filled with fresh hot water and then the yuzu are tossed into the tub filling the room with a soothing and aromatic natural citrus scent. The natural oils are released into the hot water leaving your skin soft and smelling like citrus. December 22 is yuzu bath day-winter solstice day. Japanese tradition says that taking a bath on the night of the winter solstice keeps you from catching a cold the rest of the year. I just like it because it’s so relaxing and wonderful smelling.
You can see that our tub is quite deep. Half of the tub is sunk into the floor or it would be too high to safely climb into.
It is a lovely thing to take a bath with my husband on a warm spring or autumn evening. The idea of bathing together in Japan is not lewd. Culturally-nudity is viewed differently. I’m not saying it is a free-for-all and everyone walks around naked in front of each other-not at all. I’m talking strictly about the onsen culture and family bathing. It is not at all unusual for families with small children to bathe together at home.
Mothers bring little boys -about preschool age into the ladies side of the onsen all the time. I have even been in baths where older boys (they must have been about 6 or 7 years old) were with their grandmother. I know that must sound horrifying to some but I don’t even blink an eye anymore. No one here thinks of it in any way but natural.
If you want to see some beautiful pics of Japanese onsen you can check out google.
There are some changes I’m having to make to the blog. I had upgraded my blog to a premium account but honestly-it gets expensive trying to maintain it. I refuse to add a “donate” link . My blog is a hobby and I don’t expect people to pay me to do a hobby. Besides, that would put pressure on me and take all the fun out of writing here.
I’m not renewing my premium account ($$$)-but that means that I can not keep all the posts here on this blog site because I’m over quota. A free account is only allowed 3G of space.
SO…putting my thinking cap on I decided to export older posts into two other blogs. I had to split them up into 2 blog sites because of all the photos. That way I can maintain free accounts because I can make sure I am within quota.
I have placed the links to the archived posts in my link section in the left sidebar. They are already there, go ahead that try them. 🙂
Easy-right? The two new sites are kind of bland right now but I’ll fix them up when I have time.
ALL CURRENT POSTS WILL BE HERE ON THIS MAIN SITE. That won’t change. What will change is where the archived posts are but finding them will be as easy as clicking a link. 🙂
You might see ads on this site now that I have reverted to the “free” version again. Sorry. That’s how WordPress makes money from us elcheapos. If you don’t want the ads it costs you 99USD a year.
We had a nice day the other day. A day of 50 some degrees tucked in-between the lower 40 days. When that happens -especially on a day when I have a bit of time-I throw on my garden duds and head outside. Even if it’s winter.
I got the shovel out and turned over the dirt. It was nice to smell it-damp and reeking of decaying leaves.
I moved the “arch” down to the end of my little bed. I figure I’ll plant the cucumbers there and let them climb up the arch. That way I can still plant things under the arch.
The sunappu endo (sugar snap peas) can climb up the other trellis. We have about 6 weeks to go before I can start planting seeds. The potatoes will go into their bags shortly after. I plan on doing much more container gardening on top of whatever I put into the ground.
On the back of the seed packs you can determine sowing times. This is horenso or spinach. I can start to sow it next month. Same goes for the sugar snap peas and komatsuna or mustard cabbage.
Got some trimming done while I was out there. Garden doesn’t look like much now but just wait. It is heavenly in the spring.
I found a way to get some help cutting down the big dead tree. We have something called The Silver Center. It’s a community organization that gives retirees a chance to do odd jobs. I was over at Mrs. NG’s house the other day and a couple of “Silver” guys were outside trimming and doing a general clean-up of her mother-in-law’s yard who now lives in a nursing home. The silver center guys had piled all the wood in a heap because Mrs. NG lives in a log-cabin house and they heat with wood.
That solves two problems-how to get the tree cut and what to do with the wood. Mrs. NG said they would take the wood.
It was interesting because she told me that they ordered their house from Canada. I was surprised to learn that their wood stove heats the entire home. Very cozy I might add. It came all precut and the company just assembled it here. It’s a typical log cabin home inside but Japanese “small”.
At any rate-Gardening has been on my mind. This is panning time.
This is a nice little video of a typical Japanese vegetable garden. Mine isn’t so neat. I have a small space and try to fit things where ever I can.