Okay, this post will cover a lot of ground. I haven’t posted much in the last couple of months simply because between house and book and kids, there hasn’t been much time. Well today I am making time!
June 3: Crawdad fishing.
In Japanese crawdads are called “zarigani” and they are a lot of fun to catch. We used nets and bamboo fishing poles with dried squid tied on as bait. The crawdads grab hold of the squid bits with their claws and then you scoop them up in the net. The challenge is that they hide in the reeds and its hard to net them because once they see it coming they let go and dart back into the reeds.
June 6: Chicken Tragedy
June 14: Poured a “housekeeping pad”…
…for the kitchen using broken roof tile as a filler and aggregate. We decided to make a “douma” (earth floor) style kitchen, although the floor is concrete instead of hard packed earth. This means one would step down into the kitchen area and wear shoes. That is also true for going to the bath house which is just outside the kitchen door. Anyway, I poured the housekeeping pad both because I wanted to raise the sink, refrigerator and so on above the main floor a bit for easier cleaning, and also because the original floor in that location was basically rubble, very uneven with the remnants of the old “kamado” foundation as well and the foundation of what was probably an old tile sink.
June 18: MB’s school plants rice in a local field.
I thought this was really cool. Every year the local elementary school plants a rice field by hand. To start with they hold a “Mud Olympics” where the kids play various games in the flooded rice paddy. Sadly I don’t have pictures of that, but MB had an absolute blast, got covered in mud, and even got on the local news. But the Mud Olympics wasn’t just for fun. It actually serves a purpose by aerating the field for the rice seedlings. A day or two after the Mud Olympics, the school kids came back to the field to plant the rice.
June 25th: Rain Rain Go Away
It’s rainy season and this year Kyushu was hit pretty hard. Fortunately for us all we suffered was a couple of roof leaks. But we had some friends whose house was flooded and they had to live in a temple until they (just recently) found a new place to live. They lost everything, including their only car and all of their household items, family photos etc.
At the House I found out that the areas of the roof which I thought were okay (and thus didn’t repair) were not okay at all and every heavy rain sends water running down the walls…
June 27: Rocket Stove Trial
This was the first of the two rocket stoves I’ve built so far. And it was the first test burn I did. Since I took this video I have a much better (and safer) feed chute and also another stove built right next to the first. Construction was simple. I used stainless stove pipe pieces you can get at any home center, and then mixed perlite, cement and a bit of sand to make the insulation around the pipe. The “perlicrete” is very very light and seems to work really well. The stoves will get a generous topping of cob to complete their form, and then will be finished with white plaster (or maybe tile if I am feeling really crafty).
July 1: Visiting my “Sempai’s” house.
If you’ve been reading for a while, you may recall the “Yamamoto’s,” featured in this post, who were a big inspiration to us early on. Recently they completed a massive remodel (I won’t use the word restoration here because the house is now very modern in every way) of their 80 year old farm house. The remodel took their house all the way to the bones and completely remade it. The architect on the job was the one mentioned also in the post linked above, and he has become known as a local specialist in dealing with these old houses.
Although the remodel was beautiful, with some really nice touches in the design, I couldn’t help but feel it was a bit too overdone and “shiny” for my taste. The house literally looked brand new, and even included a whole new “wing” with entry, and master bedroom and bath. I probably would have tried to keep the original flavor as much as possible. But at least this house is preserved and will doubtless last another hundred years.
July 12: Practicing to become the Lion
It’s festival season and this year I was invited to join the other men in the neighborhood in doing the “Shishimai.” This is a sort of dance between Tengu and the Shishi (mythical lion/deer/boar/dragon thing) and I can’t say I fully understand the whole thing, although I asked several times, I don’t even think the other men in the neighborhood really understand the story behind the dance. Anyway we sure spent the whole month practicing it and I was able to find muscles I didn’t even know I had… ouch.
All practices were held at the neighborhood volunteer fire station, which of course is fully stocked with beer! We practiced using a plain wooden mock-up of the shishi head. In the pictures you see “Tengu” with the sword and fan, and Shishi with the wooden “head.”
July 15: My Two Red Cats:
Part of the Summer festival involves the “Aka-Neko” or Red Cats, and I am not at all sure what they symbolize but it was an opportunity for my daughters to get dressed up and head to the local shrine where all the assembled elderly ladies and men could smile at them and tell them how cute they are. And so for LP1 and LP2 that includes just about all the things that make for a super fun time. I also understand that TLG had a cameraman in town to film for a documentary on Usuki, and so LP1 and LP2 might have 5 seconds of fame in that…
July 21-24: FESTIVAL
Holy Moly! I have never been to the summer festival at Fukura Tenmangu (our local Shrine). TLG would come to Japan from the US with the kids every summer to attend, and I can see why. For such a small town, this is a huge event. The festival starts on a Friday night and lasts until Sunday night around midnight. Special dancers and actors are brought in from Saiki to perform plays all day at the shrine to the tune of taiko drums and flutes, while down below in the town, the Shishimai is going door to door performing and collecting donations. That was me. My festival days started in the morning at 7:00am, going to the fire house to change. The costume consists of a white “haramaki” which covers only the belly, green leggings which match the design of the Shishi, black tabi, and straw sandals. I dug the sandals which were actually pretty comfortable to walk in.
And remember this is Japan, in Summer, right after rainy season… It’s HOT, and HUMID. So we spent two days and two nights, walking all over town, door to door, performing the Shishimai dance. It was exhausting and a hell of a lot of fun, and did I mention it was hot and humid? Also my chest, back and shoulders (which were really white) became a bright lobster red by the end of the weekend… ouch. Morning, noon, and night, we would stop at the shrine to perform and receive prayers from the priest. Then on the last night, we brought the Shishi up to the shrine for the final big performance. I had the honor of going the first round with Tengu, then after about six dances and running around the shrine each time, Tengu put the Shishi to sleep by busting open a barrel of sake, and tricking Shishi into drinking it. More prayers were performed and we were left to drink (a lot) until the festival ended.
Present: Summer Vacation
Now it’s summer vacation… for the kids. This is a time of plentiful watermelon, swimming at the pool or the beach, highly organized summer barbeques complete with opening and closing speeches, and regimented activities for the kids, and on the days I am working on the house, the kids come with me, finding games to play, or running about outside. Summer visitors, including preying mantises, giant hornets, and hand size spiders, and dragonflies are just part of the deal.