Friday, August 18, 2006

田んぼアート ・ The Rice Paddy Art

 The Rice Paddy Art fields that we planted in late May have come in beautifully. For about the first month after we planted, the plants were small and rather than the pattern in the rice, visitors saw more of the water in the fields. You could see that it was coming, but that it still needed time. Now however, all of the plants have grown out and the field is at its peak viewing time.

 So of course, many people are coming to see it. Recently when you enter through the north entrance of the village hall you must push through the crowd of people. And of course, when all of those people climb up to the keep of the castle (which stands next to the Rice Paddy Art) and look down, we can almost certainly hear cries of "Wow, that's great".

 This year we introduced a fourth, red color of rice, but as you can see in the photo here, you can't see that red color yet. It is said that only the husks surrounding each individual grain will turn red. I guess we will have to wait a little longer for that red color to appear.

Friday, August 11, 2006

田舎館のねぷた祭り ・ Inakadate's Neputa Matsuri

My first entry in a long time.

I haven't written in a long time, but I wanted to get this photo up for everyone to see. It is the Neputa Festival in Inakadate.  

For about a month before the festival, everyone in the Hattanda Neighborhood worked very hard in preparation. I too went to help once in a while. Whether I was any help is a different question, but I did go in order to try and help.

The festival lasts a week, but August fourth was the all village parade. This photo was taken just before we started. There are a couple people missing, but it is the main people who build the float.

Thanks for all your hard work!

Monday, May 08, 2006

New Tambo Art Design・新しい田んぼアートのデザイン

Recently Inakadate announced its new Tambo Art design. This will be the art that decorates the rice field outside the Inakadate Village hall for the next summer.

This year's design is the most aggressive yet with four colors of rice and much more detail than previous years. The design is Fujin and Raijin, a pair of Japanese gods.

Please plan on coming to Inakadate to see this great natural landscape art. Best times are from mid-July through August. If you would like to help make this project, the Rice Planting Experience event will happen on the morning of May 28th.

Contact the Village Hall or the village CIR for more information.

Here is a photo of last year's Ukiyoe Tambo Art. It is all done with three varieties of rice. これは去年の田んぼアートの写真です。全部は三種類の稲でできています。

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Fukinoto ・ ふきのとう

One of the sure signs of spring in Japan are the fukinoto, the first plant that comes out in the spring. This plant is translated at “Butterbur” in a dictionary, but the only place I have ever seen them is in Japan, so the only real term I have ever used for them is “fukinoto.”

Just yesterday I saw my first fukinoto in Inakadate. People in Tokyo are enjoying the cherry blossoms already, but here in Aomori, we are just now getting the fukinoto. From this stage when they are cute buds just popped out of the ground, these fukinoto will grow a little taller and bloom with many small yellow flowers. But I like them better immediately when they come up out of the ground.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

A Mouse World ・ ネズミの世界

Spring has finally come to Inakadate. The snow is almost all gone, with just a little remaining in shadowed areas. It is wonderful to have wide roads with no snow on them again. It is surprising to see the village again with no snow and much less vegetation. When I came last July there was already green grass hiding lots of things laying on the ground. Now with the grass dead and the snow gone, you can see everything.

One of the first things that I have noticed is hundreds and thousands of mouse holes and tracks. On my way to and from work every day I walk along the edge of rice field. There in that field, especially on the edge, it looks like a mouse metropolis. Everywhere you look there are holes or little pathways that mice have made or worn during the past winter.

Little did we know that while we were walking or living above the snow, the mice were below it living and prospering in a little world of their own. In a couple weeks or so, the grass will grow or the rain will fall and the mouse world will disappear from view. Some mice might be killed by birds or cats, but many will probably survive. We won’t be able to see the holes and mice anymore, but the mice will probably still be there. I for one will keep this in mind.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Melting Snow ・ 解けている雪

I haven't written about the weather for a while, but it has changed considerably in the last couple of weeks. On February 14th I wrote an entry about all the snow that we were getting here in Inakadate. About that time I think there was about 140 centimeters on the ground and there were mounds of snow everywhere.

People were making regular trips to the river to dump the snow but still snowbanks were getting higher and roads were getting narrower. Had it continued much longer, houses would have started to disappear.

But soon after that, it got warmer and the snow stopped. For a day or two it rained and that was a bad thing. When you add rain to the tons of snow on top of roofs they become really really heavy and there were numerous roofs that collapsed in the area.

But with the rain, warmer temperatures and lots of sunshine, the snow has quickly started to melt. I think now we have less than a third or a quarter of what we had three weeks ago. Now most of the roads are their normal summertime width and the 10 centimeters of packed snow is gone. Now when a little more snow falls, people don't have to struggle to find a place to throw it. Now we can look down onto the rice fields rather than across or up.

Spring is on its way and that's a good thing.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Inakadate's Doll Festival 田舎館のひな祭り

Last Friday was March third. March third in Japan is the day of the Doll Festival. It is a day to celebrate children (especially girls). Most Japanese people do this by putting out a grand display of dolls in their homes.

Of course, the preschools that I teach at all had a beautiful display of dolls as well. In addition to the display, the students at the preschool have a mini tea ceremony on this day. This year I was fortunate enough to be invited to Nishi (West) Preschool for their Doll Festival tea ceremony.

It is quite a grand event. The teachers put out straw mats and the students use real pottery tea bowls. At this preschool, the girls in the oldest class dress up in kimonos and serve tea to the whole school. Interestingly, at this school the oldest class has 14 students, but only 2 of them are girls. So they were two busy little girls.

As the special guest, I too put on a kimono for the big event. Everyone said I looked great, but..... I also had a seat of honor in front of the doll display. The girls served me bitter tea (mixed by the teachers) and we ate sweet candies to balance the flavors a little bit.
特別のゲストとして呼ばれた僕も、着物を着ることになりました。皆さんが「似合うな」とほめてくれましたが、どうでしょう..... そして、皆さんの前、雛様の前の上座で座らせました。年長の2人に先生が混ぜてくれた苦いお茶を飲ませてくれました。苦い抹茶と一緒に着いてくる甘いお菓子も食べるといいバランスになりました。

It was a fun time.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Tofu Making ・ 豆腐つくり教室

It's been a while now, but a couple of weeks ago I participated in a tofu making class at Inakadate Elementary School. I had been at the school a couple of weeks before and had seen the recipe on the table and when I showed interest they invited me to come.

This event was taught by the women of the local agricultural cooperative who (it seems) are pushing domestic bean production these days. It was really quite interesting and very well organized. The beans had been soaked beforehand so all we had to do was start right in.

First we made soy milk by grinding the soaked beans in a blender and boiling the ground bean and water mixture. This we then strained through a mesh bag in order to get soy milk. We also had a bag full of 'lees', the rest of the beans left over after making the milk.

We then took the soy milk and added 'nigari' which I understand is a thickening agent. It immediately reacted with the soy milk and you could see it start to harden. We left it in the bowl for 5 or 10 minutes and then transfered it to a form. The form was lined with cloth and sitting in the sink and we could see the water came off the tofu.
その後、豆乳に「にがり」という固める物を足しました。これがすぐに豆乳と科学的に反応して、固まり始めました。5〜10分ぐらいボールのままで固めておいてから、豆腐の型に移しました。型は流しの中において、型の中に布を入れておいたから、 出てきた水は簡単に捨てることができました。

In another 5 or 10 minutes the tofu was ready. We cut it into enough pieces for everyone and sat down to eat. The students all had their regular lunches so it was a full meal for them. The tofu tasted great and everyone enjoyed it a lot.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Radio Show ・ ラジオ番組

One thing I haven't yet written about is my radio show. Inakadate has a community radio show which broadcasts to the immediate community here. On a good weather day, the radio signal makes it to the surrounding municipalities. The frequency is FM76.3.

My show is broadcast on Saturday nights. I record a one hour show and it is rebroadcast three times at 9pm, 11pm and 1am. I try to make the show pretty free format. There is usually a theme for each show which has something to do with the events of the day or season. Recent themes, for example, have been Valentine's Day, the Winter Olympics, Mardi Gras, and St. Patrick's Day (upcoming).

Then using that theme as a base, I try to play some interesting or related music. Some weeks, for St. Patricks or Mardi Gras it is easy to find good related music. Some weeks, it is more difficult. But in general the one hour program is half music and half talk. The talk is half in English and half in Japanese (basically the same thing translated) so there is really only 15 minutes of content.
そして、そのテーマを基にして、関連している音楽を流します。テーマに合うような音楽を見つけることは簡単な場合(セントパトリック、マーティ・グラーなど)と難しい場合があります。しかし、全般にいうと、普通の番組は半分音楽と半分しゃべりとなっています。そしてしゃべりは半分 英語と半分日本語ですので、番組を計画するのに15分ぐらいの中身を考えださなければなりません。

Doing the show is good fun. I prepare during the week and record the shows on Friday afternoon. The radio station and recording studio is at the village's Michi no Eki (a rest area of sorts) and the people who work there are very nice. Here is a photo of everyone there. Of course it is also fun to hear feedback from people who listen to the show. It seems that many people do listen and it is surprising to hear what they think or remember.

So from now on, if you're in the area on a Saturday night, please be sure to tune your radio to 76.3.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Birdfeeder Making • 餌台つくり

Last Wednesday, the 6th students at Kodenji Elementary School, several students and I got together during one of the English classes and made birdfeeders. It combined some of my favorite activities, woodworking and nature, and was a great experience which I really liked. Here are some of the photos of that day.

The 23 students divided into groups of 4 students and together made 6 birdfeeders. I had prepared most of the materials beforehand. There were about 4 or 5 small cuts that were necessary, but after that, all the students needed to do was drill a few holes and nail and screw the boards together. I write that, but because of all the angle cuts, putting the whole thing together wasn't really easy. Still, everyone did a great job.

This activity is the kind of "internationalization" that I really enjoy. I showed the students photos of the birdfeeders and birdhouses that I made in the USA and talked about some of the things I have made with wood. Through this project I was able to talk to the students individually and get to know a little more about about them.

---------I really had a great time.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Sliding with the Preschool • 保育所とのソリ遊び

Last week on Wednesday I went sliding with the children from Hatakenaka Preschool. The 3, 4 and 5 year old students all got on the village bus at 9:30 and went to the neighborhood village of Soma. There we stopped at the Romantopia Ski Hill.

After we dropped off our bags and other stuff we headed to the hill. We only could slide on one small hill to the side of the main slope. The hill was quite narrow for 70 or so little kids to all slide at one time, but the length was probably good and everyone seemed to have a good time.

After an hour or so of sliding we went into the ski lodge and there we had a good lunch of curry rice and ice cream. All of the children seemed to like it very much. All in all, it was a great time. I was able to slide a lot with the kids, but the other teachers were busy watching kids all morning and afternoon long.

After lunch we went back out on the sliding hill. We stayed out there for about another hour and then caught the bus back to Inakadate. After running up and down the hill so many times, most of the kids were really tired and slept most of the way back.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Beautiful Snow ・ きれいな雪

But the snow isn't all bad. I have seen many beautiful sites here in Inakadate that exist only because of the snow. People complain about the snow, but it is really beautiful too. Because I like to take photos and like the variety, I am enjoy going out and seeing what sites the snow has created for us.

Here are some of the sites I have captured this winter in our village.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Hard Work Shoveling ・ 大変な雪かき

Hopefully the worst is past, but it has been another terrible winter in Inakadate. In the five years I have lived in northern Japan, I had never experienced a white Christmas until this past one. This year the snow started falling about the 10th of December and really hasn't stopped since then.

I think that just about everyone in Inakadate and Aomori is getting tired of the snow. Snow is a lot of work here. In my hometown in Minnesota it snows a lot, but because of the wide lawns and large spaces, there is lots of room to throw it. Here however, houses are close and roads have big walls nearby and there is no place to easily get rid of the snow.

That makes for lots of work. Many people put the snow into a truck and haul it to the river. I often see three or four trucks lined up by the river (which never freezes) with people dumping off snow. It looks like a lot of work and I can't imagine Minnesotans doing it. The other day in Hirosaki, I saw more than 100 trucks lined up.

I also see lots of people shoveling snow off their roofs. Only rarely do I see that in Minnesota and then most often people do it from the ground. I would guess that across Japan this winter, probably 20 people have died falling off their roofs.

I just want to say 'thank you for all your hard work' to the people of Inakadate. Because of this hard work, the environment in which we all live is safe and comfortable.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Rope on Hattanda Torii ・ 八反田鳥居の縄

Just a few days ago I was out walking and decided to go and check on the shrine where we had the Naked Festival on January 1st. On that day we carried the large rope to the shrine (from the community center), had a dedication ceremony in the shrine building and then set the rope on the torii archway just temporarily.
数日前に、散歩に出かけていたたら、1月1 日に参加した裸参りの八幡神社に行って見ようと思いました。その裸参りの時、部落の男の人たちが非常に大きい縄を(会館から)神社まで運びました。神社に着いたら、簡単な奉納式をして、その縄を一時的に鳥居に挙げて帰りました。

I wondered to myself what has happened since then and when I went back a few days ago, I was happy to see the rope was up and tied in its permanent place. I also understood that it isn't a simple matter of tying it up into place. In the day of the festival I wondered why we didn't tie it up that day, but looking at the detail of the knots that bind the rope to the gate, I can understand why we couldn't do it while still naked. I don't know how long it took, but whoever tied it up there in this cold weather must really be something!

It certainly looks great!!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Icicles ・ 氷柱(つらら)

With all the snow Aomori has received in the 6 weeks and temperatures hovering near freezing, Inakadate has become a world of icicles. Most days when the sun shines, the snow melts on rooftops and starts dripping down. When that water hits the eaves and the resulting cooler temperatures (especially at night) they freeze into some huge icicles.

The big ones are great too, but some of the most interesting icicles I have seen happen when the snow slowly slides off the roof, gradually changing the angle of the forming icicles. This then allows the formation of numerous smaller icicles which, more than anything, resemble the teeth of a shark, row after row of sharp spikes ready to do whatever damage they may.

I also discovered that thatched roofs seem to make more and more colorful icicles than metal or tile roofs. These brown and yellow icicles are hanging on one of the village's thatched roof houses.
もう一つの発見ですが、 茅葺きの屋根にできる氷柱がとたん又は瓦の屋根の氷柱よりカラフルであることです。この茶色と黄色の氷柱が村の茅葺きがある家でできているのはすばらしい光景です。

Friday, February 03, 2006

Setsubun ・ 節分

Today is another big day in the traditional Japanese calendar. February 3 is
Setsubun, the day to throw beans at the demons in order to drive them out while at the same time to welcome in good fortune.

And who better to play the part of the demon than a big ugly guy with a beard. Yes, I had the honor of being the demon at the Hatakenaka Preschool here in Inakadate this morning. All of the kids loaded up with handfuls of beans and, while screaming 'Oni wa soto' (out with the demons), 'Fuku wa uchi' (in with the good fortune), threw the beans at the terrible oni.

It seemed to be effective. You could feel a definite increase in the amount of good fortune in Inakadate all afternoon.

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