February 11, 2015
In the old days, February 3, setsubun, was the Japanese New Year. The day marked the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Despite the intervening centuries, even skill now in 2015, households (including kitchengardenjapan) go all anti-Gregorian, and celebrate the day by ushering good luck into the house, and casting evil ogres cast out. Out with the bad (ogre, winter) and in with luck and fortune (spring).*
It’s a very interesting concept, an echo of an agricultural ancestry, but it’s also unfortunately one that most Japanese – those that live in the big cities certainly – have lost a connection to. They don’t spot the uguisu in the ume tree, and they simply can’t forage for hukinoto – perhaps long ago the first green edible of spring – as their ancestors used to. Three simple, natural signs of spring, dating back centuries; an all-natural trifecta, coming round year in, year out. A sign of better times and uplifted spirits for those still alive after the ravages of the hungry, cold winter. A sign from history.
You can still see these signs in the countryside, but for me, it’s always best in The Orchard, as you can see them all at the same time. You can tick them one, two, three off yer list, nod into a steady breeze coming in from Pirate’s Bay, say with certainty that the winter is over, and smile (lips closed) that spring has come.***
* Using dry, daizu beans, which is tolerable when thrown by infants and barely durable/borderline domestic violence when thrown by wives.
** uguisu is a green Japanese bushwarbler with a disctinctive cry, ume is a Japanese apricot tree, and hukinotou is butterburr, whose heads are eaten now, and whose stalks shall be foraged in the coming months.
***(better make a move on!)
As a general rule, kitchengardenjapan usually writes about the Good Things in life. There’s enough bad news out there, don’t need it here. Sunshine and lollipops all the way. Recent events in the Middle East, however, specifically the slaying of the two Japanese by ISIL, tempt me to write this one off opinion piece.
In my opinion, Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan, is responsible for the murders of Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto. He wanted these men to die. He’s happy with the outcome, that “the nightmare, for Japan, has begun”.
October: The 2 are captured
Early January: Abe goes to the Middle East, promising $200 million in humanitarian aid and to fight terrorism in the region.
ISIL releases a video of the hostages, demanding, strangely enough, $200 million for their release. Japan says “no”.
Haruna Yukawa is apparently killed, Goto holding a picture of his corpse to the cameras. The initial reaction of shock turns quickly to shrugs as more details of his life emerge; he had been homeless, had tried to cut his genitalia off, had a phantom security consulting business despite having no experience in the field. He had changed his given name to the feminine-sounding Haruna. Most Japanese have little sympathy for the mentally ill.
The ransom demand then changes: Goto and a downed Jordanian pilot to be exchanged for a failed female suicide bomber being held by Jordan. Japan pays lip service and says it is doing it’s best, but basically says the ball is now in the Jordanians court, powerless we are, poor us.
The Jordanians demand proof-of-life from ISIL as the deadline approaches. There is no proof of life as the pilot had already been burned alive.
The deadline passes, Goto, a nice guy with a wife and kids is killed, the “nightmare” begun. The Japanese populace reel with shock and disbelief.
This, I believe, is the outcome that Abe wanted. He’s a hawk, saddled with a pacifistic constitution that he wants to change. With the Japanese people in shock and frightened, looking for strong leadership, I believe Abe will use this crisis – that he in part engineered by specifically mentioning the terrorists in his humanitarian aid deal – to change Japan into a more militaristic country. I believe this was not an oops! faux pas, this was calculated decision to anger ISIL and create the following carnage, the nightmare. And his timing is perfect – the Tokyo Olympics are but a mere 5 years away. Just enough time to erode civil liberties, increase surveillance, whip up more fear and make the nation a bigger military player on the world stage.
Good for the economy, I suppose. Gotta keep it rolling, especially as his Abenomics fiscal policies have been a spectacular failure.
Anyway, just an opinion. Might be lucky to have one a few years hence.
When The Snow Melts
Or almost melts, the property remains romantic as ever. Wife move over, I’ve a new love.
Cleaning, getting the thing running again (top of the list lies a generator), and preventative maintenance will cost an arm, if not a leg. Refurbishing the interior might cost another limb or two. Doing it up to the specs it deserves may cost a marriage.
So it’s a Good Thing there’s no mobile reception, no neighbours, no GPS, and there’s a kiln on site. Wild boar can take care of the rest ;)
The Mikan Chronicles, Part VII: If You Can’t Beat ‘Em…
Strap in for another hair-raising, rollercoaster ride!!!!
Kitchengardenjapan has chronicled plans of purchasing a mikan empire 6 times now, sometimes in hope, more often in despair. You have to know when you’re beaten, and I’m throwing hands up. It’s time to give in, move on.
The Orchard is full, The Kitchengarden newly available, The Big Field time consuming, a nightmare to weed and a drive away. Something’s got to give, and it’s the latter. The Big Field is to become The Big Orchard. Trees take far less time than vegetables.
A recent raid of a JA matsuri – a good place to buy trees, as the sellers are open to negotiation – brought home 20 saplings, a mix of miyakawahayawase* (now there’s a mouthful!) mikan and Meyer lemon for a winter crop, and dekopon for summer. Interestingly enough, these latter two share an interesting history – one having only last year being permitted to be exported to Japan, and the other a new other way hit now grown in California, where it’s known as sumo (and sells for a song).
Between the trees has gone a wildflower mix (we all need flowers in our hair once in a while), to hopefully keep the weeds down, and come March perhaps a few vegetables, too. The remainder of the The Big
Field Orchard not devoted to asparagus is going to get a break whilst we plot, and vegetable production is going to be conducted within reach of a beer in the kitchen garden.
It’s a good decision, I think, the right one. Time (that most precious of commodities, and the lack of a primary impetus behind this move), will tell.
*Harvestable in December, before the crows start getting really hungry.
Into Thin Air
Up in the mountains, where the wind whips and whistles, and the trees, sentinel, gently moan, lies a project.
Perhaps the next adventure. Way Up There. In the thin, very cold air. A retreat of sorts, an opportunity. Off the grid, no mobile phone reception, bears and boars the only visitors.
Empty it stands. Waiting to be warm again.
Kitchengardenjapan should find out soon how much, or preferably how little, the widow wants.
Better Out Than In
Pretty much every day, at even the tiniest botty poof, Mrs. Kitchengardenjapan will shriek “Disgusting!” to which I usually counter, as I was brought up to do, “Better out than in.” and receive an “I give up” roll-of-the-eyes and shake of the head. A recent shriek, however, was a little more serious. She’d spotted what turned out to be a tumor on my back. Yikes.
A trip to the local specialist diagnosed it as nothing nastier than a benign golf ball sized 5-year-old shit-happens aberration of dead skin and fat. I could have just left it there to grow but Quasimodo just ain’t kitchengardenjapan’s style. Out came the scalpels.
A 40-minute, toe-curling surgery under local anesthetic got the bugger out. A nasty-looking, alienesque blob very much better out than in. Those of a squeamish disposition may want to look away now.
So a new experience and another scar for the collection. Sumo, citrus and scalpels. The excitement never stops in countryside Japan.
And I maintain my stance on the farts. It’s a cultural thing, I suppose.
Christmas Decorations 2014
This being Japan, the day after Halloween marks the beginning of the Christmas mercantile push (must keep that economy moving). Already, the shops are full of tat, jingle bells are ringing in the supermarkets and nutters are lighting up their houses of an evening.
Wa no kokoro* (and all that), kitchengardenjapan has again got its baubles on display. Call us crazy, but there’s more this year than ever. Persimmons, lemons, mikan, hassaku and seville oranges, kumquats, hana yuzus and mini yuzus, not to mention pink bananas (!) are all taking on colour and lighting up The Orchard. Crisp, mosquito-less air, azure blue skies, a leisurely harvest, barbecue smoke, and when the day is done, celebratory sunsets makes this the season that brings out the best in this quiet corner of the world.
Ho. Ho. Ho.
* “In the spirit of harmony”. Which basically means smilingly going along with anything your “seniors” (at home or at work) might suggest. Towards the end of the year – bonenkai drinking season – this usually means pouring your supervisor drinks and listening to him croon karaoke long after you want to go home.