Farming and Nara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So it has definitely been getting harder to find time to blog.  Both of us have had our hands full during the week and have been trying to get away on the weekends. Andrew has been super busy working on his project here as well as his manuscript from the Vancouver lab as well as trying to keep up with lab duties here like lab baseball tournaments, welcome parties and weekly 3-5 hour long lab meetings all in Japanese that everyone sleeps through.  We had “Golden week” which is a big holiday here where most people get the week off, so I had a break from teaching at the school and most my private students took the week off from lessons as well so I took the opportunity to head to Tahara city and work on an organic farm for the week! This was a really cool experience although hilarious in so many ways.  I met 2 really awesome German girls who were also working there and thank goodness we had each other to laugh with.  The head farmer was probably the clumsiest person I’ve ever seen but so relaxed and laid back and some how managing this huge operation of a bunch of different vegetable crops, pigs, chickens, goats, a farm school for adults, a farm camp for kids, and a bakery.  He spoke no English but wanted to ask us all sorts of questions, of which he would get his wife to translate for him.  His wife spoke a VERY tiny bit of English but he was so interested in us he kept asking us more and more complicated and deep and philosophical questions.  His wife had a dictionary that would translate words for her but she would think about what he was trying to say for so long and then just show me her dictionary with some arbitrary word like “sovereign materialism” and then they’d both look at me with hope and excitement.  She did this multiple times, just coming up to me in the middle of the day showing me random words out of context and waiting for me to respond.  There were a lot of things I really didn’t like about the farm (such as the fact that they had 5 dogs all of which were untrained and needed to be tied up and walked on leashes…on a FARM!), but it was a great experience to be around animals. They raise pigs for meat, and I cannot believe how completely adorable baby pigs start out and how disgusting and morbidly obese they become in 6 months. The other thing that was unfortunate was that most the time we had to work under his farm hand Yoshi, who was a complete jerk! He really hated the three of us for some reason and the week was a constant game for all of us to try and make him laugh or smile.  We never succeeded.  He totally let me make a fool of myself too, on the weekend they have kids camps where all these 8 year old kids from Nagoya come out to spend the weekend on the farm outside playing with animals and do farm stuff…actually one activity we all participated in with the kids was burning a field.  What a great activity, an uncontrolled huge fire spreading rapidly with a bunch of 8 year olds running around feeding it and playing around it.  Especially considering the clumsiness of this farmer let’s just say I almost had heart failure.  Somehow no one was burned, but anyway what a strange activity to have as part of a kids camp.  ANYWAY after playing in the mud and burning fields and planting rice with the kids were all filthy and they have a giant metal tub that you can light a fire underneath.  Apparently it is the type of bath that in ancient times was used to burn people alive.  I’ve read about this happening and a 8 year old girl (the only one who spoke english) translated it for us from the farmer who was gleeful to tell us this.  All the kids jumped in to the big hot bath with their clothes on and so did Yoshi, I thought we were all seizing the moment and being crazy and just having a hot tub on a whim in our clothes.  And since Yoshi is a jerk and refrained from trying to explain anything to me and besides his English isn’t so good, I jumped in wearing my clothes too.  I tried my best not to think about contacting some weird fungus from a metal bath that is ages old and probably never cleaned, and we all played and had a grand old time.  Only when kids started getting out of the bath and changing into the change of clothes that they had all brought with them did I start realizing that I would have to spend the rest of the day sopping wet until Yoshi would drive us back to the house, a 20 min drive away. It was uncomfortable and I felt like an idiot dripping wet for the rest of the day.  At least I had a towel but still.  Anyway the farm let me do a lot of thinking and it was great to get out of the city for a bit and meet some cool characters.  Unfortunately my camera died so I didn’t get to take that many pictures.  Here are two anyway.  I was excited to be near the beach on the farm but unfortunately it was completely covered in garbage and was a bit disappointing.  It was a good sunset anyway!

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Every week we are getting organic vegetables delivered to our apartment from a farm in Gifu.  The farmer and his wife (and their three kids) held a workshop one weekend on how to make homemade miso paste so we both went out to see their farm and make some miso with them.  They were such an adorable family and made Andrew and I want to move to the country and start our own farm!  Making miso was so easy, the hardest part is growing the soybeans and the farmer did that for us! Wouldn’t you believe it though, after you mash the soybeans with salt and fermented rice and press it into a container and cover it with a weight and seal it you have to leave it for 6 months to ferment before you eat.  How convenient, we will be leaving in 6 months from now.  Looks like we are either smuggling 5kg of miso back to Canada with us or else having to eat ALOT of miso the night before we leave Japan.  Anyway it was a really cool experience to see where our vegetables are grown and meet the farmer and his family and learn about how easy it is to make delicious amazing miso by hand (we at least got to try some of the batch they had made 6 months ago).

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We also spent a weekend in Nara, which was one of the most beautiful, interesting and traditional places we have been yet.  It is an ideal place to spend walking around and strolling in their huge beautiful park speckled with deer who are considered sacred and wouldn’t you know it, it was monsooning with rain and we got completely drenched and really didn’t feel like we could fully enjoy the beauty of the area since it was raining so hard.  Now we have to go back!  Nara was the capital int he 8th century and is where Buddhism was established after being brought over from China.  A lot of the buildings have been preserved or rebuilt to reflect this time and a lot of the museums have really amazing artifacts and sculptures from this era.

We went to Todai-ji, which claims to be the largest wooden building in the world.  We were skeptical until we actually say it and we had to admit, it was enormous.  Here is a googled image since it was raining to hard for us to take our camera out:

Despite the rain there were about 50,000 more people here than shown in this picture. Once inside the temple we were really amazed by the Daibutsu, the largest Buddha statue in japan and one of the largest in the world.
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This structure was originally built in 726A.D. to speed the recovery of the ailing Empress Gensho.  Since then it’s been rebuilt due to fires etc. but the current structure dates from 1415.  This giant Buddha is known as Yakushi and is known to have healing powers.  Whether or not building all this stuff for the empress worked in terms of curing her wasn’t mentioned anywhere, but anyway you can’t say they didn’t give it their best shot!  Also, there was a giant hole in one of the pillars of the building and everyone was lining up to crawl through it.  We later learned that the diameter of the whole is the same diameter as the buddha’s nostril and to crawl through it brings good luck.  We didn’t crawl through it but we took the opportunity to laugh at all the people who were trying to and almost getting stuck.
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We sought refuge from the rain in a little tea house in a Japanese garden and tried to appreciate and enjoy the garden from inside while dried off a bit.
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I’ve been reading this book that one of my students recommended to me called the Chrysanthemum and the Sword.  It’s written by a native English speaking cultural anthropologist and it is about the japanese character and personality.  I can hands down say that this book has revolutionized my experience here and made so many things click.  I’m only halfway through it but it has been the key to unlocking so many questions and incongruencies and things that have made me befuddled and left me feeling like I’m living on mars.  If anything I feel like I’m living on mars more than ever since this book is making me realize just how different the way of thinking and mentality is here.  I wont’ go into details since you can read the book on your own if you want but it has applied directly to me in answering questions I’ve had about why people have been so against receiving small gifts of appreciation from us, why married couples seem to be in partnerships rather than in romantic loving relationships, why the other students in my ikebana class feel it necessary to get down on the floor and profusely apologize and excuse themselves repeatedly to my teacher at the end of every Ikebana lesson before they leave, and why Andrew’s secretary felt in necessary to get down on both knees and hold the microphone over her bowed head in a gesture to ask her supervisor to sing one more song at Karaoke. Anyway it has been a fascinating book but instead of feeling like the longer I live here the more normal it seems, it really is the opposite. The more I am gaining insight into this culture the more I’m realizing how drastically different the mentality is.  It is so incredibly fascinating and this is why we came to Japan anyway, to experience something drastically different that in Canada.  I have to say I am quite relieved to be getting  a new perspective.  There’s a load more I want to share but I’ll spare you for now.
This weekend we are heading to the mountains to check out some onsens located in nature in the mountains.  We are going with our Russian friends who I babysit for.  They initially wanted me to babysit so that their son could learn some English but without a doubt I am learning a lot more russian than he is learning english.  I know ‘ne delayu’, ‘net’, and ‘Otpusti menya’, which mean: ‘don’t do that’, ‘No!’ and ‘put me down.’  Anyway hopefully it’s not as hot as it has been recently, I’m not sure how comfortable it will be to sit in a hot tub when it’s 32 degrees celsius out, but I guess we will find out–cross your fingers for rain this weekend!
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