Thursday, November 30, 2006

Japanese culture

When I first started writing this blog I thought of it as a good way to let my family know what was happening in the garden here without having to write the same thing over and over to many different people. What I have since discovered is that there are many people now reading it who are interested in the Japanese lifestyle etc. a lot more than the gardening. So, while my cousin is here I will try and introduce some of the things that we are seeing each day. Of course we need to do a little work in the garden each day before our sightseeing adventures - today was the planting of what felt like zillions of lettuce seedlings and red onions........
After our active morning we took a trip to "Usa Shrine", which is only about 10 minutes from my house and has a history of over a thousand years. It is one of the largest shrines in the area and when there are no bus tours etc. it is a really nice place to just wander around. In very general terms there are two forms of religion in Japan - shinto (related to the shrines) and buddhism (related to the temples). Before I go any further I would just like to say that I am not an expert on Japanese religion etc. so don't ever quote what I have written as a fact..... but, as far as I understand ... outside every shrine is a "tori gate" - the gate at this shrine is unusual in that it has black rings around the top of the vertical pillars. This is to symbolise that both the shinto and buddist gods are present in this area - something which is very unusual in Japan. In effect it means that originally there was a temple and shrine on the same site (this is a fact as told to me by a local man wearing no shoes today).
As you enter any shrine you will find a place to wash your hands and cleanse your mouth (if you feel the need...). Although not everyone does it - I think it is a sign of respect to follow this tradition before entering the shrine area.

When you finally reach the main shrine (there are quite a few steps to go up first...) there are areas where you can throw money and then pray for happiness, good health etc. In fact there are many different areas where you can do this - I'm not sure if your luck increases if you pray at them all.... The Japanese have no problem at all with people from other religions etc. coming to their shrines etc. and are very happy to talk about what they are doing.

After praying you can check out your fortune by buying a "fortune slip" which gives you a ranking - after reading it you should not take it away with you as that will bring bad luck. Fortunately they have places for you to tie it on to. I think in the past most people just tied it onto the closest tree branch, but the trees began to protest....

Anyway, that is a very brief explanation of Usa shrine - for more details come and visit it in person......

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Wow - now I know how to find out who is reading my blog! Thank you all so much for your input into the logo design. It is great to have so many comments - both through the blog and by mail. The front runners at the moment seem to be numbers 7, 3 and 1.... hopefully we will decide soon and then we can start making lots of fun things with it!

Japan is a country of 4 seasons.
Japanese people don't get very many holidays (or they do, but don't take very many holidays).
Those two facts combined mean that at this time of year the whole of Japan seems to be out in the weekend "driving" in an attempt to see the beautiful autumn colours. The way to do it is as follows....
1. Pack yourself a lunch
2. Drive a long way
3. Drive through a pretty part of the countryside at a snail's pace (this is compulsory as there are so many other cars doing the same thing)
4. Stop in one place, take a photo
5. Eat your lunch in the car while driving (it has gotten so late and there are no car parks anywhere)
6. Drive all the way home

Or of course you could do the other option and take one of the zillions of bus tours to do the same... This year we will give it a miss (I wonder why??) but here are some photos that others have taken. The colours of the autumn leaves really are beautiful - it's just the mass movement that I don't enjoy!

Monday, November 27, 2006


Some people are blessed with great design sense.... I am not one of them! This is my cousin Emma (well it was her about 20 years ago...) and luckily for me she is one of the blessed ones! She has just designed a whole lot of logos for us to look at. I gave her the impossible task of combining - the cottage, nature, Japan and New Zealand.... and I think she did a great job. Here is a selection of my favorites. Now we just need to choose one or a combination of them. Any comments, suggestions, favorites etc. welcome. Thanks Emma!






Saturday, November 25, 2006

Here at last

This is it - the permit which will allow us to legally host up to four people at a time at Kiora Cottage. It seemed like a very long process to get it, but now that we have finally received it I feel motivated to start making promotional materials etc. and get our new business underway. Another of my cousins is designing a logo for us too so hopefully by the end of the year we should have started working on pamplets etc. Of course now I just need to find some spare time to do it, but it is fun to dream!
There have been a few phonecalls from people who saw the article in the paper and would like to come and stay. No dates have been set yet, but it will be nice to get some guests and start running the business properly. We just need to find some way of attracting guests during the week rather than all in the weekends.... any suggestions welcome!

The little tractor that could

My cousin Hannah is coming on Tuesday to stay for a while. I was planning to give her a treat just after she arrived - a day in the rice fields collecting up all the hay... but fortunately for her we finally got around to doing it today - with the help of my father-in-law. The plan was to load the piles of hay that we had made earlier into the little truck and then make one big pile which will hopefully decompose in time and by spring we will have some great mulch for the garden.
Unfortunately however when I was in Australia there was a lot of rain so the ground was a little muddy, causing the little white truck to get stuck. No problem - my father-in-law has two little white trucks (you can never have enough little white trucks in Japan) so we got the other little white truck and started to pull the first little white truck out. Only then the second little white truck got stuck too so we had to call in the big blue tractor. Eventually the tractor pulled the two little white trucks out and after quite a lot of carting via wheelbarrow we managed to get the rest loaded into the truck and into the pile. The kids had a great time jumping on the pile - nothing like making a job that needs to be done into entertainment!
Don't worry Hannah - there are still PLENTY of jobs waiting for you....


Sorry for the lack of posts lately. After my trip to Australia last week I seem to have been spending all my spare time doing things like making costumes for the children's end of year production, cleaning the kitchen etc. It wasn't until this morning that I finally got outside to see the state of the garden etc. Growth is definately slowing as the temperatures drop. Good growth on the cucumbers in the tunnel house, spinach, daikon, turnips, lettuces, raspberries carrots etc. but I think I may be forced to pull out the remaining tomatoes, peppers and okra - they don't seem to enjoy the cold temperatures so much!
I will try and write a proper report about my trip to Australia later, but in summary... it was really great. I guess the areas we learned about can fit into 3 basic categories:
  1. Tourism in general - it was good to be able to show the Japanese members that it is much more fun to actually participate in things rather than just sit and watch them....
  2. Community development - great ideas for bringing the community together and helping those in need.
  3. Farm stay hosting - good insights into how to make farm stays relaxing for guests while not imposing on the hosts too much.
Highlights for me..... a glass of wine at sunset with no children around my feet, shopping for weetbix, beautiful beaches, wonderful hosts and in general a relaxing time.

Monday, November 13, 2006

One Week "holiday"

Tomorrow morning at 5am I will leave for Australia (well for Beppu then Fukuoka then Singapore then Australia...) for one week. Of course when you add the travelling days it ends up only being 5 nights in Australia, but I'm not complaining. After being so busy for the last couple of weeks even an airplane seat looks attractive!
I am going as part of a group of 10 people from my town, Yamaga, who are interested in promoting "Green Tourism" here. We will be going to two different areas - Maleny in Queensland and the Tweed area in New South Wales. Today I finally got around to researching the areas a little more (I have plenty of information in Japanese...) and for anyone interested here are a few links I found. Sorry I don't have time to summarise the areas - I'll let you know more about it when I get back. There are many more links if you are interested - just search for Maleny or Jill
It looks like at least a few people have read our article in the newspaper - we had 2 phone calls yesterday from friends who saw it and then when I went shopping today I was stopped twice by strangers and told that they saw me in the paper. The inspectors also came today and it looks like they will overlook our slightly "illegal" sewerage tank and we should have our permits to start taking guests by the time I get back from Australia - fingers crossed!

Time to think about packing - it seems much easier when I don't have to worry about packing for the children too! See you in a week's time....

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Strange creatures

I still haven't had time to get into the garden this weekend, but I did have time to quickly snap some photos of Japan's equivilent of the Loch Ness Monster on my way to work this morning. These "creatures" appear near one of the local schools mysteriously every autumn and conveniently disappear before rice planting preaparation the following year. I think they are based on a famous cartoon here called "Tottoro" - but I could be wrong... A little bit of fun in the middle of nowhere!
Tomorrow the inspectors are finally coming to check out Kiora Cottage to see if it is suitable for guests - good timing as the article finally appeared in the paper today - a little later than planned - apologies to anyone looking for it on the 3rd..... I guess I should go and make sure the soap is in the right place and take the fire extinguishers out of their boxes.....

Friday, November 10, 2006


Does anyone else have weeks where you are just so busy that you don't even have 5 minutes to sit down for a cup of coffee? This week has been like that for me. Combinations of outdoor education programs, meetings at kindergarten, teaching at primary schools etc. has meant that I haven't had one minute to go into the garden. The result.... lots of vegetables ready for eating, but seedlings in desperate need of watering (as is the rest of the garden...).
The tunnel house is now starting to produce results - the first zucchinis were picked today and the cucumbers, gherkins and tomatoes are also coming along well (as long as you don't take any notice of the mildew on the leaves....). The pickles have also been left to their own devices and I finally got around to removing them this morning. Not too bad for a first try!
Next week I will go to Australia for a week to study about farm tourism etc. Never has a plane seat looked more attractive!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Mixing the Arts

Today I participated in a "festival" in Oita City. My friends sold smoked cheese, smoked daikon, chicken etc. and I sold jam! I think I sold over 50 jars so not a bad day for me really. My friends on the other hand didn't really bother to cost anything out, ate a lot of their own products and went home making a pretty big loss. But, the thing about this festival was that making a profit was not the main purpose. It was a festival run by the art muesum and rather than having a whole lot of stalls in one area everyone was spread out in driveways, garages, houses etc. over about a 500 metre area. People were given a map of the area with a description and location of the stalls on it and they all wandered around in the beautiful weather looking at people's art, buying food, having their faces painted etc. There were live music performances at different places and it was interesting to watch the huge variety of people who were out and about. Lots of families as well as older couples etc.
All in all it was a fun day - everyone just enjoying each others company - a great way to combine music, art, food and of course walking!
I also learnt a great way to cook spare ribs in the dutch oven - 10 parts coca-cola, 5 parts soya sauce and 5 parts soda water..... strange but very tasty!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Family fun

We now have two different kinds of pets at our house. Goldfish (courtesy of a Japanese festival) and..... worms! We have been talking about making a worm farm for a long time but have never quite got as far as actually making it. However today the children decided it was time to try and with the help of the Christchurch City Council's great homepage we ripped lots of newspaper, wet it, added some straw and rotted compost and then went searching for worms. The kids thought it was great fun - although they did leave the big ones for me to collect! They also thought it was great fun feeding the worms too - here's hoping the enthusiasm continues!
It is definately not the most wonderful worm farm ever made, but hopefully it will be a start and as the worm numbers increase we can make better and bigger farms. Any worms welcome!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Pickled mustard stage 2

This morning my mother in law walked me through the process of pickling the mustard leaves....
1. Take the wilted leaves and.....

2. Sprinkle them with salt.

3. Knead, knead and knead them some more until a reasonable amount of water comes out of them.

4. Put them neatly into a plastic container (tops and bottoms lined up together) and......

5. The most important step - put lots of rocks on top to press down on the leaves and help to bring out more water from the leaves. In one or two days the container should be filled with green water (yum!) and then the leaves will be ready.... I'm not sure how keen I am to eat them, but I guess the neighbours might enjoy them!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Preserving the past

A while ago I wrote an entry about my grandma. This is one of my other grandma's - my Japanese grandma. Unfortunately she also died about 2 years ago, but like my New Zealand grandma she also had a big influence on my life here in Japan. She was incredible lady who managed to leave an impression on everyone she met - even when no one was speaking the same language. I think everyone remembers her for her great smile.
She was 88 when she died, but right up until she went into hospital she was in the garden - growing vegetables mainly to give away to everyone else. That was her life - growing and giving vegetables to others. In fact she was so efficient in the garden and so healthy that no one bothered to ask her about the secrets of her success, how she preserved the vegetables etc. Now that she has died there is no way to get those secrets.

Keeping that in mind I am now determined to try and learn as much as I can from the older people around here (there are definately no shortage of them around here...) and try to make a record of some of the traditional ways of preserving vegetables etc in this area (the methods seem to vary a lot in each area).
Japan has a huge number of "pickles" - they are not like the gherkin kind of pickles, but often just vegetables preserved using salt, miso etc. I am starting to learn the art with "takana" - a kind of leaf mustard which is often preserved with chillis etc. to give it a spicy flavour. I grew lots in spring this year too, but didn't know what to do with them so most of them ended up in the compost heap! Following my mother-in-law's directions carefully (she made a big mess of them 2 years ago and consulted an elderly lady in the area last year to learn the proper method) I carefully cut them and laid them out to "wilt" today - one day in the shade seems to be enough to change the healthy, crisp leaves into floppy, not-so-delicious looking blobs.
Tomorrow I need to get my muscles working and "knead" them with salt.... it should be yet another interesting experience!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Another Article

Today another article about "Kiora Cottage" was published. This time it was in a monthly Community Press called "Josei Oita" - meaning "women in Oita". Although it doesn't have the same volume of readers as the newspaper, the readers are all the kind of people who will hopefully be interested in coming to stay and "play" here. It will be interesting to see if it gets a response.
My husband has vowed not to come home from work tonight until he has completed all the paperwork for the cottage.....I wonder when we will see him next! I think my threat of accepting guests even if the proper permits hadn't been received was a little too much for him to cope with!
Now if only I could actually get some time to sit in my window seat and admire the view while reading my book and drinking coffee.....