Friday, February 26, 2010


Each year at around this time I start experiencing fantasies that have to do with vegetables - no not like that, get your mind out of there - more like maybe I'll grow some yellow crooknecks this year and order some wax bean seeds, put in some zucchini, some acorn squash and of course a few butternuts, some corn too yes a couple rows of corn, to say nothing of tomatoes and cucumbers and what would really be good would be some of those wait a minute Bob you're getting vegedelerious, get a grip, how many fingers am I holding up, let's not get carried away here you don't have the entire mountainside to plant, it's just a few dozen square meters you got out there, with already spinach and chard in the ground, onions and garlic, turnips as well, and Japanese veggies, get hold of yourself put down that catalog, those catalogs too, and those-- Walk around don't run, take some deep breaths and don't forget there are bugs and monkeys you're supporting out there and -- I don't know who's doing the talking, some inner therapist who's always hanging around trying to keep me on some ridiculously rational path and sure enough, the commonly agreed reality slowly creeps back into my seed-filled brain, I shake my head it seems to rattle like a decorative gourd, I rub my eyes to clear my vision; I look at the calendar and sure enough it's right about the same time as it was last year when this happened, same point every time, just on the cusp of Spring, same sort of thing used to happen when I was a kid, I'd get kind of a groggy fever of unspecified desire that would clarify in those younger, suitably objectiveless years into marbles or yoyos, and since I was regularly fed by others I could care less about things like seeds and planting and growing stuff you could buy right now but instead wait MONTHS for, are you kidding me, and flowers? no way, what would the guys think, you crazy? That was how it was back then, but Spring ever has that effect on the mind and this year now that I'm at the promontory of life with these delightfully chronic views I'll settle for my usual garden stuff plus a little something new, though in addition I think I'll maybe I'll plant some of these and these... sorry can't chat anymore gotta order some seeds now where did I put all those catalogs...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


By Alfonso Farsari

Gion/Shijo, 1886

The earlier Kinkaku-ji, 1886

Monday, February 22, 2010


Living up here you get much closer to folks than you do in the crowded city, getting to know someone takes time and there's less time in the city, each person gets a picosecond if noticed; involvement is deeper when there are fewer, as there are up here, we're sort of united by our scarcity.

What got me started on this was a recollection I just had about Mr. and Mrs. T., who lived in town where they had an old family business, but had a house up here in the mountains where they spent most of time after he retired. I often used to see them out in their sloping garden by the pond, a beautifully detailed garden in every season-- they were out there planting, trimming, raking, picking tree litter out of the moss, taking care of their place, making it elegant, keeping it neat like a clear mind, which such activity helps impart to the doer.

When we first bought this land I used to see them walking all around up here. They'd walk very slowly arm in arm, leaning on their canes because they were quite advanced in age, but a couple times a day they'd go on long walks together, often passing through our property, and I miss seeing them. They took good care of their little corner of the world, which is one of the things we should all do while we're here in this tremulous paradise...

'Taking care of my little corner of the world'... I know that's a bit naive, I know that there are problems with crowding, hunger and poverty, but the solution that is equity and peace can only be achieved by each of us honoring our little corner of the world, taking good care of it, sharing what it gives us and leaving it better than we found it...

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Had an old wooden chest of drawers that we bought in a secondhand shop 30 years ago in Kyoto when we first moved here from Spain, took it with us when we moved out here to PLM 15 years ago and finally wore it out, put it outside to chop slowly into kindling for the woodstove, till the two remaining drawers wound up sitting under a big old cedar like at any old frugal countryside household where you don't throw anything organic away until one way or another it becomes compost, so when I decided this year to try and start some seeds early (pre-frost) in a sort of hot box-- now what could I use for a hot box? Those drawers started jumping up and down saying Me! Me!

So I put the potted seeds in one of the drawers and set that drawer atop the other, tilted the structure southerly toward the sun and covered it with some thick plastic sheeting weighted down on top with some square wooden posts, the posts in turn weighted down with bricks to keep the wind from blowing the whole pro-tem bradyrig away, and it has worked quite well, as far as that goes, which so far isn't too far, because as regards my deeply considered design algorithm (subsequently tweaked for rain accumulation) I hadn't accounted for Delta, the deer factor...

I hadn't realized how searchingly curious deer are at this verdant-edge time of year, how eager they are to learn what this two-legged borrower of their territory is doing with the property these days... Of course they remember the delicious greens we once so kindly provided for them in convenient pots, so when they come browsing along in their nightly wanderings and behold this new contraption they say to themselves What kind of goody has my servant put out for me this time? And poking their several noses down into the plastic sheeting to probe and sniff, only to find nothing but soil in pots, they realize once again that these two-leggers really don't have a clue about how to prepare deer food; Look at all that spinach placed completely out of our reach behind those nets: what kind of consideration is that? To say nothing of this garnish of bricks.

I really should mend my ways.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Groove in a vinyl record, as viewed through an electron microscope.

Sort of makes me wonder what earthshakingly great guitar riff,
recorded in The Big Studio,
was laid down long ago as the Grand Canyon...

In the photo beneath this shot on the linksite
digital recording looks like
wimpy nanobreadsticks, in contrast...
via reddit

Friday, February 19, 2010


Yesterday when they were repaving our road to make it look more like a road than something out of Huck Finn, which is great for a road as a form of literature, I've got nothing against that, Mark is a man dear to my heart, but from the beginning of living up here I had to motorcycle that road early in the morning and late at night, which - apart from a couple of accidents due to the burden of residual youth - became no problem once my autopilot had memorized the road's quirks and pitfalls.

For lack of deep inquiry I had come to believe that the roadway (which is half ours as it passes our property) was the collective property of the original cooperative, and so would never be paved again in the history of the world unless the few of us living up here coughed up a few million yen each, which basically meant never, so I never asked.

But here it was all of a sudden being repaved (I'm now curious about how that came to be), the big dump trucks full of asphalt backing slowly up the steep grade (some with lady drivers!) past my window to get to where the pavers were starting to work near the top of the road; then the empty trucks would freeroll all the way back down along that enjoyably scenic curvy road, an infrequently used byway that was brand-new to the drivers and a lot of fun to zig and zag down along, especially when free after trucking all morning with a dead heavy load in back. It's like flying at that point, careening playfully down the long mountainside like a vertical Le Mans or something, which was what one of the drivers in the throes of the little-known 'unladen dumptruck rapture' finally did-- i.e., fly.

It was right where you most expect to fly when you're speeding down, by the last slow curve in the forest there, where the road suddenly opens from the trees to that tricky quick zigzag through the last of the lower paddies, which were laid out way back when, (a thousand years or more ago would be no surprise) and then not for the ease of a road at all, but for the ease of creating a paddy by hand out of the mountain landscape, so a thousand years later that fact might well be a problem for a bored truck driver having a bit of driving fun, so it was no real surprise that just after Echo left for the big village down south along the Lake she phoned me to say that a big truck had not zagged after the fifth zig and so had launched itself into the air over the first rice paddy on the right side of the road and had landed upside down in the middle of the second paddy on the right side of the road, and now the road was filled with police cars, workers, tow trucks and onlookers from all over who had come to see what happens when a truck flies down a mountain, and because of seat belt, air bag and soft paddy mud, it didn't look like anyone was hurt much.

Goes to show though that you just never know: some days, on some roads, are just like that truck, so no matter how professional you think you are, keep your hands on the wheel and enjoy the ride, but not too much; let your wishes fly if they want to, but follow the road.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


“…toward the harmonious coexistence of the natural environment and human beings.” I saw this boilerplate phrase earnestly stated in some corporate or governmental (is there a discernible difference?) periodical the other day, the implication being that in achieving such harmony we are erasing some stubborn barrier between us and the natural world, that through noble corporate and governmental efforts we will set things right at last and get nature - the intractable counterparty to this annoying difficulty - back on track, as though the harmony we seek is a state that is somehow--unnatural, that only we, as the intelligent creatures of earth, can realize such harmony (for the first time in history), and that nature is at least half the problem.

Not a hint that the stuff up to neck level is our own, when the truth is that prehistory we came in to this world very much in harmony with it - in fact, of it - and have since screwed it up immeasurably by our greed and selfishness and species narcissism, for centuries admiring ourselves in the sullied rivers, viewing our achievements reflected in conquest and industrial smoke, enthralled by our progress in the clearcut or uniformly and economically replanted forests and paved rivers, are we not wondrous creatures, now let us get busy and fix nature, get it into harmony with us and our ambitions.

The fact is, though, as that tricky little self-delusional phrase shows, we aren’t really budging an inch, and never will, until either nature just can't take it anymore, or we acquire true intelligence.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


In this slow part of winter, as we're waiting for the big hinge to turn, I thought I'd take advantage of the brief lull to ramble on a bit about the fact that those who live in the city have few such educational experiences, but if you live in or next to the woods you soon get to know all the resident bugs on a personal basis (any day now) because they all come to visit you at one time or another, bringing family and friends to introduce to every aspect of your house and garden (the bug family is a big one), hang around your lights and meals and get personal, quickly wearing out what little welcome they might have, except in a few instances, like ladybugs, lightning bugs, crickets and butterflies.

So in the country, bugs become pretty thoroughly intimate with their human counterparts. The city dweller, by contrast, when buzzed by a bug on a bus for example tends to cringe away, hands waving, because the creature is a complete stranger and intruder, whereas the country dweller in the city recognizes it, because it or its relative has been to his house before, and he relates accordingly.

For example, there's the hinged bug our cat caught once, that was fascinatingly iridescent down its beetly back, it seemed to be in three segments, maybe - including antennae - ten centimeters long, and that as far as I could tell rubbed the segment edges together to make a kind of intimidating hissing sound, which sure didn't intimidate the cat, but it probably works on other bugs, and it certainly worked on me, I wouldn't touch the thing, but if I meet its like on the subway at least we won't be unacquainted, whereas a city dweller being a complete stranger to such a creature might faint dead away (though bugs of this type tend to shun the city as unrewarding to their kind, which requires trees, genuine soil and relatives in ample numbers).

Bugs themselves keep no record of having met you; the social aspects all have to be taken care of on your side, so that a chance meeting isn't a total surprise (I never forget a face), as nearly all such occasions (excepting the cockroach et al.) are for the poor city dweller, who after all coined the verb 'to bug'.

Now back to prepping for the big hinge.

Monday, February 15, 2010


The way the kinmokusei trees move in the strong freshening wind you can tell they've just realized the first edge of Spring; their movements are no longer stiff and unwilling - snow-shedding, as before - but softening, stretching, somehow greener and more alive, once again in sync with the earth and its activities; much like me. They even seem a bit playful with each other, like baby animals are. As I watch them I feel that feeling in myself, somehow...

Even the curled brown leaves of last year that have been lying apathetically in the field across the road since autumn are now whirling giddily in the road like a spontaneous Maypole dance with airy ribbons, a merry-go-round of all the whirling ring dances that have always celebrated the return of Spring, warmth and life from the land.

You really gotta watch it these days, there are performances everywhere.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Here I am back on my intercultural soapbox, and it's about food again, but this time it's not about Japanese cheesecake, bagels, donuts, ice cream, cherry pie, whatever on the long list, this time it's about Japanese food by Modern Japan, where the fast food is, vs. Japanese food by Ancient Japan, where the slow food is. I don't mean to be judgmental here, just mental.

It started out in the usual curious innocence, pretty much the same kind as enjoyed by Adam and Eve back in the day. I was in the supermarket and noticed that the national food conglomerate known as "House" had, in addition to its everywhere tubes of wasabi (Japanese horseradish) kurashi (sinusidal mustard) and shoga (ginger), had a new tube, of-- yuzukosho!

The more attentive readers hereof will remember one of my posts mentioning yuzukosho, how ineffably great it is etc. (Blogger (owned by Google!) has effectively obscured my other yuzukosho posts with its stellar blog search system; maybe I'll do some blogoarchaeology later if I have time.) Well, in those posts I was praising a local product, but here before me was a curiosity-arousing new corporate approach, so as a big fan of the incredible condiment I impulsively bought a tube just to try it out; maybe it would be good. And maybe I'd see Elvis in the snack section.

I put some of the suitably green paste on my rice that evening, took a mouthful and began savoring and -- puzzling -- as though I'd been driving a Lamborghini for a few years and now for some reason I was sitting in a cardboard box going rmmm rmmm. Only this was mainly salty. Traditional yuzukosho, though hot and zesty, is salty too, the original purpose being to preserve the flavorsome blend of yuzu peel and hot peppers, the cured flavor blending in infinite detail with the saltiness into something god is obviously proud of.

What I was tasting at the moment, though, was a corporate committee approach to one of the most exciting condiments on the planet. Corporate approaches to anything that fine are almost by definition never exciting; think artificial truffles. They may be spelled with the same letters of the alphabet and even be somewhere near the continent on which the ballpark of excitement is located, but with an undertaste of marketing factors, demographics, averages, means, nets and grosses, and an overtaste of processing rationalizations, preservatives, overhead etc.

It is an approach that steps on no toes, leaves no stone turned etc., in this case as if the mild stuff in the tube was for the tongues of the Usher family, for those of you who have read Poe. For those who haven't, get the stuff in the tube. You can get it fast, in any supermarket in the country, and squeeze it out fast, onto your fast rice. Compare this to the old way, which is "We have to preserve these peppers for the winter. Let's show those pansies in the next village what we can do eh? Let's make life more worth living, wake these mothers up some-- Whoa! Now that should be some fun around the old communal table, eh?" Followed by about a thousand years of grandmotherly tweaking.

Guess which type I prefer. And Japan is doing this to itself! If this product is still on supermarket shelves a year from now, this ancient culture is in newer trouble than I thought.


[Added later: The bottle on the left in the photo, containing yuzukosho by Fujishin, a Kyushu shoyu maker, is the best I've tasted; beats every other version I've found so far, and that's quite a few, including the Fundokin brand mentioned in the Wikipedia link.]

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


This explains a lot.



The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that a corporation's principal place of business is where the executive's work (HQ), not where the company does business. The practical effect of this ruling is that it will now be more difficult to sue corporations in state courts, which are often more plaintiff-friendly than federal courts.

Monday, February 08, 2010


Sunday, February 07, 2010


"HEAVY SNOWFALL VINDICATES BRADY DESIGN!" reads the Yours Truly Mental Gazette headline this morning, as the publisher himself went out into the snowburied garden to see if his spinach, onions, garlic, chard, carrots, shirona, shungiku etc. were flattened as they had been in all the previous years' heavy snowstorms, which data he had thus far been unable to obtain because Winter has been on Spring vacation since Autumn. (Oh. It snowed heavily during the night.)

In previous years, even though I had used tunnels with strong fabric over sturdy hoops of bamboo and metal and whatever I could get my hands on to protect my produce, the heavy, icecold laugh of Winter had mocked my efforts, sitting on my spinach with tons of snow and bending my hoops at 90 degree angles, rendering them unusable, just to rub it in. Winter can be such a bully.

Anyway, I devised an engineering approach that I'm sure isn't new, though I've never seen it before; it had to involve the fundamental Brady criteria for pretty much all endeavors: simple, cheap and preferably reusable. So I got some sturdy stakes (buttressed on the long axis with wooden stakes at two places to prevent bidirectional collapse) and a roll of netting, and therewith fashioned the constructions you see here, over the strong fabric tunnels of yore.

Worked like a charm, as the photos show. The netting arrangement held up excellently: broke the fall of the snow, distributing it and its weight along the downward stress vector, thereby protecting the tunnels beneath which my onions et al. are still standing, now isolated even more from the night cold by their snow igloos, with the added advantage of being invisible to winterhungry, onionlusting monkeys.

I can't rest on my vegetable laurels here though; as past experience has indicated, even now, way up there in the great ice palace, King Winter and his flaky minions are counterplotting already-- I can feel that chill of something large and cold overhead, hear those icy howls of laughter in the wind...

Saturday, February 06, 2010


As I cruised up the road on my motorcycle last night, the headlight beam kept filling with millions of tiny diamonds flashing into sight from out of the dark air, all from a big winter cloud that was barely edging over the mountain into the deeper dark, spilling some of its riches on our side and giving me the pleasure of a ride though swirling gems.

It was all the more enjoyable because I tend to ride slowly up the bendy mountain road in the pitch dark night of winter, wherein the occasional patches of ice can be hard to see, but I just roll right over them because I'm not racing anymore, I'm riding wisely now, having painfully realized at last that there's no real hurry for me to be home 20 seconds earlier.

When I was younger I would have taken on the whole thing as a challenge, there were challenges everywhere and a twisting mountain road was at the top of the list, a complex speed-skill-time-agility-bravery challenge, a personal challenge to me from mountain, road, weather, world, time and darkness, with quite a few other things thrown in there as well, to fill it all up. At those earlier ages you're always looking for challenges and taking them on-- what are inexperience and energy for, after all.

It's crazy but it's true, and as you get older and do a few wipeouts, if you survive sufficiently intact, and for long enough, you get to admit vulnerability, you get to acknowledge your limits, you get to feel your frailties, you get to know the fleshy reality of yourself right to the bone and the sinew, so you slow down, and when you slow down you get to see things you're finally ready to see, things you've never noticed before in the blur of being, things like millions and millions of tiny diamonds flashing in the light right in front of you all the way home through the winter dark up a mountainside-- worth the wait of a lifetime, if you've slowed down enough to get to be my age.

Friday, February 05, 2010


When the world seems to be heading for the doldrum-pits (isn't it always?), it's sometimes good to focus on the smaller problems, especially the self-indulgent ones, which are the best kind, to wit:

Like any expat, I have my food rants, relating generally to the cuisinal higher reaches comprising cakes, pies, cookies, ice cream and such ecstatics-- the rarefied air of indulgence. This morning I take a slight tangent, to address the no-less-important muffin situation.

English muffins, which someone in America once told me were in fact of American origin, actually originated in England, where they are now known as "American Muffins." (Expat breakfasts are often confusing.) Here in Japan, the natives too have their own version of such muffins, which for purposes of international muffin clarity I shall refer to as Japanese-American-English muffins, starting with the package that I hold in my hands.

As Asia advances through its cultural juncture with the wider world, we here in the J-boonies have been seeing a finer and finer gradation of imported products (I still remember the surprise I felt a few years ago, upon seeing olive oil(!) on the supermarket shelf in the larger village up the road). So it was inevitable that sooner or later English muffins would reach all the way out here to where I live, but like so many derived and adapted cultural imports from around the world, these local Japanese-American-English muffins are but a distant far-eastern cousin of the American-English muffin, being smaller in diameter, thinner, nonchewy, vaguely sweet, vapidly pneumatic and generally less substantial, i.e., nearly all the things - apart from shape and name - that a decent American-English muffin should not be.

There are 4 muffins in this package of - in a typical Japanese twist - "pumpkin" English muffins, so until I get them finished I must occasionally abide before the toaster and ponder related matters of international complexity, like a diplomat making his own breakfast. As I stand there keeping an eye on a couple of orange-ish (fork-split, of course) disks, my foot-tapping mind ponders the inscrutable pumpkin factor, runs through a quick comparison of Japanese/American/British tastes, the smaller portions here in the Land of Wa, the minimalist flavor requirements, the broad variety of subtlety therein (but pumpkin?), the importance of appearance and unobtrusiveness in matters of flavor and texture, the sad lack of... Bing! My muffin is ready.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


Crow has a mad passion for pineapple. Bet you never thought you'd read that anytime soon, but veracity comes in strange forms. I wouldn't have mentioned it at all -- because, like you, I'd never even put crows and pineapple together in the same thought, and likely never would have -- except that a couple of days ago, after peeling a tasty pineapple, I put the strips of peel in with the kitchen garbage, which I then took out to the compost pile where the next day it would be covered with ashes from the woodstove.

Yesterday, on my way to dump the ashes, as I passed a nicely secluded area near the compost pile but behind the shiitake logs beneath the cherry tree, I spotted a couple of pineapple skin strips the flesh side of which had been burnished to a leathery sheen by must have been thousands of beak pecks. Every little nook and cranny (and there are many on the back of a pineapple skin, if you've ever looked carefully after a crow has been at it) had been stripped of every possible fiber of pineapple flesh until there was nothing there but the shiny ripply back of the pineapple skin, a sight rarely seen. Although I tried my best, I could not help but remark that the skin was absolutely impeckable. Certain sights have odd effects upon the solitary mind.

When I went out later to stack some wood I disturbed Crow, who had been alone with his treasure and now burst from that same spot, bearing in his beak against the afternoon sun what looked very much like a golden strip of fleshy pineapple skin. Seems he'd stashed them somewhere around there, where they wouldn't get firewood ash on them, and wanted to be alone with this prize beyond all prizes.

I thought he'd seemed a little giddy lately.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


How good one feels, when one is good at last! It is so worth the wait, in fact, that, as soon as one is bad again, one is immediately persuaded to stretch the badness a bit more, make it last, at least until the next occasion of goodness. Thus are the heights of goodness raised to these admirable summits, and the more lowly delights in between given a moral luster they might otherwise lack.

For alas, what is the good in being only good? It's not in the good, after all, that the value resides, but in the rarity of the good, the effort invested in the good. Flood the world with diamonds: what then is the value of those in your crown? No, keep the diamonds hid; dole them out one at a time, like De Beers so reputably does, and get true value for every carat of your morality; then - and only then - can you say, with earned conviction, a priceless crown on your head and and a forward look in your eyes: "I'll be good again one day!"