Fall is finally here

along the Banjyo River

The longest, hottest summer in Japan since 1898- I am glad I was gone for three weeks of it, although it was still around 30゜C when I returned to Japan on September 20th. Been back a couple weeks now and am relieved that the the equinox coincided with an appropriate drop in temperature.

彼岸花 Higanbana (lycoris) border

The equinoxes are national holidays here. At the autumnal equinox (Shubun-no-hi), people visit their family grave and eat ohagi, a type of rice and bean sweet. In Japanese this time of year is sometimes called O-Higan and higan-bana (lycoris) is in bloom at the edge of all the rice fields.

I was so happy to spend time with family and friends and wish I had had one more week to squeeze in a few more visits and one more adventure. I feel rejuvenated and really appreciative that we can figure out how to make annual visits possible. It’s always been our dream to be able to live part of the year in each country, maybe this is how that transition begins.
The best part of the trip was a day hike to Marmot Pass in the Olympic Mountains- more wildflowers in bloom than I’ve ever seen before. Even though every meal I had was memorable, I think the multi-day dungeness crab feast stands out.  My brother-in-law had three consecutive days of good luck pulling up the crab pots-the last days of the season. I felt pretty fortunate to share in the bounty.

Wildflowers along the Marmot Pass trail

So now back in Kyushu, I’m picking up where I left off. I’ve got occasional teaching jobs in the schools and last week I helped out at an international exchange at a small junior high near Mt. Kuju. The 45 students hosted an event with 12 university students from Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU). Four different countries -Viet Nam, China, Thailand, & Papau New Guinea- were represented and the school had organized activities to practice their English and to share with each other. It is surprising how much I interact with people from all around the world in this fairly remote area.  APU’s presence in Oita has had a huge impact on all the local communities- the university encourages the students to do outreach-especially in schools, so many children around here have annual visits to meet international students at APU or they have visitors to their schools.

Robert with 2 of the crab

Of course, the quality of these experiences varies considerably, depending on the planning and preparation, but it is definitely a powerful experience. It is a fantastic opportunity for the kids around here who have so little experience outside of their tiny communities. When I lived here 25 years ago, I couldn’t have imagined how open the kids are to people different than themselves.  Even though most gaijin here are treated differently (not better or worse necessarily) than the locals, I can’t help but think that these international exchanges are laying the foundation for a more open and flexible society….but I’ve always been somewhat of a Pollyana.

But for me, the highlight of the visit up to the school was lunch in the hot spring town of Naoiri. We couldn’t bathe this time because of work, but I definitely plan to visit there soon. The baths there are carbonated and overlook the river that runs through the center of the town. It is a mountain hot spring resort town and people go there just to enjoy the baths and to relax and it isn’t a tourist destination so it is quiet and idyllic.

At  Marucho Ryokan we had the most amazing yuba bento lunch with  delicately prepared seasonal vegetables. I love fresh yuba, the surface skin of fresh soymilk, but it isn’t easy to find.

I really want to go back to Naoiri and enjoy an overnight visit there, bathing in different baths, eating local foods and relaxing in a traditional inn.

Speaking of yuba, I recently bought a soymilk maker to make soymilk, tofu and yuba. I made my first batch this morning and had fresh. hot soymilk in my coffee. The by-product of soymilk is okara and I am looking for some good recipes using okara other than the typical unoha and using it in cookies and breads. Any suggestions? Maybe we just need to get a couple chickens and feed it to them for a treat.

"Chat" from Jiro's show in Tacoma (photo: Bill Bachhuber)

Jiro’s show opens on October 16th at William Traver Gallery in Tacoma.  The title is Forest Discoveries– lots of organic shapes. He won’t be at the show, but Kai and Nina will be at the opening. Jiro will be leading a tour for 9 American basket making friends to visit artists, museums and sightsee in Tokyo, Kyoto, Takamatsu, Beppu, and Tochigi. It looks like it will be a fantastic trip and Jiro has lined up visits to see a few artist studios and they will take a one-day workshop, too. They arrive next Sunday and travel for two weeks- which means I have ba-chan duty. We added one more day to her daycare service which should alleviate some of the stress.

But I’ve found that long walks work are the best antidote to stress. Now that it is cooler again I am riding my bike and walking a lot more. The rice is being harvested and the cosmos is in bloom. Soon there will be fresh persimmon! I put a bid on a used kayak- finally making that happen. Things are good.

Ready to harvest

Bought a new pocket camera, a Casio exslim- I’m not entirely satisfied with the image quality, but I’m still working on it. I like having something small, but I kinda wish I had stuck with Canon.

One thought on “Fall is finally here

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