10.24.2014

The Art of Flowers

Last week Rosie and I went with friends to see a floral arrangement exhibit. Ikebana, or the art of flower arrangement, has been practiced in Japan for hundreds of years and the symmetry, balance, and beauty of these creations are simply breathtaking.  I would love to take some classes in the future, but since I barely have enough time in the day as it is, that will have to wait.

The exhibit we saw was actually a modern style called kanenryu (閑渕流) that is characterized by an avant garde use of materials and sort of gaudy, ostentatious colours and designs. Well, over the top for Japan which is still fairly subtle, most of the time. This form of ikebana originated in our city of Fukuyama in the early 1940's and there are a couple of local schools that teach it. Here are some of the works of local artists and students: 








Some of the pieces were massive, like this over two meter tall wood, grass, and moss arrangement that reminded me of some magical forest ogre.
















And my least favourite by far: 


I came to the conclusion that I enjoy the simpler, traditional ikebana styles more than these but even still there were many extremely beautiful pieces. 

10.06.2014

More Manholes

Since I can't exactly collect all the beautiful and decorative manholes I see, I have decided to take photos of each new one I come across. You check out those photos here and here.  Recently I took a trip to Kyoto and was expecting to see another, whole new set of beautifully decorative manholes. I was pretty disappointed when they were all pretty plain!

I did manage to find some new ones in the past few months a little closer to home:

A manhole in Okayama Prefecture showing Momotaro and friends.
Momotaro showing off his firefighting skills
A manhole from Kasaoka City which prides itself in its horseshoe crabs.
a chibi horseshoe crab
Horseshoe crabs, hard at work keeping Kasaoka fire free.
From Yoshiumi Town in Ehime Prefecture

9.30.2014

Chopsticks of Doom

Two and a half years ago, when we moved from our apartment to the house we are in now, Dustin bought me a young Japanese maple tree. We planted it in front of our house and I have been a bit doting and over protective ever since.

Our brave/crazy friend Danielle who biked home with our maple as well as two other
bushes in her bike baskets.
In the late spring and early summer of this year, I noticed a dozen or so small, green limpet like things munching away on my maple leaves.  I pulled them off and disposed of them before they could do much damage. I didn't find them on any other plants in my garden though. 


About a week and a half ago, since the weather has cooled down a bit, I noticed they were back on my maple and this time I didn't really bother about pulling them off right away. Partially it was laziness and partially it was not really caring if the leaves get chewed up a bit since the tree will be shedding its leaves soon anyway. During that time they grew much larger and more caterpillar like. 

I finally decided to do something about them when Dustin brushed past the tree and instantly had a bad skin reaction. He said it was an itchy, painful burning sensation like fiberglass rubbed into your skin. The spot where he had touched the caterpillar stayed red and puffy for a few hours. 


The tree was pretty infested with these wee beasties and quite a few were at Rosie's hight, so I decided they needed to go. 

They always hang out on the underside of the leaves. Unfortunately for them, their
neon green colour doesn't blend in too well and they are easy to spot.
When William got home from kindergarten today, we decided to tag team this problem. I wielded the chopsticks of doom while William put them down for a dirt nap.




Always happy to oblige
In the wake of their destruction
Before you think I am a completely cruel and heartless killer, I did do a little research on this species before I obliterated them from my garden. The species is Parasa lepida, or the Nettle Caterpillar, and they are a nuisance invasive species in Japan. I may have felt a small twinge of guilt wiping out a native species, but the ecologist in me feels absolutely no remorse about assisting in removing a poisonous, exotic pest.

I am curious if they will show up again next spring but if they do, William and I will be ready for them!

9.28.2014

How Does Your Garden Grow?

The ever changing, unpredictably of the seasons from year to year and how that affects plants and animals is something that I find endlessly exciting. I am one of those people that remembers within a week, and usually within a day or two, when flowers first open, shoots appear, or trees bear fruit from year to year. I may not always remember to grab my phone as I head out the door, but I can tell you exactly when the wintersweet down the street first started flowering during the past four winters. I am sure this natural inclination is what pushed me into studying ecology. So let me take you on a tour of some of the things growing in our garden this summer.

This year I decided to utilize a bit more of the space around our tiny yard and experiment with a few plants I have never grown before. In front of our house I have a small flower bed that self seeds itself with four o'clocks each year. This year I decided to plant okra, hot peppers, and shishito peppers amongst the four o'clocks. 

Before coming to Japan, I had only eaten okra breaded and deep-fried or in Cajun dishes like gumbo. I sort of liked it, but it would never have been on my top twenty list of plants to grow or even buy. It could be my love of natto that made my palate accustomed to sliminess or trying a new way of preparing okra (blanched and salted) but now I absolutely can't get enough of it. I would be satisfied with a whole bowl of okra as a meal. Okra was not just a delicious addition to our flower bed, but an aesthetically pleasing one too, since the flowers are absolutely gorgeous. 

light yellow and deep burgundy okra flowers
Shishito is a pepper that I have rarely bothered buying because they taste like bell peppers and are a fraction of the size. However, I was guaranteed by the lady at the plant store that these shishito were very spicy so I decided to give it a go. I have decided that they are absolutely fascinating peppers. Most of them have no spiciness whatsoever, but very occasionally there is a spicy one. I'm not sure I would ever grow them again, but they do produce quite well and since they aren't so spicy, the kids don't mind them.  

Shishito
I also planted a few hot peppers because, as anyone who had ever had a meal with me knows, pretty much everything is better with some heat.

Hot peppers ripening
We also seeded a couple of pots of basil and oregano.



Cilantro is something that I have tried to grow multiple times without too much luck. Dustin and I absolutely love and you just cannot buy it in Japan at least in our area. Every time I plant it, I get a pot of gangly, pitiful looking cilantro plants that never seem to bush out. We do get a meal or two's worth and that is usually enough for to help stave off the intense cravings until I can plant some more. 

We also planted tomatoes on our side yard in our usual spot next to the compost bin. Within no time they turned into a dense tomatoey jungle that began to trail over the side of our wall and into the ditch. Our neighbours often come by and give me gardening lectures about how I should trim every side branch off to turn them into tall skinny tomato trees, which is how everyone seems to grow tomatoes around here, but I find that the plants just produce way less when I do that. Last year I was very careful about pruning but it was the worst tomato harvest I'd ever had. This year I only pruned occasionally, mostly let the tomatoes do their thing, and had huge yields despite the all the rain. I actually tried weighing all that I harvested over the summer and somewhere around 25 kilos I stopped bothering. All this from only 3 plants!  



Our house is right next to a small train line and the whole strip beside the train tracks used to be filled with vegetable gardens. About a year ago the neighbourhood was given a letter from the city saying we weren't allowed to plant gardens in this space. The majority of people complied but there are still a few gardens here and there. When my brother was out visiting in May, he encouraged me to feign ignorance of this letter and clear some space to grow some more vegetables. I pretty quickly caved to his bad influence and now have a sneaky secret garden. I decided to plant only short, non obvious plants, that couldn't be seen quite as easily from the train or street. So I chucked in a few sweet potato vines, cucumber plants, and peanut plants (which promptly died). I am curious to dig up my sweet potatoes soon and see if they grew!

9.25.2014

Collectibles

As a reward for all the hard work Theo has put in learning to ride his bike, I decided to take the boys on a trip to the Fukuyama Auto and Clock Museum (FACM) on Shūbun no Hi, or Autumnal Equinox Day. The last time we went there was over 2 years ago (I can't believe how fast the time has gone!) and wrote a post about it here. I absolutely love this museum and could spend hours looking on every shelf, corner, nook, and cranny at the random assortment of antiques they contain.

The boys of course love being at a museum where they are actually allowed to touch most things and take the vehicles for a "drive".











And I discovered my dream car: a 1949 Jeepster. It was so comfortable inside and everything was just the right size. I also loved that you had to crawl over the side of the car into the back seat. 


My mother insists that collecting things is a sign of intelligence and that you can add one point to your IQ for every collection you own. If there is any scientific credibility to that at all, the person who owns the FACM must be a genius. I tried to take a photo of every collection he had on display until my camera ran out of batteries. I then switched to taking photos with my phone for the rest of the collections. Now looking at them I realize that there are just far too many to post here so instead here is a list:

Clocks
Clock works
Old cars
Old motorcycles
Wax figures
Player pianos
Gravestone rubbings
Airplanes

Old optometry equipment
Children's party favours and prizes from the 1950's and 60's
Antique gas stoves 
Antique space heaters
Televisions
Radios
Victrolas and Phonographs
Cylinder records
Light bulbs
Typewriters
Cash registers
Telephones
Printing presses and mimeographs
Slide projectors and video recording equipment
Sewing machines
Pre war era metal lunch boxes, kitchen tins, and other kitchen goods
Tea pots
Irons
Carved and decorative light fixtures and lanterns
Oil lamps and gas lanterns
Rocking horses
Guns
Bullets and black powder pouches
Model railroad trains
Metal toy buses and other antique toys
World War II memorabilia and propaganda posters
Cameras
State flags
Sombreros
License plates
Water wheels
Antique vacuum cleaners
Antique coal and electric kotatsu 

And a few photos so you can get a feel for how these things are crammed in willy-nilly into display cases, on walls, shelves, or just stuck into the back of some of the old pick up trucks. 








The man who owns this museum owns a lot of property and business in and around Fukuyama City. As far as I know, the museum is just a display of his hobby and obsession with collecting and preserving the past. Tucked into one corner of the museum is a model of an old Japanese house that you can explore.

A view of the toilet cubicles. There was a sliding door separating the urinal and sink room and the squat toilet.


A close up of the under toilet catch basin. The chute on the left hand side leads from the urinal in the next room. 

 The kitchen area



Next to the toilet room is a rocket stove built into the floor and wall.


set into the space behind the stove was a large metal basin. I am not sure if this was for clothes washing, bathing, or just storing warm water.


Next to that was a washing area with a sink, clothes wringer, and refrigerator.


And lastly, the extremely tiny, 4 tatami size family room.


I found this display especially fascinating. I loved walking through imagining what it would be like to live every day with my family in this tiny space, cooking on the wood stove and cleaning out the little pit under the toilet every day. I can't say I really relish the thought.


After three hours of exploring we left the museum only to spend another 30 minutes wandering around the parking lot where there was a bit of overflow of larger items, like a metal steam engine, a giant waterwheel and koi pond. 


I can't recommend this museum enough to anyone with even a slight love of history or any of the many, many collections that this museum houses. If you live in Fukuyama or ever come to Fukuyama make sure you check it out!