dorchadas: (Chicago)
I usually hide inside when the daystar is out, but lately I've been heading out even on Sundays to keep the streak going on Pokemon Go. Today I also had a library book to return, so I went a bit further than I usually do and I actually enjoyed the sunlight. It's nice and warm--18°C--without being hot and there's plenty of shade along the way in case the sunlight starts hurting my eyes. I think that's the cue to me enjoying sunny days--extremely small doses.

I did take a picture while I was walking, though. There's a tree in bloom in the courtyard of a local church that reminded me a lot of the cherry blossoms in Japan:

Leaves tag used because I don't have a flowers tag.
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
I never used to care about the leaves changing or the flowers blooming. When we'd take trips to Oregon, my parents would go to a garden and I'd sit by the pond and watch the water striders because whatever, who cares about flowers. But I got into the mood of leaf-watching when we lived in Japan, both the cherry blossoms in the spring and the colors in the fall, and while there are no masses of cherry trees here, there are still colors.

I didn't get much of a chance to go leaf-viewing this year because the cold came so late--when we went out for the Scarecrow Festival, it was 25°C and sunny--but I've enjoyed looking at the trees in our neighborhood. And a couple weeks ago, we found a momiji tree only a few blocks away! Momiji are famous in Hiroshima, to the point where the local manjū are momiji-shaped, and we'd go every year to Miyajima to see the momiji change to that deep, uniform crimson color. It was a lovely touch of nostalgia to see.

Then last weekend, it snowed, and I took this picture:

Last month snow fell in Tokyo, and there were a ton of articles about it because everyone knows that Japan is Tokyo and Tokyo is Japan (and also it had been 54 years since the last time but whatever). The photos of snow on fall colors were amazing, though, and I'm glad I got to see a taste of it in Chicago.
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
Mibu no Hanadaue Field
壬生の花田植 (Mibu no Hanadaue, "The rice-field-planting of Mibu," like it says in that link) is held every year in Chiyoda, and has been for over five hundred years. I wrote about it the first time we went, when a student in our English class at the community center invited us to go. There's an account of the festival and what I thought at the time in that other link, but I didn't write about a lesson that we got in Japanese indirectness, so I'll mention that now.

It was extremely hot--probably at least 35ºC--and very sunny, and Kaminaka-san asked us a couple times if we wanted to leave. Initially, we thought that he thought we were bored, so to show him that we were definitely interested (which we were), we said that we would like to move to a different place to get a better view. On the second time he, it was very hot and we were sweaty and tired, so we agreed that it was time to go.

Later, we realized what was really going on. He was tired of standing out in the sun, but having invited us to the festival and knowing that we hadn't seen it before, he didn't want to be the first one to say that he was done watching. Therefore, he asked us if we wanted to stay, since us saying no would give him an easy out.

We went in both 2010 and 2011, and while 2010 was hot again, 2011 was cloudy and cool, and we managed to stay for the entirety of the festival. Somewhat sadly, it turns out there was no special ending, and people just drifted away after the dancing and the planting was done. Still, I'm glad we had good weather for festival-attending, and I am glad we stayed, because we left early in both 2009 and 2010 and staying the whole time was a resolution for us in 2011.

Mibu no Hanadaue Oxen Path
As might be expected of a festival that's been going on for five centuries, the planting done during Mibu no Hanadaue is done in the traditional fashion. None of those straight rows and neatly-placed rice plants that you get from mechanically-planted fields. Instead, the field is turned by hand, using plows pulled by oxen who are done up in elaborate headdresses and wrappings. Before the actual planting starts, there's a parade down this street, where a lot of community and school groups accompany the women who sing and do the planting, the men who beat out the timing of the planting on their drums, and the oxen and their drivers.

One event that changed [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's and my culinary landscape is that in 2011, we were wandering around the street looking for lunch and we found a couple selling Japanese curry out of their garage. I'm not sure if the husband was Japanese and the wife was Indonesian, it was the other way around, they were both Indonesian, or if they were both Japanese and had just had traveled to Indonesia before, but they had tumeric rice to go on the side with the curry, and it was the best カレーライス I had in my time in Japan. We haven't had it with curry rice anymore, but we make it a lot to go with chicken.

There was also a lovely tea house with a garden out back that we'd go to once a year, during Mibu no Hanadaue. We'd get the matcha, and the sweet along with it, and drink it while looking over the garden and listening to the parade outside.

Tondo Field
That's not actually the name of the field, but that's the main memory I have of it. On the right is the Yae-nishi Meeting Center, and on the left is the field where the Tondo Festival was held every year. Apparently it was a relatively new custom for the area (that link is to the festival held in Onomichi), but it got increasingly elaborate as we attended. The first year it was just zenzai and sake and pickles, and by the third year we had wild boar shot by one of the farmers for getting into his fields, and fish, and onigiri, and it was basically a feast. I wrote about that Tondo Festival here.

That wasn't the only event we attended there, though. The Meeting Center had spring and fall talent competitions, and we participated twice. The first time, I had a cold and couldn't actually perform, so [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd played a guitar and sang, though I don't remember what the piece she did was. The second time, we did "Scarborough Fair" together, and then I sang "Skibbereen" a cappella. We never got any comments on them, and I still wonder what our neighbors thought of me singing what's essentially a dirge at a talent competition.

During one summer, we went to a 皆で手作り遊び大会, which translate as "Let's Everyone Hand-Make Toys Together Gathering!" That was where I learned that I'm hopeless at origami--I tried to make a frog, and while I got halfway done I couldn't get the legs to come together--and where a little girl seemed incensed that I had long hair and kept demanding to know whether I was a man or not. I assured her that I was, and she gave me a very suspicious look. I wonder what became of her?

Lake Yachiyo
In Japanese, 八千代湖. We drove by this place many times, but we went here once, the last year that we lived in Japan. During the spring, when the cherryblossoms were in full bloom, we packed a lunch and took it to Lake Yachiyo, and we ate lunch by the waters and then walked on the paths under the cherry trees, just [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I. I did like the other ohanami parties we went to--I especially liked the one in Shobara where we rented a rowboat--but that walk by Lake Yachiyo is one of my favorite ohanami memories.

And that's it! If people liked that, I can do another series for places in Hiroshima, or even other cities like Tokyo or Kyoto. I certainly have plenty to say if people want to hear it.  photo emot-c00l.gif
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
Walking Path
This is shown from pretty near our house. If you turn the view around and go down the road a ways, you'll be able to see it on the left. And you should probably turn the view around at least a bit, because this section of road's pictures were taken in fall and the trees are great. The momiji especially are spectacular.

This is the road that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I would always walk on when we went for walks. We'd go forward a ways, then turn right along the river for a short distance, then turn right again and walk down what was called the "old road." Considering that Chiyoda has a festival that dates back 500 years (which I'll write about in a later tour post), it makes me wonder if the old road has been there for centuries and the paved version we'd walk on is only its most recent incarnation.

Forest Shrine
I'm partially including this for the fall colors, but also as an example of the little shrines we'd stumble on when walking around town. There were at least three of them within a mile of our house--one of them is just down the road from the brewery, if you want to go back to Part I and look around--and there are probably half-a-dozen others around there that we missed. Japanese people are pretty famously irreligious, but I think a lot of that is just a different understanding of religion than the usual Western attitude. Nearly everyone I knew went to a local shrine on New Year's Eve, but they'd never characterize it as a religious thing. it was just part of being Japanese. Which is the traditional understanding of religion, really--the idea that religion is somehow separable from culture is mostly a modern conceit.

If you turn right and click down the road to the bridge, you can see the water-filled depression in the road that collapsed during a heavy rainstorm. We also caught two students necking under the bridge at one point, but we didn't say anything and just walked on by. Teachers in Japan and somewhat expected to police their students behavior when they're out and about, but neither of us bothered with that.

The Koyamas' House
The Koyamas were one of the families who came to the neighborhood English class we taught. I've written about their younger son Kazuo before here, but their elder son Naoyuki is the one who brought us the katana that's currently resting above our mantle and who once came by our house and asked if we wanted to go firefly-gazing. Relatively early on, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I walked by the house when the Koyamas were having a barbeque outside, and they beckoned us over and invited us to sit and eat with them. It was moments like that that really make me remember Chiyoda fondly.

We also did our part for tolerance, since Mrs. Koyama told us that before she had interacted with us during the class, she had been kind of scared of foreigners, but after meeting us she wasn't scared anymore.

Forest Path
Sadly the Google van didn't go down that path, because we'd walk down there a lot. Just around the corner there is a grove of bamboo, and then a few family grave sites, and then a set of weathered stone steps leading up to a shrine of Hachiman that we'd frequently stop at. One of the first times we went there, we ran into the shrine keeper and had a brief conversation, but every other time we went it was deserted. Sadly, I don't have a clean picture of the entrance or the shrine itself. You're always a terrible tourist where you live.

Stonecarver's House
At least, I have to assume it's a stonecarver's house with a display like that outside. A lot of what's there were graves, but there's also plenty of stone lanterns and just lawn statues like the owls right at the bottom of the image.

The reason I included this image can be seen if you zoom in a bit and look behind the stone table, just to the left of the two Hotei statues. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I always used to think of this as the gravecarver's house, and every time we would see that, we were happy that it wasn't somewhere out there decorating a child's grave. I realize now that it was intended as a lawn ornament, which makes me a lot happier.

Creepy Shrine
Most of our tiny mountain town fit the good stereotypes of a small town. We had neighbors invite us over for barbeque and to the local festivals, bring us vegetables and rice during harvest season, by us drinks when they saw us in local bars, all of that. They also talked about our house being creepy and looked into our basket when we went shopping, but on the whole, I think the good outweighed the bad by a lot.

Sometimes, though, there were scenes straight out of Fatal Frame. The stairway in our house was one, with narrow, steep wooden steps with no railing and a single bulb at the top. The entrance to this shrine was another. During full daylight it wasn't so bad, though even then the layout was a bit creepy. Those steps led up through the trees to an empty clearing of grass and dirt, and then there were more stairs at the far end that led up to the actual shrine. But if the sun was even a bit obscured...well, you get the picture there. At at actual night? We usually crossed the road to avoid the darkness that seemed to spill almost palpably down the stairs. If there were J-Horror ghosts anywhere in Chiyoda, they lived at that shrine.

The shrine was maintained by the neighborhood who had twice-yearly cleanings, and our friends the Kaminakas mentioned that they had taken a turn at cleaning it in one of the pre-class English "what have you done since last class?" discussions we instituted. I remember being surprised at that at the time, because he hadn't been killed by murderous ghosts. If you've lived in the country for a long time--and in Japan, "the country" has basically no streetlights"--you're probably used to that kind of darkness around, though.
dorchadas: (Autumn Leaves Tunnel)
In what's apparently becoming a yearly tradition for us, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went out to the suburbs to visit my parents and go to the Scarecrow Festival. Much (maybe even most) of our visit was taken up by [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I looking around St. Charles and Geneva antique shops for either a coatrack or a kitchen sideboard, and we didn't find either of those, but we find a cute fox mug and had an opportunity to look at the trees in downtown Geneva, which was good because we didn't get to head down to the riverwalk and look at the trees this year.

Scarecrowfest 2014 Tree

It's no momiji, but it's pretty nice.

My parents walked near the river on Saturday and said that the trees down there were disappointing, though. It might just be that there aren't the right kind of trees there to get good fall colors.

Anyway, the main neat thing we did this year other than go see the scarecrows was go to Kuiper's Family Farm at [ profile] uriany's invitation. I knew there were these kind of farms around, because my parents moved to the western suburbs decades ago so they could be in an undeveloped area and while there's been some infill, it's still not far at all from their house to farms and cornfields, but I've never been to one until yesterday. It was a lot bigger than I thought it would be--there were two sides, one for pumpkins and one for apples, and while we originally thought about picking apples, we realized that we already had too much stuff to haul back to our apartment, between the new foreman grill we had gotten at a thrift shop and all the White Wolf books we were hauling back. So we went to the corn maze instead.

2014 Kuiper's Family Farm Maze

As [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd said and as I told her I would put here, "It was a-maize-ing!"

I told [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd a while ago that I used to play tag in the corn fields out behind my house, and her response was, "That's so midwestern!" It was the only opportunity she's gotten to skewer me for my upbringing, and I was excited to show her this great example of our fine civilization, and it was pretty fun. They had set up three difficulty levels--we picked Medium--and being seasoned gamers, we stuck to following the left-hand wall around, which worked great until we started going in circles. Fortunately, we had picked up a "passport" at the entrance that had questions, and by answering them correctly at certain crossroads, we managed to make our way out after not too long.

I'm glad it was bright daylight, because not being able to see over the stalks and the occasional wind that came through and rustled them was were both pretty creepy. It was a lot like the beginning of Signs when it was more about mood before the faith allegory came to the fore.

2014 Kuiper's Family Farm Corn

The view from a bridge in the middle of the maze.

Other fun highlights include a tire pile that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd climbed and a slide she went down, a crow in a cage that said "Hello!" to us as we passed (the first time I've ever heard a crow say anything intelligible), and a giant store on the apple side where we got bread mix, coffee, an apple-shaped dish that we can put spoons on instead of resting them straight on the oven, and apple cider donughts. The first donughts I've had in probably half a decade, and yeah, they were pretty good.

The actual Scarecrow Festival was better than last year, with the whimsical category still the best. There was another Minecraft scarecrow this year, though just a zombie and the legs were a really odd shape. I was a little tempted to vote for it until we continued on and saw a Slender Man scarecrow, which I gave the vote to on the basis that it was both neat looking and the scarecrow most likely to actually be scary, especially if we had been alone in a cornfield. There were some other great ones, like the giant straw chicken or the explosion of rainbows, but I didn't take any pictures of them this year.

I also poked around my parents' basement while I was there, but maybe I'll make that another post.

Bonus: another leaf picture:
Read more... )
dorchadas: (Autumn Leaves Tunnel)
Confession: I don't actually like pumpkin at all, much less the spiced variety. I don't like kabocha, or most squashes. Zucchini scrapes by as acceptable due to exposure.

I do love fall, though.

Temperatures in °C. Get with the program, Americans!

That was Thursday's weather. The day before, it was closer to 25°C, and then we woke up to cold winds and rainy skies. It was like those old cartoons where things are great and the sun is shining and then all the leaves suddenly fall at the same time.

I'm not exactly sure why fall is my favorite season. I suspect a lot of is the weather--I've always said when people ask that Ireland is the place I've lived with the best weather, because in Cork temperatures ranged from 5° to 30° with none of the awful extremes we get in Chicago--but the leaves play a part in it as well. Last year when I went to the Scarecrow Festival in Geneva I wrote a blog post about going down by the river to view the leaves and how disappointing it was. With the weather changing so early this year, maybe in a month when we go to the Scarecrow Festival again the leaves will actually be worth looking at.

I never would have thought I'd be the kind of person who'd like leaf-viewing. When I was younger and my parents would take us to gardens, my sister and I would usually find some place to hang out so we wouldn't have to look at the stupid flowers. When we'd go to Shore Acres State Park for a picnic and so they could look at the flowers, we'd always go to the "a Japanese-style garden with a lily pond" and watch the water striders and fish in the pond. And now, I willingly go on walks to to look at leaves.

See, this is why children think adults are boring and adults think children are dumb.
dorchadas: (Autumn Leaves Tunnel)
Last weekend was the Scarecrow Festival out in St. Charles, and after not having gone since before we moved to Japan,[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I decided to trek out to the suburbs and make a visit. I have to admit, it was pretty neat to see the way that our own subcultures have penetrated into the popular consciousness:
Click for geek )
And this is just fantastic:
Om nom nom )
But overall I wasn't that impressed. They've had some really impressive scarecrows in past years, but other than the ones [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd took pictures of, most of the ones this year were pretty conventional. There were also three or four from Despicable Me, but that would probably have impressed me more if I had actually seen the movie. Even the mechanical scarecrows, typically the best of the bunch, were disappointing. Several of them didn't even work, or at least didn't do anything that I could see. The only one I remember that actually moved was the high school rowing team one that moved the oars back and forth. I'm not sure if the other mechanical scarecrows were broken or what, but... The whole thing just didn't seem as good as it had been when I went a few years ago. Back in my day! etc. etc.

Okay, my parents went on Sunday and agreed with this assessment, so it's not just me getting old.

But, counteracting that counteraction of increasing age, after looking at the scarecrows, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I ducked into a nearby antique shop and poked around a bit. There was the standard collection of kitsch and crap--well, at least I think it's standard, since antique shopping isn't really a typical pastime of mine--but there were some pretty awesome gems, too. A Q-Bert arcade cabinet that might actually have been tempting except we have nowhere to put it. A bunch of WWII propaganda posters that sadly were not for sale, though with a note that they would be up for sale at a later date. I would have loved to get those if they were available. We did manage to find a pair of brass candlesticks to use for lighting Shabbat candles, and they look a lot better than the cheap glass dishes we were using before, and there were some dishes that would have been if we had any need for dishes, but we don't.

To backtrack a bit, on Friday we surprised my parents with our schedule and showed up that night. Without enough time to prepare dinner, they took us out to Open Range American Grill, which is all decorated a lot like the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park, though with lighter wood and the views (read:pictures) are of the Grand Tetons. I mention this because it spurred a discussion against about how I want to take [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd on a trip to all the places that I visited on the various trips that my family took to Oregon when I was a child (maybe the subject for another entry?). My parents actually mentioned that next year would be a good time to go, except that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I were planning to take a trip to Germany and France to celebrate her graduating from grad school. It's theoretically possible that we could do both--my benefits are incredibly good--but that is a lot of summer vacationing, and maybe doing it in a following year is better. My sister is in California now, and she could meet us somewhere, or in Oregon when we arrive. It'd be great. Yeah, I think I will write that post.

On Saturday afternoon, we walked down to the Fox River and along the riverwalk looking at the leaves, and...well, it was incredibly disappointing. In Japan, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I would go to Miyajima in the fall and look at the momiji trees as the leaves changed, and eat momiji manjū, and go view the leaves. Here's a momiji tree in the fall:

Momoji Tree Japan

That kind of bright crimson obviously does occur in America, but it's usually only a few leaves from a few plants, not a large amount. There were some promising trees on the walk down to the river, but once we got down there, everything was still green. I guess the warm temperatures have meant that the leaves haven't turned yet. Maybe I should look on the lakefront trail in a week or so--it's supposed to get down to 10 C or so starting on Friday.


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