Dreaming Big in Japan

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Road Trips, Gardens & Hurricanes

We came back from our Permaculture class in Nagano Prefecture earlier last week. The drive was much better this time, 8.5 hours driving time one way (not counting naps or pit stops) instead of 19!

We were totally stoked for this road trip!
Well...at least one of us was! Cool rest area nevertheless.
After our first trip in April we learned that the toll-highways we had been avoiding are only 1000 Yen (about US$10) per direction on the weekends. So we waited until midnight Friday night and hopped on the highway and drove as far as we could until we fell asleep, after stopping at a rest area of course. We finished the trip the next morning and made it to the workshop just in time. As long as you do not exit the highway you could ostensibly drive the entire length of Japan for 1000 Yen over the weekend. If you did it any other day, it would cost hundreds if not over a thousand dollars to do so. Outrageous, like so so many things in this country...

The cool thing, though, is that as long as you start driving before Sunday midnight, you can drive into Monday morning and still only pay another 1000 Yen when you leave the toll booth. So, we rented a huge one ton six wheeling diesel cargo van. It had ample room to stretch out in when we slept, plus we were able to drive a extra few hours to Michie's mom's house to pick up almost all of our remaining belongings to bring back to the island with us.

Once we got back to the island, everyone was talking about the hurricane that was coming our way... 

See that yellow spot to the right of Japan? You cannot miss it!

The hurricane, or typhoon, season has started, and what an opening day it was. Actually, it did most of its business south of Tokyo. Up where we are near Sendai, we had rain practically all week, with the last three days in particular raining continuously, amid some of the strongest winds I have ever experienced personally. The wind was looping up around the whole country and blowing down on us from the north, even though the typhoon was coming from the south. That is how massively expansive this thing was.
I made it outside, on the worst day, of course, and was jostled about by the wind. I went to the coast about a two-three minutes walk from our house, nestled into a nice windbreak in a small grove of bamboo and watched the waves pound the shore.

Cresting at about 3 meters during a calm spell...
After getting thoroughly drenched from all sides and angles, I squished my way over to our garden to see how all our little seedlings were doing, with my fingers crossed that our compost bin was still there. The four nails and four screws holding the roof on put forth a herculean effort, and it survived, at least up until I saw it yesterday...

The path to our garden looks like a bubbling brook.

Bend, don't break.
Everything was having a hard go at staying upright. Our neighbors' gardens were totally flattened, but ours fared a little better despite being buffeted about by the wind, due in largest part to the fact that we built raised beds and mulched them over with cut weeds and left substantial swaths of weeds standing as a boarder and natural windbreak instead of clear cutting everything.

This has been quite a year already, here and around the world, and we are not even half way through it yet. I guess the reassuring thing is that no matter what happens, life finds a way to persevere. Life in some form or other goes on, even if it is not exactly the way it was before.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Permaculture Galore!

Great news from the little island that could...water service was restored a couple days ago. This means more showers, though any amount is greater than zero! I still find myself heading to the well to draw up water, but then remember I can just flush the toilet and get this, it refills itself...who would have thought!? One great thing from this experience is that it has shown us the necessity of a rainwater harvesting and greywater system. It has also really reinforced the idea for us that reducing consumption is the best way to live within one's means. This applies to water, energy, food, entertainment, etc, and is suitable for individuals, families, communities, countries and beyond.

Click on the headers or pictures below to see what else we have been up to at Dream Seed Farms...

We are heading to the mainland for our next Permaculture class later today. We haven't even finished our homework yet, though we have no excuse, a month is ample time to do one assignment, I am sure!

More to come when we get back, hopefully with new ideas for the garden...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

11 Days in 11 Pictures

We have been on the island for about a week and a half now. So much has happened but today was the first real chance for us to take stock of it all.

The island still has no running water. We have received relief supplies of 10 liters washing water and 5 liters drinking water twice. We scavenged buckets and pails from the beach to catch rain water and have been using that for washing and gardening. There is a well behind our house with fairly murky water that we haul up daily to flush the toilet (I see the benefits more and more of using a composting toilet instead!), and there is a much cleaner well near one of the ports that our neighbor draws water from with an electric pump. He delivers that water around the neighborhood and even to the hospital for bathing. We have received two bath-fulls which ended up as laundry water and finally going down the toilet.

We have electricity from a generator truck a few hours in the morning and then again at night. It just went black here a few minutes ago. Thankfully, there is a cellphone signal roughly a half hour after the power goes out, so hopefully this gets posted!

We heard the news this weekend that the water line from the mainland should be fixed in a couple days. Plus, they will increase the hours we get power so it lasts all day from 6 am to 9 pm. We do not have a fridge, and we basically turn in when the lights turn off, so the lack of electricity is not so hard to deal with. I will be much happier and much less stinky, though, once the water starts flowing. We have only had to get by this way for a few days, but the islanders have been in survival mode for two whole months, so we are so happy to see them getting the tools they need to get their lives back in order.

Anyway...on to the pictures...

Moving Day 2.0: The Last Load for a While
Meet the Neighbors and Get a Pile of Veggies!
Shopping at the Lumber Yard
The Pathway to Our First Ever Garden
We Were All Ready to Start Farming, but then...
...Our Friends Took Us Wild Veggie Picking!
Wild Orchids + Bamboo Shoots + Fiddlehead Ferns = Dinner!
Finally, the Next Day We Got Down to Farming...
...and I Met My Arch Nemesis: SUKANPO ROOT!!!
My Motto: Work Smarter NOT Harder!
Relaxing on a Bench I made from Drift Wood

There will most certainly be more coming from Ajishima, time, electricity and sukanpo roots permitting!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Almost There!

Only one month behind schedule...

Michie and I finally moved the first load of stuff to Ajishima yesterday. We had planned to go earlier last week, but there was a severe thunderstorm and none of our boxes would have survived the hour-long ferry ride in those conditions, if it even sailed at all. Thankfully, our patience was blessed with a bright sunny day and only slightly choppy waves! By the time we got on the return ferry, it was raining, so we lucked out there as well.
Ishinomaki City in the Background
Half of Our Worldly Belongings under One Tarp
Ajishima in the Distance
Once we arrived at the island, our friends were waiting for us and helped us load our stuff into several of their vehicles. We drove across the island to the other side (about 2 miles!) and unloaded everything into our new house:
Not Bad for a Rental!

Seven Tatami Rooms, Kitchen,  2 Half Baths & Sun Porch
Well, it's not really a porch, but there is a an outer hallway that wraps around the inner rooms separating them from the outside. The row of sliding glass doors in the picture of the house above conceals the hall way and leads to the toilet at the far end. The bathtub (kerosene heated) is off the kitchen, and both are floored with linoleum. The rest of the rooms are laid out in tatami mats (woven rice straw) and the hallway floor is hard wood.

With seven rooms, I think we will sleep in a different one everyday. And the quasi sun porch will make a great place to start seeds before we take them out to the garden leased to us by our friends on the island for a few vegetables' recompense.

The island is still without water service as the pipes washed away in the tsunami. Ishinomaki city sends a tanker truck twice a week with drinking water. There is a diesel generator truck parked in the middle of the island jerry-rigged to the power lines that provides a few hours of electricity in the morning and then again at night. We have one of the few flush toilets on the island, and just so happen to have a small water well behind the house. We will have to draw up a bucket and carry it inside and fill the tank for every flush, but it is doable. I still might do a composting toilet down the road.

I would rather be without electricity than without water, but I am certainly happy we have some conveniences. We can still use the washing machine with the morning's installment of electricity and a few buckets of rain water, though only until the rinse cycle since there is no more water or way to pump it in further. Then in the kitchen we have a propane stove standard in most Japanese homes, so cooking should not be a problem.

We are thinking of a couple designs for a non-electric fridge and even an outdoor rocket stove for boiling rainwater for drinking and cooking. All along the beaches mountains of debris have floated up with each successive tide. There are heaps of wood and other building materials to build just about anything we could want...even a whole house! Now, only if we had our own land...That will surely come down the road...

For now, Michie and I are so happy to finally take the next steps in moving to the island. Her mom will probably take us to the port so we can sail to the island later this week. After that we are on our own! We will have to leave some stuff at her mom's house for a while, but I will be back for the rice harvest in the autumn (since I won't actually be there to help her family with the rice planting in a couple weeks...bummer).

After all that has happened, what's a couple more days' wait, right!?!