Dreaming Big in Japan

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Seed Balls and The Lazy Man's Garden

Well, it is not really all that lazy, it did take some time and a dash of physical exertion to make a boatload of seed balls. Check out the process over at Dream Seed Farms...

Heckuva lot easier than pulling sukanpo roots!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Adventures in Raising an Earthbag House

Check out the earthbag house we started to help build at our Permaculture teachers' place in Nagano Prefecture. You can read more over at Dream Seed Farms...

Six days and more than half way to the roof...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Week of Work, a Week of Rain

I used to pay lots of money to go really fast on the shinkansen (bullet train) when I traveled around Japan. For my last trip to Nagano, I left about a week ahead of Michie, who would follow in a nicely appointed rent-a-car. I took the BUS! Many, many buses to be precise.

I only travel by extraordinary means
And I only take extraordinary snapshots at extraordinary rest areas.

Yuu Hime, is that you?
No. It's me, Yamamoto Kansuke. Duh!
Once I overcame the inevitable roadblock that always pops up whenever I travel from Point A to Point B, the rest of my trip was pretty smooth: I rolled into Sendai around 7pm and had about 5 hours to wait for the night bus to Tokyo. I tried to check in at the bus counter but it had just closed minutes earlier. Usually, in Japan, you can pay for bus fare in cash on the bus, just before your stop. One of the employees was leaving the counter and locking up the front door, so I asked him if this was the correct bus stop, and he said yes, and then asked me if I had a 'reservation.' 'Great,' I lamented! 

I found a pay phone and called Michie at home and asked her to try to reserve a ticket online for me. She worked her magic, and when I called her back, she gave me with a confirmation number and very detailed instructions on how to redeem the number for an actual ticket at a nearby convenience store vending machine.

I walked around for a while but could not find the right store. So, I went into a totally different store, that had a totally different ticket vending machine with totally different Japanese characters on it. I just started pushing buttons, not even knowing if I would end up with a bus ticket or an ice cold can of pop, which would have been welcomed too as it was rather warm out that evening. I recognized the two Kanji for 'number' and typed in the reservation number. Then I recognized the 'telephone number' prompt, and thought that Michie must have used our cell phone to get the ticket, entered those digits, and hit enter. Lo and behold, an image of the ticket popped on the screen and it had all the right info, as far as I could tell, and read from Sendai to Shinjuku Station in Tokyo and at the right time, etc. I even recognized the Kanji for 'passenger = man,' and knew that had to be me! I confirmed the whole thing and tried to print the ticket, but the machine could not accept cash at that moment. It printed a really long receipt and directed me to the cashier at the front of the convenience store.

I handed the receipt to the cashier, and said 'please' with a great big smile. She must have been new, and if I had bothered reading (as if I could) the sign in front of her I would have pieced it together, so she had to ask for help from the manager. They were both super nice and asked me to wait while this old dot matrix printer churned out a four page bus ticket. With ticket in hand, I called Michie back, recalled my adventure, thanked her profusely, grabbed some rice balls and some beers, sat in the park and watched a movie on my computer until my midnight departure... 

I got to Shinjuku around 5:30am, and it was a bit eerie with almost no one about. When I used to have "business trips" to Tokyo, I wouldn't even leave the karaoke bars until later than that. Maybe that's where everyone was! Even the coffee shops were closed...

This would have been quite apropos...three years ago!
I was meeting a friend to travel the rest of the way with in a few hours. In the meantime, I lurked about the neighborhood, bought some rations at a convenience store and found a small park plagued by lots of crap on the ground.  There I ate my tofu which had cost 129 yen.

Uncanny, although no bread was toasted in the fabrication of this side story
From there it was another bus, with our tickets this time on my friend's cell phone...the wonders of technology. And, a few hours carpooling the rest of the way to Nagano with another guy volunteering just like us.

I was volunteering my expertise in lifting heavy objects in exchange for learning how to build an earthbag house. All told there were over 25 volunteers at the Permaculture center throughout the week. You can read more about it over at Dream Seed Farms. Then, Michie came for our regularly scheduled PC class. Once the weekend came, the volunteers left, and we 20 or so PC students got a couple hours of work in on the house which brought us to this point:

Six days, twelve courses, and a few sore muscles later

So, that was last week. This week it rained. All week. Every day.

Back in our garden, during a brief respite from the rain, Michie and I worked on clearing the rest of the weeds from her mandala. Thankfully the rain refreshed all of our crops and also softened the soil enough for me to pull out meter upon meter of intact sukanpo root.

6ft or 2m? Who cares! It's on the burn pile now!
We did get a little break from the soggy weather, well more of a break from cooking and doing the dishes at home: The Japanese throw official parties for just about any occasion, which I totally support and condone. Thankfully, Michie had her welcome party for the hospital this week. It was held at our friends' guest house, and there were speeches, music, singing, raffles and eating galore.

And tasty adult beverages too
After the back breaking work at the earthbag workshop, I was totally raring to go on a laundry list of projects around our home and garden. The rainy season is upon us, though, and will last about a month if not longer. The trade off is fabulous produce from the garden later in the year, cool days now for stifling humidity later, pest free living for swarms of mosquitoes, and lots of time to refine ideas in our minds for projects we can implement once the sun shines again...And it will shine again...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

What's Happening Now

We have been busy and not so busy over at Dream Seed Farms. Click here to see what we have been up to...

I also got my first freelance gig working with our friends on the other side of the island. One of their neighbors, a nice little old lady, had her roof crumble during the earthquake 3 months ago. Someone must have replaced it with a new sheet metal roof, and tossed the broken roofing tiles to the side. Our job was to pick it all up and haul it off to the junk yard (our home improvement center!) in the middle of the island. 

Cement roofing tiles, nails and lot's of sun

We worked for just under three hours with most of that time spent driving to and from the junk yard. It took us 6 loads in the toy pick-up truck.  Actually, we only had two shovels, so my friends used them, and I scooped of the fragments with my hands! Thankfully we had the baskets, or there would have been a load more shoveling all around.

I was rewarded handsomely, and had lunch with them too. Our friend's mother-in-law dug up about half her garden and gave me all kinds of veggies and herbs to transplant to our garden. I also scored an old aquarium from my friend. I plan to disassemble all the glass panes and use them in various things like a solar oven, solar dehydrator, and maybe even a cold frame for starting veggie seedlings and/or extending the growing season. Stay tuned for those adventures...

In the meantime I am heading to Nagano Prefecture later today to volunteer at the Permaculture center where we are studying. Michie will be joining us later in the week. They are building an earthbag house, and will hold a work camp all this week on laying the foundation and building the first courses of the stem wall.

Absolutely awesome design, incorporating my spiral wall and others' ideas too

I plan to write a bit more about the house design later on, but the coolest thing is that it was designed by all 20+ participants, the teachers and the carpenter, all in concert with each other. We were in sub-teams and presented our ideas (my group settled on the spiral concept, and I built a miniature model). The various sub-teams presented their ideas at the beginning of the weekend seminar and before we left, we were presented with a unique design that incorporated all of our various ideas.

The living roof with herb spiral idea they synthesized is exceptionally brilliant. They even included my ideas for a spiral shaped wall and a rocket-stove-heated-cob-bench inside. I am excited to start working on it tomorrow! Hopefully, I can learn a ton, and apply it later to our own home...when we finally get to building it. At least up until the roof, the design is practically identical to mine, so this will be a good blueprint and practical experience in building a structure just like one in which we will, in all likelihood, wind up living.