Tuesday, June 28, 2011

egret island

Another kayak trip, this one a bit further from the coast to a rocky little island that has been made into a bird sanctuary and is off limits to visitors. It's pretty cool to coast right up to it, though, and though they're not very visible in the low-res phone camera shot, the island is covered with gulls and egrets and the odd kite and other birds. The waves picked up on the way back, and it was fun to try to figure out how to move with the waves most efficiently. Sardines were jumping in front of me the whole way back (maybe I should just get like an insect net and tie it to the prow and see if I can catch a few). Spent about two hours all together, paddling pretty steady. I'm starting to get used to this, I thought, and was promptly reminded I was a novice by being dumped in the surf right in front of the house. It's a lot easier leaving the beach than getting back when the surf gets high and the very narrow cockpit that takes time to squeeze out of doesn't make it any easier.

Friday, June 24, 2011


The weather's been fine the last couple days, but it's surfer weather--windy, with high waves breaking close to shore. I ended up buying the kayak (I can't believe the owner let it go for so little, but I'm very grateful), and I'm itching to get out and spend as many hours as I can getting used to it.

So I took out my frustrations by going to the local guy who handles bamboo and other garden materials: stones, wooden gates, huge rocks, etc. For some reason we hit it off right away, and I got lots of info on which bamboo to buy (winter bamboo, not spring or summer bamboo), and which fertilizer product is big among the gardeners, and why he uses eucalyptus in his office wood stove, and why his yoshizu (bamboo screens) will last for four or five years while the ones you get at the DIY centers only last one or two.

I ended up buying more than enough stuff to build a frame over the deck (wood and bamboo) to support a yoshizu (a bamboo screen) roof. Got a ride home in the truck carrying the load, and was serenaded the whole way (10 minutes) by the driver, who--when he found out I was from Tennessee--insisted on singing two verses of "The Tennessee Waltz", in a very nice voice, I might add.

Wasn't particularly planning on getting into it right away, but the waves were still full of surfers and it was only 4:30pm, so I started putting up the posts to see how difficult it was going to be. It wasn't, and I ended up finishing the frame and most of the roof. I started out using screws and wire and wasn't at all satisfied with how it held up and how it looked. Started using hemp rope instead, and it was awesomely easy--everything held, everything looked good, everything felt right. So tomorrow I'll redo the screws and wire part and start with the rest.

I realized I could build walls of bamboo screen as well, ones that can be lowered and raised, and M can have an airy room overlooking the sea that will let the breezes in while blocking most of the light. Can't wait to get cracking at the rest of it. One more visit to get more hemp rope and some more yoshizu.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


Spent another couple of hours in the kayak, trying to get a feel for dealing with the wind and the tide. Went up the coast past Sajima, the next village which meant making my way past some nice rock formations, and the inevitable tetrapods which are meant to lessen coastal deterioration but end up doing the opposite. Got a wide-brimmed hat from the girls for Father's Day, so no more worries about ending up being a Redneck (well, more of one than I already am).

Thursday, June 16, 2011


A local woman with tengusa, a kind of seaweed that goes into making a jelly-like dish called "tokoro ten." She had pulled clumps of it out of the tide pools and was cleaning it before washing it in fresh water several times and drying it. The process sounded incredibly time consuming for the small amounts she was going to end up with.
Went on a day trek to Jogashima with Sangawa-san of 3knot, the sabori specialist. (If you can't remember what "sabori" is, it basically means to goof off, or to escape from what you're supposed to be doing.)

Jogashima is an island at the tip of the Miura Peninsula, and it lies just across from the port town of Misaki. Misaki was once a booming port specializing in tuna, with three movie theaters, nightlife, inns, etc., but it's seen its heyday and now is marked more by closed shutters and empty streets than the hustle and bustle of a real port. Still, there's something very romantic about it: behind the crumbling facades of many of the buildings are the remains of beautiful kura-style architecture, and everything feels very slow and deliberate.

We took a taxi boat across the harbor to Jogashima, and started our walk past the signs of what must have once been a thriving tourist business. It's a short four kilometers around the island, but with all the climbing and making our way around narrow rock pathways, it took more than four hours, including stops for lunch and one stop at a spring that was supposed to have been used by Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-1199), the first shogun of the Kamakura Period.

The coast is striated with the various ridges of the lava from volcanic eruptions, and it seems like you're never walking on flat land. There was plenty of color, but for some reason, it felt more like a black and white world. Sangawa san's blog post of the trip is here.

The boat that takes you to Jogashima from Misaki. It costs ¥200 for an adult, and it leaves whenever you're ready. 
This marlin with it's broken off sword kind of captures the atmosphere of the island's tourist industry. It's still there, but it's a bit worn at the edges.

The walkway up to one of the island's many lighthouses. Don't ask me why there are Ionic Greek columns supporting nothing leading up to a Meiji-period lighthouse. It's very Showa, very "bubbly", very cool.
Another view of the lighthouse.
Sorry, I was kind of captivated by this place.
Some of the rock patterns were almost hallucinogetic.
The captain of a small boat that takes customers around the coves and inlets. I don't think he'd had any customers in a long time, but he seemed perfectly content sitting on the calm waters among the rocky crags.

This is the lighthouse on the Tokyo Bay side of the peninsula. Whoever built this whimsical cement pathway to it had a sense of humor; it twists and turns for no rhyme or reason. For some reason, all the tide pools were filled with sardines--dead and alive--who were acting like salmon, throwing themselves up on the rocks.
A happy crab had managed to grab some lunch, and though the flopping fish got away in the next tidal surge, the crab managed to get more than a few bites of sashimi before it did.
Even the deserted police box came in the form of a lighthouse.

Friday, June 10, 2011


 I was starting to give up hope of finding a kayak that wouldn't break the bank. The shops near here have very few used ones, and while I thought the internet would be helpful, I haven't found anything that would solve my problem. I contacted K-san, a friend who lives down the coast and someone who seems to have connections everywhere and told him my dilemma. He called me back two days later and said he had a friend who might be willing to sell one of his old kayaks. Yesterday we went over to the friend's house, loaded it on to his van and brought it back to Akiya. We stopped at the local kayak center and asked the shop owner to give us his opinion and see if he could help me come up with a good price to offer without screwing myself. He looked at it and right away said it was a Mariner kayak made by the British company Northshore, and it was a very good fiberglass kayak in spite of being a bit banged up and missing the hatch covers.

By the time I brought it home to try it out, the sea, which had been very calm in the morning had gotten very choppy, and it's stayed that way the rest of yesterday and all day today. I've got a life vest but I'd like to get used to it in calmer waters, so I've been trying to stay patient. . . .  but this is getting seriously frustrating. Spent a day doing chores, including shopping at the newly opened farmers' market, which is very decent, making some Spanish marinated sardines, and getting an old motorbike tire for the rope swing I've made for m. 

Tomorrow's supposed to be better; rainy but with little wind so I've got my hopes up. If I like it after trying it out, I have to find a way to talk the owner into a decent price for letting it go. K-san said the owner seems to be living in Tokyo and doesn't come down much anymore, so we'll see.

Friday, June 3, 2011


 Last weekend, m's schools' undokai athletic meet was cancelled due to the typhoon passing through, so it was rescheduled for Tuesday. Thanks to my present unemployed state, I was able to make it anyway. Compared to last years event, there were much fewer parents attending, so it was not quite such a competition for good seats around the school ground. m appeared in several events: the class dance (above) which had something to do with eating rice and the words "rock'n'roll." I never figured it out because she refused to practice in front of us because it would ruin the surprise.
 She didn't get picked for the special relay event which mixes kids from all the grades this year. But she did well in the 40 meter dash, and came in second in her heat (above) against four boys.
And her red team came in first in this event, which I don't know the name of, but it involves having relays of four kids run a slalom course while hanging on to this pole.

The school is split between a red team and a blue team and unfortunately, the blue team won the games 412 to 395, which left m in a disappointed funk for about 30 minutes.

I didn't get a picture of it because I had only brought the telephoto lens, but there was the oddest sky: a circular rainbow surrounded the sun, and then there was just a straight band of rainbow (rainbar?) across the eastern sky. The wind was strong all day, kicking up the dust from the field, but the sun was out strong and we got a bit sunburned.


 Our house is featured in this months edition of Chiruchinbito, a magazine about traditional Japanese house building methods. The article is all about how we worked with the contractor and their own architect to design the house so that we could use all the various interior parts of the old traditional house that we tore down in order to build this. It was exciting to have them come and do the shoot, because the magazine was our bible when we were planning this place.
 M's mom had at least 20 or so back issues of the magazine, and we'd pore over them looking for things we liked (or disliked), and ways that we could incorporate them into the design. They also had lots of articles about the various types of wall plasters, natural wood stains, wood stove use, etc., etc., and it helped a lot to be able to turn to the magazine when we needed more information on something.
Our good friend who is the salesman for the contractor often brings people by who want to see something that the contractor has done. Yesterday was pouring rain but after they checked out the house we sat down for tea and the cat Mario leaped up on the woman's lap and went to sleep and we sat around chatting for a long time. It's what we like about the house: people seem to find it very comfortable and are never in a hurry to leave. And the more time we spend down here, the slower our lives become and we can find no reason why they shouldn't hang out.