One More Watermelon Post

Day two of this summer’s watermelon fiesta started bright and early, though I was a bit slow to the draw at 5 something in the morning.  The crop is late this year because it’s been pretty cool and rainy, so even though it’s nearly August, things aren’t quite in full swing yet.  That said, we picked quite a few melons.

I love this picture for some reason — the trusty Yanmar watermelon wagon (they used wheel barrels in the old days — some people still use them) with Chieko’s dad thumping melons in the background.  The distinct sound of him tapping on melons in the next row, checking which are ready for picking, is one of the more powerful sensory elements of this experience.  It’s always there in the background.

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If you’ve ever wondered what a fully functioning watermelon field looks like, here you go.  The brown patches are clumps of hay used to keep the melons from getting sunburned.  This is Japan, remember, the land of beautiful fruit.  The best melons from this area sell for about $25 in the supermarket, so it seem very gluttonous during a break in the picking when we slice open a melon and only eat the most delicious and sweet inner core.

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And unlikely watermelon picking duo.  

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I think I’ve mentioned many times that the scenery isnt all that bad out here.  I’ll mention it again.

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Most of the crop goes to a local co-op to be processed (i.e. polished and sorted by size, weight, and beauty), but Chieko’s parents also do a good deal of private sales.  That batch gets unloaded into the barn.  There is some rhyme and reason to these piles of watermelons, again based mostly on size, shape, and overall perfection.  I can’t say I totally understand the difference though.  As we unload melons from the truck, Chieko’s dad tells me which pile to stick them in and I do just that.

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So that was our whirlwind watermelon weekend.  I was frickin exhausted last night when we got home.  I had intended to get this post up yesterday but opted for bed instead.  We’ll head back towards the end of next week, by which time most of the melons will probably be gone.  Can’t say I’ll be all that disappointed, though I’m sure they’ll find something for me to do!

Vacation is right around the corner, and I’m already waiting.

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Water(melon) World

I’m not sure how, but I forgot how tiring watermelon picking can be.  We arrived around 2 this afternoon and soon after headed out to the watermelon patch for about 4 hours.  I’m toasted.  After a rather large feast and a bottle of beer, I’m not long for the world of the conscious.  Cheiko and her mom are about to go for a soak at an onsen (hot spring), and I was invited, but the idea of sitting in 100 degree water is not at all appealing to me right now.  I’m taking full advantage of it being perfectly acceptable behavior to keel over on the floor after gorging myself full of food.

Here are a few pics from today.

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Fading out.

Friday, I’m Yours

Everything in moderation.  

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Chieko and I usually have a good vent about the day’s frustrations on our drive home each evening.  The transition from urban blight to relative countryside, work to home, is naturally calming.  But sometimes I have to make a very conscious effort to switch off the angst once we pull into the driveway.  Especially now that we are so close to vacation, and my tolerance of all the idiosyncrasies associated with my job is waning.  

I really enjoy working with my wife.  We don’t see each other all that much during the day, but it’s nice to be able to pop into her office now and then and see her and/or her air conditioner (I still haven’t caved in to my own) now and then.  It will be pretty weird this fall, when she’ll be on maternity leave, to have someone else occupying her office.

Her belly is starting to get pretty big and pregnant looking, and we have our next doctor’s appointment next weekend.  Hopefully it will be more fulfilling, ultrasound wise, than our last one.  The baby is also moving more, though pretty sporadically, so I haven’t been able to feel it that much.  We’re starting to talk about names a little bit now that we are pretty sure it’s a boy.  We keep coming back to the name Ray, which Chieko mentioned liking before she ever got pregnant.  The name is pretty appropriate; both of my grandfathers were named Raymond, and it’s my middle name.  So Ray is a pretty cool tribute, and at the same time somewhat original.  It also translates to Kanji (Chinese characters), and has the crucial attribute of being easy to say for both our Japanese and American family members.  So since we both like the name, our search for other options is pretty half assed.

We’re heading to Niigata in the morning to help Chieko’s parents with the watermelon harvest.  In the past, we’ve been able to go for a week or so during the peak of the harvest.  But our new schedule at work doesn’t allow that, so I want to go for a weekend at least.  Her parents are just starting to harvest on Sunday, so I won’t be able to help that much, but better than nothing I suppose.  We’ll head back the week after next to help clean up the fields, which will probably have been fully picked by then.

So stay tuned for some Japanese countryside, watermelonly pictures in the next few days.

Have a wonderful weekend.

To The Edge And Back

I stayed awake well into the night last night watching the end of the British Open.  There I was at 3 in the morning, watching the British Open in Japanese on the TV, the Red Sox on the computer, drinking Budweiser.   Unfortunately both Tom Watson and the Red Sox lost the drama was worth staying up for.

Despite my excess of beer and lack of sleep, I was feeling pretty good this morning when I rolled out of bed.  Today was Sea Day, which is a national holiday here in Japan, so we had the day off.  Chieko mentioned that she wanted to go to the famous cliffs of Tojinbo, which people routinely hurl themselves off of when life gets to be too much.  They’re about 2 hours to the south, in Fukui prefecture.  So off we went around noon for an afternoon of doom and gloom.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the cliffs were a big disappointment.  For a place with such a dark and troubled reputation, I was taken aback by how touristy it is.  The place was packed with families, everyone creeping as close as they could to the edge of the cliff to peer over into the ocean.  Everyone was smiles and laughs, taking pictures against the backdrop of the Sea of Japan.  

But what really let me down was the fact that these cliffs weren’t even that high — easy cliff diver fare, I would guess.  I could envision many scenarios where a plunge off these cliffs wouldn’t result in injury, let alone deaths.  You have to hope you land on one of the submerged rocks, on your head.

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We grabbed some ice cream and wandered around the touristy little center of town for a little while.  The stink of BBQ squid was heavy in the air, since every other shop was open pit grilling them on the sidewalk.  Smelly.

On our way home, we flung ourselves into the mountains, not really knowing where we were headed but going on the assumption that eventually we’d get some place we recognized.  Japan has an amazing network of narrow roads winding up and over (and sometimes through) mountains whose only purpose seems to be to link tiny hamlets and provide some scenic/hair raising driving through fairy tale forests for people like my wife and I.

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There’s a valid argument that Japan has completely marred/tamed nature which I’m not going to delve into at the moment.  But these small roads are one example of how you can be in very remote places and still find signs of how people have altered the environment.  The ever present power lines are another.  And the fact that majority of these fairy tale forests are full of non-native species an are meticulously maintained is yet another. And then there are the cement mountainsides.

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This river (which flows into a dammed reservoir!) was pretty pristine, and had a really cool layer of fog rolling along top of it.

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And then the road plunged back into the darkness.

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And eventually we popped back out into a place we had been before, and we found our way home.  All in all a successful day.  

I was planning to write a bit more for this post but it got late on me and after the last few nights, I need to get to bed at a decent our and sleep well.  So, until next time.

This Would Do

I’m up late, for the second night in a row, trapped watching the British Open.  This time, I’ve got a stockile of Budweiser as a show of solidarity for my countryman Tom Watson.  I’m probably not the only one caught up in routing for him to win.  Fortunately we have the day off tomorrow, so I can drink Bud and watch golf until the cows come home.

I had the rare crappy night’s sleep last night, but I did eventually fall asleep.  And then, once I dragged myself out of bed and got functioning, Chieko and I took a drive.  Ostensibly, we were driving out to the beach.  But rather than take our usual route along the river, we got sidetracked into the mountains and wandered around for awhile, eventually making it to the beach as an afterthought.

I have this image of my head, should I live in Japan forever, that I’ll end up in some place like this — a nice house at the end of a valley, backed up by a forest and maybe a mountain, some rice paddies sprawling out in front.  

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The building in the picture is a charcoal making operation.  Not part of my vision, but the location is pretty mint.

One of the things I love about living here in Ishikawa is that it’s so easy to stumble upon places like this.  There are so many clusters of houses that pass for towns, tucked into nooks and crannies between mountains or at the end of valleys.  They are perfect really — far enough away from town to see the stars, but close enough to get to a school or a supermarket without too much trouble.  

I was hoping to take bunch of pictures today and make a post expanding on this idea, of how easy it is to get off the beaten path, so to speak, here in Japan.  We saw a lot of cool stuff that we hadn’t discovered before: waterfalls, rolling fields up in the mountains, cool little towns, a giant Buddah.  But alas, I should have checked my battery before we embarked on our drive.  The only pic I had the juice to take is one above.  Going to have to retrace our steps one of these days.

Go Tom Watson!!