August 31, 2006

Summer Pets

This was the Japanese Rhinoceros beetle Little Brother had last year.

He would walk up and down Little Brother's arm. He would sit still for his daily brushing. Have you ever heard of brushing a bug? It's not easy, but Little Brother took care of it. This beetle was a lovely pet.

This was the beetle that Little Brother bought this summer. It was from Indonesia. It came with its mate, a smaller female. Like the Rhinoceros beetle, they ate from jelly cups made especially for them.

We set up this new bigger bug box for them with wood shavings and pieces of logs. The day we brought them home, the male beetle scratched Little Brother. That cooled the relationship from the very beginning.

The male beetle was always in attack mode. It was able to fly up and out. I ended up feeding and taking care of them. I had to use tongs to put their jelly cups in the box. It was almost impossible to brush them. It was a good thing we had bought the box that was disinfected. Dani or mites couldn't live in the box. Mites feed on beetles. Both beetles passed away recently. First, the female and then the male. All of our beetles are buried in the garden.

I have decided I don't particularly appreciate this summertime petship. Especially when I have to do all the work. And especially since it was a battle (with the beetle) the whole summer!

August 30, 2006

Old Summer Friends

It seemed the cicadas started up a little late this year. They climbed out from under the dirt and have "sung" nonstop ever since. We have a lot of these holes in our garden. We also have several of the brown shells they leave behind.

This was the first cicada I have seen this summer. He stayed on this wall for a long time.

I grew up in Texas with lots of memories of cicada and skippers like this one. I have been here a long time. But I have just recently seen skippers. Maybe that's because we're usually in Texas during August and I'm never here to see them. I planted zinnias this year, too, so maybe that's the sudden attraction to our garden. Anyway, it was nice to see a memory of Texas here. Click on the picture for a closer look. I think skippers are cute.

August 29, 2006

Mugicha, Summer Tea

During my first years in Japan, mugicha or barley tea could only be found in stores during the summer months. Nowadays, bottled mugicha can be bought throughout the year. In the summer, I buy the tea bags and make it at home. I prefer this brand. It is made by a company called House.

I fill the mugicha pitcher with tap water, put a tea bag in, and let it steep in the refrigerator. No sugar is added. The pitcher of mugicha in the picture above is just starting to steep. The tea should be darker before it is ready to drink. I take the tea bag out when it is ready. It is served to guests usually in short wide glasses like the one in the picture. When it is just us, we use our daily glasses.

During the summer, stores have displays of mugicha containers like this one. The short wide glasses are available in stores at that time, too.

August 28, 2006

Another Use for PET Bottles

A few years ago, someone on TV suggested to fill PET (plastic) bottles with water and then put them where you don't want cats to go. Some cats use planters as toilets, I guess. These pictures were taken on a busy street next to a small shop. I'm not sure if the PET bottles keep cats away. We don't have any problem with cats coming to our garden. Actually, cats would be welcomed.

August 27, 2006

Loose Ends from Our Trip

There were a few pictures that weren't included in any posts about our trip. Perhaps someday there will be a gallery, but for now I'll post these as Loose Ends.

I took this picture and the next one near the inn where we stayed. These guys were using this long blue hose to spray water or pesticides on this field. I have a feeling it was pesticide or weed killer.

I have always been advised (by Papa) not to take photographs in a cemetery. The atmosphere here was different. This gravesite was in the wide open spaces of a rice field, behind a home, and next to a kitchen garden. It was part of the scenery and part of daily life.

It may look like a single grave but it is, in fact, a gravesite for a whole family. The long narrow stone bears the family name. Permanent vases and an incense burner are at the base of the headstone. There is a stone slab at the foot of the headstone and small altar. It covers a small hollow space or tomb. Ceramic jars of the bones of the deceased are placed there. There is a stone to the left of the tomb. The names of the deceased family members and the date of their passing are inscribed on the stone. Once, while scrubbing the stones and pruning the shubbery at our gravesite, I asked Jiji, Grandfather, how many jars could be placed there. He said maybe 15.

This is a picture of a "doorknob" at the inn where we stayed. It was on an interior sliding paper door. Our old house had these kinds of "knobs".

These were soybeans drying in the sun. They were near the foundation of one of the thatched roof houses in Ainokura. In the area outside the village, I saw small bundles of soybeans. They were hanging on the eaves of houses. Dried soybeans are eaten as a snack.

I took this picture of an old mouse trap at the thatched house where I lost my shoes (see August 24). Mouse traps haven't changed much over the centuries. Click the picture to enlarge. Compare the one I posted on August 8th.

A country road. This highway had two lanes and it had a view. Note, too, the signs (like in Tokyo) that tell drivers there is a telephone up ahead.

August 26, 2006

On the Way Home

This was the fence in front of our car in the parking lot near the thatched roof house we visited.

This screen was outside the thatched roof house.

An ice cream stand in the small town down the street from the thatched house we visited.

This is a vending machine at a rest stop on our way. For 100 yen, a small toy in a plastic ball rolls down this spiral path. I have never seen one like this. We didn't watch it in action, but it looks cool.

These are wind generators on a high hill.

At a rest stop along the way, there was a case of ropes with a story. A neighboring ruler had told the residents of the area that he would not attack them if they could make a rope out of ashes. People in the area recently tried to make one and came up with this and two others.

August 25, 2006


Big Sister bought a paper parasol for her souvenir. I was surprised (and proud) to see her using it while she walked around the Ainokura village. I thought that was pretty cool for a 14 year old girl.

Little Brother bought one of these for himself and one for a friend. They are mascots. They're about the size of my palm. They're too big to be used as keychains. Kids hang these kinds of things on their randoseru or school bag.

Little Brother also got these. You place the thin stick between your palms, spin it, and let go. They fly up into the sky. We have one that was Papa's. You can find them everywhere, but I had never seen them with dragonfly wings and eyes.

August 24, 2006

World Heritage Site: Inside a Thatched Roof House

On the way out of the area, we came across a thatched roof house in town. It allowed visitors to come in to look. As we walked in, a little sparrow flew into the entry hall where we had to leave our shoes. She lit on this ledge and patiently watched us. She had a nest of babies on another ledge. Actually, I took this picture as we were leaving.

This hearth was in the middle of the main room downstairs. The kettle was hanging from a ceiling beam. Look through the rooms at the outside door leading to the garden. Only wood and glass separate the inside from the outside. Shutters are still used at night and during storms.

Despite all the windows and doors, the house was rather dark. I was surprised to see the darkly stained wood throughout the house. I had never seen that in Japanese houses.

This was the eave of the roof outside a window downstairs. Note the metal brace.

The only way up to the upper floors were ladders like this one.

This picture was taken from the top of the steps looking down to the first floor. It was a very steep climb. There wasn't much head room at the top because of the beams. Up to the third floor was a shorter climb.

I'm glad I made it up to the third floor. This was the ceiling or the inside of the thatched roof.

Unfortunately these pictures turned out fuzzy. It is the inside view of the top of the roof. It was totally dark up there! The camera and I couldn't focus on anything. We didn't stay up there long.

The house was a small museum of items from long, long ago. On the first and second floors, there were bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling, but it was so dark it was difficult to take pictures. (It was allowed.) I managed to get a picture of these coats that were hanging from the ceiling. They are made of straw. They were used in the snow and in the rain.

Can you guess what this is? It is a pillow. I have seen these in movies of times long, long ago. They prevented "bed hair". You have probably seen how women wear their hair with kimono. Women were able to sleep and keep their hairstyle intact by lying on their sides. This pillow was put at the base of their skull under their ear.

We stumbled around in the dark for a while before deciding to leave. I stumped my toe twice and had to hobble down those ladders. I made it to the entrance only to find that my shoes were gone! The last thing I wanted was to put shoes on my aching toes, but I had to walk to the car. It was dark down there in the entrance. I couldn't believe my eyes or hands. I looked on and fingered every shelf. Several times.

Papa ran out onto the street. He looked for the woman who took my shoes by mistake. Meanwhile, I had plenty of time to try to get an adequate picture of the bird and her nest. It was a shot in the dark, so I was lucky one picture turned out.

Fortunately, I had another pair of shoes in the car. The shoes that were taken were old and dusty. They weren't worth going back for or having them sent to me. We left with just a good story. We laughed and speculated about the woman who took them by mistake. Wonder when or if she noticed? Wonder if she went back for her shoes? Bless her heart! The shoes she left behind were cleaner and newer. Mine were mighty old and worn down. It's hard to imagine she didn't feel the difference. I have to say that my old shoes were pretty comfortable and I kinda miss them now!

If there had been a suggestion box, I would have suggested better lighting in the entry hall or flashlights for the shoe cabinet. But then again, "such kind of things" (a common phrase my students here used to use) never happen here!

August 23, 2006

World Heritage Site: Leaving Ainokura

As we were leaving I noticed there was a stamp at the entrance. I wasn't with Papa when he went to pay. There was no one in the buidling as we were leaving.

Another stamp opportunity. My children weren't interested in getting a stamp at each house. They would have loved this a few years ago. They enjoyed their time here, though.

I took this picture of the sign for the village with the thatched roof houses as we were leaving. The buildings here have typical tile roofs.

It is difficult to take pictures from the car! I saw several bus stops that I wanted to photograph, but it was impossible to stop (narrow roads) and impossible to do from the car (bad angles at speed). The bus stops were small buildings where people could stand out of the road and out of the weather. I imagine they are much appreciated in the snow and the rain!

This is Main street in the town outside the village.

World Heritage Site: Around Ainokura

The porch tile on the front of this house had been replaced, but the old step had been kept.

This mill was on a porch near the front door.

This is a pump for one of the houses. It made a low purring sound.

A manhole in the village.

World Heritage Site: Gardens and Paddies in Ainokura

It looked like a gardener wrapped her corn in the funny papers. It was actually pages from a junk mail flyer. Yet another way of recycling.

The rice here was mighty dry. It was surprising because it has been a very wet year and farmers in Niigata are worried about their rice crop not having enough sun this year.

More pictures of rice and other crops.

This field of Chinese lanterns was near the entrance of the parking lot. Can you see the orange "lanterns" hanging on the plants?

These are some Chinese lanterns that we bought this summer and put on our windowsill. They sell stems of them at flower shops.

August 22, 2006

World Heritage Site: Gift Shop and Restaurant in Ainokura

We shopped at this shop. There were trinkets on straps or chains that can be hung on phones or bags or used as key chains.

A paper decoration.

There were also souvenirs of traditional items like these straw snow boots and this wooden instrument used for a regional dance.

These eel traps could be used as decorations.

The shop also had tables in the front where customers could sit and order soba and rice balls to eat. The baskets along the side are part of the shop and are for sale.

I've included this close-up of the table because of the beautiful piece of wood. A container of chopsticks, a menu, an ashtray, and a bottle of soy sauce sit on top.

This is part of what we ordered. These noodles are called soba. We ordered them cold. It can also be ordered hot. It is dipped into a small cup of sauce made of soy sauce, mirin, and seaweed broth. There is a small plate of shallots and mushrooms on top of this cup that is scraped into the dipping cup. There are rice balls and pickled vegetables on the black plate shaped like a leaf. The bamboo "plates" are sold in the shop. You may be able to see them under the eel traps in the picture above.