Monday, April 30, 2012

Paper making

Tetsu is very pro-blog. He seems to think that I am letting Takumi and Leiya know that we are fine and healthy and having a good time. I don't know. I don't think Takumi visits my blog much at all. Leiya may get a taste of home on her weekly visits.

And Tetsu is constantly suggesting places that my camera might capture (even before I bought the new camera), especially since the car has GPS now and we don't get lost as much as before. My blog started out as a record of my quilting and patchwork but recently seems to be a tourist log...

Saturday we went out for another day of sites. Tetsu had found an article in the newspaper lauding an interesting area near us and so we started for that part of the prefecture. One of places we came upon was a paper making center. The area had once been famous for it's Japanese paper called "washi" which is made of natural fibers and is all hand made. Just getting out of the car, the smokey aroma of the outdoor fire and kettle called to us.

Washi is made from the bark of a special tree and there were cut branches in piles around the center. The branches are steamed and then the bark is stripped from the branches leaving a white inner bark. After a lot of pounding and purifying and mixing the pulp is combined with natural glues and then drained through bamboo mats to make a layer of paper. ONE SHEET AT A TIME!

We were invited into the paper making part of the center where a couple of paper makers were busy at work.

Hey! A foreigner paper maker! After a bit of chatting we realized that we knew a lot of the same people in the nearby towns. (Long-term foreigners keep tabs on each other out in the country parts of Japan.)

I got detailed instruction in paper making in English. The woman working at one of the vats is from Australia and has lived in the area over 20 years. She said she has come to the center every Saturday for the past 4 years just because she is interested in printing and paper making. What started out as a hobby has turned into a vital part of her life and she is quite proud that recently simple paper orders are given to her. She was making post cards this day which entails a simpler process than the large sheets of paper that the man was crafting.

If you are interested, I found an interesting link about paper making (where I found these lovely "woodblock" images.)

I have more pictures from this day of other places we visited but I'll leave those for tomorrow's post (and the day after tomorrow and on and on and on. I can't keep up with all the pictures I'm taking.) Takumi and Leiya, as you can see, your parents are keeping busy.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Gutters and Green Day

We have started Golden Week in Japan. Many people have the weekend and then April 30th off. April 30 is Showa Day in Japan. (not really. It is April 29th but we get Monday off anyway.) Tuesday and Wednesday are regular school days, but May 3rd is Constitution Day, May 4th is Green Day and May 5th is Boys' Day.

Tetsu has a three day weekend and then works the rest of the holiday. And he is spending this Sunday morning weeding the street gutter. What a lovely way to spend a holiday...

We live at the end of a long street. There are three other houses along the street and then a long stretch of empty lots. The neighborhood is old and when it was built no one thought to put in covered gutters... And gutters in Japan are recessed drains along the street that trap leaves and washed in dirt and debris. The houses all have drainage from their sinks and washing machines into the gutters so the water trickles along continually making it a great place for weeds to grow and mosquitoes to thrive. Yuck. (Can you see that black speck at the end of the curve? That is Tetsu starting his gutter cleaning.)

The four houses along our street take turns monthly cleaning out the gutter. During the spring months there is a lot of weeding to do, in the autumn months the fall leaves clog the waterway. Neither job is pleasant and we all have special tools for shoveling up sludge and vegetation. If I must say so, Tetsu takes his job seriously and does a perfectionist job, removing road grates and setting in grills... He has been at his job since 6:30 this morning and here it is 8:00 and he's not finished yet. I don't think anyone else is so meticulous in gutter cleaning...

Most Sunday mornings (or Saturdays) Tetsu will carry along trash bags when he and I and Choco go for a walk. It has been our routine for years to pick up garbage along the roads one day a week. It is amazing how much stuff gets thrown by the way during a week's time. I find it very depressing because most of the people who use these back roads are neighbors or farmers or people working in the community factories. Don't they care more about the area they live in? I guess not. And it is such a beautiful place if we would all keep it clean. Well, Tetsu is doing his part... again, perfectionist that he is.

My hero. Perfectionist and all. Maybe I could just say that Tetsu is celebrating Green Day a bit early.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A comfortable sofa

Mi likes to sit on the back of the cushions. (Rather than on the seat.) Tetsu claims that this makes the sofa look messy.

I think it makes the sofa look more comfortable.

"Mom. I just LOVE our new sofa."

"It's so~~~ comfy!"

Friday, April 27, 2012

Appliquing at Mrs. Furui's

Thursday patchwork day. Lorraine was supposed to come yesterday for a last visit before she returns to Australia but she has come down with a bug and had to stay home in bed. I wonder when we'll see her again.... Maybe I can get her using Messenger Chat or Skype or something (not that I'm so good at it myself.)

The rest of us, 6 ladies yesterday, sat around drinking tea and working on various projects. Mrs. Ochiai is the only one done with our game quilts and she could gallantly offer to help make pieces for anyone who needed an extra hand.

Two ladies worked on their quilts with Mrs. Ochiai helping.

Mrs. Harada furiously put together tree blocks for the bazaar quilt while Mrs. Furui and I tried designing a rainbow block for the same quilt.

"We need your husband to help us figure out the mechanics of putting together arcs."

Mrs. Furui's husband is a physicist.

"Oh, it will work out."

And it did... but not quite how Mrs. Furui and I had planned. Well, we learned something. The outer curve of an arc is different from an inner curve of an arc... Duh.

So why am I sitting on this little chair at the side of the room? Mrs. Furui claims that this is the best place and position for her to do her hand quilting... She can rest her hoop on that wooden bench and the light from the window is excellent. I guess she doesn't care about rump comfort. But SHE wouldn't demonstrate her quilting technique so I tried appliqueing in her favorite spot. Hmm.

The plus points are that and I am close to the low ironing board (yes, Japanese ladies iron while sitting on their knees) and the cutting board that was on the floor. (No room at the tea drinking table.) The minuses are the afore mentioned rump discomfort and the fact that someone has to help me up when I'm done appliqueing.

And I DID get done. This block is NOT how Mrs. Furui and I planned it but it is done and you can tell that it is a rainbow. Good enough!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Early morning walk

As spring rolls in I find myself waking up with the sun. (That's about 5:00 am around here.) If I stretch or move too much in bed then the cats come running and expect me to get up. If the cats start running then Choco knows that humans are thinking about getting up and adds to the cacophony with barks and yelps. And if Choco starts up a clatter then there is no hope of going back to sleep and I trudge downstairs yawning. Tetsu hides under the blankets and if I get to Choco fast enough he'll return to slumberland...leaving me to feed everybody and take Choco for a walk. At 5:00 am!

However the benefits of waking up early include the beautiful scenery and seeing the sun dance upon the fields. Choco and I went walking in a different direction this week... of course with the camera.

I love the way the clouds seem to be born in the hills and then drift off into the sky. In the distance, tucked between the fields, is a private cemetery. I think the farmers have made a cooperative cemetery here.

Years ago an old farmer came to my door one night and asked if I could translate some material for him. His daughter who had been living in New York for 15 years, had passed away after a long illness and someone had sent her ashes back to him. But in order to inter the ashes in the family grave the city required a death certificate... in Japanese. Together we spent a couple of nights translating the English documents. That was a hard job. My Japanese can sound so straight and brutal sometimes... even to my ears. A few days later I observed the family holding their funeral out here in the middle of these fields.

Tractor designs.

This LOOKS like a lovely small hill reflected in a rice field. It is actually the back side of a fertilizer plant. See how the fertilizer is composting? The small tractors are continually climbing the hill and turning the compost, distributing it here and there, building other small hills, mixing, churning and then carrying it away to places unknown. The mist rising from it looks innocuous but actually has a high smell. To my nose, not unpleasant. Farmy. But when the trucks filled with fertilizer go by the crosswalk in the mornings all the children walking to school hold their noses and make faces. I feel sorry for the truck drivers going past lines of children who act like they are being poisoned. I bet the fertilizer plant was here before any of the residential areas bringing children were built!

Want to get up at 5:00 with me again?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Leiya post

I was chatting with Leiya the other day and complaining that she never sends us any pictures.

"I am still waiting for pictures from Christmas!"

"Well Mom, if you would go to Facebook you could see some pictures."

It seems that it is my fault.

So I went to Facebook and I find picture after picture! Hmm. I guess I really am missing out on things by not using Facebook. But I spend too much time on this computer anyway.

Today's post is for Tetsu because when I showed him Facebook he wanted me to post Leiya's pictures on my blog so that HE can take them OFF my blog and put them in his computer at work. (There is a limit to what Tetsu knows how to do on the computer... He doesnt' know how to visit Facebook.)

Here is Leiya doing something in class... or maybe it is a meeting... I guess getting up in front of people doesn't make her nervous (unlike her mother).

This year (and hopefully next year) Leiya has been vice president of an international student organization. I think the students were dressing up in traditional garb and parading in to some event. Hey, Leiya has a yukata (cotton kimono)! I don't remember giving it to her but it must have been me. Let's see... Has she got that on right. Looks pretty good.

This must have been a similar flag bearing event and Leiya was running out of traditional garb. She is wearing her kendo (bamboo sword martial art) outfit that she used in jr. high school. She was quite good in kendo when she lived in Japan. I wonder what her kendo teacher would think seeing her wearing it with those long, dangly, pierced-earrings. Earrings are a no-no in martial arts (or for that matter even when wearing traditional kimono.)

This picture made Tetsu laugh.

"That's the Leiya I know!"

Sort of goofy. Always with a big smile. Tetsu's pride and joy.

Anyway, it is nice for Tetsu and me to see pictures of Leiya and we are happy that she seems so happy at college.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Last cherry blossoms

I guess this will be the last of cherry blossom pictures. Tetsu took me a bit north to catch the tail end of cherry blossoms. With no specific destination in mind we stopped here and there to catch the sights.

Actually not too many cherry blossoms at the first place. A big rock.

And a split rock near the entrance of a cave. The decorative "rope" is often seen at Japanese shrines and there is a whole ceremony involved with making them and attaching them to shrine doors and gates. My model doesn't look very happy, does he.

A statue of some god guarding a cave.

And a small dark shrine inside decorated with bunches of folded cranes. I'm not sure what one is supposed to worship here but there was an offering box and some little stone statues in the back too. My camera picks up the light pretty well. I could hardly see anything when I went back there.

Okay. On to a park with cherry blossoms.

Hmm. Just playing around with my camera. Here is a shot of the park in regular mode.

And here is a shot of the park in diorama mode. What do you think? The diorama mode is kind of fun... It makes everything look like one is looking at a model of an area.

A short rest on a kitty bench!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Two semi-finishes

I have a couple of finishes this weekend. No, that's not right. I have a finished embroidery block.

And the Alabama Beauty blocks have been put together... I think this is a flimsy...

I'm not quite sure why I put these blocks together in this layout. I was trying for gradation but now that is together some of those blocks sure stand out. Ah well. It is still pretty. I'm thinking that I DON'T want to put a border on this flimsy but it will stay pinned to the wall until I'm sure. I sort of like the way the white parts fade into the white wall. So no border... but this might not always be displayed on a white wall.

On to other things!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cotton Museum

On one of our jaunts out and about, Tetsu and I visited a "Cotton Museum."

As a museum goes, it wasn't much... just some pamphlets and a few photos. I guess cotton had originally been grown in the area. (And supposedly Japanese cotton is different from Western cotton...) An industry developed of spinning the cotton and then dying and weaving it though there are very few people left who do this tedious work.

The museum had a room with quite a few looms set up and there seemed to be ongoing work of people who learn the handcraft and then rent the looms. There was only one lady working on her piece the day Tetsu and I stopped in but I spent a few minutes watching her send her shuttle back and forth and back and forth.

What is it about a loom than conjurs up images of warm back lit houses in the countryside and the smell of wild flowers and natural living? I've always thought I'd like to try my hand a weaving a bit though I've never had an opportunity.

It was very satisfying seeing a couple centimeters result of the weaver's few minutes of time. It must be nice to get up from a loom at the end of a day and say,

"Well, look how much I got done today!"

I suppose that is true of a lot of handwork...

"Look how many blocks I finished."

"Look how many rows I knitted."

... but I've always been charmed by a weaving loom. Maybe someday.

I spent some time watching a lady spin her thread too. She explained that the thread is spun roughly, dyed a number of times and then spun again to the proper thickness. I thought her very Japanese sitting on her floor cushion quietly spinning her thread.

And notice that "spool" she has. This is a traditional Japanese thread and yarn spool and I have a couple myself that Tetsu has bought for me. I couldn't figure out what to do with them though so the two I have sit on my bed stand and sometimes hold decorations.