Sunday, November 28, 2010

New nata

A while back, I wrote about my ebinata and kukuri, offering a wealth of false information.

Of the ebinata, I wrote "I've used it savagely, especially when splitting very big culms of bamboo. This involves driving the tool through inch-thick material by hammering alternately on the spine of the blade and on the tang with another stout piece of bamboo. The tool is not harmed in the least by this rough usage."

Five years of this rough usage have unfortunately wrecked the connection between the blade and the handle, and only some very ingenious work will be able to replace it. However, it did serve magnificently during that time.

Of the kukuri, I wrote "The whole thing, sheath included, is a beautiful piece of workmanship, and the two-tone handle is especially attractive. However, a 12" blade is imposing and heavy, something I began to consider carefully only after I had ordered it. It does chop well, although not vastly better than the ebinata. The handle however fits nicely in the hand".

In fact, it isn't a particularly good piece of workmanship. The steel is rather soft and it doesn't hold an edge very well. Also, in an unplanned confrontation between the kukuri and a concrete wall, the kukuri lost part of the edge tore and folded over, and a chunk of the 'hardwood' handle chipped off. (I was splitting bamboo against a wall, and the bamboo gave way suddenly.) The handle is not ergonomic either. It's far too thick where the thumb and forefinger grip it.

To replace the ebinata, I got a straight nata. Oh, but this thing is a beauty. Look at the curves on it! It has chopping written all over it.

It's also remarkably compact, and in its case, it fits snugly against the body. The steel is far superior to that of the kukuri, and the handle is a much better shape.

I think I'll try to refrain from using this one as a hammer, and see if it lasts longer than the ebinata.

Second water butt

I originally built my shed so that I could have another roof for collecting rainwater. But having no tank to put the water in, the water simply ran off without purpose. Now I have my 200 l lorry tank however, things all come together rather nicely.

Gutter on

Hole drilled and fitting attached

Attached with a hose

Now when it's time to take the water tank to the ditch in the summer for some pumpin' action, it's just a matter of pulling the hose off the gutter and sealing the fitting with the little screw cap that came with it.

But there's a persistent little voice in my head that keeps saying "Another 400 l would be nice...". We'll have to see about that.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Summer veg in autumn

This is the summer veg that we were supposed to be getting from July and August that failed to appear due to lack of water. It feels a bit odd to be eating our first homegrown peppers in November. The mini plum tomatoes are very sweet.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Ehime EV art

I can't help myself. The photos of the Ehime EV just inspire me to get out my crayons and make pretty pictures.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ehime Electric Vehicle Project

On Friday, I put on my suit and went to the first meeting of the Ehime EV Promotion Council, of which I'm now a member. The goal of this council is to promote the Ehime EV Project for establishing an electric vehicle business in Ehime.

This is a very grassroots sort of endeavour, represented by the concept of 'Small Hundreds' put forward by Yoshihisa Murasawa of the University of Tokyo. 'Small Hundreds' stands in opposition to the 'Big Three' of U.S. car making, and instead of a few large corporations slowly moving to introduce EVs, hundreds of small organizations will convert the existing vehicle fleet to electric use.

Yoshihisa Murasawa checks out the interior

And since this is an Ehime-based project where fishing and agriculture are major industries, it's not limited to cars. The goal is to electrify fishing boats and agricultural equipment too.

Kazunobu Saito of Ehime University has already converted a small, high-performance electric car from a Daihatsu petrol two-seater.

Murasaw-sensei and Saito-sensei talk to the local media

This is a very positive development. When Matsuyama started promoting the Saka no Ue no Kumo project, I thought at the time it would have been better to have begun some sort of sustainability-related project based on resources available in Ehime. I'm glad that something of the sort is now under way.

These scooters are also electric. See = Want

Another conversion job being recharged


It was festival time again, so we all got out our koikuchi pyjama suits and did the whole crazy thing of drinking from 6 am and hauling heavy wooden god-boxes around the neighbourhood again.

Here are some choice scenes of the occasion.

The first day, Saturday, was rainy, and it was touch and go whether the evening's trundlings would go ahead or not. However, the local god ensured that the rain lifted so that we could celebrate his generally quiet presence.

Less cooperative was the generator on our danjiri. It kept huffing and puffing and cutting out, and it smelled very petrolly. All the chaps who know about these things (only one in fact), gathered round and got the backs of their happi coats soaking wet from squatting down. (The Wikipedia article says "It is believed that spirits or gods reside in the danjiri." However, I checked, and all that resides in our danjiri is lots of empty Asahi Super Dry cans.)

When the generator got sorted out, it was time to roll off into the sunset.

Things quickly got fairly raucous. People from all around wheeled their danjiri to the local Fuji supermarket car-park where we pushed the wagons up and down, lifted them up and waved them in the air, and feigned concern when a rather fat and drunken youth from another district fell off one. What's nice about the festival is that all sorts of charming people who you don't normally see around much get all chummy with you.

Another day, and more of the same. Rendezvous at the shrine at 6 am for sake from a big barrel. They have devils in red-face masks so that those who tend to colour -up after a single drink won't feel abashed. (Note to beginning students of Japanese culture: don't take my word for this.)

After light refreshments at the shrine, there was more trundling. The sun came up over Takanawa-san and it instantly got really hot.

However, the young people didn't seem to mind. They blew their whistles, waved their batons, and shrieked "Yoi-sa!" fit to burst.

On the last day, Monday, we did the omikoshi thing. The children had theirs, and we had ours. Ours is a lot heavier. We hoicked the boxes hither and thither, stopping at various houses to sup and enjoy more Asahi Super Dry.

Typically, the two omikoshi are taken to newly built homes in the village. It's alarming enough having heavy wooden things being moved about right next to your new windows and siding and all by people who are not exactly sober. But then after some slight debate, somebody called out, "Sasun-zo!". This roughly translates as "Stick 'em up", and it involves raising up both the omikoshi at 45 degrees and crossing the poles in the air. Bearing in mind that these boxes weigh a ton anyway and just carrying them around is hard enough, you can picture for yourself the amount of desperate staggering and grunting that goes on to get them up in the air. And this is in somebody's front yard. The new householders looked on with barely suppressed horror. (I wasn't able to help this time because I had to take a photo...)


After terrorizing the new people, it was time for a rest. Adults and children alike couldn't resist a bit of a splash in the double drains.

After all this excitement, we took apart all the various heavy appurtenances for moving spirits about, stowed them away until next year, and adjourned to the local meeting house for an entirely unnecessary meal and more beer.

I'm already looking forward to next year.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Water carrying car: Update

Yesterday, Sunday, I hauled two 200 L tankfuls of water from the ditch using my car. Today, Monday, the forecast changed from cloud to rain in the space of an hour.

Now, it's raining 21 mm per hour which equals about 200 L every three minutes, and the garden is pretty much waterlogged.

I'd like to spit at Fate, but it would only add unwanted moisture.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Water carrying car

I haven't posted for a while because it hasn't rained more than three times in nearly two months. This has meant that every spare moment I've had, I've been either laboriously watering my acres or trying to make my acres more absorbent by digging holes and filling them with compost. After the compost ran out, I've been scavenging material to make four new piles of compost for later.

While my garden has been gradually drying out and dying off, I've become a little disgusted by how much water is available in our neighbourhood, without any of it being available to me. Although my feijoa and figs put forth a good deal of fruit this year, none of it swelled to edible size due to lack of water. But when I go down from our promontory and amongst the fields, I can see running water everywhere and hear it babbling amongst countless irrigation ditches and rivulets.

You aren't really anyone in the country
until you get a lorry tank

So I looked for ways to get this water to run uphill. First I asked the village headman if I could take some water from the lakes or ditches. He told me not to take from the lakes, but to make free with the ditches (a distinction I don't fully understand, but it's really all the same to me). Then I got a 200 L 'lorry tank' as they're called, and a Nakatomi PSP-70NS Portable Submersible Pump (220 W). I already owned a 300 W inverter and various bits of hose. I phoned my friendly Honda dealer to check whether my plans would break our car, but he assured me they wouldn't. He did advise against using the cigarette lighter as a power source for anything with large output. Notwithstanding the Honda man's assurances, the missus saw fit to add the warning, "If you make the car unusable, I'll kill you".

I drove my Chevy to the levy, and the levy was wet. Rather gingerly, I set everything up and began pumping operations. I must admit, I did half expect to suffer electric shocks and burns and to witness the utter destruction of my car in a fiery and watery apocalypse. However, all in all it went rather well.

A hose can be more dangerous than an anaconda

I did make a number of elementary mistakes at first. When you run a hose from a ditch up into a tank placed in a car, the hose has very little weight. However, when you start pumping water through the hose, it suddenly becomes heavy, and gravity works on it in dramatic fashion. The hose slides downwards as fast as a snake, while the end of the hose flips out the top of the tank and flails about inside the car spraying water all over the upholstery at an alarming rate. The second time, I tried tying the hose to the opening rim of the tank, but the end of the hose still flew out like an angry cobra and started spraying everything, me included. Finally, I tied a small dumbbell to a length of string so that the head of the hose was fixed firmly, pointing downwards into the tank. As the water level in the tank was nearing the 200 L mark and I was congratulating myself on a very well-managed pumping operation, I suddenly became aware that I had forgotten to close the spigot on the tank, and was in fact pumping a large amount of dirty water straight into the upholstery. It took about 30 minutes of bailing and mopping to get all the water out of the back of the car in the end.

Gurgle gurgle

I did in fact ignore the advice about using the cigarette lighter, and at about the 150 L mark, the pump stopped with an electronic "peep" from somewhere. When I pulled the hose out of the tank to discover where the problem might be, the pump started up again, soaking the front of my shirt completely. Then it stopped. I took the plug out of the cigarette lighter socket and found it too hot to touch, so I decided henceforward not to risk this attractively easy option again, and to use the alligator clips on the battery instead.


The car handled fine with 200 L of water in it, although it sat quite low in the back. Emptying 200 L of water into various parts of the garden at one go feels like very luxurious behaviour, and the ground took it up with an audible hissing noise. I put gallons on the figs, the feijoa and the jaboticaba. I also soaked the ground cover in the hope that it will recover a bit before the cold comes on. The new compost piles (just dead leaves and chicken manure) also got a good dousing, because I want to be sure of huge amounts of compost to soak up the large volumes of water that my new tackle has brought within reach. They should heat up and break down pretty quickly now.

Wetting the figs

This really does seem to be a satisfactory arrangement, and I expect it will help to get the garden established such that it can ultimately withstand the summer droughts without too much stress. I don't think it's particularly 'eco', but if it ultimately reduces watering from the tap and makes the garden productive, then it's an improvement. If I can only remember to close the spigot when I'm pumping...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Fig frog

The fig trees are beginning to look like they may be productive this year. Today a little green frog was taking his ease among the big leaves. Sometimes when the wind blew up sideways, he looked a bit like a surfer riding a wave.

More than one

Last year, my apricot tree and almond tree produced one of each.

This year, there are more than one.



Almost enough to imagine some sort of almond cake with apricot sauce.

Stag beetle

This morning I was surprised to find a big stag beetle lying upside down on the balcony. It looked dead. But when I went to pick it up, it clung to my finger with that rather scary grip they have and started making its way up my arm, swimming through the hair.

Normally the young master is reluctant to get up on Saturday mornings, but when I went into his room and announced absently, "I have a stag beetle on my arm this morning", he got up rather quickly. Apparently I was handling it all wrong, and he rushed out in his pyjamas and stuck it on the big tree. We hope it's happy in our tree.

When I was moving the compost from its old location, I found three or four huge white grubs buried in the ground which I think must have been stag beetle larvae. I carefully reburied them in rich soil elsewhere in the garden, and I suppose this might be one of them. How it found itself upside down on the balcony is anyone's guess.

The stag beetle will have to take its chances with the brown butterflies that come to suck the sap. These butterflies don't take crap from anything that comes to the tree. They even tangle with the huge hornets that come to visit.

Goodbye goji

I've had enough of goji bushes and I've torn them out.

If they're not being 'skeletonized' by leaf beetles, a process which leaves them without leaves, they're being 'powderized' by mould which leaves them 'skeletonized'. For something which is supposed to make you live until 108, the life-force seems to be very weak in these plants. I'm tired of seeing their thorny, leafless, flowerless, fruitless boughs hanging all over one corner of my garden. I'm going to plant something useful in their stead.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Since the recent heavy rains have filled up my water butt, I've been putting bucketloads of water from it into the bathtub pond.

Tonight when I went to put the remains of dinner in the compost, I spotted a dark shape on one of the flagstones by the pond.

It was the bullfrog, and tonight is probably the first night he's had a chance to get out of the pond.

Let a thousand flowers bloom

Even if they're all exactly the same type that you've seen before.

These garish things look amazing in the spring sunshine after a colourless winter. Hurrah!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

A bike-ride up Mt. Takanawa

When we used to live in Osaka, I got into the habit of jumping on my bike and running for the hills to get out of the city and into some nature. Even after we moved out of the city and into nature, I continued this cycling up mountains thing until our son was old enough to start taking up most of my free time. Now that he's old enough not to require that much fatherly attention, I decided to jump on the old bike again and pedal up a mountain. Specifically, Takanawa-san which rises up gradually starting from our house (from a certain point of view).

Not without some trepidation however. The last time I went up a mountain under my own steam, I blew my left knee, and it's been blown ever since. I've been running in jika-tabi recently which has felt sort of good, but there's still an elastic band or two in my knee that feel a bit spastic.

Takanawa is the one in the distance with the antenna on top.

The steepest part is the road up from our house to the last hamlet.

Pretty soon into mixed woodland. New bamboo shoot.

You can sea the see!

Not the most perfeshnal looking cyclist. Very much the armature.

The tower at the top. You could grow a lot of peas up a frame like that!

The evidentiary photograph. The water bottles sort of prove
the bike wasn't driven up on the back of an SUV.

The view from the top

Back down in the last hamlet.
There are not two young people to rub together unfortunately.

It was a pretty good ride actually. The knee performed well in the circumstances. I sweated like a pig on the way up, and half froze on the way back down in the cool spring air. The dappled woodland arrayed on the steep slopes was most beautiful, and the songs of birds and frogs echoed marvellously all around. And I was back down in time for lunch.