Thursday, November 30, 2006

Thatch Roof

Here's a view of a thatched roof like I wrote about a couple posts ago. I may have underestimated how thick they were; this looks like it's a good two feet thick! It was really pretty with the rain dripping off the roof and running from one little grass to another. Mike got a neat movie of it, but I don't know how to post movies yet. Can you imagine sewing this onto the roof structure?


Colors and Snow

A pretty view...


Meika Picture

Mike's been on my case to put more photos of myself on the blog. I told him that that means he needs to take more pictures of me. :-) I have a feeling that this will be a moot point in a couple months when I have someone new to take pictures of. :)

Anyway, here's a picture of me freezing my tail off at Hida Village.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hida Folk Village: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

This sign was posted on the fourth floor of the gassho house that we've been looking at. I recommend clicking on it to enlarge it; it's worth the read. This house was apparently the first one brought to begin Hida Folk Village.

Something that this sign brought home to me is how rapidly life in Japan has changed in just the past generation. It seems to point to 1960 as a date when the traditional lifestyle began to give way to the modern - a traditional lifestyle that included homes like the ones we're touring, with no heat, of course no insulation, and often packed-earth floors. One thing that's puzzled me ever since we got here is how such an advanced country with such temperature extremes can consider insulation a luxury. Our home here is insulated, but it's a rare exception and a much more upscale place than we'd have at home. We really lucked out with it, as "Is this apartment insulated?" was surprisingly enough not on our short list of questions. :)

The lack of insulation makes more sense, though, if mine is the first generation wherein a significant part of the population has grown up outside these old farmhouses and other types of housing like them. If you grew up in a drafty old house with packed-earth floors and a smoky fire for heat, an uninsulated apartment with a space heater would seem pretty luxurious by comparison - and if this sign is to be believed, that happened within my parents' generation.

I have to admit, this line of thought leads me to suspect that Mom might have grown up in just such a house, based on what she set the thermostat to at night in the winter... but I've been to Grandma's, so I guess she's in the clear. Good thing; school with no windows was traumatizing enough... :)


House Structure

Here's a cutaway that shows the structure of the house. To my eyes, it looked like beams criss-crossing every which way, but Mike made a little more sense of it than I did. :) The wooden slats on the outside of the roof were mainly used for "sewing" 18-inch thick grass mats to the roof. They really did "sew" them on, using rope and fist-thick needles four feet long.

Another interesting thing about these houses is that the floors were not solid above the ground level. There were spaces between the floorboards that allowed the smoke from the ground level to rise to the roof peak, where it collected. You'll notice that there are no chimneys.


Gassho House

Did I mention that it was snowing? Right after we visited the shingle-maker's house, we came to this one, built in the gassho style. Very appropriate that it was snowing, actually - these houses are most common in mountainous regions where winter snows were heavy. They were specifically designed to allow the snow to slide off the roofs so that the houses wouldn't collapse under its great weight. The word gassho refers to hands put together in prayer, which the roofs are thought to resemble.


The Old Man and the Log

I'm so sorry that it's taking me so long to upload these pictures!! I think that this was the first building that we went into at the Hida Village. The old man in the picture on the left is splitting logs to make into shingles (the shingles are in the photo on the right). You can see that he's drying the logs over a fire in front of him before splitting them. This guy was a master, too. He seemed to be deaf as a doornail, but managed to communicate that he was eighty years old and had been doing this for sixty-some years. Wow! There was a newspaper picture of him on the wall (you can see it in the left corner behind the standing man) doing the same thing when the emperor and empress visited back in 1991 or so.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Pretty Lake and Swan

Do you see the little white flakes flying though the air here? If not, click on the photo for a larger view... Yes, it is indeed snowing. It was really, really COLD this day. REALLY cold. Pretty... and very, very cold. It was here that I decided that I was going to need some warmer winter clothes, even if I would only be pregnant for half the season...


First View of the Village

As you come in the gates, this is your first view of the village. Beautiful, eh? This isn't an original village; rather, it is a collection of historic houses that have been relocated from the surrounding area in kind of an open-air museum. It was really an amazing place - both of us consider it one of the highlights of our travels in Japan so far. As you can see, we didn't quite get the weather we'd hoped for and we did end up driving to the village that day.


Fall Color

Mike photographed some beautiful leaves.


Hida Folk Village - finally!

Well, I've finally realized that I am just not going to have time to post all of the pictures of Hida Folk Village at one time, so I'll just do a few at a time...

We had originally planned to go to Hida no Sato (Hida Folk Village - click here for more information) on Saturday afternoon. But when Saturday afternoon came, we were happily strolling around downtown enjoying the shops...and it was raining. We'd hoped to rent bikes to take out to the village and figured that the weather couldn't really get any worse (that was my thought, anyway), so decided to wait until Sunday and give ourselves plenty of time and maybe better weather. Heh heh heh...

Here we see the beautiful fall colors on the way in to the village.


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Street Scenes in Takayama

Looking through the photos I've posted so far didn't really give me a feel for the streets of Takayama, so here's an attempt to improve on that. :) Takayama is known for a couple of historic neighborhoods - here are some pictures to give you a "feel" for this part of the town.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Do you believe in magic?

I do! I do! On Monday evening, Mike and I had another doctor's appointment. Everything looks good: the baby looks healthy (her thigh bone measurement is still a week ahead of everything else), and I'm gaining weight (too much for Japan, of course!). Only one problem: The baby is in breech position (butt down). At 29 weeks there's still time for her to move, but Dr. Kato would like to be a little more proactive and, with a slightly self-conscious look, tells me to make an appointment this week for acupuncture and moxibustion. Eh? For what? It's an old Chinese herbal-burning therapy that seems to encourage babies to turn. It also explains why our clinic smelled like some kind of wacky tabacky that day. :) So yesterday afternoon I went in for my treatment. I took off my shoes and socks, laid on my back on an examining table, and bared my belly. The woman doing the therapy tapped my tummy and swirled little bitty acupuncture needles in five places on my tummy. Then she took these little cylindrical things (about the size of a cigarette filter) that looked like cork, stuck some adhesive on the bottoms, and affixed them to my belly in these five spots. Then she lit them. On fire. On my belly. Crazy! Okay, they weren't really burning, they were smoldering, and I was instructed to tell her when they started to feel hot while she stuck some needles in my feet and attached some burning cork to my feet, too. After doing this a couple times, she had me roll onto my left side while she did the same thing to four points on my back. Then I was instructed to get up and sit in a chair while she did something similar to my feet. That part actually hurt a little bit, because she couldn't use the burning corks here - the acupuncture point is on the outside base of the pinky toenail. Instead, she used cork fluff, and I got a little singed a couple times -just enough to make me jump. The whole thing was done in less than forty minutes. I was told to go home right away and lay on my left side for at least one hour (the baby being camped out head-up on my right) and to make sure that I slept that way that night. So I did. Today, I went in for an ultrasound to see if the baby had moved or if I needed to another treatment appointment for next week. And, if you hadn't guessed from my title, the baby had indeed moved! She is now in perfect head-down position! Amazing! Magic, I tell you! Dr. Kato kind of smiled and said that he had initially been quite skeptical of this treatment and had no idea why it worked, but that he had found it to be a very effective therapy. I appreciate his willingness to try it. I was a little nervous, but this was much more comfortable than any of the other options I've heard: being hung kinda upside-down on an ultrasound table as Mom was with Mark, external cephalic version, or a c-section. I highly recommend it! :)


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Tsunami and More

Hi all! I just wanted to quickly post something reassuring for anyone who's seen the tsunami warnings on TV in the last little bit. We're well south of the warning and south even of the advisory, as well as being a few miles inland and on high ground, so we're quite safe. Do pray that it's not too destructive. I'm planning to post some more pics of our trip to Takayama tomorrow - the best ones yet! - and have an interesting experience of an alternative treatment I had today for baby-turning (she's breech right now). Stay tuned! :)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Clue

Does this warning sign give us a clue, or does it just deepen the mystery??

That's all for now... next time, the highlight of the trip: Hida no Sato, or Hida Folk Village!


Drunk as a skunk... or something

Gives new meaning to the phrase, ne? :) We don't actually know what this animal is...



Somebody didn't want their picture taken after dinner. :)



We finally decided on Mexican for dinner... Yummy!!! Who knew we'd find Mexican in Takayama? Western food is always a treat.



...and when we turned around, there was a startlingly massive tree behind us - just huge! This is a picture of the trunk, which was easily several meters in diameter. It must be hundreds of years old. If this tree could talk, the stories it would tell...



That evening, Mike went for a little walk and found this amazing chrysanthemum display in a local temple. Check out the pink ones to the left formed into a huge umbrella - I never knew you could do bonsai with mums before coming to Japan! This was similar to the display that we saw at Nagoya Castle last fall (for those who were here then), just much smaller.


Groooooovy Motorcycle

Mike really liked the grooooovy motorcycle we found! I think it was the grooovy paint job. :) By the way, he would like me to point out that he's "sitting silly" (my term) on purpose. :)


Nice Mike

Awwww...isn't he cute?? (heehee... I'd better hit publish before he sees what I wrote)


Wood Block Printing

This was really cool. One of the shops we went into specialized in woodblock printing. They'd do these intricate carvings in the wood blocks (the black one was especially detailed), then use these to stamp layers of ink on different things. We got a couple of little paper wall-hangings; they also had little cloth animals that looked like Christmas ornaments. It was really neat.


Sake Barn

Mike and I stopped in this sake brewery and Mike sampled a bit of the local brew while we warmed ourselves by the fire. It was a cool little resting spot - and the sake wasn't half bad either! (I had to try a sip, of course!)


Pretty Street

Takayama's claim to fame is its historic streets and preserved traditional architecture. It was pretty neat.


Cool puppet thing

This thing was really cool! Someday I'll figure out how to upload video and you can actually see it. :) It was placed over a drainage gutter and there was a water wheel placed under it which powered the puppet guy. He wiggled his eyebrows and lifted the box in front of him up and down. When he lifted it up, different food dishes showed up each time underneath the box. Clever...


Ahhh, fall...

It was fall in Takayama... :) This is me. With an umbrella. Standing in front of a wall.


Day Number Two

Day number two dawned cloudy and rainy... but we were not to be deterred! After a late breakfast, we wandered down to the local tourist shop and purchased a couple umbrellas, and we were off! We started our morning at the morning market - kind of like a farmer's market. Fun! We sampled a few items and Mike purchased some spicy pickled spring onions and I bought a couple of apples. We'd just gone through the morning market here, and Mike's standing in front of Takayama's fish ladder.


Sunday, November 12, 2006


We concluded our first day with an experience that no photo can capture (plus, we didn't take any :). We were having a little trouble finding a restaurant that was open, but stumbled across a little hole that had beef and an English menu displayed - score! It was absolutely amazing. This area is known for its Hida beef and Houba miso sauce, as we learned, and this is what we had for dinner. The proprieter's wife first brought out a little grill and lit it, then brought out small cast-iron griddles which she covered and placed over the fire. As we waited for our meal to cook, we ate tofu seasoned with something we couldn't quite place - tea, or licorice, or something - sitting in soy sauce and topped with sesame seeds. Yum! The main course was what was amazing, though. It consisted of small strips of Hida beef (just under 1/4" thick and about 2" long) cooked in this Houba miso paste - sweeter and milder than regular miso - with enoki mushrooms and, of course, a side of steamed rice. It was absolutely amazing; beef that just melted in your mouth and had a fantastic taste. I don't normally particularly care for miso, but this was amazing. A great date night! A good time for me to stop for the evening now, too! My week is looking a little busy, but I'll try to get the rest of these pictures up shortly nonetheless. Stay tuned - the best is yet to come!



Although Mike was a bit skeptical that all of these were original movie props, he thought that the Terminator was believable. Here he's staring down the Terminator. :) Oooooo, scary...



That evening, as we were walking around town, we ran across a little store that looked interesting. It turned out to double as a museum and had a whole bunch of props from Hollywood movies (or so the guy said - I believed him, but Mike wasn't so sure about all of them). In addition to the nice aliens you see behind you, there were gremlins, the Terminator, and so so much more. Definitely one of our more unique stops!


A REAL Japanese Garden

One of the cool things about this trip is that we got to peek into more traditional daily life for regular people (little bitty peeks, but peeks nonetheless). A lot of times, we tour around and look at castles and palaces and the lives of the wealthy without ever seeing the real everyday stuff. We ended up going for quite a long walk on our first day in Takayama, and saw this woman working in her garden. So neatly organized! We saw quite a lot of gardens like this.


Trimming the Trees

We saw this man trimming his apple (or pear?) tree our first afternoon. I wonder, did he plant this there...?


Meika and the Tree

We arrived in Takayama at around 1:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon and started walking around right away. It was a perfect afternoon; absolutely beautiful weather!


A Weekend in Takayama

Mike and I just returned from a fun weekend in Takayama! We both think it was one of the better weekend trips that we've taken. More on that later! Takayama is about a three hour drive northwest of Nagoya and into the mountains. Although we don't have much fall color to speak of here yet, you can see the trees are beginning to change behind me - we're in the mountains now! This was taken at a rest stop maybe 2/3 of the way there. I should note that Mike really outdid himself this weekend - not only did he take Friday off so we could get an early start, he even (surprised me! and) took the afternoon off on Thursday just for me!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Holy Cow!

I found an interesting article today on the Michigan Land Use Institute's website about how the Michigan Department of Agriculture is cracking down on small farmers selling directly to consumers - much more harshly than they are on big factory farms, apparently (read more here). I can't say that I'm impressed with the wisdom of this action, especially with the big e.coli spinach scare earlier this year. It seems like there must be a better way to ensure food safety, especially when the threat seems small and theoretical (to my inexpert self). There are a lot of advantages to buying local farm products - I don't like that our state is trying to make it harder to do this. Photo by Emil Lofblom