Organic farming, Japanese recipes

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Rainy season and ume plum liquor

We’re getting ready for a trip back to America in a couple days, and it looks like we might be taking off through a typhoon! The 2nd of the year is on its way north, over Okinawa right now, and it looks like a doozy.

Seasons around here are wacky. A very popular question for foreigners is, “Do you have four seasons in your country?”, and no amount of meteorological education can sway people’s instinctive belief that Japan is the only place in the world that really has four seasons.

Despite this, you could easily argue that the extended rainy season between spring and summer constitutes a fifth season, and the Japanese certainly treat it as such. Temperatures usually drop a little, the humidity skyrockets, and the typhoons start coming.  As they form in the SW Pacific and start to swing northward they’re a regular feature on the news, and as they get closer they bring days of rain if they swing wide, or an increasing gale and downpour if they come our way.  During the rainy season I’ve had leather shoes grow mold and wool sweaters mildew.  They’re in sealed bags this year!

Japanese plums on the tree

The rainy season apparently started 18 days early this year, and despite the fairly cool temperatures we were lucky that the ume plums ripened a bit early too, in time for our trip.  We like to invite ourselves over to our friend’s house who grows the plums and help ourselves to some of the variety called ‘nan-kou’. That’s the variety used for juice or liquor, rather than pickling, and as such they just leave those trees to themselves and harvest what comes–the other trees they spray, process into salted pickles, and sell mostly on the domestic market.  We always make umeshu, Japanese plum liquor.  If you’ve tried the Choya stuff from the store and found it way too sweet, remember that it’s possible to make your own at any sweetness level you like.  We usually use 40-50% of the standard amount of sugar, resulting in a sweet but very tart liquor.  Delicious!

Finding the best ones

Picking is usually a pretty sweaty affair but this year it was a very pleasant family evening out.

In pretty short order we had 12 kilos or so.

Soaking in water for cleaning


Processing is pretty easy–just remove the stem connecting point with a skewer or knife, soak overnight to wash, lay them out to dry, and set them soaking in 35% alcohol white liquor and some sugar. That’s it! In as little as 3 months you can enjoy it, but you can soak the plums much longer and then even age the product after you remove the plums. We have some 5- and 10-year stuff around here somewhere… not telling where! 😉

Plums soaking in liquor and sugar

In the last picture you can see the color has changed–these have been soaking overnight at this point.  If you look closely you’ll see that the plums are also floating in the middle of the liquid.  The sugar has dissolved and the sugar-heavy liquid has sunk to the bottom and it’s heavier than the plums.  It’ll all normalize in time.

As a final note on plums, these are not really plums.  They’re actually species of apricot but if we started calling them that no one would know what we’re talking about.  So for everyday purposes, they’re plums! I hope you agree that the misnomer isn’t quite as offensive as, say, the Clean Air or Patriot acts.

And we’re offline for a month and a half!  See you all soon enough in the summer heat!

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The Emperor of Japan rolled through town

When was the last time you saw an emperor?

All joking aside, there were some interesting things about this visit. First, nearly all of the road construction in our area for the past couple months was tied to this visit, and funded by the country rather than our prefecture. We appreciate it and some of those surfaces really needed it (as did the commuting schoolkids, who now have a sidewalk around a very dangerous corner), but it makes you wonder if his eminency is aware of ‘real’ life in Japan, if there is any such thing. On the other side of that coin, however, the empress gained huge respect in the country by insisting on raising her kids by herself as much as possible. To this end she had a kitchen installed which she could use, among many other things.

Second, even given the pair’s position, I thought that that the security surrounding the visit was pretty extreme. Hordes of police were brought in from around the country to stand in front of every business along the Emperor’s route (mostly they just told each and every customer what time the road would be closed, thought not even very clearly at that), and more were brought in to inspect all bridges, bushes, etc., along the route.

Were the hordes really necessary? I don’t want to get invaded by the Japanese secret police or anything, but if I really wanted to do anything harmful I don’t think it would have been too hard given the MO of the police. Can you really trust a man’s life to a group of people who can’t clearly explain that a road will be closed from x o’clock to y o’clock? Don’t know for sure, though–the security guard in the passenger seat of the main car looked like he was made from the same stuff as one of the Terminators.

Finally, we were a little sad that our local park has been closed for a few days getting ready for a visit by his eminenciness. As far as we can tell he actually did show up there today, but it was to a crowd of people who won an all-country lottery and met up at the local airport at 6 a.m. (serves them right?) to pass security and wait inside the park for the event. It would have been nice to have even a section in the nosebleeds reserved for local folk, but oh well.

I guess it was easy enough for us to line up on the side of the road to see them drive by.

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Taking care of bee-zness: asian giant hornets

Asian giant hornets are a pretty big deal around here. People know the season they start to appear (now), and they know how to generally avoid conflict. But when our spheres overlap, for example, when one of these guys starts to build a hive on the side of your house, it’s time to take action.

I’ll keep it short and sum up with the final tally:
Me with fruit juice trap: 0
Old Japanese guy with bee spray that sprays 10 meters: +1
One asian giant hornet: -1

As a postscript, when I was digging to dispose of the body I dug up a nest of mukade, Japanese poisonous centipedes. *sigh* Maybe it’s just going to be that kind of year?

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