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Summer in Tsukahara

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It’s raining, it’s pouring

The topic of many Japanese blogs: rain and lots of it. Some areas of Japan are suffering from landslides and flooding. The rain in Tsukahara is heavy (3.5 inches in 24 hrs.), but there are no signs of flooding. Erika and I looked at each other and asked, “Where does all the rain go?” I thought I was used to rain because I lived in Seattle. The rain in Seattle was light and lingered for many months. The rain in Japan is heavy and lasts for about a month. When I lived in Seattle, I wished that the rain would downpour and be over with. A note of caution: Be careful of what you are wishing for. The rain is seeping between the logs in our home (fun)…I’ll have to work on that. I was told by the former renter of our home that the rain used to enter the house like a waterfall. Good grief! Fortunately, that condition has been corrected and the waterfall has been reduced to a cup of water.

So far, the rain has not been too much of an inconvenience. We managed to load up on some free firewood over the weekend. A large drainage project is being constructed near the base of Yufu-dake. The area is being cleared of trees. The residents of Tsukahara have first dibs on the wood that’s being removed. Most of the wood consists of cherry, maple, and oak. The construction crews have cut the logs into 6 foot sections which fit nicely into the back of a pickup truck. Some unwelcomed wood contractors have managed to find the wood and are hauling it away to be sold. The profits they are making on the firewood are not being shared with Tsukahara. This practice equates to stealing from the community. We alerted the community leaders and they are aware of the situation.
The wood we are collecting will be used for the winter in two years…I hope. It depends on the severity of the approaching winter. Last year, we had to scrounge for firewood and pay a premium. This taught us a valuable lesson about preparing ahead of time. The time is flying by and winter will be upon us soon. I think we will be warm and dry this winter if we can make it through the deluge we’re having this summer. 


Wednesday, June 20, 2012


So, how are the repairs to the house coming along? I’m glad you asked. The scaffolding was removed a couple of months ago. It’s nice to be able to see out the windows again. The area that was covered with the blue tarp has been repaired. The rotted areas were removed. The logs were treated to prevent further rot and insect damage. The rotted wood was replaced with new lumber. The areas were caulked and stained. Finally, a couple of clear coats of acrylic were applied to give it that glossy look. All of the finishing materials were purchased from Perma-chink . Their materials are water-based and friendly to the environment. The cement paneling between the logs required caulking at all of the joints. The panels were primed and painted beige. I like the warm colors and the beige seems to blend in with the dark brown. The color of the roof will probably be a leaf green to go with the rest of the warm color scheme. The reasons we chose dark brown for the logs are as follows:
1.     It would have taken forever to get the old dark brownish-red finish off the logs.
2.     Matching the new wood (repairs) with the old wood would have been difficult.
3.     Removing all of the gray wood would have been time consuming.
4.     Dark colored stains hold up very well to the damaging effects of ultra-violet.
5.     The most important reason…Erika loves the color.
I’ve just begun to do the repairs to keep this house standing. It’s kind of like painting the Golden Gate Bridge…once you’re done with one end, it’s time to start over. I’m concentrating on the rotted areas, but with a full time job, it’s not an easy task. As soon as I thought I had taken care of most of the rot, I found a few more areas. Yes, it’s frustrating to say the least, but I’m becoming an expert at rotted log repair.
The rainy season has started in Japan, so the housework has moved inside. I have as much to do inside as I do outside. I learned that I shouldn’t move too far ahead when applying finishing coats to the interior surface of the logs. This is because of the heavy rains. I might find water stains seeping under the finish coats. That’s not a good thing.
The work inside requires patience. The old, white sealant must be removed. Then, foam rods are fitted into the cracks. The rods prevent a heavy buildup of sealant from forming when the sealant is applied. A thin layer of sealant is flexible and less likely to crack/ peel due to expansion and contraction. All of the water stains are carefully removed with a razor blade using a scraping motion. This method takes forever, but it prevents a blotchy appearance when a light colored stain is applied. Finally, a couple of clear coats of gloss acrylic are applied. The result is an interior surface that reflects light (creating a brighter room) and a surface that is easy to clean. Besides…Erika loves it. I wasn’t a big fan of gloss finishes until I tried it on this house. I’m hooked. The house sparkles and that’s the effect we were after. 


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Picture Perfect

There have been a few people who said that they were envious of George. The situation seems perfect because he is happy. Yes, he is happy, but it’s not because he has a perfect life as compared to the general public. I don’t think the people who desire to have a huge flat screen TV, i-phone, expensive car or a nice job title would think he has a perfect life. If he were that kind of person, I would have never sacrificed what we had in the U.S. It took him years and years to find what he really wanted. He thought long and hard about what he had to sacrifice to achieve happiness.

One of our neighbor friends, who is an Australian, recently left Japan to go back to live in his country. He was convinced that the culture, job, salary and future was not a good fit for him in this country. There were some foreigners who had the same position as George. They warned him about how terrible the job and salary was. It is true, but George is so proud of how he feels and what he has now. Materialistically, this is really nothing compared to what he used to have.

It’s not the money, things, or titles. He found himself…his own definition of happiness. I think he is one of the happiest people in the world. There are more people, including myself, who have not found what we really want in life. We want to look nice (not me, though) by purchasing name brands, to eat delicious cuisine at restaurants, to buy things created by someone and to feel luxurious, while complaining constantly about work and salary. Yet, if we quit our job in search of something better, we continue to complain. It’s easy to forget to appreciate what we have.

When I see him sitting in the yard with the doggies while looking at his volcano, the scene is picture perfect. It tells me that he is one of the happiest people I’ve ever known because he found his importance. I feel fortunate to be around the kind of person who is positive and happy…he even laughs at my first attempt at gardening. By the way, I lost some blueberries. There are only eight now. I have to keep trying to be cleverer than the deer. 


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I'm Flying!

Well today was as good as any to test fly one of my sailplanes. I asked Erika if she would assist me and she agreed…without any complaints. The huge field near our home (where I fly) used to be used for grazing cattle. Now, the field is used to grow grass that’s later harvested, rolled and bagged, and stored to be fed to the cows during the winter months. The field is overrun by ticks, bees, and an occasional snake…mamushi to be more specific. Mamushi is a pit viper and something that could ruin your day if it were to bite you. With this in mind, I told Erika to wear her boots and to use insect repellant. Amazing…she still didn’t complain. So off we went into the Tsukahara wilderness to fly my sailplane.

It didn’t take long before I heard my first complaint. “Do we have to chase the plane around the field?”
“Yes, dear. I’m test flying the plane to see if it will fly straight.”

I kept reminding Erika to look down and keep an eye out for snakes. She was calm and patient while she followed me around the field. She was in charge of photography and snake patrol. After I was confident that the plane would fly straight, it was time for the hi-start. A hi-start is a very long rubber tube (100 feet) attached to a monofilament line (400 feet) and a parachute. The line is stretched like a giant rubber band. About 800 feet later, the sailplane is attached to a ring on the parachute and then to a hook that’s mounted to the underside of the plane. It’s vital that the hi-start is pulling the sailplane against the wind. If everything goes as planned, the sailplane is gracefully launched high into the air.
As I unreeled the hi-start, Erika kept saying,”That’s far enough!” She was unaware of how a hi-start needed lots of room in order to work properly. I finally staked the line at one end and headed back towards Erika. I was trying to count my steps to keep track of the distance, but Erika’s colorful comments made that impossible. When I finally had enough tension on the line, I asked Erika to bring the sailplane. She wasn’t happy that she had to carry the plane and climb a hill. “Did you know that there are a lot of bees out here?”
“Yes, dear.”

“It’s too dangerous to do this in the summer. This would be better if we were in the snow.”

“Umm, I can’t fly with snow on the ground. There are no thermals. I need lift so the plane will fly.”
“Sorry, but you can’t come out here in the summer. There are snakes and bees.”

We stood waiting for a headwind so that I could launch the plane. As we waited, a deer decided to run across the field. We thought it might get tangled in the line. Fortunately, the deer stayed clear of the line. We waited a few more minutes. A slight breeze could be felt. I decided to let Erika hold the plane while I controlled its flight. She did a great job of launching the plane. Erika was surprised and thrilled to see the sailplane climb up to the clouds. It was exhilarating to see a twenty-five year old plane being gracefully towed upwards into the Tsukahara sky. I dipped the nose of the plane as it reached the top of the arch to release the parachute. The plane disappeared into the low clouds.  I quickly did a shallow spin to lose some elevation. The plane reappeared and it flew overhead as I tried to find some lift along the ridge we were standing on. Later, Erika was excited and happy to see the plane land safely.
I was ready to try again, but Erika insisted that it was getting too dark to fly. “Rats! I was just getting into it.”

“ You’ll  get to fly again in October when it’s safer.”
“Huh? October? But, I was having so much fun.”

“Yeah, but it’s too dangerous out here.”

“I guess…I know you had fun, too. I heard your excitement when the plane went up on the hi-start.”
“Yeah. That was pretty cool.”

I have some ideas about modifying my ASW22 and installing an electric motor. If I’m successful, I’ll be able to fly from the safety of my yard. Stay tuned…

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Erika's Invisible Garden

This blog was written for those special people who know Erika. Believe it or not, Erika is growing herbs and fruits. She is very proud of her accomplishment. Please don’t laugh at the pictures. Currently, she is growing lemon grass, mint, blueberries, cherry, plum, and tomatoes. She has devised a way of deterring deer from eating her prized produce. Her ingenious method uses branches and twigs to camouflage the plants. I laughed at her silly idea, but so far it has worked. The neighbor was impressed enough to copy her idea…good grief. Soon, all of Tsukahara will be using branches and twigs to…well, you know what I mean. I find it hard to believe that a wild and hungry creature would be fooled by some twigs. Stay tuned for further results.   George

Friday, June 8, 2012

Finishing up

It didn’t take long for the wind in Tsukahara to test my building skills. The wood shed held up with no problems. Earlier, I added some cross bracing to steady the structure in case of high winds. The bracing was made of recycled logs and 4 by 4’s. The bracings were wedged in by friction and gravity (10 pound sledge hammer). The BBQ pit was tested and it worked very well. It was the right height and size so that each person had enough room to cook for themselves. It took about an hour to get the coals just right for cooking. My favorite dishes were: corn-on-the cob, baked potato, and… beer. The family had a relaxing and enjoyable afternoon of barbeque and lounging around in Tsukahara. Erika discovered that it didn’t cost a fortune to have yakiniku, so it’s time to invite guests.   


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Short Cut

I discovered a short cut to Hasama from Tsukahara that saved me 10 minutes. The scenery is nice and the road is wide with only a few curves and cars. There are a few sightseeing spots on the way. One of those spots is Shidaka Lake.  I had heard of the lake before, I think when I was a child. My dogs were interested in the area. As we drove by, Lucky stuck his nose out the window and tried to smell something. Kiley got up and tried to jump out the window when we passed by there. So, I decided to stop to see what we were missing. Wow! We were not disappointed! There were many beautiful koi, swans, and a few trails. The best part, it was the middle of the week and very few people were there.
It took us about 40 minutes to walk around the lake. I told George about this adventure, but all he was interested in was his volcano. So, I took some pictures to try to change his mind. “Why don’t we go dating with our dogs sometimes?” I asked George. It was just a few minutes away from our regular commuting route. Shoot! I should have taken a picture of some ice cream that they sold near the lake. That was the best way to tempt George. The problem was that the ice cream was made of tofu. George discovered in the pictures that I took that his volcano (Mt. Yufu) was visible from the lake. “Hey, we have to go!” exclaimed George…he’s so predictable. 


Friday, June 1, 2012


I’ve made some progress on the wood shed last weekend. It still needs some bracing and roofing. As soon as the sheeting was installed, Erika began stacking our precious firewood. She has developed a talent for this. Here’s my theory about this: The person that complains the most about how cold it is, is the person that values the firewood the most. She cares for the wood more than she cares about me! Anyway, the wood needs to be stacked before the torrential rains start in June.

We often had people take the road to our home by mistake. They were in search of a restaurant, berries, plants, or something. I had to hang a chain across the road with a “no trespassing” sign attached to it. I also had to build and install a mailbox post at the entrance to our property. This was important since we didn’t want any trespassers while we were away on business. At a later date, the “tourist” traffic will be welcomed guests at our B&B. Tip: If you don’t want to use (or have) pressure treated wood, then install the untreated post directly into the ground. Don’t use concrete as this traps and draws moisture to the wood. Substitute coarse gravel for concrete and pound it around the post in the hole. The post will be as rigid as concrete, but the gravel provides drainage away from the wooden post. This method won’t work very well if the soil is heavy clay.
In other building news, the BBQ area is almost done. It’s nothing fancy and most of the bricklaying was done by the previous owner. It’s easy to tell that they had no idea what they were doing. Rather than waste those bricks, I decided to make the best of what I had. I’ll install benches within the next couple of weeks. One note of interest is that in Japan they like to use charcoal to BBQ (Yakiniku) with. The charcoal in the U.S. comes in bags and is soaked in some sort of starter fluid. In Japan, the charcoal looks like small chunks of burnt wood which comes in various shapes. I watched my brother-in-law (Yoshikun) start a fire with the stuff. The work (fanning) involved to get a flame going was ridiculously more involved than I ever imagined. I broke out in a sweat just watching him try to fan the charcoal into a fire. I decided after that experience that I would use the good old American camping method…a fire pit with chopped wood. It takes longer to get a fire that’s tame enough to cook on, but it’s a lot less work. Besides, when we (Erika) are done cooking, we (George) can roast marshmallows and sit by the fire. Humm…where can I buy marshmallows? Beer, BBQ ribs and my volcano…life doesn’t get any better.