Summer 2016

Summer 2016
Summer in Tsukahara

Spring in Tsukahara

gkimbal's Spring in Tsukahara album on Photobucket

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Foundation Poured (along with some other stuff)

Japanese ingenuity

Ah, music to my ears. We have been waiting a couple of years for this day to arrive. The foundation has been poured and construction will soon begin. The weather has been so-so for the past couple of days. Fortunately, it’s a beautiful day and the timing couldn’t have been better. “Golden Week” starts in a few days. Our carpenter will try to squeeze our project in between his other jobs during this busy time. Were expecting a load of lumber (hinoki) and gravel for the new deck. I hope to get my power tools situated in the new garage so that I can start constructing the deck ASAP. First things first, I have to tear out the old deck to make room for the new. A new water line will be installed for the deck and backyard. Next, a weed barrier will be laid along with gravel under and around the deck. The current deck joists will be inspected. A temporary ramp will be built so that the dogs can access the backyard during construction. The deck will incorporate three benches and a sink area. The stain will match the existing logs. Stay tuned…           George

Just a couple of footnotes: Golden Week is a bunch of holidays clustered together. Showa Day (Emperor’s birthday),  Greenery Day, Constitution Memorial Day, and Children’s Day. Many people have the entire week off. Some businesses are closed. I’ll have next Monday off then I go back to work on Tues.-Thurs. and have Fri.- Mon. off. 

It’s a heavy travel time and the tourism industry gets a boost this time of year. I mention this because we live in a tourist area. Many of the locals welcome and depend on the extra business. This is the time of year that we put up our “No Trespassing” gate to keep tourists from wandering onto our property.

Update: The gravel has arrived. The water line and drain has been installed. The drain basin goes down about 1 meter and is lined with concrete and stones. Three of the deck joists will be replaced with hinoki. Even though the existing joist are pressure treated douglas fir, we'll give them a coat of stain to match the rest of the deck.


Water line and drain for sink

Gravel for under deck
Some of the joists require replacement

Foundation poured and finishing up

Cement cured and the forms removed

Good sized garage and workshop

Finished foundation

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Future Projects

Erika found someone who was giving away some hinoki logs. We made a special trip to Hasama to pick them up. I have some special projects planned for these logs in the near future. I would like to incorporate some of the logs to make bench posts for the deck. Some of the logs will be used for a couple of indoor chairs for the doggies. Last, but not least, I would like to use a couple of logs for the main posts for my observatory. Observatory? My plate is full of projects and the observatory is in the early planning stage. I’ll just say that I promise it will be REALLY cool and these logs will be put to good use.   George

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Kiley and Lucky

Lucky (after a hard day at the office)

Kiley (let's play!)

It’s easy to forget how fast the time goes by. It wasn’t that long ago that these two members of our family were puppies. I wish I could slow the clock and spend more time with them. Fortunately, we have shared a lot more time with Kiley and Lucky since we moved to Japan. I wouldn’t trade those extra moments for anything.   George

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

In Search of Springtime

“Why are all these people roaming around in the fields around here?” I asked Erika. “They are searching for warabi and taranome”, Erika replied. It must be spring. I experienced this springtime ritual last year, but I had forgotten what it was all about. Apparently, Tsukahara is a good place to find warabi and taranome. What are they? Good question. They are plants that are edible. What do they look like? Here are some pictures:

What do they taste like? So many questions…I tasted warabi once when my next door neighbor made a salad or something with it. I think my comment was, “That’s it? What’s the big deal? It doesn’t taste like anything.” The reply from our neighbor was, “It supposed to taste like springtime.” My honest reply, “Umm, okay.” I haven’t eaten it since. The taranome is a relatively rare and hard to find. Taranome are the new shoots that come from a hideous looking tree that is covered with spikes. I think it’s so rare because no one wants to have this ugly thing growing in their yard. Lucky us…we have quite a few trees on the property next to us. Taranome is precious because the shoots have to be eaten as a sprout. Timing is critical. In the big cities, taranome is served at only the most expensive restaurants. My reaction to this factoid…why? Well, because it represents springtime.

Our neighbor’s late husband planted the taranome seeds on the property between us. He didn’t want those ugly looking trees in his yard. Our neighbor closely guards these plants even though they are not on her property… good luck with that. Since we have to look at them, we harvest whatever we want. Erika does her best to give this stuff away. I was told that it makes a very tasty tempura. I was also informed that the white sap that oozes from the severed sprouts are very sweet. The army of ants that invade the trees, after harvest, can attest to the sweetness.   George


Monday, April 22, 2013

We're Finally Getting Somewhere

It’s time to build a garage. Rather than paying an extra 3000 yen a month for a separate line to the garage, we decided to extend the existing line from our home to the garage. An electrician gave me a few pointers so that I didn’t knock the power out in Tsukahara. I’m still anxious about the whole thing because there is no ground wire. On another project, I’ll be starting a new deck with benches and an outdoor sink. I’m excited because the wood I’ll be using is Hinoki (the stuff that palaces and temples are built from). Hey, when in Japan, do as the Japanese carpenters do. We’re getting a great deal on Hinoki and I couldn’t pass it up. What makes Hinoki so special is that the wood is super strong, resilient to decay and insects. It also looks great.

I was beginning to wonder if these projects were ever going to get off the ground. There has been a rash of construction projects. Finding a reliable carpenter was a challenge. Things work a little differently in Japan. Once a potential carpenter is found, a meeting is held. The meeting is held to discuss mostly personal things rather than business. They wanted to know who they were working for. Why? Simply put, to establish trust. A successful working relationship can only be established based on trust. This was made apparent when I saw the sparsely written estimate. The estimate to build the garage was only half of a page long. In the U.S., there would have been one page for the itemized list of materials and labor charges along with five pages of legal jargon, acknowledgements, and agreements. I was surprised to hear what would happen if something was built incorrectly. What proof do I have that it was supposed to have been done another way? Could I sue? Erika reminded me as to why we hired this particular carpenter…we trusted him. I’m not used to doing business like that. Trust? What’s that? I need it in writing.

Oh, as far as selecting a carpenter…that was interesting. There are not many choices when you live out in the middle of nowhere. In the U.S., I would call up five different contractors and get some bids. I would find out who offers the most for the least amount of money and then check references. Not so in Japan. The way it works here is that once you receive a written estimate from a particular contractor, that’s it. You are committed. You see, before the estimate was done, a personal meeting was held. A trust was formed between the contractor and the client. This trust cannot be taken for granted. It is important to know who the contractor is BEFORE the meeting occurs. This is often done by word of mouth. Trust and reputation make the Japanese economy go’ round.  The carpenter we chose is a neighbor and I have seen his work. He is a traditional style carpenter which appealed to me. The amount he is charging for labor is ridiculously low which is why we chose to have him do the work instead of me.  I’ll do the wiring and finish work. I can’t wait to get started. BTW, trust only goes so far. We made sure that we had a signed receipt for any funds given to the carpenter. Stay tuned for pictures… George



Friday, April 12, 2013

Experience Makes a Difference

Having been an ALT for the past 18 months, I’ve learned some valuable lessons. Many of these lessons are unique to my situation. What situation are you talking about? I’m glad you asked. Well, I don’t speak Japanese. How in the world can you teach in Japan? That’s another good question. In an effort to encourage the teachers and students to communicate in English, the Yufu City B.O.E. (Board of Education) decided that having an “English only” ALT is a good idea. Many of the principals and teachers agreed with this idea. In fact, the level of English (communication) noticeably rose in the Shonai area (where I taught last year). I wish I could have taken all of the credit, but it was a joint effort of all of the Shonai schools. So, how did not being able to speak Japanese help in the effort to improve English conversation? Well, have a seat and let me shed some light on the subject.

Here’s what I’ve learned. If I don’t speak Japanese, everyone else tries to speak in English. This method works if you have the support of the BOE. The teachers needed to communicate with me in order to share the lesson plans. Yes, many of the teachers are doing the English lesson plans. I said “many”… not all (that’s another story). At first, the teachers were scared to approach me. English was terrifying to them. The trick here was to give lots of encouragement. It also helped to use exaggerated gestures and to take a humorous approach to the whole thing. Believe it or not, I would have the entire faculty laughing and having fun while they tried to communicate in English. Before long, the comfort level rose and English communication (however broken and choppy) was established.

How about the students? Oh, that was easy. Kids are naturally curious. If they wanted to know something about me, they had to ask me in English or at least use gestures. Gestures are a great way to communicate in any language. Occasionally, a student would ask the teacher to translate. If all else had failed, they used a dictionary or a smart phone. Smart phone translations are sometimes strange and often humorous. Erika and I don’t believe in these 21st century gadgets. It’s better to struggle through the communication barrier and to learn some things along the way. Did I mention that students are curious? If I had spoken Japanese to the kids, they would have easily found out what they wanted to know about me in a very short time. Quickly, I would have become another boring ALT to them. By speaking only English, the kids were able to take small bites to satisfy their hunger to learn more about me. I was able to keep the students curious which meant that they were interested in English and American culture for the entire year.

I was told that my contribution to the betterment of English conversation in the Shonai area was greatly appreciated. In recognition, I was transferred to the Yufuin area. Huh? I understand why (experience makes a difference), but I was just beginning to make some progress in Shonai. I guess that’s how things work in Japan. I have to start all over again. I hope my efforts in Shonai won’t be wasted and forgotten. Change is hard, but reverting back is easy.    George


Friday, April 5, 2013

There's Been a Change

Goodbye, Shonai. Hello, Yufuin. I was transferred to another area of the Yufu City School District. The good part is that I’m closer to home…really close. Tsukahara Elementary School is located within walking distance to my home. The bad part is that I don’t know anyone. Everything is brand new to me. In my life, change equals stress. So, I can expect to be stressed out for a couple of weeks to a month. In Shonai, I was accustomed to small classes. Yufuin Elementary has almost 400 students. The school has been recently remodeled and it comes with all of the bells and whistles. The brand new teacher’s room is gigantic. My initial response was that it felt cold and unfriendly. The four other schools are much smaller and I’m relieved to hear that.

Opening ceremony will be on Monday. I’m anxious, nervous, and excited to get the new assignment. I hope I’ll be able to influence the students and teachers in a positive way. I left Shonai with the impression that the students and teachers enjoyed English. I’ll work hard to bring that same enthusiasm to Yufuin. Wish me luck.     George