Winter in Aizu

Last weekend about a metre of snow fell over two days. It was amazing, neither of us had ever experienced anything like it! Digging our way out from the front door to the road was tough, but just look how beautiful it is. We went totally snap-happy just in the area around our house, I've never felt like such a tourist in my whole life! Here are just two of the many shots, the first one taken at the shrine next door to our house, and the second one is of the shrine from the road looking all snuggly.

For a non-photographer like myself though, it's impossible to capture the scene and those special magical moments. I found these photos quite disappointing, and even going outside the next day was a let down. It was nothing compared to the way I'd remembered it in my head. I just kept thinking, surely it was so much more beautiful than this! I even started the think that I imagined it all, that it was just a big pile of frozen water and nothing to have been so excited about in the first place.

Today however, we happened to end up in an art gallery in the nearby town of Yanaizu, a gallery completely devoted to the work of a print maker called Kiyoshi Saito. He was born in Aizu Bange in 1907 but moved to Hokkaido when he was a still a small boy. Later on when he came back to visit his hometown, he was totally blown away by its beauty and began making a series of prints of Aizu. He was still making prints of Aizu in his late 80's - today we saw over 100 from the Winter in Aizu series. With these he was able to achieve what I was trying so unsuccessfully to do a few days ago in my shutterbug fever. He got it! He captured the magic! The prints are beautiful. But even better than that, they show the landscape looking just the way I felt that I had first seen it. On the hour or so in the car on the way home, the landscape around us transformed itself; the houses, mountains, trees and rivers becoming Kiyoshi Saito's Aizu, and again I was able to see everything that was beautiful about it. I'm so happy.

Winter in Aizu (100) Mishima 1992

Winter in Aizu (46) Oishida 1981


Gourmet Porridge Chef

Porridge is the greatest winter breakfast food ever. And gourmet porridge is even greater still! I find straight oats a bit tough going, so these days I usually add fruit along with a cinnamon stick and a few cloves. Apple is yummy and are bananas scrummy (heh!); actually most things have been fantastic. But by far and away the winning combination, newly discovered this winter, has been persimmon. I'm astounded by it's wonderful-ness! Cut it up and throw it in with the oats and by the time they've cooked, the persimmon has achieved optimum texture. It's not too soft, and it's not too hard. Just perfect. It's also an excellent baby breakfast! Have I impressed you yet? I hope so.



Check it out!!! It's been snowing a little bit every day since Monday, but it really got going last night. I've read in books and heard people talk about how quiet snow is, but it was kind of special to experience it for the first time. It's amazingly quiet, except for when a big pile of snow crashes down off the roof. It sounds just like an avalanche, very exciting as long as you're not standing underneath it at the time. Y. and I spent a lot of time shoveling snow today. It was fun because it was the first day, but I wonder how we'll feel after 3 months of it?

If you're wondering how the Matatabi's going, it's not at all. Y. was late at work, and our neighbour says he can't come over without a chaperon. After all, what would everyone think?!


Making things with Matatabi

This is the latest exciting thing in our lives. Not the gumboots, although they are quite exciting too, special ones for winter, please feel free to admire them! The really exciting thing though is the matatabi, actinidia polygama or silver vine propped up in the doorway. It grows in the mountains here, and is used for making baskets and all different types of colanders for vegetables and rice. Matatabi products are amazing to use because they're strong yet flexible, last forever and as an extra bonus are also very pretty.

Our 76 year old neighbour is forever telling me he can do anything. As much as I hate to admit it, he's actually not too far off it! He's one of the very few people around here who still knows how to make rope from a certain kind of tree bark. He makes beautiful traditional lanterns. And of course, he makes baskets and colanders with matatabi. He's been promising all year to teach us when winter came, and so here we are, matatabi step one!

I must admit rather sheepishly that so far I have done absolutely nothing to contribute to this project. Then again, seeing the state Y. was in after the trip into the forest to cut the vine, I'm a little bit glad I was stuck at home with the baby! He was a wreck after trying to keep up with our neighbour in the forest, even though at any other time he totters unsteadily about the place. We should never underestimate these mountain folk!

Anyway, the first step is to strip the bark off. These are just shavings, but I thought they were still relevant.

Next you cut it to size, and soak it in water for a few days.

We've still got a lot more of the vine to strip and cut, and the plan is that the three of us (the third being our neighbour, not the baby) will do as much as we can this evening. I'm really excited!