It is 2011; the Q1 update starts with the New Year. In this coldest winter in years we make a short dash to the south of Kyushu. There are birthdays, outings with friends and a few birds again. The plum blossom is well recorded and so is our daily life. Let the photo’s tell the story.
Oshogatsu is what the New Year is called in Japan. The celebrations last for 3 days, from January 1st to 3rd. Schools, banks and many shops (not all!) are closed. For many companies it’s the only one time in the year they close up. People decorate the entrances to homes and offices with kadomatsu and shime, traditional New Year’s ornaments. In Meinohama harbor you can see the shime on all fishing boats. And on Alishan of course.
In the morning of January 1st the fishermen sit on their deck, drinking sake with family and friends. Note the shime in the upper left corner
Osechi Ryori: New Year’s food.
Cooking is done beforehand and things like sushi and sashimi, abundant at any other festivity, are traditionally not part of the Osechi. The dishes are beautifully decorated and made for the eye rather than the stomach. All parts have a meaning. The kazunoko (fish row) symbolizes the wish for children in the New Year; black beans are for health and kombu seaweed for joy.
Japan has many traditions and so do we. Every year (when we’re in the country) we celebrate Oshogatsu with the Kakoh family. The children all came home from Nagoya and Tokyo, Yosuke had returned from England.
Nobuko is an excellent cook; this year was also a real feast!
From left: Shiho, Keisuke, Kohji (Nobuko’s brother) and Yosuke.
At Shibaraku Papa-rin offers his customers New Years’ sake during the first week.
On January 3rd all our neighbors go out to watch the Tamaseseri festival of Meinohama. The fishermen fight over a big wooden ball in a rugby-style scrum and move about slowly towards a shrine where the fisherman who manages to bring the ball up on a special platform can expect some good luck in the coming year.
The wooden ball that’s covered in oil becomes very slippery after a dip in salt water.
Onlookers throw buckets of cold water on the scrum.
Whatever the weather (no snow this year, but only 4-5 C) the guys wear fundoshi, a wrap that hides and protects their private parts and zori, cotton socks with thin straw or rubber soles. Some cheat a bit, like Kunitoshi in his white shirt and leggings.
It’s got to be steaming hot in there.
Not all men are Japanese, Jaap is somewhere...
The scrum enters the ground of Sumiyoshi jinja
Yo-chan and Ma-chin are ready to get the ball.
Anybody who expects the winner to stand up and raise the ball over his head will be disappointed. This is not about winning; it’s just a tradition. The old sacred ball is quickly placed in its box. Everybody sings the Hakata celebration song and it’s over. Afterwards people can briefly touch the ball, as it is the believe that it heals and eases pains.
This years winter was unusually cold. On Alishan we used three heaters to stay warm. One was electric, another burned kerosene and the third one a kerosene fan-heater. We preferred the last one, but with the way we were setup we only had electricity at night, from the street lanterns. Some faulty switch at the kumiai that nobody seemed to be able to fix. We burned kerosene during the day and got a lot of condensation inside the lockers and cupboards. It wasn’t too uncomfortable, but still it motivated the search for work.
Mitsuse, nearly 1000m above sea level, where somebody made a snow sculpture to commemorate this year of the rabbit.
On January 7th we crossed the Mistuse pass to drive south to Kagoshima, where the temperatures were higher, but even there we found patches of snow in the hills.
The first night we stopped at Akune and met up with friends that we’d met last summer. (See Q3 2010)
Kiyota sensei and his assistant Uenohara had added more color to this rumorous city, whose mayor was known for his liberal ideas and appeared on national TV almost daily. Unfortunately he has had to step down after elections in February.
The following day we continued south as far as Ibusuki, a hot spring town known for its hot sand baths and the yearly Nanohana Marathon. We checked in at a waterfront hotel, together with Noriko Kanzaki and more friends from Fukukoka and on Jan 9th Jaap ran the full 42.195 km hilly course.
Nanohana is the name of the yellow flowers
Jaap right and Noriko left
The non-runners (including Marijke)
We met Mi-chan again, who helps yachties that visit Kagoshima and who supplied us with a huge bag of rice, that will last us a year at least!
Mi-chan was adopted by our group after a long day of cheering, which is nearly as tiring as the run itself.
The following day we checked out very early and drove to this picturesque hot spring before heading back north. Noriko and Marijkes hats are supplied at the spa and very useful on sunny days! See how big the bath is? And the view.... magnificent! At 8:30 there was hardly anybody yet.
While Noriko and the others had to hurry back to work, we took our time driving through the country side and frequently saw these tall bamboo frames with rows of radishes drying in the sun.
Coastline just south of Akune.
We returned to Akune and Izumi, where we stayed in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) and saw the cranes wintering in the area. Because some birds had fallen ill with the bird flue the grounds where they congregate were closed to visitors. This didn’t keep us from watching them flying and feeding in nearby fields.
White-naped Cranes on the left, Hooded on the right.
In Sendai (Kagoshima) we stopped to see a rare eagle, which winters here every year.
The warm waters of Sendai River created low foggy clouds over the mouth of the river that looked beautiful in the early morning light.
It looks just like any Black Kite so high up, but in facts this bird is nearly twice as big, this Greater Spotted eagle
January 26th, Marijkes birthday. We had a meal at ‘our’ Taiwanese restaurant in Meinohama. The owners know us quite well and treated us with the cake.
Marijke with Pam of s/y Tweed
Pam and Jon spent the winter in Odo Yacht Harbor, the municipal harbor of Fukuoka. It is only a 10 min bike ride from our harbor, so we saw them often.
Jaap with Jon on one of our walks, roaming the beaches, always looking for washed up Styrofoam fenders.
The winter was unusually cold and the mountains south of Fukuoka were covered in snow for a long time. It brought the tanukis (raccoons) down to lower elevation. We saw some around a farm (right) looking for shiitake (left) perhaps.
Another visiting Yacht: s/y Kauana with Helene and Remi. Matsunaga-san and his mates happened to visit Fukuoka that very same day. They had met the Kauanas in the summer when the boat stopped in Akune on their cruise in Japan (like us). Good reason to party and we all had a merry night out in Nakasu, Fukuoka’s nightlife center.
From right; Kiyota sensei, Jaap, Shoji Matsunaga, Remi, Helene, Mena, Uenohara-san and Marijke
Mena is our Odo based yachty who recently did her first off-shore sail to Ishigaki on s/y Searover from South Africa. She had anticipated this trip for many weeks, living on board in the cold winter while the captain was back in S.A. I think she found the sailing hard, getting seasick quite often, but she is now a real salty and has gained some respect in the yacht harbor.
In Japan Fukuoka is famous for yatai, small food stalls that line the street in Nakasu at night.
Here we are eating fish dishes like herring with mentai (spicy fish row) and noodles.
Despite the near-freezing temperatures these “ladies” from Okinawa sing their “dirty” songs on the street to whoever wants to hear them. Another street performer, the living statue in gold, also seems oblivious to the cold.
Shoji Matsunaga laughing his heart out at the hilarious song texts.
More birthdays: Jaaps and Papa-rins in February, here celebrated with Jon and Pam again in Shibaraku.
Kiyoshi, Papa-rins son, made a ”Jaaps Special” of natto, yamaimo, nori and raw egg, besides his ever tasty oyster nabe. Kyoshi, he loved it!
Papa-rin, our Japanese father, looking genki as usual, turned 80 YEARS OLD.
We wish him many happy returns of the day.
In March we got a message saying Jaaps mother might not last much longer and if we wanted to see her and talk to her we should not wait till summer. Arrangements were made and Jaap flew to Holland shortly after that. He stayed with his youngest sister Hessel and her husband Sjaak in Maassluis and visited Mum most days in the care center nearby.
With Mum at care center “De Drie Maashavens”
Sister Sjakkelien, nephew Tom and his girlfriend Maxime came to Maassluis one day.
And so did Marijkes brother Herman (right) and his family, Judith, Melissa and Edwin. Sushi was made on both occasions, rolled in Meinohama nori, the best in the world!
Sjaak with his product. He should have become a sushi-chef!
We often get questions about traditional Dutch food an we usually mention things like poffertjes, pannekoeken, erwtesoep and hutspot, but maybe we should start the list with white asparagus. YUMMY!
Frans and Marij, friends from way back when we were sailing our first steel 25ft Pied Boueff in the Netherlands in 1979
Earthquake and Tsunami in Tohoku
And then, on March 11, I was riding my bicycle to Odo, Jaap called from Holland. He had just heard about a big earthquake in Tohoku on the radio. I went back home and watched the news. First the damage in the big cities (surprisingly little). Then the tsunami and those images threw me of my chair. Immediately realizing Fukuoka was in a safe corner, I still wondered if there were any warnings for us. None at all. Then the nuclear power plant, but that didn’t become a big worry until 2 days later when there was finally some reliable news. People in other countries seemed better informed than we. The fact that we did get a 40cm tsunami in the bay was an example. We only heard about it the next day!!! 40cm might not sound much, but at high tide it can still do a lot of damage. Luckily the tide was low and nothing happened. Now we all know how bad the situation is in Fukushima and not only for the people living in that part of Japan… I cannot even think about the men who stayed at the plant, trying to fix the leaks and cool the turbines. To me they are the biggest heroes of the century.
And so spring, the best time of the year, took a turn for the worst.
Every day de national TV broadcasts images of broken buildings, wrecked ships, people in shelters, people in tears. Now, a month later they are mostly about how people set up a life, make a living, create a home where there is only rubble. It’s truly amazing how these people just continue. They smile and cry. And even observe the cultural traditions, like hanami, the flower festivals.
While Jaap was in Holland Marijke stayed behind to look after Alishan and the cats. We had just moved to another spot in the harbor. We regretted being no longer amongst the fishermen, but here we could use water and have electricity during the day. Very important when you live onboard. The owners of the pleasure boats in our previous location didn’t think so and would not let us use “their” water and power connections, though we offered to pay more than our share. Some very weird people in this world.
From our old spot (left) where getting on and off was very easy, to the new one (right) is only 200m but a big change in many ways. Now we have to use a gangway from the bow. A plank on a ladder that Jaap quickly installed before he left and that broke down on the second day. Fortunately our new neighbors are of a different brand. Mr. Kiyama helped to fix it right away.
We are now nearly at the same place as 5 years ago.
Our new neighbors also have pets: these 4 young Boston terriers belong to Mr. Kiyama. Nori and Wakame watch them with mixed feelings in the weekends, when they come to stay on board.
Another old friend that’s still around: Gaga! He used to swim over and talk to Koekie, our NZ cat that got killed 9 years ago. Together they appeared on TV in a pet show. The duck must be 15 years old now. He has found a new mama in the river, who calls him Gago, but he listens to both.
Tetchan, another neighbor, takes sports fishermen out to catch big game fish. Here he returned with a lot of tuna that he shared with Jaap.
Tuna sashimi, just enough for Jon, Pam and Jaap. Marijke missed out.
Little by little we settled in the fishing harbor of Atagohama. The fishermen who welcomed us back continue their hospitality and treat us like their pets.
Miyoko, Shigeko and Katsuyoshi, 2 sisters and their elder brother live in our neighborhood with their families. They have us use their bath and washing machine every week.
“Captain” preparing his nets for prawns
We both picked up some jobs teaching English. Not too much, we like our free time. We drove to hot springs, went for walks, runs and bird-watching outings. Whenever the weather was bearable we’d go somewhere. And so winter turned into spring.
Imazu, one of Japan’s most important stopovers for migrating birds.
There are mudflats, rivers, canals and lotus ponds and migrators frequent this area in spring. The Fukuoka Branch of the Japanese Wild Bird Society organizes field trips to Imazu and other places around Hakata Bay as well as Noko Island.
Scenes of Noko
On the beach.
Wild violets in bloom in February
This happy earthenware face partly covered with sand looks all right in the sun, but it looked quite spooky and gave me goose bumps at first. I wonder who put it there and why.
Black-headed Gull Grey Heron
Blue Rock Thrush
Dusky Thrush Black-faced Bunting
Dunlins and Sanderlings
Dunlins at dusk
Common Kingfisher Daurian Redstart (fem)
Daurian Redstart (male)
Black-faced Spoonbill Osprey with what looks to be a turtle
Bull-headed Shrike (fem)
When plum trees bloom the worst of winter is over. It can still be cold, too cold to our liking, but there is promise. Sakura (cherry blossom) has the name and is favored by most, but I like Ume.
The best place to see Ume is at Dazaifu Tenmango Shrine
There is a legend about a plum tree, the tobiume, that came flying from Kyoto to a scholar who was imprisoned here in the Edo period.
Roof detail depicting ume blossom
Left: A priest conducting a service. Right: Students come to the shrine to pray for good test results. They write their wishes on wooden tablets in the shape of a house
More scene of the shrine and gardens:
On another occasion, in February we stopped by on the way to Kyushu’s National Museum where a Van Gogh exhibition drew thousands of people.
March 3rd is girls’ day and many homes and shops display dolls that are representing a prince and princess with royal household items for Hinamatsuri.
The old bunch of stray cats that was living at the seaside park before we left is still there. Of the original 17 cats, 10 are still alive, the oldest being around 8 years old. They are the same age as our Wakame and are probably her siblings and cousins, since we think that’s where Nori picked her up and carried her home in 2003. The animals were all captured and fixed 5 years ago and a neighborhood group of cat-lovers now feeds them daily at a designated area. They also put signs out explaining their activities. The cats look remarkably well, just a little older then Wakame, who has of course been looked after and spoiled rotten all her life.
The following photos are all taken around Meinohama, but not all cats are homeless.
Iimori princess from a distance, she won’t let us come close.
The boss of Odo park
Another Odo sweety
Yes, a stray cat, but with quite a fan club
Ja neh, mata!