旧手賀教会堂 Old Tega Church

Sunday’s weather was warm and sunny, so in the afternoon, I rode out to 手賀沼 Tega Marsh and the river to the east called 手賀川 Tega River, which connects to 利根川 Tone River, the boundary between Chiba and Ibaraki Prefectures.

The cycling road on the south side of Teganuma carries on at the river, and at the second bridge I turned right towards the south, up a hillside and back in time. The farmhouses are large, the rice paddies and kitchen gardens are wide, and life is slow. I was on a Sunday ride to go to church – 旧手賀教会堂 Old Tegakyoukaido, the oldest Christian church in the city. On the way up, I passed a temple, a cemetery, some elderly farm women resting in the sun, and many black-tiled roofs.

I learned about the old church from the Kashiwa City catalogue of cultural properties. There it says,

 明治6年、信教の自由が交付されるとともに、ニコライ大司教により日本ハリストス正教会の布教活動が北海道函館より始まりました。 千葉県には明治8年法典(船橋市)、同10年大森・船穂(印西市)、布佐(我孫子市)にそれぞれ教会が設置されました。
“In the 6th year of the Meiji Period, religious freedom was granted, and Archbishop Nikolai of the Japanese Orthodox Church was permitted to begin its activities in Hakodate, Hokkaido. In the 8th year of the Meiji Period, churches were established in what is now Funabashi, Abiko and Inzai Cities.”

大森教会での布教を知った手賀、布瀬地区の人々は、明治12年に教会を創立し活動をはじめ、同16年に教会堂を設置しました。 これが現在の旧手賀教会堂で、明治30年頃聖堂部分が増築されています。旧手賀教会堂は、首都圏近郊では現存する最古の教会堂となっています。

“Through the missionary activities of the Oomori Church to the  people of Fuse District,  a mission was started in Meiji 12, and the church built in Meiji 16. The current church building includes an additional building constructed in Meiji 30. The Old Tega Church is recognized as the oldest church in the Tokyo suburban area. ” (my translation) 

The old regnal years are indicated in the original – Meiji 8 was the year 1875, and Meiji 12 was 1879.

Under the eaves of the thatch roof and the typical rustic beams, there are two arched windows, a hint at the purpose of this old building.

There is a newer church building a short distance from Old Tega Church, and when I approached it from the bottom of the hill, I could see the Orthodox cross on the gable end. When I rounded the driveway, I was greeted by a mutt who loudly defended his territory. From what I could gather, the new church was on private land as there were farm vehicles and no sign to indicate a church.

An old farmer drying his produce in the sun greeted me, and told me that the new church no longer opened its doors. He beckoned the mutt and the mutt turned out to be as friendly as the old man. I thanked him for his time and made my way along narrow country tracks past rice paddies until I got to the national route that leads back to central Kashiwa.

Since the church is open for public viewing on Wednesdays and Saturdays, I think I’ll go back to church when the school holiday begins and I have more time.

Sunday Market at kashiwa Shrine

Sunday’s 手の市・野菜市 Tenoichi/Yasaiichi, the handmade and vegetable market drew a good sized crowd yesterday. The banners and the handbills for the market feature artwork with an organic, handmade feel. The spirit of the market is to connect people, so that consumers know the craftspeople and growers, and everybody greets you not with Irasshaimase but Ohayogozaimasu, making for a relaxed atmosphere.

This 宝船, takarabune, or treasure ship, was lovingly made by one of the market organizers. A takarabune is a symbol of good fortune, I was told by the volunteers, and that this one is remarkable because the entire thing, hull, deck and sail, are all made of vegetables.

Poka Poka music this week

Not polka, but Poka Poka, an institution in Kashiwa. The Poka Nation promotes post-hippie culture, sponsors music events, and generally brings happiness and a chill vibe to the city. 

I was freezing heading home from the station last night so, I dropped in at Poka Poka where I figured the incense aroma and the friendly faces would warm me up. I was also hunting for yoga pants, and this would be the place to find them. A happy surprise last night was Poka Poka’s first in-store live event, featuring Nanamie and Nappo, with some of the audience joining in on percussion. The intimate space in the shop is  comfortable and homey, and it was nice to see local folks that I’ve met at various events. Nanamie and Nappo performed unplugged and her big, soulful voice filled the space.

Next Sunday, February 27th, Pokamania, the live music end of the Poka Poka Empire, is hosting versatile band The Slip and The Barr Brothers at Drunkard’s Stadium, Minami Kashiwa Station.

The Slip does music that fuses jazz, blues, folk in an art-band kind of way that reminds me of Canada’s The Rheostatics. Only The Slip is heavy on Americana, with lots of  reverence for their American musical forbears. It’s the year of the rabbit, so here is “Chasing Rabbits” by The Slip.

Happenings around Chibaraki

In an effort to improve my Japanese reading skills, I’m researching local news stories. Most of them are about crime, crime preventions and accidents today.

Yomiuri reports that early this morning a body was found in a burned out car. Tokyo Shinbun has a brief mention of a one-day anti-cybercrime awareness campaign at Matsudo Station led by a teenager in a policewoman’s uniform. Toride City emergency services held a short course in how to deal with assailants after a knife attack in December.

Bah, it’s all grim news.

On a happy note, if you look Mainichi’s Chiba video gallery, you’ll see some happy signs of spring, such as the swans returning to Inzai and fishery workers bringing carp and unagi to Teganuma.

This weekend, I hope the weather will settle down for a few hours for Tenoichi-Yasaiichi market at Kashiwa Shrine. The market is all day Sunday. See you there.

Compost Part 3: Bokashi

In Compost Part 1 and Part 2 last year, I told you about the success of composting in a carboard box using rice husk ashes and peat moss. The process required only one carboard box for six months of composting and two bags each of the composting ingredients. The kitchen scraps pretty much disappeared and I buried the contents in the garden, which fed a great crop of pumpkins, green peppers, eggplants and tomatoes.
Last year, at Kashiwa lifestyle festival, I met up with the bokashi babas, elderly ladies who distribute bags of bokashi mix to various shops in the city. The display included tall buckets with spigots to drain off the rich brown liquid that comes out of the fermenting mix. You can put a lot more than just vegetable peelings in the bokashi box – fish scraps, meat bits, even pet litter (but not recommended if you’re worried about pathogens in your garden).
Bokashi is not really a composting method. According to Bokashicycle Blog, whereas compost processes waste through oxidation in a container that allows air to circulate and creates great stink from releasing gases, bokashi is a fermentation process is anaerobic, in a plastic air-tight box. Microbes in the bokashi mix munch through the waste and yet leave most of the nutrients in the bokashi mix. The box doesn’t smell because it produces no gases. Even though the box has fish bits in it, it is odour-free and can be kept under the kitchen counter. The waste has a slightly vinegary scent, but when the lid is closed there is no smell.

I’m looking forward to turning the box into the garden soil as soon as the weather is a little less savage. From what I gather, the microbes in the soil make short work of breaking down the fermented waste. And then I can put my garden in when it’s warm enough.

節分 Setsubun welcomes spring!

Chibaraki has been a bit quiet for a few months. It’s been hibernating this winter while I was busy working and changing my life.

I was wondering to myself, what experience or turning point or milestone could mark a revival of my blog?

Setsubun! This word literally means “seasonal division”, but most commonly it marks 立春, risshun, the beginning of spring. Today, I was lucky to have a rare midweek day off, and on a bicycle ride through rural Kashiwa City, I saw children rushing to 香取神社 Katori Shrine  to stretch out their hands to receive beans from city fathers in the Bean Throwing Ceremony.

I got a packet of beans and a 5 yen coin wrapped with red and white chords, auspicious colours for an auspicious coin denomination. The crowd was not that big, and participants diminutive (children with their mothers), so I hung back and waited for the goodies to get flung my way. I saw baseballs and wooden toys fly into the crowd.

This contemplating arhat at the gate of the neighbouring temple looks how I feel – meditating on the spring, and dreaming of the new green growth that will come so soon.

If you can’t imagine the coming growth, there are hints of it. An orchard on the road to the Izumi area of Kashiwa City has plum blossoms bursting. They’re fragrant, too. The warm sun and the plum fragrance was a delight today. Happy early spring!

Kabocha Harvest

 In the spring, when I put in the kabocha, eggplants, green peppers and tomatoes, I didn’t think much would happen.

The peppers yielded about a dozen, the eggplants produced a pair of fruits every week, and the tomotoes still haven’t stopped yielding.

The bochan kabocha suprised me by its growth and yield. When I put the started plant in the soil, it was just a tiny, sickly little 100 yen shop plant. With the summer heat, it grew tentacles across the garden, climbed over the wall, strangled the peppers, and started to wind itself around the gas meters. I went at it with scissors, hacking back the long arms and pulling the tendrils off the other plants. Under the giant leaves were yellow flowers.  So far, I’ve harvested a dozen pumpkins.

The pumkin is small, but it has lots of meat, and the seeds are great toasted in the frypan. I’m going to try to make soup this weekend out of a few.

Happy autumn!

More Moriheiya, and recipes

Tonight’s dinner had to be more moriheiya. My dear student had given me a big bag of it. She told me a few times that I make soup of it. So, again, another search on the ‘Nets turned up a few recipes for mulukhiya, the traditional north African dish. The dish is a bit more labour-intensive than I can manage in my small kitchen, so I improvised and adapted.

With what was at hand in the fridge, this is my far-Eastern flavoured version of the dish.

  • in a fry pan, heat half and half olive and sesame oil
  • finely chop half an onion, and fry with a tablespoon each of grated garlic and ginger
  • when all are golden on the edges, pour in a tablespoon of soy sauce,  1 1/2 cups water, and then add Chinese gara soup powder. Perhaps a tablespoon is enough.
  • Add one cup finely chpped mulukhiya (moroheiya) leaves
  • season with pepper, a teaspoon of Chinese tobanjan (a type of spicy miso paste) and basil (coriander, too, if you have some).  Cook on low heat for 10-20 mins.
  • Serve over steamed brown rice.

The little salad of broccoli and kabotcha pumpkin salad is super easy, too. I don’t like nuked food usually, but this is an exception because it’s fast, easy and tasty.

  • A quarter or half kabotcha pumpkin comes in a plastic bag in the 99 yen shop. Poke a wee hole for a vent and microwave it until tender. The same can be achieved with a quarter or half pumpkin in a covered dish.
  • Similarly, nuke a broccoli tree in a covered dish just until it glows green.
  • Combine these two and dress with a tablespoon of mayonnaise, a sprinkle of crushed sesame, pepper and the secret ingredient (a pinch of gara soup mix) and blend well.


Autumn Menu

My lovely student gave me a few handfuls of this herb called mulukhiya, or in Japanese, moroheiya. I’d never heard of this herb, the essential ingredient of a soup eaten in Egypt for thousands of years, and was surprised to find that all the class members were aware of the high nutritional value of this plant. The plant happily grows here in Japan and is an annual. I’ll attempt to grow some next spring.

They told me to put it in soup and boil it. Wouldn’t that kill off the nutrients this leaf was said to be so rich in? I wondered.  I looked around the ‘Net for ideas on how to prepare it, and found a recipe for moriheiya miso soup. My adapted soup recipe has grated ginger, sliced onions, moriheiya and generous tablespoons of miso paste.

I’m on a budget this year, and am challenged to stretch Y1000 as far as I can. The meal I made has a little pork in it, and the remainder of the meal is all kinds of vegetables. On the tray is moriheiya miso soup, ginger carrot pickles, broccoli and pumpkin salad, and yakiudon. The moriheiya, or mulukhiya, despite the press and the caution from my students, wasn’t slimy so much as wilted in the soup. When I added the moriheiya and the miso paste, I was careful not to boil it,  which I think prevented it from going all gooey.

I still had a lot of moriheiya and various vegetables in the fridge, so I made tomato pork shogayaki over rice and put a handful of moriheiya over it as it was nearly cooked. It looks pretty with a little bit of carrot pickled and salad (I’m reusing plastic boxes for bentos as you can see in the picture below).

Teganuma Marsh recovery?

Chibaraki Life Teganuma boatsThe previous post, about Konbukuro Pond and the museum park that surrounds it, mentions that the spring is one of the sources for the Ohori River and Teganuma Marsh.

Today, the marsh supports a lot of wildlife and looks pretty, but the water quality is poor. Before the 1950s, the spring-fed marsh had clear, clean water and children could swim in it in the summer. However, with the population growth, household waste water and agricultural runoff began to take their toll on the quality of the lake water.  The marsh suffered eutrophication. This process, which happens when a body of water or an area of land receives too much fertilizer, can cause the natural ecosystem to be adversely altered. In the case of the marsh, the overfertilization from waste water caused blue-green algae to take over, and the fish stocks suffered.

In 2005, Japan for Sustainability reported on Abiko City’s effort to rehabilitate Teganuma Marsh. As JFS reports, “…Lake Teganuma has also been known for its disgraceful record of having been the most polluted lake in Japan for 27 consecutive years starting from 1974, when the then-Environment Agency (now the Ministry of the Environment) began nationwide surveys of lake and marsh water quality. Since fiscal 2001 Abiko City has made Lake Teganuma the focus of a municipal promotion campaign on the theme of “Birds and people living in harmony in Abiko, on beautiful Lake Teganuma.”

To improve the quality of the water and reduce eutrophication, the national and prefectural governments funded dredging of the river mouths to increase the volume of fresh water coming into the marsh, and a new water treatment plant, which you can see on the south side of the marsh, and a massive channel was constructed from the Tone River to the marsh to bring more fresh water.

The JFS report indicates that the oxygen levels in the lake improved, but were still nowhere near healthy.

The marsh has a lot further to go on its road to recovery, and there are many people actively promoting interest in this body of water. You can participate in the Teganuma Eco-Marathon in October, and any time, you can enjoy the cycling road,  and on rainy days, you might want to check out the Abiko Bird Museum (full of stuffed dead birds, but informative).

Take a moment to read the webpage of this Teganuma fan, Mr. Nakamura, who, as he says on the webpage, walks the marsh to keep his heart in good shape. He’s got some information about the geology and history of the marsh, too.