In most countries a whole lot of change does not amount to much. In the U.S. the most valuable coin is a quarter – 25cents. In Europe I think it is a 1 Euro coin and in the UK, the 1 pound coin.
There are two exceptions that I know of. Switzerland and Japan. Switzerland has La Thune, a 5 Swiss Franc coin.
Japan has the 500 yen coin.
You do not need many of these coins to build up a considerable sum.
I go to my much loved Bank of Okinawa to deposit all these coins into my account. They have the best machine into which you shovel all the coins. After many flashing lights and groans, the machine displays a number. This is the value of your coins.
My number is 86,018 yen. A crazy sum.
I also receive a letter from the Pension Office. It is festooned with cartoons that illustrate the Pensions Office’s attitude towards their clients. Happiness and joy.
Through Google Translate, which has completely altered my Japanese experience, I understand that the Pension Office want to give me money but there is an intimidating form to fill in that asks for account numbers and bank codes.
I show this form to one of the ladies helping me with my stash of coins, rather than saying ” Hey this is not in my job description,” she brings in another two ladies who smilingly help me fill in all the necessary paperwork. It turns out that one of them used to work in in the Onna branch where I used to do banking stuff. She remembers me. It is like a sister finding a long lost brother. There are cries of joy and several other people cluster around. We remember the wonderful Higa san, who has since, got married and moved to Yokohama. We have a party. Such a lot of good feelings. What is more it turns out that the Pensions Office will send me 24,000 yen as some kind of rebate. That means I have gained 110,018yen today. Not bad.
I am also in correspondence with a European Bank, https://www.amfie.org/ that treats me with complete disdain and suspicion.
As I have mentioned before, I used to be ashamed of my feet. In European years and to a lesser extent in U.S. years, I had vile feet. They were enclosed all days in tight shoes and hot socks that fomented all kinds of decay, rot and stench. In Okinawa I wear sandals outside and go barefooted inside. I gambol in warm seawater and walk through sand that is apparently the product of grinding in the stomachs of Parrot Fish. Thank you Parrot Fish, your waste has ground away all decay from my feet.
All this walking around barefooted does have a downside. Hard skin builds up on the heels, soles and other strategic areas. I go to the beauty parlor that is just down the road. I have never been to a beauty parlor before.
This is great fun and my feet are very pretty. Support your local beauty parlor.
I used to have a compass fitted into the lowest slat of the cabin entrance.
The compass suddenly stopped working and I could not find a replacement. decided to replace it with a brass plate.
I decide to replace the line that pulls in the jib. I think the one I have is probably 30 years old and I do not like the idea of it snapping far out at sea. I do a really bad job
To start with I can’t work out which direction the cord should be wound around the drum.
I finally find the solution but realize that my line, 6 meters, is too short. I go to the rope shop the next day and buy 8 meters of line. I wind it on with great care but it it is still too short. Back to the shop to get 10 meters of line. This time it works. I am such a hopeless rigger.
Nagano – Best Place in the World! was a much longer entry than the version that was posted last night. I think there might be a maximum length for WordPress posts. Anyway the piece was cut off in mid paragraph and I lost another 2 chapters.
Here we go again. I was extolling Japanese women’s joyful eating. They are excellent people to take out for a meal.
The second hotel also gives us dinner and breakfast. Not up to the very high standard of the first place but wonderful nonetheless.
Our last meal together was back in Ueda the evening before the return to Okinawa. Tomomi san and Miyoko san take me to a Yakitori restaurant. I am a bit underwhelmed, as my vision of Yakitori is little bits of chicken on a skewer covered with sticky brown sauce. Not in Nagano!
I think that about covers food, oh no, we had a fabulous sushi lunch at the airport on the way home.
Chapter 4: Onsen
One of the principla goals of the trip was to initiate me into the mysteries of the onsen. Onsen are big hot water baths that you sit in and think about stuff. Real onsen are fed by hot water springs that gush out of the earth all over Japan, but particularly in Nagano. Frequently onsen are combined with a hotel so you can eat like lords, sleep very well and onsen like crazy. Okinawa has few if any real onsen
We go to Yudanaka Onsen. It is in a town that seems to have an onsen for each inhabitant. Steam shoots out the earth wherever you look. I have no onsen experience due to Scottish prudery – naked in front of unknown men is not a Scottish pastime. The first place had an onsen but not a real one. I think the water was heated. I was the only male to use it so that was OK.
The Yudanaka Onsen is the real thing. You go into the first room where you sit on a stool and wash like crazy. I have never been so clean. Then into a very hot pool. There are other guys around who watch me with great interest, In fact you have a small towel to cover your er private parts. I feel no bashfulness. From the very hot pool you move outside to a pool surrounded by rocks and Azaleas. It is beautiful. It is raining during my first bath and during my second bath a Grey Wagtail comes down and has a long discussion with me. It is wonderful. My next Japanese trip will be a tour of selected onsen. Tomomi san is an expert and will advise.
On the way to Yudanaka Onsen we stop at the renowned Jigokudani Monkey Park.
There are monkeys everywhere. They are in no way scared nor aggressive.
Chapter 5: Sake
I have never really liked Sake. First I never drink it as Awamori is the drink of choice on Okinawa. On this trp I was instructed on Sake and it is fantastic. Just like wine there are many different regions and techniques for rice fermentation. On the final day we visit high class, small sake producers. The variety of taste is astonishing.
We buy lots of bottles with a vision of a picnic at the marina to celebrate upcoming birthdays with classic Japanese dishes and many different bottles of Sake. Probably won’t happen due to Corona restrictions. At the moment no more than 4 are allowed to cluster around the festive board.
So I think that is about it. I think the original version of these chapters was much better. But there we go.
What a great trip. So grateful to Tomomi san and Miyoko san for their hospitality and excellent companionship. Thanks to Japan. What a country!
Off we go to Nagano! Plane to Haneda, shinkansen to Ueda. Do I need to add to the acclaim for shinkansen? Er, yes! They are always on time, super clean, totally silent and very fast. Well done Japan. We get off at Ueda, where Tomomi san is more or less from and where her mother, Miyoko san, lives. She meets us at the station.
5 days in Nagano, birdwatching, visiting temples, shrines, hiking, eating and generally absorbing the wonderfulness of this mountainous region. I am going to try and organize this entry into different chapters to avoid a long rambling chronological narrative.
Chapter 1: Temples and shrines.
Almost straight from the train we go to the castle in Ueda where there is also a shrine.
A common denominator for the trip was blossom. Trees are flowering everywhere! So beautiful.
Miyoko san instructs me how to pray at a shrine. Put money in box, bow twice, clap hands twice, pray then clap hands again. My life has much improved since I have learned this.
Talking of temples, Nagano has the best public toilet in the world.
Nagano has a big temple surrounded by many shrines.
I remind you that this is Corona 19 Japan. There are no tourists, just me. The perfect time to visit. We buy very dry Nagano cider; Nagano is the apple capital of Japan.
We drive to our base for the most part of the holiday, Togakushi. Togakushi is a place of pilgrimage. It is high and the shrines are higher. I pity the poor pilgrims of yore, who had to walk all the way up here.
There are 3 shrines. The first is easy, it is beside the road.
Th second is reached by a long and wonderful hike between an avenue of ancient trees.
The third shrine in Togakushi is walking distance from our hotel, hotel does not do the establishment justice but we will come to that. It is a tough one. Steep steps that go on and on. It is worth it.
The shrine is beautiful. Decorated with carvings of animals and a very intricate, nail free charpente.
The best bit about temples and shrines has no illustration. The wonderful lady at our place of stay told us that there would be a performance of dance and music at shrine # 1.
It is authentic, no photos, no filming. The performance takes place inside the shrine.The dancing and singing is performed by local priests. There is a drum player, 85 years old?, who controls the performance with changes of rythmn and intensity. A flute player follows. The story revolves around a myth whereby the sun is locked up in a cave . Oh joy! a God comes and releases the Sun. I have the impression that there is a local interest, I mean that it happened around here. There are several scenes. The music.dancing and singing is exquisite.
During the performance, I look right through the window. There is a mountain stream cascading down the hill just outside. Oh my!
I am the only non Japanese at the performance, but at the end people come to smile and welcome me. I feel teary.
Chapter 2: Birdwatching
Togakushi is famous for birds and we are here to look at them. At 6:00 we are tramping around the Togakushi Botanical Park. There are several other birdwatchers there, most equipped with huge lenses and telescopes. The park is wooded and marshy and everywhere there are Mizubasho, which in English have the feeble name of Peace Lilies.
The next day we go to a lake and feast on birds.
We then go back to the Botanical Park for more woodpeckers and stuff. Then we head off to our next destination but stop off at Nojiri Lake. We see lots of birds and Tomomi wants to live here.
The next day we are up at 4:30 and out by 5:00. We drive up into the mountains. It is a faabulous excursion as it has snowed overnight and we tramp through fresh snow.
There are lots of animal tracks. We see Fox, Rabbit and, we think, Raccoon
We walk around 2 lakes and absorb the very early morning in the mountains.
Tomomi san has not done much birdwatching but I think she is infected. She has very sharp ears and eyes that pick up the slightest movement. Essentially she is better than me. She has tested positive.
On the way back to Ueda we stop at a park and go for a walk around the wood wetland in the freezing drizzle. It is wonderful and we see loads of birds, Tomomi san more than me.
I will not list all the birds we saw, too many. Nearly all are Japan birds that do not live in Okinawa. Great excitement to see new birds at my advanced age.
Chapter 3 Food
We buy food for the Shinkansen trip to Ueda at Tokyo Station.
The restaurant where we eat our soba lunch is festooned with empty bottles of Islay whisky. I mention that Islay is my breeding ground and all hell breaks loose! The adorable couple who own the restaurant spent their honeymoon on Islay. They named their daughters Islay and Ellen, after Port Ellen.
In the mountains of Nagano, Islay is strong.
OK, the place we stayed in Togakushi is remarkable. It is very old and was a stop over for pilgrims.Tomomi san found it. Thank you.
We stayed 2 days and had dinner and breakfast at the er hotel, pilgrim’s refuge.
The lady of the house did all the cooking herself. The food was absolutely excellent, so many courses. I never managed to finish them all. My lady companions just whooshed through the whole lot. One thing I very much appreciate in Japanese women, well the ones I know
If it is windy, it is a good idea to put a reef in the mainsail. This makes the sail smaller and the howling wind does not heel the boat over so alarmingly such that you think she might capsize. She would n’t of course but it feels like it.
The weather has been excellent and I have two consecutive days in the boat.
The first sail is in bright, bright sunshine with the wind coming straight offshore. We zoom up the coast from Ginowan marina to Cape Zanpa. I love sailing up the coast. I have driven the same route a thousand times but looking at it from the sea gives a very different perspective. The distance between different places is not the same.
When I reach Cape Zanpa I turn around and sail back. The sea is still very lumpy and there are big swells but the boat is in no way concerned. I can see that for those who do not like sitting on a boat for hours with not much to do, sailing could be tedious.
The next day the wind is stronger and the weather not quite so glorious. I decide to put in a reef. Doing this single handed is quite an art but I am getting better at it. You must raise the mainsail and then lower it again such that you can pull the reefing lines that are attached to the sail. These lines pull the sail down just the right distance and you cleat them off onto the boom. You then raise the sail again but it cannot go as high as before as it is held down by the reefing lines. You can only do this if the boat is headed straight into the wind. If there are two people, it is relatively easy but with just one there are a lot of things that can go wrong!
Naturally, when I get out to sea the wind is nowhere near as strong as I had anticipated. No worries, as she charges across well with the reef. It is a wonderful sail.
We make it to the Sand Islands and, as is traditional, turn around and sail back.
As we get closer to Okinawa, the wind drops and I succeed in shaking out the reef all by myself. All of this is great practice for when you might have to do it in difficult conditions. The weather also improves and it is a beautiful evening as we glide back to the marina.
Sorry, this post is about as dull as spending 6 hours a day on a sailing boat but, er, that what it describes.
It is a big place but it is not the Western model of wide avenues that you can push a trolley down but a different model where you can barely walk between the shelves.
I mime my problem to one of the many guys from the store who are continually ferreting around the back alleys of the shop. I can see in his eyes the disgrace of the Japanese who knows he or she cannot help. However he brings the dai sensei to me. He has spent his whole life in this place and has ancient ancestral knowledge. We spend 30 minutes digging around but without success. The only thing they do not have is Norfolk Gypsy spare parts.
However he will not be beat. He has a very clear vision of the problem and brings together parts from all over the store. These will I hope provide a much better set up than the original. The parts are brass and chromium steel. I have no idea what they were designed to do but I hope they will work for my boat. Thank you dai sensei!
Usually when I try to install parts, bought on the adrenaline that hardware stores provoke in me, they do not fit when I get back to the boat. This time everything works just perfectly.
It is amazing what you can achieve with mime alone.
There was a big typhoon around the Philippines last week and we caught the outer edge. Rain and high winds over the last few days. Tomorrow looks like a good sailing day. I can test my new collar.
It is now nearly 3 years since I started the big job of repainting the boat. At the time I was worried that the paint would not adhere and would soon flake off. However this has not been the case, it has done very well. Other than flaking I also assumed that the paint would fade due to the intense Okinawan sun. However this has not been the case. I raise my hat to International yacht paints.
There are notwithstanding quite a lot of small chips. These are mainly on the edges of the locker lids in the cockpit and around the anchor pit. I touch up.
I worry that my paint, which has been sitting in a can for 3 years, will have dried up or otherwise decayed. However this has not been the case.
I tape up carefully and after some sanding start painting. Unusually, I make no blunders nor do I cover myself in paint.
I go to the Ginowan Town Hall to see if someone can help me with my Covid vaccination procedure. What a pleasure! Haruna san, who speaks excellent English, helps me fill in all the questionnaires and explains that I have to wait until 26 April to then phone to make an appointment for the jabbing. This will happen in the municipal gym that is only 5 minutes from my house. Thank you Haruna san.
So many nice people around! One, called Vena Robinson, sends me a cheque for $1400.
Japan has been very slow to start Covid vaccination. The over 65s, a group that I easily qualify for, get the jab first. Nobody seems to care. I finally grilled a friend and we looked at the Ginowan City Hall website. There she found the info that oldies should get a letter this week informing them how to make an appointment for the vaccination.
This morning I found this in my post box.
There are many pages of info and mysterious forms in the envelope. I do my best with Google translate but only get a general idea of what I have to do. I am going to need help as the procedure seems a bit complicated.
After 3 months of repair, adjustment, poor weather, I finally get the boat out on the water.
It is a truly glorious day, bright sunshine, not too hot but shorts and Tshirt all the same. The engine starts on command, I get the sails up with no difficulty and off we go. There is only one snag; there is very little wind. To be honest, this is a good thing as I would much prefer to amble along on my first outing rather than battle it out on a heavily heeled boat in high wind.
I motor out and once clear of the harbor, I stop the engine and silently ease out towards China.
The Norfolk gypsy is a comfortable boat as you can put your back against one gunwale and stretch out your legs onto the lockers on the other side of the cockpit. You are nearly lying down as you watch your legs frazzle.
There is now a bit more wind and we tear along at 2.5 knots. A 30ft boat motors out of the marina and comes past. She finally raises sail when she is 200 metres ahead of me. I thought she would race away but in fact I gained on her! Such fun.
Here is a very bad clip. I updated the operating system on my Mac last week and this brings a new version of IMovie. I can’t work out how to use it! Apologies.
So good to be out on the boat again! Lots of adventures coming up.
P.S. I have since watched some “How to use IMovie” videos on YouTube. The clip is not so bad now.
Another beautiful ikebana piece by Tomomi san. She arrives with branches from kiwi fruit trees or is it bushes? My miniscule experience with ikebana has shown me that structural engineering has a lot to do with it. How to get flowers or branches or leaves to apparently float in the air? If you just jam them in a pot they just flop all over the place.
The kiwi branches were challenging as they are top heavy and want to fall over.
This does not work to her high standards. She takes another branch that stands vertical in the pot and grafts the main branch onto it.
The result is magical. The high convoluted branch hangs mysteriously in the air.
Then we eat poached salmon with umibudo and avacado.
After the meal Tomomi san moves the ikebana to stand on my piece of boshafu, on top of the cutlery canteen. It looks so much better!
I wake up early this morning and stumble into the dining room and there was the ikebana in the dawn light. It was beautiful. I am so lucky. Thank you Tomomi san, you are amazing! See more of her art at: https://www.instagram.com/imomofolio/ Follow her.