Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Remnants of Fall

Several times today I thought it was Sunday but then reminded myself it was only Wednesday. I wasn't going to let the cloudy weather force me to stay inside though. After consuming a stack of pancakes I jumped into the car yet again to chase down some remaining fall color. It continues to surprise me how varied the progress of the leaves can be depending on the place. I would say it was a successful day. My eyes consumed an abundant amount of reds, yellows, and oranges. If I were to stop for every beautiful tree I saw I might not get anywhere. Sometimes I just have to view and move along. This doesn't detract from the value of fall. I can always dig into my memory banks and replay what I have seen.

The colors were still pretty nice even up in the higher elevations. I was expecting most of the color to be gone. This lowered expectation helps me appreciate things more. But I would still appreciate it anyway so I'm just making ridiculous things up in my head. Along the way to one of my favorite spots I was able to capture some vibrant little maples clinging to rocky hillsides.

Ashitani Maple 1

I think I could look at maple trees everyday and never grow tired of their natural beauty. I like the changing of seasons so it's good that the colors only change once a year. I know southern California is a paradise almost everyday of the year but I don't think I would like having that kind of constant. The change of seasons and weather allows us to remember more fondly the moments of life.

Ashitani Maple 2

I love how the maples change from green to yellow, then to orange, then to red, and finally crinkling up into dull dark reds and browns. Every tree seems to have a biological clock of its own. Not dictated by any other tree around it. Some change fast and others do their own thing.

Ashitani Maple 3

Shortly after taking this I began to feel rain drops gently splattering on my head. I hadn't even considered the possibility of rain. I should have gone back to grab an umbrella but I thought I had taken it out of the car. I continued walking hoping the rain would not fall harder. While it didn't become worse, it was enough to get me damp. Just as I said the cloudy weather wouldn't stop me, no rain was going to make me turn back today.

Lower Ashitani Fall

I scrambled off the road and down through some grass plants taller than me. With every slight shock of their stalks water sprinkled down making me more wet. Plus, this was no time to be careless with my steps. I was a bit disappointed because the trees here had already decided to shed most of their leaves. I hardly felt like taking a picture of this fall again. It was about one month ago that I first shot it. Yet, because I was there and already wet I should take a picture. The only way to get than angle was to cross the stream which was far too wide to hop across. Off the shoes and socks went and I plunged my feet into the frigid mountain water. Staggering for a step on the slimy rock growth I made it across. Clutching my llama parka over my camera to protect it from rain, I snapped this shot and headed back to the dry interior of the car.

Out in Okawa

The Yoshinogawa river is very pretty. It has steep rock faces and giant boulders. The road along it had a nice mixture of color. With the rain, however, I didn't stop to take any pictures. I continued on toward Setogawa in hopes of catching something nice along the way. This was off a tiny bridge between the locations. Not the most interesting I thought. I needed to take anything I could get.

Roadside Maple

Up the road about 300 meters (like I even know how far that is) there were some nice maples hanging along the sides of the stream. The emerald and red join quite nicely I think. As long as I'm not shooting flowers any bit of color is welcome.

Maple Leaf Pot

According to the fall color report online, Setogawa had already gone past its peak time. I took my chances anyway and found some lingering maples that were abstinent to the report. The trees around the famous waterfall here were past their prime. I passed it up and went above the falls and found some pools of water choked with leaves.

Stranded but Still Wet

Another great example of the variety of maple color that I love so much.

Above Amagaeri

Just overhead and up the stream from the pools of leaves was this view. Shooting the tiny leaves of the maples can make for a chaotic and noisy looking photo. It's hard to frame them well. This might prove true for the next one as well.

Setogawa Mosey

By this time I had managed to carry my backpack on the front of my body while holding an umbrella protecting my camera and tripod. The makeshift rain protection worked well. If it had been raining harder I might have just gone home. I worked my way up the small path along the stream and continued shooting anything of worth or that was left.

Bright Delight

I don't think I will be complaining about any of the fall I have seen this year. I'll probably hear people say they wished they had seen more. At least I won't be one of them.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Catching Autumn

I lied. You could view all these on flickr already but I made it much easier for you here. Enjoy.

Vertical Leaf

My Eyes and Head Hurt

Horizontal Leaf

Classic Momiji

Blanket of Maple

昇龍 Fall 2

Dull and Vivid

Missed the Canvas Again

昇龍 Fall 1

Maple Blaze

Well there you go. Out with a blaze.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Culture Day, What a Waste

I woke up to clear sunny skies this morning and felt so bitter. I had to spend my entire day inside when I could have been out driving around in the glorious weather. I'll get over it soon enough. It was only a waste because I couldn't get out and enjoy fall. Otherwise I don't necessarily think school activities were a waste. I'm sure nobody at school would have done much anyway but stay at home or go shopping.

I'll share some pictures of the culture day later this week probably. I don't feel like sorting through them all right now. I was thinking of going to work tomorrow even though we get a day off in exchange for today. The weather forecast looks promising so I will just skip that consideration and hit the road in the morning.

The real reason of this short post was to speak of my most recent acquisition that was delivered today. I ordered this Friday night I think and it already came today. Amazon shipping in Japan is lightning fast. I still don't have a credit card so I do cash on delivery which is about 260 yen extra. If I did a bank transfer I would have to pay that amount anyway. It's much easier to get merchandise at home this way. Here is the charcoal chimney in all its wonderful glory.

charcoal chimney

I saw a fancier version for about 4 times the price of this one at a sporting goods store. However, that is the only one I've seen in the wild. It served the exact same purpose as this one, just really expensive for some reason. Most people use fire starter bricks, gels, and blow torches to get coals lit. I have been using tissues coated in oil but it's a little messy and doesn't always work so well. As I have embarked upon some more technically challenging grill escapades, I need to be able to start extra charcoal easily. As you can see from the picture I had raging coals in a few minutes. I didn't even have anything to cook. I was just eager to try it out so I lit it up. 12 pounds of charcoal is cheap so I don't mind at all. I sat outside and warmed myself by it for awhile and stared deeply into the gleaming coals. I'm looking forward to a pleasant partnership with the grill. Hopefully some others can partake as well.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cherry Smoked Chicken Breasts!

It rained far too much over the past night and day. It's very dark when driving at night in the rain. After playing around with some metal cans and failing to build something, I went and ate miso ramen. There wasn't enough to eat at home so I had to go out. That 550 yen bowl of miso ramen is always very satisfying. Not too expensive either. That always leaves the possibility for ice cream which I buy at the only convenience store around for miles. Friday nights are generally ice cream nights.

It was still raining this morning when I left to go buy an assortment of things. The road has tons of puddles because the heavy trucks have pounded down the road. If one is driving fast those could be bad news. I opted to head down south and check out some home centers I hadn't been to before. There are 3 within 500 meters of each other. Two seem to be doing okay and the third was almost too sad to walk around in. Well, one is brand new and has a great selection so it's not a surprise one is suffering. My main purchase today was wood chips for use with the grill. I picked up some cherry and hickory. The wood chips are cut very fine in small pieces but they appeared to be fine. I ended up with a trunk full of food and other random things today. Sometimes that is just the way it goes. Most important were the wood chips and a thermometer for the grill.

As I'm thinking of grilling a turkey for Thanksgiving I wanted to see how feasible it was to smoke meat on the grill. I won't be doing that for the turkey but I wanted a primer with temperature control. I got somewhat of a late start because I was out shopping all morning and into the early afternoon. But I got home and made a brine solution for three chicken breasts. Chicken breast is notoriously dry already so it isn't the best meat to smoke. I wanted something that would be done in 3 hours as opposed to 5 or more.

BBQ Setup

My makeshift smoking setup. I employed the use of an old bulletin board I found in my closet as a table to raise the grill up higher. This made it much easier to work with and manage rather than bending down to the ground. I'll make something more permanent eventually. After I left the breasts soak for 2 hours in the brine solution I fired up the grill (or tried to) and attempted to get the inside to a decent temp. At first it just wasn't hot enough so I had to mess around with it quite a bit. Basically adding more charcoal. My charcoal chimney should arrive tomorrow but in the meantime I got a terracotta saucer to keep a supply of charcoal lit in while I was smoking. I eventually got the temperature worked out mostly and then threw wood chips on top of the coals to get the smoking going. I had soaked some cherry chips in water but the coals weren't hot enough and this caused a massive dip in the temperature. I had to deal as best as I could given my grill.

Smoked Chicken Breastssss

There are the breasts that I wrapped in bacon to help preserve more moisture. The pan of water helps to regulate the temperature more than anything. You can see the coals piled over to the right side. This was at about 2 hours and that is when I cut the smoking. I then finished with just heat for cooking. In 30 more minutes I then applied a BBQ sauce I made earlier in the day. Not too heavy but just enough to give a nice coating that helped bake the outside nicely. At roughly 3 hours the chicken had come to the right temperature so off it came.

The Slaw, Sauce, and Breasts

Looks pretty good right?

I was in a pretty BBQ spirit so I made a vinegar based coleslaw with chopped cabbage and shredded carrot. This is simple to make and very delicious. I like both kinds of coleslaw, creamy and vinegar. For some reason I tend to like vinegar based more so these days with BBQ. Basically I used straight white vinegar and sugar in equal parts. It sat in the frig for a few hours while I was smoking the meat. The BBQ sauce was very delicious too. I could eat that plain. It had molasses, white wine vinegar, ketchup, mustard, and other spices. I'm not sure why I haven't made a sauce before. I'll be sure to play around some more.

Cherry Smoked Breasts

They look so dark because of the BBQ sauce applied toward the end. I didn't overcook them at all. The bacon was very smokey and tasty. The breast was not overly dry and had a lovely smoke flavor through it. When I first took a bite it sent waves of euphoria through my body. I thought to myself, "This might be the best I have made ever. I sure love BBQ and miss it." I also made a side of french fries to compliment the entire experience. Nothing less than an authentic BBQ meal. I bought a hunk of pork today as well. I think I'll try to smoke that next. Perhaps on Wednesday which is a day off.

And dad, thanks for you effort in grilling and BBQ. It really takes some time and love. However, the result is some of the best food ever. Better watch my waist line...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The First Plunders of Fall

And who really knows, it could be the last. The weekend made me fear that most fall colors were coming to an end. Today as I set out, in hopes of any glimpse, I prepared myself not to be too disappointed for having gone out too late in the season. As I found my way into the valley I began talking to myself hoping for the best. It's very hard to gauge the color change due to geographic factors. So by looking at the higher locations with random color dropped throughout, there is no telling what it might look like down in a valley.

Luckily for me I was probably a little too early to enjoy the zenith of the fall colors at this valley. This means I can go back and see even more splendid color. I should take this opportunity to also hit some other spots before everything falls into happy shades of brown and rust. While it isn't the wide swaths of color one might see in deciduous forests back home, it's still a wonderful mingling of greens, reds, oranges, yellows, and neutral earth tones.

I Seem to Have Missed the Canvas

As green is my favorite color, the added bonus of contrast is quite satisfying.


Splendid Blend

This was just as intense as the picture looks. Yeahhh.

Sugi and Maple Love

Divine color. Like, literally.

Devine Color

I wasn't able to get really any close ups of trees in color. They weren't ready yet or were too far away. I'll go back and make the maples wish they never were photographed by me.

Oh let's not forget this little beauty.


I love fall.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Iya in Iya

That might be somewhat appropriate for a description of Saturday. Disagree-ability in Iya valley.

The only reason for that would be the fact that the place I wanted to go was semi closed off because they were rebuilding a bridge at the site. You see, the Iya valley is famous for several bridges made with vines (see picture below stolen from the internet somewhere). It's also notable for a number of cultural properties. It has a fair amount of history surrounding it because people escaped to the valley to seek refuge in old times. In any case every few years the bridges need replacing. The place I went to has one of the bridges under repair from the beginning of November so the entrance down to the bridges was closed off. However, most people were just walking down to look at one of the bridges anyway so I followed. The main reason it's closed off is because there are wires overhead transporting things and its supposedly dangerous. In reality it was probably for the best because there is a 500 yen fee to go down to the bridges anyway. So with it being "closed" nobody had to pay. I didn't take a single picture but I might go back another day in the future. All is not lost.


On the way back toward home in the afternoon I stopped at the main vine bridge location. The one I went to is named inner vine bridge valley whereas this is just vine bridge. It's clearly the most famous and that also means it's heavily crowded with tourists. It's 300 yen to park your car nearby but I found a closed restaurant to park at for free. Most wouldn't consider taking such a bold risk (/end sarcasm). I walked down to the bridge and took a gander. Just to walk across is 500 yen. I'm not easily enticed by such gimmicks. The bridge was full of people willing to pay the price. I had hoped for some nice fall colors but it had already hits its peak in this area. It was still nice to be out on a fairly nice autumn day. At times certain places felt like being back home.

Before I made it home I stopped in at Soeng's place for some splendid conversation and a nice little bit of dinner. She hangs around with Americans too much and is beginning to be influenced by our English. But I don't believe your Aussie English can die so easily!

I was just happy to get out and go somewhere for a change. Even if things weren't exactly as I had hoped for. As for the local festival today, let's just say I'm glad it's done. Received some little baby carrots and avoided being in awkward conversations with people. That is good enough to call it success.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Just Slow Cloudy Days

I haven't been out much lately as the weather hasn't been great on the days I could go. So in the meantime I continue to play games, read, and do whatever passes the time in the best possible way.

I finally got around to making tortillas after thinking about it for months. I needed more flour and less lard but they were very hot off the fry pan. I made some delicious tacos with these. The meat seasoning stands for some improvement however.

Otherwise things have been rather quiet in these parts. I'm really looking forward to winter vacation more than anything.

I also started reading The World According to Monsanto. This is a pretty fascinating book about all the shady and underhanded things Monsanto has done. It makes me quite frustrated and angry with large corporations and the government. I even get grand illusions of becoming a lawyer or becoming a politician so we could fight to change the terrible flaws causing harm to countless individuals. I remember back when I was young and dad would talk about Roundup Ready soybeans and using Roundup around the house. We took Monsanto's word for the safety and effectiveness of their products. But time has slowly begun to show us how far companies will go to make profits and obscure the truth.

I think I will read up on Agent Orange after this. In 2004 the spokeswoman for Monsanto went as far as to say that there were no links between Vietnam veterans sickness' and exposure to Agent Orange. People said they would barbeque and bathe in the used 55 gallon drums of that stuff. Monsanto just like many other American businesses that are full of criminals who stand behind a company wall in order to get away with stealing, killing, and destroying.

This has all left me feeling rather bitter.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Getting It Worked Out

Saturday ended up being more interesting than I thought. I still find it odd that they don't choose to put an ATM for my bank branch in my town. They have the bank branch and they remodeled it a few months ago, why not add in an ATM? I'm sure the locals would love that. So I went down to the city to the ATM and sent my payment for the lodge I'm staying at in Hokkaido. After that I traversed all the way across the city to a used clothing store.

Last winter I bought a coat at the place. It was a down Carhart that was very warm. The only problem is that the down was coming out around the seams. This ended up making my fleece and other things kind of messy. It was only 20 bucks so I couldn't complain. However it was so annoying I vowed never to use it again. In preparation for skiing I wanted to find a jacket or shell type jacket that would be suited for snow conditions. I knew they had some more quality outdoor used stuff at this store so I thought I would take the chance. Sure enough I probably found the best coat I could have. It was a Columbia jacket, probably last year model, for 80 dollars in great condition and fit me perfectly. I can't say how many times I tried it on but it was a ton. It felt maybe a little too insulated and I couldn't decide. In the end it was too nice not to have. I figured if I didn't find anything else I would regret it and at least I could use this through the trip. A day later I'm more happy with the purchase than ever. I found some reviews of the coat and people have said great things about it for all kinds of activities from walking dogs in the rain to skiing.

Ski Boy

Pretty sweet right? I love the simple design and colors. Probably the best find of the day. I also got some pants, gloves, and a neck warmer. I wanted to go for some goggles but they seemed expensive. I can't believe how much some of them cost. Even the cheapo models seemed expensive. All the ski stuff was pretty expensive though. Columbia ski pants were about 18,000 yen. With the exchange rate that is like 220 dollars! The same pants online in America are 100 dollars. I hate knowing such details. I would order online and have the stuff shipped if I knew sizes would be okay and what not. I would rather try it on and buy it thought. So I took a couple hits in the wallet for the greater good. I got some cheaper ski pants that should be just fine. Took me about 2 hours to decide on everything and leave the store.

I was pretty hungry as I didn't really eat breakfast or lunch. I decided to stop at a little joint for okonomiyaki. I ordered one and devoured it quickly. It was so good I decided to indulge in another one. While I was waiting some Japanese guy came over from a nearby table and began to converse with me. He was being mildly obnoxious and speaking atrocious English. Thanks for telling me your English is terrible in Japanese and then proceeding to try to talk to me in English for the mere sake of entertainment. Anyway I knew what he was doing so I obliged discussion without being too cynical. He wouldn't get it anyway. His five other friends were celebrating a birthday and they were being rather rowdy. Another guy came over and wanted to drink with me. I was driving so they bought me alcohol free beer and became even more excited. Eventually I was invited over to their table and more conversation ensued. Now I'm not sure if this is a familiar thing for 21 year old Japanese men to do but one guy stood up and proclaimed he was going to show his penis off. All the friends flipped out and began yelling and trying to cover him up. Luckily he didn't do it. But this should give you an idea of what I was DEALING with.

We talked for quite some time and it was mildly interesting but a little juvenile at times for me. The redeeming factor was that some of the guys were pretty cool and are in a band. They were much more level headed and decent to talk to. However, the crazy guy who wanted to show his penis told me I should spend the night at his house and then I could drink real beer with them. Well if he was willing to show his penis to me in the restaurant I'm not sure what he might try to show me in the confines of his house. *shudder* It's like Zach Dixon who asked me if I wanted to see his magic guitar when we were having a cookout at his family's house. I thought it was strange he kept it in the bathroom. So when we got there he started to pull down his pants and I turned away quite ashamed. It's a pretty funny store looking back. I declined to spend the night at the crazy guy's house and got up to pay. I was then assaulted by the whole lot of the boys and they said, "No No No you can't pay! You are family now!" I feigned politeness to the last degree until they pushed me out the door and said they would pay for my meal.

Before I could get away the ring leader came out side with his friends following and proclaimed that I should contact him. They gave me hugs and high fives. Then the crazy penis guy ran into the street and his friend had to save him from a car. After that, apparently being liberated from the confines of the restaurant, whipped out his penis in front of everyone. I dared not look down. I continued on my way waving and saying thank you. I left thinking, it sure was good I got that extra okonomiyaki.

So today on Sunday I watched the LSU and Bama game. I then played GTA for quite some time before I fired up the grill. I bought a huge box of small log charcoal yesterday for this purpose. The charcoal briquettes proved to be too hard to light. On Friday night I tested some remaining fragments of log charcoal I had and it fired up rather easily. So I cooked with regular charcoal tonight and it was great. It ignites and burns much cleaner than the briquettes I have. I think I will be grilling more and more. For the sake of you mom I took a picture of the grill but not of the chicken breasts I cooked. Maybe another time.

Little Smokey Joe

I'm taking the day off tomorrow from saved up comp time. Should be a pretty lazy day. Just the way I like them.