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Dear Samurai

Dear Samurai - Aiko & boys ...

The news from Toge - It just gets better & better ...

The swallows have left the nest and are making trial flights backwards and forwards in the hallway

We have been for an Onsen with Komi san, Junko , Kucho san, Izuru san & gang. It was a new Onsen to us (& seems even to them as we got lost!) and the ladies were one side of a Bamboo wall and the lads the other - they had been there for some time when we arrived (drinking) and serenaded us with improvised versions of "Hoi saka hoi" apparently with words pertinent to the Onsen - Komi san sang back. All this after they took us out for dinner too ...

We even had ice cream at the end made from rice - it doesn't get much better as a night out.

We have now made friends with the man who runs the swimming pool and he lets us in after hours when we have the whole place to ourselves, it's a bit like Hollywood in the mountains as Karen keeps her sunglasses on.

Our afternoon of bonding with the village ladies over the 'sheilds of Toge' with some marker pens (& Aiko's powers of persuasion!) has bought about a gentle revolution in house life. The door to the village is now even further open, the hallway is a shop (buy rice and you get cucumbers free), we pass hours engaged in communal craft activities & Junko has practically become a Samurai.

Yesterday we all made those material shoes that the village were selling in Tokyo. Karen and I's initial efforts - a pair of small misshaped child's shoes - bought about much hilarity.

Tim your yellow T shirt has been recycled into shoes.

The only thing to interrupt the idyll is the constant stream of visitors, they come by the coach load now & seem to like the chaos of our shoe making etc. later today we're trying to move into communal model painting. I'm not sure if mould making has been quite 'the start of an incredible journey' (to quote Lilliput) but we do have some fairly credible cottages to decorate.

The Toge rice is walking off the low table.

Even the Triennial drumming event was quite a laugh as we went with the Toge gang. Cha Cha Cha man broke away from our rather sedentary party and practically jogged across the middle of a rice field to join the action when a French Samba band came on.

Kondo bought round a TV but there seems to be no way to tune it to the DVD player.

We play the DVD of the Ikebukuro live feed on a loop on the laptop - much to the hilarity of the village ladies, we've spent a lot of time laughing at the shaman routine but also admiring your legs Marcus in those kitten heels.

Must go a second shoe workshop seems to be happening spontaneously and Mitsuko san is dismantling the screens between the two rooms main rooms.

VERY hot here, missing you all ...

N & K

Our 'shields of Toge' Ladies afternoon!

Shoe making workshop

We hope this says:
Delicious rice (& cucumbers) here ...


Contrary to Adam-san’s predictions prior to his leaving, tomatoes have not yet overtaken cucumbers as the Toge glut. We're trying to sell them from the house too - or even give them away free with a packet of Toge rice. Even the locals are finding the magnitude of their harvest difficult to take. Yesterday we asked a neighbour for some aubergines and when she handed them over we found a cucumber hidden in their midst. Neither of us referred to it.

Bergerac the home-made flipflop

Zouri workshopo (that's sandal workshop to you)

Michigo-san and Komi-san return after lunch to resume the rag flipflop sweatshop in our tatami room. Yesterday 5 of us managed to make 4 pairs, none (even our sensai (teacher) Komi-san) coming close to the ‘model pair’ made by local people with special needs.
The day began with the women unpacking bundles of old clothes to tear into strips, and of course within minutes Nina and I were shrieking “You can’t tear up this gorgeous old kimono!”. Komi-san then proceeded to half dress us with these motheaten but gorgeous things, and then insist on carefully folding them up for us to pack and take home. I wonder if us suggesting tearing up some old British clothes would have the same effect on them “No – you can’t possibly tear up those old Marks & Spencer slacks!”
Back to the flipflops: It’s basically made in a very simple way: woven with rag strips (like those nasty English ragrugs) onto looped rope as the sole – the ‘thong’ bit is rice straw in a sewn ‘sausage’ – and their charm lies in the unique patterns in the woven rags, which seem to have a distinctly Japanese feel.
My 1st attempt had everyone in hysterics – it was squint and too narrow to match Nina’s other of the pair – but I live in hope of finding a 8 year old in need of orthaepedic sandals. My 2nd attempt yielded a jaunty, rather nautical-looking pair in shades of black and blue – if Bergerac was a home-made flipflop, he’d be these.

Komi san & Nina try one of the doomed kimonos

Yes that's 6 types of paper to recycle alone!

Our rubbish shame

You would not believe how complicated putting out the rubbish is in Toge. Our first morning home alone in the house has begun with the shameful experience of having to walk back up to the communal rubbish area and ‘re-bag’ our burnable refuse under Komi san’s gentle guidance. At 8.00 am she was not our first caller though, cucumbers started to arrive at 7.15.
Each day you have to take one of 8 different kinds of rubbish or re-cycling to the village bins by 8.30. There is a diary with different colours for each day and unbelievably detailed instructions for each type of packaging, that has to have all labels removed and be washed. I guess considering the amount of packaging they use it’s a good thing, but I couldn’t see it catching on in Hackney.
The source of this morning’s shame was not incorrect rubbish content but the wrong bag – a stray black one - perhaps the correct clear plastic bag with “rubbish” written on the side is the one we inadvertently used to carry our models to a Tokyo meeting … the buyer from Tokyu Hands didn’t seem to mind.

Toge rice fields - sunny at last

Samurai Swim

Karen and I have just arrived back at the house after picking up our mini car for the last week … downsizing for the final 2 Samurai as Adam, Tim, Jamie and Aiko drive on to Tokyo and no doubt a wrestle with the BA excess luggage limits.
The house feels very calm & quiet now but before they left today things were in pleasant chaos, we all tried to pack as everyone from the village called round and Aiko created a mini whirlwind completing her final translation tasks.
Helped by Aiko and drawing, Karen and I spent an afternoon with the village ladies yesterday in a kind of tea party meets motivational workshop! We drew & spoke about Toge, rice, snow, mountain vegetables, small businesses, a cafe, bringing young people here & the future. It was hard work at points during the three hours & they did seem slightly reluctant to try out the ideas that came up - so this morning I was pleased and surprised when Miyuko san bought round vegetables to sell, with out further persuasion.
The idea is that our house now becomes part exhibition, part café, part social space & part shop for the duration of the triennial, and that for the next week Karen and I encourage this relaxed approach. I hope to learn something about Japanese cooking above and beyond how to work the rice maker.
My sadness at the other Samurai leaving is mixed with excitement about being here on our own for a week. Yesterday it felt as though we made some real progress with some of the village ladies, who up until now have been rather separated from us in a haze of communal cooking. Despite our language problems it seems they are easy to hangout with, Komi san (Kucho san’s mum) is really like Karen’s mum.
Also on the way home from the collecting the car we went to the local swimming pool that Kucho san (village boss-man AKA Kimio san) told us about. After 2 months without a swim it felt like heaven (especially as now it’s stopped raining it’s REALLY hot here) – my life in Toge is now near perfect.

The local pool - shared with 4 children