May / June 2020: Fireflies, Umeshu, and Rice Fields

For Deanna

It’s been a varied last few months here in Kyushu. Schools have started back on their usual schedule, seasons are quickly changing to summer, and new life abounds in the fields all across the prefecture. I’ve been actively trying to get as much out of my free time as I can while I have it. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

May 2: Climbing Omoto Shrine

Looking for an opportunity to get outside without the need for careful distancing, we headed towards a hike up to Omoto Shrine (大元神社) in Usa city. About a 2-hour walk from the small train station of Nishiyashiki up to the shrine, it was the exercise that was much needed after weeks of staying cooped up at home.

May 26: Making Umeshu

I like a few sweet liqueurs, but nothing quite beats the taste of a cold glass of Japanese umeshu plum liqueurs (梅酒) on a hot, summer day. In 2019, we made our first batch using local ume plums, rock sugar, and generically called “white-liquor,” sold at about 1,000 yen per 1 liter. The sugary drink to sit for at least a year before it’s at its full prime sweetness and flavour, though I’d be lying if I said that we didn’t dip into it at the 6-month mark.

As soon as we started seeing the ume plums in the grocery stores around May this year, we got our supplies all together to make 12 litres of umeshu.

May Crafting Time in a Japanese Apartment

It’s nice having a handy guy around. J has been busy helping make our kitchen a bit more spacious by building a shelving unit for our countertop. I only catch glimpses of his woodworking process detailed on his blog. Here are a few process pictures:

May-June: Smoking Rice Fields

During this time of year, wheat fields already harvested get readied for its next stage: rice fields. Before they are flooded and planted, the fields undergo a burn, and the sky is often cloudy with smoke during these beginning months of summer. Even though it comes with an unpleasant smell, I can’t wait for when the flooding happens, when barren fields transform into a home for hundreds of frogs that sing into the night. 🐸

Some fields get flooded earlier than others, which I suspect has something to do with location and other criteria, though I’m not 100% sure. Several farmers use machines that plant a perfect row of rice shoots– a mystery to me as to how it works so well.

Of course, some still opt for the old-fashioned way, which works just as well.

June: Rainy Season and Hydrangeas

June marks the Tsuyu (梅雨) rainy season, and what follows is an explosion of Ajisai Hydrangeas throughout Japan. One rainy day in June, I drove to Hibikiyama Park (響山公園) in Usa city.

The rainy season also brings with it a fresh bounty of vegetables. My good friend Mac brought me vegetables and flowers for me one day:

Summer Fireflies in Yabakei, Oita

The highlight of this past month was definitely the firefly season. Last year, we were introduced to a local firefly viewing spot in the Yamakuni (山国) area outside of Nakatsu city (中津市). At the end of May and beginning of June, thousands of fireflies descend around the cleanest river waters for their annual mating dance. It sounds corny, but it was like the stars fell down from the night sky and into the woods that surrounded us where we stood. J says it’s one of the most impressive things he’s seen in all his time in Japan, and I’m not far behind in that opinion.

This time around, I brought a tripod for my camera, and with a 10-second open shutter, I was able to capture some of their elusive brilliance.

To my brilliant, generously caring, courageous cousin.

All my love,