First, in June 2008, came a young sorrel Abyssinian cat called Sen-Chan and a slightly younger English Springer Spaniel called Tom. In October 2008, they were joined by Tama-Chan, a ruddy Abyssinian girl kitten. The three lived so happily together, playing and cuddling in the French countryside with their mistress, known as #1. But in early January 2009, tragedy struck and Sen-Chan went to the Bridge at not yet 18 months. For a while, it was just Tom and Tama-Chan and #1, remembering sweet and gentle Sen-Chan, and the one who came before him, the fierce and noble Ikkyu. But then, in April 2009, a little red furrball, Sei-Chan, joined the family! She was followed in October 2009 by Yuu-Chan, a playful but very mellow little sorrel boy. And then Tama-Chan had kittens and little Bibi, a ruddy male, stayed with us. Sadly, we lost our beloved Yuu-Chan in September 2010, but we soldier on and live and love in our little corner of rural France. And we now have a big little brother in Vidock, a Percheron stallion, a little little brother in Genji, a blue Abyssinian, and a big little sister in Violette, a Percheron mare.
My time in Hokkaido is coming to an end, and this evening I fly down to Tokyo where I shall probably have no time to blog. So, next time, the Poupounette Gang should be back at the helm! In the meantime, I thought I would leave you with some food-related shots. Thanks for coming along with me!
First off, here is where we had lunch every day at the racetrack. Hardly gourmet food but excellent noodles nonethelesss!
One evening in Obihiro, we ate at a tiny place specialising in "Yamabe" a kind of trout. We first had sashimi (raw fish), followed by a "domburi" which is a bowl of rice topped with, in this case, yamabe tempura, and accompanied with miso soup.
Kushiro is a seaside town and so the fish markets are really impressive!
Hokkaido is particularly well-known for its crabs!
A typical lantern outside a restaurant:
And finally, one of Japan's famous musk melons. This one was selling for about US$35. They can be even more expensive!
The horses, jockeys, grooms and trainers that are involved in Ban-Ei racing all live in a "village" that is located right next to the racetrack. There are also lots of dogs around. This little guy was particularly friendly:
At a given time in the early afternoon, all the horses in any one stable are brought outside so that it can be cleaned thoroughly. This is a good opporunity for glamour shots, such as this one of "Super Clinton" who is the 6th winningest horse of the moment. Guess who he is named after?
We spent some time watching the team of farriers at work. There is one woman among them. They are kept very busy!
Wherever you go, there are giant piles of carrots to give the horses as treats!
The horses wear colourful harnesses when they race:
This handsome guy, called TENKA, went on to win his next race!
PS: I just wanted to say that, for some reason, this connection will not let me post comments on certain blogs. It is very frustrating and I do apologise, but it is totally beyond my control. So, if I looks as though I hgaven't been visiting you, it's just because I can't comment!
Each day's racing at the Ban-Ei track in Obihiro consists of 12 races, with the first one starting at 11:20am. Before the race, all the horses parade in the paddock, first led by their grooms, and then ridden by their jockeys. They are decked out in fine harnesses, and many of them have their manes braided with all kinds of decorations. This beautiful horse wore some very seasonal Halloween decorations that offset the black of his coat and mane:
The actual track is 200 metres long and consists of two "bumps." The horses come out of the starting gate and over the first bump.
They are then virtually stopped by the jockeys and lined up ahead of the second, so that they can get their breath back before going over the second bump. The sleighs weigh between 300 and 700 kilos, depending on the age of the horse and the category of the race.
After the second bump, it's the straight line to the finish.
By the end of the day's racing, is is often dark. This was the big race from Sunday, the Queen cup for mares only. In most races, mares and stallions (there are very few geldings) race side by side, and the mares often win! There are currently 5 mares among the top 15 winningest Ban-Ei horses, including, at #3, "Fuku Izumi" ("The Fountain of Happiness"), a beautiful dapple grey with a huge fan following.
The town of Obihiro, on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, is known for its "Ban-Ei" races in which heavy horses, many of them Percherons, pull weighted sleighs over a short course with two "bumps" in it. Training starts in the dark at 4am, and the images at dawn and sunrise are quite stunning.
To my absolute surprise, one of the (few) women jockeys asked me if I wanted to try the sleigh and having sat me down on it (they stand but that was a little too much to ask of me...), handed me the reins of "Pegasus Pretty" and off we went for a long spin around the training ground!
Sei-Chan: Well, THAT days has finally come. #1 is heading out this afternoon, first taking a train and then the plane to Tokyo. She says she will be dreaming of us tonight as she sits squished in the plane seat all night!
Our house-sitters are lovely and we know they will give us all the attention and care we could wish for. #1 is taking her laptop so she may be able to sneak an unusual post or two from "over there." We pan to be back blogging on November 3rd and, in the meantime, will leave you with a photo of each one of us.
Tama-Chan: Yes, it was a year ago today that I came to live here with #1, Tommy and Sen-Chan. I was a very little girl back then and I was shy and a little nervous, so I hissed a lot at Sen-Chan and ran away from Tommy at first, but I quickly made friends with both! Sen-Chan welcomed me with open paws and I still miss him. Here is a little photographic trip down memory lane:
That was one year ago. This is now:
#1 tells me that I have grown into a fine lady cat, and I was thrilled the other day when our good friend Marlene, who helps 9 and Chani blog, did a wonderful illustration based on ME!
I am very happy to live here with #1 and Tommy, and the little ones, Sei-Chan and Yuu-Chan (turbulent as they can be sometimes!). I am also happy to have so many wonderful blogging friends worldwide, as well as an extra handsome boyfriend, Misha. I just wish he lived closer than New Zealand!
Tom: I must say that it is fun to have someone with whom to share Manly Monday again. I used to really enjoy my big brother Sen-Chan and now I am very much enjoying little Yuu-Chan.
But onto me! We have another photo in the nice series #1 took last week:
Me in excellent frisbee form!
And me doing my best "#1, could you please throw the tennis ball one more time" pleading look.
The other day, when I was playing with my tennis ball, Basha, the neighbour cat, was supervising!
As far as I am concerned, chewing is one of the manliest activities ever! I love wood sticks and, thankfully, there are many around here. #1 generally keeps my frisbee out of my reach, except when we are playing, but I do have a retired one to munch on in the house:
and finally for me this week, here I am looking extra manly at the local pizza restaurant!
Yuu-Chan: Purrs everyone! Life is good! I have been playing and sleeping in the hammocks and just enjoying one wonderful day after another. There is talk of #1 going away for a while soon. What is "away" and what is "a while?" Will she still love me and give me cuddles?
Here are some manly action shots of me playing with a few of my toys:
I think it is very manly to show your sisters how much you love them, so I decided to hop into the indoor hammock with Tama-Chama last night!
And finally, here is what #1 calls my first "official mancat-in-training" portrait!