June 16, 2019 Sun
Rice planting

Throughout late spring, the landscape of Japan takes on a transformation as the rice paddies are flooded and rice is planted for the summer growing season. Rice does not, in fact, require large amounts of water to grow, but flooded paddies enable better growth rates and suppress weeds. Japan may be depicted as a land of green terraces punctuating mountains and covering valleys, but the reality is that many rice fields are now lying fallow as older farmers retire and a new crop of younger farmers fails to materialise. The village of Sodeshi, in Kyotango, is an exception. Every year the community holds a ‘rice-planting day’, intended to introduce rice-planting techniques to younger generations and maintain the spectacular beauty of the terraces overlooking the sea. The process is muddy and back-pain inducing, as the rice is planted line by line, 3 stalks at a time, in order to give each plant sufficient space. The fruits of the collective labour are nevertheless immediately visible, as each paddy is quickly lined with neat rows of young stalks. Further, the community spirit, in which young and old share in the planting ritual, ensures that the work seems more like play. The modern world may be moving away from small-scale farming, and indeed rice-planting in modern Japan is almost universally mechanised. However in Tango the tradition of enjoying mud between toes, laughing with neighbours, and wondering how such tiny stalks come to produce such precious grain, is kept alive and well for all to enjoy.

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