On a perfect autumn morning we got to harvest rice in the nearby Shukonoso neighborhood. Our suburb of Minoh is dotted with paddies and rice is such a central part to the Japanese culture and diet, I always wanted to help out in the harvest. Our CAS coordinator arranged the opportunity through one of her neighbors, Kubo-san. His family have been harvesting rice for the past 800 years, so to say it is a family tradition, is an understatement. Osaka, like many metropolitan areas through the world, has grown immensely to overtake what was once a quiet village, Shukonoso is now part of the city. The families of Shukonoso continue to harvest rice, although, it is not a necessity today. Kubo-san is an expert garden and landscape designer, and told me his family does not make much money from their paddies, but they do it more for tradition than anything. Japan is not a big exporter of rice and the government subsidizes its production. Japanese prefer the short grain, glutinous rice that is good for sushi and chopsticks. My children prefer the this short grain rice, especially when we add the rice vinegar. I prefer the long grain jasmine variety, produced in Thailand.
Kubo was very kind to put up with us wanting to “help”. He showed us how to harvest in the traditional manner, with a sickle. Rice seedlings are planted in bundles and 3-5 bundles are cut and laid on the field at a time. They would then be hung and dried before the grains are pulled. Instead, we fed the rice stalks into the harvester. Kubo then allowed us to drive the harvester along the rows. It was like mowing lawns, slowly going down the rows.
Spending time in the field also gave me the chance to look at the irrigation system. There is an intricate system of reservoirs, damns and canals like a spider web going from the Minoh hills down through the city to the Osaka bay. It makes it easier for the rice seedlings to combat pests and weeds to have them grow in a few inches of water. That system must have been developed over the centuries. I am not sure how it works, but everyone must work together to get the water where it needs to go to at the proper time.
The experience gave me a better appreciation of rice and brought me closer to Japan. Thanks to Lyn and Kubo san for allowing Owen and I to participate.
It is funny to me that I eat so much rice now. Growing up in 1970s rural Michigan in the pre-globalization era, my mother never served rice and we didn’t eat at ethnic restaurants. I really didn’t eat much rice until university and my first international posting in Colombia. Rice is as popular in South America as Asia. We were strictly a “meat and potato” family growing up. We eat rice on an almost daily basis and the staples of my youth, bread/butter and potatoes are rare at the dinner table for the Kralovecs.