Rice Watching Pt.1
Last week, I thought of kind of an educational activity for all of you in the States and this is the first post in a series that I will update every two weeks for the rest of the rice growing season. I am going to try to let everyone see a rice paddy grow from pretty much the beginning of the season until the end. I am not sure how this will turn out but it may be kind of a cool way to help explain rice and its importance in Japan.
I am kind of fascinated by the whole procedure of rice growing. It may be a goofy thing to say, but I have seen a lot of fields and farms in my day. I have seen corn grow, apples, peaches, wheat, alfalfa, mint, potatoes, whatever. But until I came here, I had never seen rice grow. I have seen the pictures of all of the beautifully teraformed paddies in Vietnam and China and I have seen Japanese historical prints of rice growing, but I have never seen it in real life, until now.
Living where I do, I see a lot of rice paddies. They are pretty much everywhere around Fukuchiyama. On train rides, I glide past hundreds of paddocks, and on a calm day, all of them look like giant mirrors, reflecting the hills and trains as they pass above them. For weeks before the rice itself is even planted, the fields are flooded in order to prepare them. Rice requires a ton of moisture and has no problem growing below three or four inches of water so, these huge tracts of land are totally submerged from the end of April throughtout May.
When it comes to time to plant the rice, in the old days, men and women would take of their shoes, strap a bag full of rice sprouts on, and wade into the shallow waters of the paddy to plop the sprouts into the soil. The rice would be hand planted in a straight line and each sprout would be about seven or eight inches apart. On big farms, the planting process could take weeks and families would usually band together to help each other plant their rice. Today, many farmers have a cool little machine that looks like a riding lawnmower but instead of cutting grass, the machine loads up trays of rice sprouts and as you drive it in a straight line, plunges the rice into the ground for you. It is very quick, precise, and saves your back. They are kind of fun to watch, basically there is a roller underneath the vehicle and attached to this roller are hollow tubes. As the vehicle moves, the roller turns and these tubes plunge the rice into the earth. As the empty tubes roll back toward the top of the vehicle, they are reloaded with sprouts and this is repaeated over and over again. Its like a rice sprout machine gun on wheels.
Anywho, here are the first pictures of the paddy that I will monitor throughout the year. I plan on taking the pictures every two weeks and posting them so we can all track its progress. I am not sure how well this will work or how dramatic of changes we will see, but it will be educational. I have never seen this stuff grow either, so we will all learn together. This paddy is maybe 200 yards/meters from my apartment. There is nothing special about it, I just figured it would be a convenient paddy to monitor because of its location.
This is a ground level shot of the sprouts:
Here is what the whole field looks like:
As I said, I am not sure how much to expect with this, but if anything it will be educational. I just find it interesting that rice was used as Japan's main form of currency for almost 300 years and the peasants that grew rice in paddies like the ones above, were never allowed to keep any of the rice they grew. Another fun fact, rice is the only grain that Japan is self-sufficient in supplying.