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When we moved to Joetsu a month and a half ago it seemed that this was a has-been rice growing area with fallow, grey fields stretching out in ever direction. But by the 1st of May these seemingly forgotten fields underwent a rapid transformation right before our eyes. The process of a dry, weed-ridden field into a happy rice growing paddy goes like this (according to Kazu, our rice farming friend):

1. the sluices around the fields are filled with water until they overflow into the fields.

2. the newly flooded fields are left to soak for a few days as they absorb part of the water.

3. after a good soak, the farmer churns the mud to “make it like pudding.” In the old days (and as I’ve still observed in modern China) this was done with a water buffalo-powered plough. But modern Japanese farmers use a tractor.

4. the “pudding” is settled and the rice sprout* has 3 small shoots sprouting from one seed and stands about 3-4 inches high. The rice is ready to be planted!

5. the rice is transfered in boxes, looking mostly like fresh sod, from it’s weather shelter on the edges of farms into the fields

6. each “carpet square” of rice is carefully pulled from it’s box and loaded onto the rice planting tractor.

7. the tractor, invented by a man who used to make machine guns during the war, created a machine gun-like planting method for rice! The system is one in which the rice is fed through the machine horizontally in type-writer fashion while clever mechanical “hands” deftly pull small clumps of rice and “shoot” them into the ground. It’s a pretty complicated system that plants 4 to 8 rows at a time!

*The high quality of Japanese rice is so strictly controlled by the Japanese Rice Co-op that there are actually designated rice sprout farmers who cultivate the sprouts for sale to the farmers. In this way, the sprouts can be easily monitored for quality by the Co-op. Does the Co-op have a monopoly on rice? Is there a problem with genetic modification? What about organic rice? These are all questions I hope to answer on this blog.