Rice is a staple in Japan and has been cultivated for more than 3,000 years. In the Edo, period rice yields were a measurement of a lord’s wealth and when asked about your income you would usually say the amount of rice you receive each year.
To create quality rice, farmers first have to create quality soil. This process begins when the Sakura start blooming and ends when the soil is deemed ready. The rice is then planted and will be ready to harvest depending on the region. I visited a traditional rice farming area in Hyogo Prefecture called Kami-Cho. It has a terraced rice field that belongs to one of the top 100 most beautiful rice fields of Japan. The harvest for this particular rice field starts in early September.
Before the rice can be harvested, the water has to be drained from the fields. The rice paddies stay very muddy so wearing boots is a must. There are two ways to harvest the rice; traditional by hand or using a machine. Some paddies are too small for the machine so they are always harvested by hand using a sickle. Before you cut the rice, the water has to be removed from the grains so the rice can dry more easily. This is done by “brushing” a stick over the rice. But be careful! If you do this too rough, the rice can fall from the plants and you will have less to harvest.
The rice is then tightly bound using a piece of rope or a strong dried long leaf of the rice bundle. The bundles are then placed rice down so the remaining water can drip off onto the ground.
There are two ways to dry the rice. One is to run the rice through a drying machine and the other is to gradually let it dry in the sun. The second method has been proven to make the rice taste much better, but it’s a very risky procedure because it depends on the weather. If there are long periods with lots of rain, the drying process is affected. A drying machine is expensive, so many small rice farmers have no other option than to dry it the traditional way or to buy the expensive drying machine as a community.
To dry the rice, teamwork is needed. To reach the highest tier of the rice-drying rack one person has to climb up a ladder while the other person throws the bundles of rice. All bundles are hung upside down and then the sun will do its work.
The time it takes for the rice to dry depends on the type of rice and the farmer’s preference. But usually the rice stays on the drying racks longer than one week.
Traditional rice harvesting is really hard work, but it pays off to taste the rice your farmed yourself. Rice farmers are always looking for help, so why not volunteer the next time you see a rice field during Fall?
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