We often focus on the end of the growing season for the various foods we grow — we enjoy strawberry season, the arrival of the first peaches of the year, various harvest festivals in late summer and fall. As any farmer knows, this is just one small part of working with the land and the elements to provide sustenance for ourselves. Lately I have been commuting up the Chikusa River valley to a small rural town called Une to teach at the schools there. This route takes me up the narrow strip of land bordering the river through some of the few flat spots where field crops can grow. Much of Japan is mountainous terrain, covered in steep, rocky hills and mountains that can’t really be cultivated, so food production is limited to river basins and flood plains. It is in these spots that small plots of rice and vegetables are grown that provide nourishment to local communities.
Every year, just before the rainy season, a vast and intricate drama unfolds that provides one of the main staples of the Japanese diet — rice. River waters are diverted into a network of irrigation canals and from there into various small rice fields. Once these fields are flooded with water the silty wet soils are turned, rice seedlings come out from greenhouses and are planted into the flooded fields where they grow vigorously as the rains and the heat of summer set in. Rice is adapted to grow as a wetland crop, able to survive in flooded fields unlike most other field crops and weeds. This eliminates the need for weeding, and nutrition is provided by animals like fish and frogs that inhabit the wetlands seasonally, as well as by the poop of the wading birds that soon appear to prowl the wetlands for their own sustenance.
This year my commute has allowed me to see the whole process unfold. Here are some pictures of what rice planting looks like in the Chikusa river valley north of Ako.