Monday, May 24, 2010
Having been on Sado for all of 10 months now, I have seen a great deal of rice paddies, rice farmers, and of course rice itself. However, last weekend was the first time I was able to take part in the process that ultimately ends up feeding me nearly every day. The previous ALT for my region of Sado still resides on the island and has taken up rice farming. His associated farm, Daruma An Farms, has over 20 fields that produce some of the most delicious rice I have ever tasted
(http://www.facebook.com/DarumaAnFarms) . This year, they decided to test organic rice planting, no pesticides or fertilizers whatsoever, on one of their paddies. In order to keep weeds from overtaking their crop, they found a biodegradable sheet to lie over the paddy. This sheet, however, required them to forgo the usual means of plating, a tractor/planting machine of sorts, and switch to traditional planting by hand. Rice planting involves grabbing a slab of the infant rice seedlings, called nae(pictured), separating one to three of the little seedlings and placing them in the muddy paddy. This is done through the very technical process of bending down and sticking your hand in the mud. The trick is to place the seedling deep enough in the mud so that the wind won’t carry it off without making too much of a hole in the process. Having no experience with this whatsoever, we were pretty slow at first, but by the end of the day we seemed to have found our rhythm. I greatly enjoyed my little rice planting experience. Working outside, standing barefoot in almost a food of mud and getting to do a real, honest day’s labor was good for me in many ways. While I don’t think I am about to switch my nameplate from Phillip Sensei to Farmer Phil, I am thoroughly glad that I got to experience this vitally important piece of Japanese culture.
Monday, May 3, 2010
In Japan, spring means cherry blossoms (sakura in Japanese). Although these blossoms usually only live for a few weeks, during their short lifespan they are the object of total obsession of their surrounding community. Hanami, flower viewing, is an exercise in both adoration and relaxation. Hanami usually consists of a family or group of friends heading to a local park known to be rich with blooming cherry blossoms, spreading out a tarp and enjoying drinks, food and good company under the pink petals. Popular weekends for hanami are often paired with festivals to increase the fun factor. Families take pictures under these sacred trees, admire their short lived beauty and simply enjoy the fact that winter is over. Being quite fond of the outdoors I naturally enjoyed this little outing, but I’ve never been able to appreciate these flowering trees quite like the Japanese. It reminds me a bit of the leaf watches who drive down to the Appalachian Mountains to see the fall foliage in its glory. While we usually don’t make such a social commitment to it as the Japanese do, I was glad to see that the act of simply enjoying one of nature’s most beautiful seasons was not confined to a single culture.