Paddy in a Bucket
Dear Family and Friends,
Rice grown in the Tohoku area is particularly delicious. There are many varieties, each with its own special flavor and texture. In recent years, however, young folks have been flocking to cities for work, leaving mostly oldsters to run the farms. That, in addition to the devastation of coastal areas from the tsunami, plus the impending uplifting of tariffs on imported rice when the TPP comes fully into effect, rice growing in this region seems doomed. (However, it should be added that rice tariffs and TPP are still a hotly debated issue at this time.)
Despite the gloomy predictions about Japanese rice growing, there is an effort to keep the tradition alive. One way is that JA, “Japan Agriculture”, wants to encourage young people to grow Asia’s “gods’ grain” and to feel pride in their work. So, every year in autumn when the harvest is first coming in, there is a small “paddy in a bucket” event for locals with nearby farms.
Prior to this lovely, heart-filled event, each participant receives a blue bucket. Then on a designated day, in it they bring in their best specimen of paddy rice. In my neighborhood they meet outside the main supermarket. The organizers line up all the “bucket-paddies”, ranging from the most gorgeous to the most fragile specimens. There are always lots of farm kids there, too. So the people in charge make their instructive speeches short.
“Kids, and adults, too, see this rice here? Now why do you think this is the best we have today? . . . That’s right. The grains are full and abundant. And look how the stalks bend down so nicely. The field where this was grown must have had good soil, plenty of water, and just the right amount of sunshine.”
Then he moved on to the next bucket. “Now the one here looks great because of the nice green leaves. But if you look closely, you can see where a mite is eating the leaves. No good. This can spread and cause a lot of damage.”
He went to the next. “This one is a bit shabby. There are hardly any grains and the stalks are thin. Needs better water and sunlight.”
After his brief, but informative talk, the main organizer handed out certificates.
The first-prize winners got a kilo of new rice.
The next won a box of special Miyagi cakes. Third-prize got a bag full of leeks right off the farm.
Then it was time for a group photo. And of course, “Good luck getting through the winter ahead and see you next year.”
This event is fun because it is so delightfully low-key and local. But deeper than that, it encourages people to be proud of their farming roots and to stick with that tradition to help rebuild this area. And heaven knows, we surely do need that life-giving profession in these days of uncertainty and great change.