Monday, October 5, 2009



riceThe days have cooled considerably here in Otaki, and the hillsides are beginning to blush. Stalks of rice, which were planted in May, have begun to hang their heavy heads. They look tired, having spent their days stretching to grasp the sun, which sits so impossibly far away, yet always taunts with its warm embrace.

Because of Otaki's elevation, the growing season for rice is quite short. As a result, I've heard, that rice grown here is not so delicious. However, I've received rice from people in the village before and found it to be quite tasty.

In the past rice was not heavily grown in Otaki. Millet, buckwheat, and other grains appear to have been more common. In Takigoshi, a hamlet located in the back of the Otaki valley, it is too cold for rice. At points in the past rice was purchased by residents who earned money hunting and selling skins--particularly bear.

riceI'm not sure when rice came to be more commonly grown in Otaki, but I imagine it's probably a post-war phenomenon. However, Otaki's physical geography has never allowed for a whole lot of paddie land in Otaki. Moreover, a World Bank funded dam project completed in the mid 1960's cut the villages paddy land by half.

Japan is talked about as a "rice culture", but this is not entirely true (particularly historically) in many upland villages, such as Otaki. Rather, the food economy in mountain villages was likely much more diverse: wild vegetables and game, mushrooms, river fish, grains, chestnuts, acorns, small birds, and, occasionally perhaps, rice.

Anyway, no matter its wider context, I love the season of rice harvesting. The drying stalks are a beautiful sight. After the grains are dislodged, cleaned, and stored. The rice straw will be twisted to make ritual ropes that will hang in the entryways of homes and shrines in the new year season. Later, in the still whiteness of winter, this straw will be piled up, along with boughs of pine and bright red, round statues of Bodhidharma, and set ablaze to ensure health for the year.

Then, in the spring, the rice will return--young and green, reincarnate--to begin life again.
Though I wouldn't call it a "rice culture", the lives of Otaki's residents are intimately bound with rice in a perennial dance that unfolds as a magnificent display upon the landscape.


Tornadoes28 said...

There are so many things I love about Japan and that includes the rice fields. But I am usually in Japan during the winter so they are barren. And I still like them.

RonanOD said...

Very evocative description. How lucky you are to live in such a beautiful place.

Ojisanjake said...

One of the major crops that disappeared after the war to be replaced by rice was hemp. I i know some parts of Nagano grew a lot of hemp.

George said...

Thank God our Creator for the abundance of food he has given to us.We can know him by repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.And know we are going to heaven when we die.God sent his Son to die for all our sins against our Creator,God. He came into the world to save sinners from their sins.He was born of a virgin,lived a sinless life,and died for our sins on the cross 2000 years ago outside of Jerusalem,Israel.He shed his sinless blood as the only atonement and sacrafice for sins God will accept.He was buried,and rose from the dead the third day,was seen of men,and went back up to heaven.We can have Gods gift of eternal life by coming to him as a sinner in need of a Saviour and asking the Lord Jesus in prayer to forgive your sins and to save your soul from hell fire forever and take you to Gods heaven,and he will. He said,Him that cometh to me ,I will in no wise cast out.Read the word of God,,the Authorized King James Holy Bible of 1611 in John and Romans. Sincerely; George ,For more information, or or

Taintus said...


I can't help but think you missed the point of my post altogether.

Onward Christian soldier!



Martin J Frid said...

Great insights, thanks for this post. Rice, buckwheat, veggies, fish, chestnuts... yet people maintained a high level of civilization, with or without the protein from hunting.

If you get a chance, do ask some of the rural temple priests how their temple survived way back before we had motor car highways and the internet tubes. I think priests did a lot of walking, and they always carried seeds with them.