I would confidently say that rice plays a huge role in Asian culture, so doing anything related to growing it was high on my list. When I realized that I would have the opportunity to join the Shionoe Elementary students in their annual event I was very pleased. They plant and harvest by hand every year, but this was the first time that one of those events fell on a Tuesday, enabling me to take part in it.
This is planting in its modern form, but we were going back about 50 years.
The students walked a short distance down the road to a small rice paddy and started planting. I showed up a bit late since my schedule had me coming from the middle school, but I was able to jump right in and get my fill. I slipped into some grime friendly clothes and my bare feet before stepping into the mud. They were already about halfway done by the time I got there, but there was plenty of fun to be had.
The planting process involved tearing a couple of sprouts away from a large block and then pushing them a few centimeters into the mud. The onomatopoeia for this actiona is a sort of ‘kwee, kwee’ and the mothers present thought it amusing every time I shoved a sprout while singing out this sound.
The clump that I tore from
Up until I arrived, the students were using a rope that was marked with paint as a guide for the spacing of the plants. As the width of the field tapered off, we switched over to some wooden frames that could be flipped over. These marked out three rows at at time, once the group to your left had flipped, then you were free to do the same. This process actually moved along quicker than I would have expected.
We wrapped things up, washed our feet and celebrated with some green tea boxes and then began the short pilgrimage back to the school. I had a great time and was honestly able to get everything I could have hoped for from the event. I can’t imagine what backbreaking work this would have been without a small army of children to throw at it, and I find no surprise in all the old ladies’ hunched posture. Shortly after WWII, hand planting and water buffalo plowing were replaced by machines, but taking part in something that much of Asia still does by hand was something I consider a valuable experience. I certainly feel a deeper connection to the food I eat on an almost daily basis. Unfortunately I wont be around to hand-harvest the rice in the fall, but if I had to pick between the two activities, I definitely got the better one.