Planting Rice – Spring Has Come to Saitama
If you are driving around Japan this time of the year you are bound to see one of the perfect images of Japan, the rice planting. In the old days this would have been done by villagers all over the country by hand, working next to each other, both men and women together, old and young, to plant the rice in the water filled fields one by one. These days it is usually done by machines to save time. I met this old man and his grandson tending to the family fields with the shy young man walking behind the sowing machine and filling any spots the quick machine missed. What used to be the work of a whole village is now two to three people and a day of work. When I spotted them they were just about to fill up the last row in the last field. I used to think that rice plants grew in water (pity my ignorance), until a man from the ministry of agriculture told me that rice can grow in dry land as well, but it is exceptionally hardy to being flooded in water, meaning that farmers early on figured out that if they flooded the fields the rice plants would survive while all weeds would drown and die. When the rice is big enough not to be threatened by the competition from weeds the farmers will stop flooding the fields and save the water to irrigate other fields downstream. It used to be that the highest lying fields would get the most water and the first water, but today we have electric pumps and water rights have been established in courts. In the old days, whole regions could go to war with each other over water rights and farmers downstream would use all sorts of manual pumps to painfully get the water into their fields. Work that could easily be sabotaged by a mean peasant from the village down river armed with only a shovel.