Last week, in front of Meiji Shrine in Tokyo’s Harajuku district the national farming association held a small demonstration against the TPP proposal. You can read about it here on Wikipedia, but to put it in easy to understand terms, the day Japan joins the TPP is the day when Japanese agriculture and therefore the entire countryside outside the most major cities starts dying. I am absolutely against the TPP and all the problems with anti-democratic, pro-corporation and anti-environment laws that will be the result. Instead of just holding banners the farmers held a parade and then distributed free vegetables and flowers to any member of the public. To raise awareness about the danger of TPP they also distributed some very informative pamphlets and flyers detailing the problems. I wish them luck, and although I try to keep politics and negative things away from this blog, I just can’t let this one slide. I hope the grassroots anti-TPP movements around the world can join hand in this protest.
Living in Japan there was one thing that bothered me a little right from the start. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I started blogging about life here and actively looking at my photos, but when I did it hit me: there’s no horizon in Japan. Where I grew up the land was flat as an ironing board. Riding my bicycle to school I could just stand up on the pedals and see an additional couple of miles into the distance. I grew up surrounded by the horizon and didn’t realize how much I took that for granted until I moved to Japan where there’s mountains, buildings or hills in just about any direction you look except for out to the ocean. So even when I get a sort of half-way to the horizon vista, I get excited, like when I was traveling through Nagano Prefecture on a small country road and realized I could see at least a mile in any direction! So forgive me for these two shots of little or no artistic or documentary value. I just wanted to show you what makes my day, in a little way. Or, if you are into agriculture, you can notice the different stages of rice fields in these pictures, with one in a curious state, visited by white birds.
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.
Some more photos from my visit at Makiba Kouen in Yamanashi prefecture this summer. I wouldn’t mind retiring and spend my days as a farmer in a place like this! The black headed sheep (one of the classic breeds but for the life of me I can’t remember the name of it right now) was particularly cute, torn between curiosity for the strange human with the clicking machine and the need to get a good scratch against the post. Eventually he came up to me. The farm itself is quite large and I didn’t have time to see even a quarter of it. I hope I get a chance to visit again some time in the near future!