Rice Harvest in Niigata – When a City Girl Tries to Become a Japanese Rice Farmer
When I first arrived in Niigata prefecture on the Japan Exchange & Teaching (JET) Program, I was amazed by the lush green rice paddies that extend for miles. Right, for someone who has lived in big cities all her life, coming to Niigata was a new, exciting rural experience.
As Niigata is one of Japan’s top producers for rice and rice wine (sake), one of the best ways to connect to the local community is of course, getting on the rice fields!
On a sunny, refreshing morning in September, 2017, I joined a rice harvesting event co-hosted by Niigata Sake Lovers Club and Kimi-no-i Sake Brewery. It was honestly a pleasure to work on one of the rice fields that produces top quality rice for a revered sake brand.
I made sure to wear long boots, long sleeves, long pants, a hat and a pair of work gloves that morning. When we were all ready, the brewery staff passed us sickles. The sickle comes with a wooden handle and a curved, metal blade with extremely sharp teeth. We were told to stick the sickles into the ground when we’re not using them…you don’t want someone to step on them and have bleeding feet!
Harvesting rice essentially entails cutting the rice stalks, putting them into bundles, then hanging them on a rack to dry. Thanks to the sharp sickles, it was an easy job to cut the rice straws. As the straws came in groups, I made sure to hold a group of them with my left hand while I cut the stalk off at about 10 centimeters off the ground, with my right hand.
After cutting four groups of straw, it’s time to bundle them up. Using extra weed straws, I first tied a knot towards the top of the straws, flipped the whole thing, aligned the straws, and tightened the knot. The instructor made it seem like it was effortless, but the first few times I tried, many of my straws fell out! Ah.
With my friends’ help and repeated attempts, I finally learned how to bundle properly. Upon bundling, we then moved on to splitting the stalk in two halves and putting them on racks so they could dry.
For about two hours, about 30 of us repeatedly cut, tied, and placed stalks on racks. To me, it was a fun event not only because I got to work on a rice paddy, but also because I was able to experience the spirit of synergy -- the epitome of Japanese culture.
Every year at times of rice planting and harvesting, local communities in rural areas come together every weekend to work on farms. It is a family and social obligation for them and they take it very seriously.
After two hours of hard work, Kimi-no-i Brewery treated us all to a home-made lunch right on the paddy next to the one we worked on. They prepared extremely fluffy rice balls, grilled fish, and tonjiru pork vegetable soup for us. Of course, we were also able to enjoy an all-you-can-drink of the brewery’s most prestigious sake.
It was a lovely, fun-filled day accompanied with a nice tan (some rashes from the rice stalks though…) and many new friends. Thank you Niigata Sake Lovers for such a special experience!
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