Rice field

The Seeds of Family Bonds: My Rice Planting Experience in Iizuka, Fukuoka

On a pleasant Sunday in June, I participated in a unique one-day rice planting experience with my son. Even for Japanese, the average person rarely gets to plant rice themselves, so I’d like to share my experience. Along with the rice planting, we also visited a unique chocolate shop run in Iizuka, Fukuoka I want to recommend.

The tour was organized by Mizu Trans Corporation which offers translation, interpretation, and a guide & vehicle service. The single-day tour included an actual rice-planting organized by a sake brewery in Miyako town, a barbecue lunch, some games and activities for kids, and a visit to a chocolate shop in Iizuka which included a free chocolate drink. The tour was conducted in Japanese and English by an experienced bilingual guide named Mizu-san. Participants were Swiss and American families and two Japanese families including us. Mizu-san explained a lot about the local area, what rice planting was like and how to make Japanese sake. Everyone was very excited because this was the first time for any of us to do actual rice planting.

Rice plant

The rice planting event we joined this time was organized by Hayashi Ryuhei Sake Brewery, which has been in business for over five generations since being founded in 1837. According to what Mizu-san told us, the kind of rice for sake making is different from the one we eat. Rice and water are the essential components to make sake and these elements make a big difference in taste. Hayashi Brewery is located in a beautiful place where you can see abundant nature and clear running water.

When we arrived at the site, there was already a crowd joining the rice planting event. Some local farmers gave us instructions about how to plant rice seedlings. Next it was time to give it a try and step through the muddy paddy now! My son and I were excited to get in the mud. The cold mud covering our bare feet felt good.

Mother and son standing in the mud of a rice field

Along a line of string set from one end of the paddy to the other, we thinned out the seedlings, placing them in a row no more than 5 inches apart. There were red dots marked on the line so that we could put each seedling in accordingly. When we finished with the first row, we stepped back and a farmer moved the line backwards and we repeated the same process. It was just about 30 minutes or so, we had a fun time together under the sunshine and clear sky. One of the farmers told me that modern rice planting was mechanized now.

After the event, we moved to a local community hall nearby for a barbecue lunch. A group of local people set a site for us and we enjoyed a barbecue with various drinks, including some of Hayashi Brewery's sake. Then our party headed to the Izuka area and dropped by a popular rest area called Oto Sakura Kaido.

The rest area was equipped with a nice hot spring facility, so we decided to enjoy a bath to wash off our sweat and dirt. The facility was very nice and well-maintained, and we could enjoy the view of a beautiful garden while soaking in the hot water. This was a very Japanese experience to enjoy a bath with people whom we met for the first time, haha. Besides a hot spring facility, there is a fresh market selling local produce and playgrounds for kids.

Cacao Kenkyujo

After we got refreshed, we headed to a chocolate shop called Cacao Kenkyujo. The shop itself is very unique as is its concept. The owner couple are the former president and vice president of Sakaeya, a confectionary shop chain around Fukuoka. After retiring, they started a unique shop specializing in making chocolate from cacao beans. The shop itself looks very cute in exterior and interior design, a modified wooden camping trailer. Upon entering, we were greeted by the cheerful owner, who welcomed us with various kinds of chocolate samples and coffee. The taste of the chocolate is absolutely different than what I always had before. The cacao beans are very authentic and I directly felt the taste of roasted cacao beans on my tongue. We had various samples and a chocolate drink freshly made from nothing but sugar and grained cacao beans. Everything about the shop, and her explanation about cacao beans, seemed full of passion for making authentic products without unnecessary additives.

Description of making chocolate from cacao beanas

Cacao Kenkyujo owner

I bought a sheet of salt chocolate for myself and she gave me a sample of “cacao nibs,” chopped up cacao beans which are known as a superfood containing lots of nutrients. They can be used in cooking and go well with alcohol such as wine and beer too.

Sample of cacao nibs at Cacao Kenkyujo
Sample of cacao nibs at Cacao Kenkyujo

All in all it was a really interesting tour on which I discovered some beautiful places and things in the local area that I would never have found on my own. Though it’s not exactly a touristy area, it’s worth visiting not only for local people but also for curious travelers looking for something new and fun. If you don’t have good transportation to get there, the Mizu Trans Corporation has transportation services with knowledgable guides available.

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