A Rice Field is Born 田んぼ

Not being from the countryside, let alone Japan, I’ve asked myself the question: How are all these beautiful rice fields prepared, planted, cultivated, harvested? I’ve heard the same question from friends and family as well.

Fortunately, this year I got to see the process take place over a couple months as the one behind our house was turned from a dry, already-harvested field – into a fresh newly-planted one.

Hooray for rice!
Hooray for rice!

By the time we arrived in March, winter was fading away along with the snow, and most rice fields sat empty with dry stubs where the rice had been harvested last year.

Ready to till
Get outta the way!

But as spring would start to appear, I would see these fields being prepared for growing in the new year.

Empty rice field, pre-flooding.

This starts out as you probably might expect. A tractor tills the dirt with large rotating blades, turning the soil over and chopping up any plant material.
Next the sides of the field are shaped up, corners rounded, and sometimes covered with plastic to help “keep water in”.

Next the fields are flooded. How? Well up here in the mountains water runs everywhere and constantly supplied from the snowy mountain tops and several rivers in the area, so everyone has plenty of water to irrigate their fields.

Quite a difference from water-deprived California from where we came.

Next, the fields are tilled once again…. maybe 3 or more times, getting the soil into a nice fine, smooth texture. I often see people adding fertilizer pellets at this point either walking the field and throwing it by hand, or via a machine (backpack with a pellet shooting  attachment hose). After some time and continued irrigation it’s time for planting the Nae (苗) or baby rice plants.

It seems like most people purchase these by the crate from a nearby grower. And next comes the fun part. The crates are loaded into a small tractor type vehicle which is exclusively for planting the little seedlings into the ground. It is quite satisfying to watch.

Planting By HandDo people still do it by hand as well? Yes, at least I saw several old farmers doing it the manual route, though I have to imagine it adds many hours to the equation.

From here the water stays with the seedlings for a good, long time. As the rice grows, the water subsides, and more is added… it’s safe to say the soil stays moist, if not wet or under water.

And there you have it. I’m sure there are many more steps involved, but for a visual overview, this is what it looks like.

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