One of the first things we did when we came to Japan was take a trip with One Life Japan. I'd connected with them while still in the States because their website was one of the few in offering information in English related to farming and gardening in Japan. I've since found a handful of others, but the blog of their adventures in rural Japan remains a favorite.
After years of living and working in Tokyo, Kevin and Tomoe transitioned to a country hamlet to farm organically and work on defining for themselves what it means to live sustainably. (You can follow along with their adventures here or go up for a working vacation that will knock your socks off.) On our first excursion we helped rethatch an old farmhouse and prepare their rice field for planting. I love rice, and always have. Standing in their then dry tambo was a thrill I can't even describe. I wanted to know everything and do everything. It was a fantastic and eye-opening trip, and got our own adventures in Japan off to a good and unforgettable beginning.
We returned a second time to help with the planting, and that again was an eye-opening experience. The fields by that time had been filled with water and sat patiently waiting in the spring sunshine for the seeds. The soil was surprisingly silty and silky smooth under my toes, and movement of any kind sent up a swirling gray-brown cloud of soil that instantly obscured the next step. Tiny frogs leaped about and all variety of critters swam along the surface of the field as we worked. We created a grid pattern using an old wooden rake, and then set the seedlings in by hand where the lines crossed. Kevin and Tomoe devised this method in order to ensure good spacing and relatively straight rows, two things their neighbors get using their automated planters. Opting to plant by hand is slower but more delightful, and it gives their touring guests something to do in-between biking and hiking the nearby mountains.
Sadly, we couldn't make it back that year to help with the weeding (an always monumental task, according to Kevin and Tomoe) or to help with the harvest (another monumental but more joyful task). Word had it, though, that the harvest was a good one, and that in exchange for my labor I'd receive a bag of rice. It was a generous offer, and I was darn excited at the prospect of eating something I'd grown, especially something so wonderful as rice. (The rice I grew this past season is now a lovely outdoor decoration, by the way.)
Now, more than a year has elapsed, and we've still not been able to meet with them again. Busy schedules on both sides and a new baby on theirs has kept us only in electronic contact. We keep in touch via our blogs and other electronic media, and wait for the chance to help with another project or simply sit down for a good chat. Kevin offers words of advice on this blog as he can, and I delightedly check on the charming growth of their daughter and the changing seasons on their farm via theirs. (They've got a ton of snow at the moment, so I mostly monitor how much shoveling they have to do.)
Much to my delight, though, a five kilogram bag of rice arrived in the mail a few weeks ago. With the harvest for this year in and rice still leftover from last year, they needed to make room. (I'm sending popcorn seeds in trade as Kevin says he's got enough fencing rigged up now to protect it from the marauding monkeys.) Just out of rice bought at a local farmstand, it was time to open the One Life bag. Measuring it out before setting it to soak took me right back to those mountain fields, and I suspect it will taste that much better for all those memories.