Rice Harvest in Tsu

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Rice Bowing in ThanksI want to write a profound post about the traditional rice harvesting process in Japan. Unfortunately my knowledge of the process is fairly superficial. I have hands on experience with the traditional planting process, but haven’t gotten involved in reaping the crop. Anyhow, I snapped some photos in late August and will attempt to add some narrative descriptions.

The first picture is looking down the berm that separates two rice fields in the Fujikata (藤方) discrict in Tsu (津). The field on the left has been harvested and the field on the right is heavy with grain and ready for harvesting.

The second shot is standing on a guardrail up by the road looking over the rice fields; which are called tanbo (田圃・田んぼ). I often confuse this word with tonbo (蜻蛉), which means ‘dragonfly’; partly because they sound alike and partly because, seeing them flit around the fields all the time, the two are linked in my mind. Notice that both of these words contain the ‘n’ (ん) sound, but in both cases it is pronounced more like ‘m’ for euphony (e.g., tambo and tombo). Tombo can also be pronounced with a long vowel on the end; a brand of highlighter pens is tagged ‘Tombow’ – but I digress.

Japanese Mini-CombineThere is a combine in this field. This is not traditional, but I snapped a shot anyhow. The combine is probably about the size of a Mini Cooper. Technically, my basic drivers’ license permits me to drive one of these on roadways. Someday I’ll have to give it a try – just because I can. The fancy combines will also plant the sprouts, which is definitely not traditional, but saves a lot of back-breaking labor. Notice the standing bundles of rice stalks? This is the traditional part I wanted to talk about.

Bundles of StalksAfter the stalks have been cut they are gathered into small bundles and tied together. I think a stalk is used to do the bundling. The third picture shows the back half of this rice field with the bundles laying down. They seem to be ready to stand up, I think when the wife yelled out that it was dinnertime, the task got left for the morning. Being called in to eat Japanese food would certainly make me drop what I was doing and run for the table.

Bundles of StalksThe small bundles are stood up, leaned together, and attached together. I think they are fastened roughly in a cone shape and then a second set is arranged on top of that. Take a look at the last photo and see if you can figure it out. This process is to dry out the stalks, which are used in many ceremonial functions. Most commonly, they are seen braided into ropes with narrow ends and very thick middles. Also, traditional sandals and capes for shedding rain were made from the stalks. Tatami mats are made from a narrow grass rather than the relatively thick stalks of the rice. Traditionally the husks are burned in the field and spread around, but I think modern combines cut the stalks into small bits for burning as well. These bundles of stalks are becoming a rare site in many towns.

It is pleasant to relax and smell the smoke wafting in from the fields. However, the first time I saw one of these fires, I just about got the fire department called out. In towns with lots of traditional homes, fire is disastrous. Kids today still practice writing “Watch Out for Fire” (火の用心, hi no youjin) signs in calligraphy class, to be posted around as warnings. Seeing a tremendous plume of smoke vomiting forth from behind farm buildings frightened me a bit.

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