Rice Farming in Japan

Hello, my name is Naoya Hase and I teach at Kwansei Gakuin University.  I know this is a place for my students, but Bachmann-sensei allowed me to share my article this time, so here I am.

Today I would like to write about rice farming in Japan.  Please don’t get me wrong!  I’m not trying to start a political debate related to Transpacific Partnership (TPP) or Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

As you may know, rice is part of the traditional Japanese diet and some people including my younger daughter eat rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Not only is it a main source of nutrition in the Japanese family but rice has always meant more throughout the history of Japan, especially in the Japanese traditional religion of Shintoism.  There are many rituals surrounding rice and rice farming.  For example, Niinamesai (新嘗祭) is a religious ceremony where the Japanese Emperor offers sake made from newly harvested rice to the Ise Shrine.  Also, everywhere in Japan people hold Akimatsuri or autumn festivals at local Shinto shrines and thank god for the good harvest of the season, especially rice.

I know Japanese farming doesn’t compare with that in the US in terms of its scale.  When my family and I lived in the state of Washington a number of years ago, we had a chance to visit a small beautiful coastal town named Port Angeles, Washington. There we happened to find a Kubota dealer, a Japanese company which sells farming machines like tractors.  I was surprised to find exactly the same model of tractor that my father owned then.  I said to myself, “Hmmm, maybe we are not so bad.  Maybe we can compete with American farmers!”  When I approached the machine to take a close look at it, I quickly found out that it was not a farming tractor but a lawn mower!  “Does this mean our rice fields are about the size of American front yards?” I said to myself!

My family owns about one hectare (about 2½ acres) of farmland, which is about the average in our farming community on Awaji Island located in the Japan Inland Sea off the coast of Kobe.  My grandfather was a full-time farmer and it was about my father’s generation that people started to become part-time farmers by getting another job during the week and then spending busy weekends working on the farm.  My father is an example of this change.  He is a retired school teacher and now at the age of 86 he still works on the farm (see attached photo).  Unfortunately he is getting a little weak and now I will soon have to decide what I will do with the farming tradition that my family has maintained for generations.  Maybe I will teach one day per week at college and spend the rest of the week on the farm.  That will be a wonderful life!s-CIMG0060

If you have a chance to visit Japan, you are always welcome to stay at my parents’ place and help us on the farm.  Maybe it’s like mowing the lawn at your house!  Of course, I’m very much looking forward to seeing the large-scale American farms when I visit Iowa next spring.

Resources:

• RICE: It’s more than food in Japan. 

• Japan as a rice culture? Not so quick, says anthropologist. 

 

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12 responses to “Rice Farming in Japan

  1. こうにちわ。Aliciaです。どうぞよろしく。

    This is interesting. Rice is like a everyday thing for most Asians, I have have rice for lunch and dinner everyday back in Malaysia. I guess Japanese have it more as there is sushi! =)
    Here in Iowa I realize rice is not a common thing. When it comes consuming rice, Americans do not have it everyday. Bread and corn and potatoes are really common instead.
    Harvesting rice back in Malaysia is more popular in the upper northern states. They call rice that will soon be harvest as ‘padi’. Well, since the technologies provided for them is not as advanced as the ones found in Japan, they do a fairly slower job but still manage to produce more than enough rice for the people in the country and can afford to export rice out to neighboring countries. On the plus side, we also import rice from Thailand. =)
    In conclusion… Rice is yummy!

  2. はじめまして。サマンサです。
    I agree with Alicia! Rice is a very common thing among all Asians. I am half-Japanese and half-Vietnamese on my mother’s and father’s side, respectively. So, despite being born and raised in Iowa, rice has always been a big part of my life. I may not eat it every single day, but I definitely eat it weekly. It may sound strange to others, but I have grown up eating common Iowan foods like steak, pork chops, and meatloaf with Vietnamese long grain rice. If we are in the mood for something like onigiri or musubi, we will use Japanese short grain rice. My family buys our rice in heavy 25-pound bags, and when my non-Asian friends come to visit my house for the first time, I often show them the large tub we keep it all in!
    I also found Hase-sensei’s family farm to be very interesting. I can understand the concern about continuing the small-scale farming tradition. My Japanese grandparents own about an acre of land where they live in Hawaii, on which they have macadamia nut trees and a variety of fruits including papayas, bananas, pineapples, avocados, and lemons. For many years, they have maintained the mac nut farm to collect and hull the nuts, which they then sell to a candy-making company on the island. Although they are getting older, they continue to do this year after year. Perhaps it is the same kind of spirit as Hase-sensei’s father that allows them to do this! Nevertheless, my family will need to decide what to eventually do with the land when my grandparents can no longer take care of it.

  3. As both samantha and alicia have state rice is the staple of the east asian diet,however it is not just a staple but also a cultural icon as well. A staple food becoming a cultural icon is quite common in my opinion. This is due to people depending on the staple for sustenance and thus equating life with said staple. For instance in my own religion of judaism we say prayers over bread every friday as way of showing thanks to g-d for his bounty. Rice has also been historically used in japan as a measure of wealth with each han having its wealth measured in koku. Peasants sometimes went without rice and ate millet instead which is associated with poverty. I was quite surprised to find out that farms in japan were so small. I had assumed that they were bigger like farms in the U.S.

  4. Having never really liked rice, I had always imagined that rice was eaten mostly as a necessity seeing how its both filling and abundant. I was shocked to see that in addition to being a staple in Japanese cuisine that it also a large cultural icon. If there was a good parallel in american culture I could likely understand it better, but I don’t believe that there really is a food that our culture particularly gravitates around. Regardless its very interesting to see a culture that takes such pride in its native agriculture, to the point where they don’t wish to import foreign rice.

  5. I think it’s interesting how rice plays more role in Japanese society. In Malaysia, we think of rice as nothing more than food to eat. I know that Indians sometime use rice in their cultural festival and also for rice art. But for Malay, most of the time, rice is to be eaten. Like in Japan, some of the cultural festival use rice for offering. This is different for Muslim because we don’t give any offering. In Japan, if my understanding is correct, rice is one of the offering given to the shrine. However for Muslims, we don’t give any offering to the mosque. In fact we do not give any offering at all. Correct me if I’m wrong but I think most of the time, offering given to shrines are food. I don’t really know what is the significance behind this, if someone can explain it to me, it will be awesome. In Islam, we don’t offer any food to the mosque, to the god. We believe that Allah (our god) does not eat or sleep. Allah does not need anything that human beings need in order to stay alive. If we want to ask something from him, all we need to do is pray and do whatever he asks us to do and don’t do anything that he doesn’t want us to do. As long as we follow this, he will grant us any wishes that we have, as long as we put effort and pray to him. I think rice plays quite a big role in religious ceremony in Japan because of the different religious practice. However, even though my religious practice is totally different from the Japanese, that does not prevent me from appreciating other culture’s practice. I think it’s great how the food that I eat everyday actually plays more role in other culture!

  6. I grew up in New Jersey so I don’t really know anything about farming, nor do I know anyone involved with farming despite going to school in Iowa, so it’s hard for me to draw comparables with farming in the US. I’ll try to focus more on the culture aspect of rice itself, and maybe some close comparables we have in the US.

    Rice is so important to Japanese culture, that the words for breakfast, lunch, and dinner all include “gohan”. I think this helps enforce the importance of rice culturally, even if it’s subtle. It shows just how important rice is, that it’s eaten with most meals. Rice farming is very difficult, so as a result Japanese families would pool their work together and shared irrigation. This dependence on one another and the group harmony are really important in Japanese culture, and it ties in perfectly with rice farming.

    I don’t think the US has something that is really similar to rice in Japanese culture in large part to it being such a diverse culture, but the closest we have is probably bread and wine, though this only really applies to certain religions. I’m not too familiar with all the different religious symbols, but I know in Christianity bread is supposed to symbolize Jesus’s body and wine symbolizes his blood. Bread and wine aren’t as important to our culture as rice is to Japan though, but it’s the closest I think we have.

  7. I had never realized how important rice is to Japanese culture. Growing up, I was aware that rice was eaten a lot in many Asian countries, but never gave it much thought and assumed that the people there must just really like eating rice. Having no equivalent food in my own culture, it seemed strange that Japanese people could eat rice in almost every meal without getting sick of it. After reading this, however, I can see that rice has a long history in Japan and is embedded into things like religion and politics as well.

    I think it’s fascinating how the farming of rice is another feature of Japanese culture that shows the importance of group harmony and hard work. Even further, rice farming may be part of what made these cultural characteristics emerge to begin with. Because of the heavy labor that was required, rice is highly valued, and this is shown by its use in many religious ceremonies. While this may seem strange to people from other cultures, it makes sense once you understand that rice is more than just a food – it really is a culture product, so using it in offerings is a great sign of respect.

  8. My grandparents actually own a farm, and while they mostly raise animals they also have about 10 acres of farm land where they grow mostly corn. To me a farm was always this vast amount of land that goes for about as far as the mind can see. One of my dads friends owns a few thousand acres of land that he uses for farming all types of crops, He even bought a airport and plane so he could easily fly out and crop dust his fields.When you come to Iowa you will differently see a lot of farmland seeing how the whole state is basically farm land

  9. As mentioned in the articles, the fact that rice is used not only as a side dish for a meal, but is also used to make mochi, sake and even book binders and mats undoubtedly raises the importance of it in the Japanese culture. Japan is a densely populated country with only limited arable land. I’m sure this makes it very difficult for the nation to be self-sufficient in terms of food. But the fact that the country refuses to import rice even at its ridiculously high domestic rates is surely a protectionism strategy to protect the 500,000 Japanese farmers but also a factor of the symbolic value of rice to the Japanese.

    Mongolia, in my opinion, although clearly located in Asia has been influenced and shaped so much by Russia and China throughout history that it tends to be a mix between Asian and European cultures. Therefore, rice is rarely considered a “must” for a meal, so I personally can’t relate much to the Japanese. We do, however, have certain taboos when eating rice, like never sticking chopsticks in the rice or finishing every single grain of rice in our bowl.

  10. My family comes from Thailand where rice is an estential staple in our diet. Rice is featured at every meal; when greeting someone, we always ask “Have you eaten rice today yet?”, clearly signifying how important rice is to our culture. My dad has always said that a meal is not really a meal unless you have rice, which may sound extreme to some living in the states, but growing up in a household where rice is dominant, I’ve always believed this to be true. My friends think I’m crazy! I think it’s great that in Japan rice is also highly regarded; the care and dedication that goes into rice harvesting is admirable and something to be proud of. It’s almost as if rice helps to unify and bring a sense of national pride to the people of Japan. This can be seen in their festivals honoring and giving thanks to the gods for a good rice harvest. Although in the states, we do not have festivals honoring rice; in Iowa, we do have corn festivals and that’s something we tend to get excited about 🙂

  11. I grew up in Seoul, Korea and could not imagine my life without rice. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were always served with rice. When we visit my grandpa on the countryside, rice patties always had “rice ladies” and you knew who they were because of their arched backs from years of growing rice and a straw visor.

    I think it is important to point out the difference in size of an average japanese farm and stateside farm. Not only is the US’s land mass exponentially larger, I think its effect can be seen here. Where America’s heartland has hectares and hectares of land, Japanese farming families have a few acres to yield.

  12. When I think or rice I think of it being a very important dish in the Japanese culture. I found it very interesting to know that there is rice in every meal. I know that in America the different regions have there one thing that is mostly in every meal. I know when I was younger I use to have corn at least once a week, but after a while my family just started leaving out corn and using different side dishes. I live in Illinois, which is right next to Iowa, has a large population of farms just like Iowa. I haven’t been on a farm before, but I always wondered what it would be like. I was always wondering if rice was your main crop in japan or if there was something that also comes in close second. I find the Japanese landscape a perfect scene for growing rice. The way Japan is laid out there would be no better place. Did rice have a meaning in the past and just ended up being a tradition?

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