It is impossible to visit Japan without finding yourself surrounded by rice fields at least once during your stay. Whether from a bullet train window or a bicycle seat, you may admire the patchwork of small, single-family fields, separated by their earthen berms, but few visitors and, indeed, few Japanese nowadays, get to climb down into the fields to experience rice farming first-hand.
Akita is known across Japan for producing some of the country's best rice, so it stands to reason that this would be the best place to experience rice farming for yourself. Students at Akita International University have several opportunities each year to take part in the various phases of rice cultivation- from planting seedlings in the spring to harvesting and processing the mature crop in the fall. Through partnerships with local schools and town governments, Japanese and international students at AIU get involved in local agriculture and work side by side with local Akita farmers and other students.
Recently, thirteen students from AIU traveled to Takinomata in Yurihonjo City to help with the spring seedling planting. The partnership with Yurihonjo City continues through the year, with planting just the first step. In the fall, students will conclude their experience by harvesting the rice and making it into onigiri rice balls to sell at the AIU Festival.
One of the participants in the seedling planting, Ms. Ayumi Kuramochi, wrote about her experiences:
Reflecting briefly on the rice planting, there were two particularly wonderful aspects of my experience.
The first was the opportunity for interaction. During the planting, we had to catch the seedlings that were tossed to us for planting and we could talk with the other students and encourage one another as we went. Working together in the same process was a good opportunity to bring us closer to one another. After the planting, we joined the farming community for a meal and had the chance to hear their stories, which helped to make this a truly valuable experience.
The second unique aspect was getting to experience part of Japanese traditional culture first-hand. It was not only getting involved with the production of rice, Japan’s traditional staple food, but experiencing the hospitality of the farming community, including a fresh-cooked meal of rice and vegetables, was a rare and wonderful experience that would be impossible in a large city. After the well-earned soreness of a day of rice planting, we returned to one of the farmers’ house, and I will never forget the mingling aromas of the home’s wooden construction and the fresh-cooked rice.
For me, the rice planting was a valuable opportunity to interact with people I would not otherwise meet and to participate in the traditional culture of rice farming, as it has been passed down to the modern day. The farmers’ welcome was warm and generous as well, and I am looking forward to joining them for the harvest later in the year!
Thank you to Ayumi for sharing her experience and to all the students who participated in this, as well as our other rice planting projects, for being such wonderful ambassadors of AIU! We're looking forward to tasting the fruits of your labors at the AIU festival in the fall!