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August is peak summer season in Japan.  We can look forward to some of the most spectacular fireworks displays and festivals in the world, ...

Planting Sake Rice: 田植機

Rice cultivation in Asia dates back over 15, 000 years, thanks to China.   It is the most important cereal grain in the world that is consumed by a large portion of the human population.   Planting rice is  not for everybody!  If you have bad knees you should never ever work in a rice paddy.  Same goes for if you have a weak lower back and are overweight.    You will just sink lower into the soft soil and struggle just to move around while pulling at every single ligament in your knee.   Rice paddy work is ideal if you are slim and have no weak ligaments in your knees.    Also, you need to have snug fitting waterproof rubber boots that won't easily slide off and a towel for keeping sweat out of your eyes.  

The Shinto Priest ( kanushi), in this photo is seen as bestowing blessings upon this rice field.    This could be viewed as  sacraments offered up in Christian religions.   Sakaki leaves are lain across a wooden table off to the left.  These are holy leaves according to the Shinto faith.  Later, they are placed on the alter by the chief brewer and the brew masters.    The altar in the middle has fruit and nihonshu which are offered up to the gods.    This practice dates back thousands of years and was a blessing to witness right before my eyes on a dazzlingly beautiful saturday afternoon.    The chanting through low murmured voices, like a distant hum from the heart of the Kanushi was overwhelming for me.   Japanese rice cultivation.

In this second picture you see us lined along the paddy with wooden squares.   These are used to measure the distance and placement of our seedlings.   It helps us stay aligned as we move backwards planting the stems.   Once you set foot in the manure and soil you plant six to eight seedlings per one square placement box.  When finished you flip the rectangle and plant again.   Again, the knees and back will undergo a lot of straining due to contortions.   One time was enough for me.    It takes four to five hours to complete one whole rice paddy with sixty members.    Nowadays, the average rice planter is in his/her 60s and 70s!  Young people flock to the big city for work, and are not always available for this kind of labor anymore.

It goes without saying that the continuity of traditions handed down from generation to generation have always left an indelible  mark on the hearts and souls of the Japanese people.   This is one reason why Japanese sake has withstood the march of Time, it is because of the Shinto Faith.   It is the belief in the spiritual destiny of this race that Japanese sake is imbued with godlike qualities, such as the natural balance of nature, food, rice brew, Jukujo, the elders, the Tenno, the onsen, and Ise Shrine.   All of these traditions and attachments have survived against impending doom and hardships.   Even the souls that are no longer with us in physical form are still with the people.

In Japanese, the term 田植機 (ta-u-e) means rice planting, and it's a family affair every single year for many rural residents all over Japan that usually starts in June, other areas may vary.   The kids love playing around in the soil barefoot while learning about their culture and traditions.   It was the funnest and most tiring work I've done in a long time.   You can see me in the red T-shirt.   

If you are in Japan between now and next month try it.  Experience what it feels like to grow rice for sake brewing.   


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