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August: The Return of Souls

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

The Inaka: Japan's Pristine Countryside

("Rolling hills and rice fields as far as the human eye can see.  Kids frolicking with animals in green pastures.   There's a kid somewhere quietly reflecting with a stalk of rice in his mouth, and then there's the guy looking out the train window, and that would be me with the sake and sweets").

If you like to eat, then it's good to have a healthy appreciation for where the food comes from.  I love where my sake comes from, so naturally I want to be a part of the process of how it gets made; from rice plantation to table.   The rugged back-lay of the land; the yellow patches of golden rice fields licking the heavens like golden tongues in the breeze.   There's a kid somewhere lying on his back in a  briar patch with a stalk of rice in his mouth and he's gazing up into the deep clear blue sky.    His eyes are trailing an extra long plume of white smoke from an airplane's exhaust.    There's another little boy from that same airplane who's got his face and nose pressed up against the window and looking down and wondering how beautiful life would be to be in that same briar patch  while looking back up at himself, almost as if he was astral projecting his body there simultaneously.   He's young, so his mind can act like that.

Japan is roughly about 70% green, in that there's a lot of nature and unspoiled forests and fields.   Japan has the oldest wood culture to date with over 70% of its structures built from wood.   It is truly a marvel in and of itself.   The Japanese have achieved a harmony with its land, its people and its gods like no other culture and country in the world.   The "Yaorozu-no-Kami" ( 8 million gods) on the mainland are a testament to the continuity of traditions passed down from generation to generation.

I am particularly fond of the expression "wabi sabi" or, beauty found in death.   Sort of like a Yukio Mishima(esque) rendition of beauty where we all die at the height of our beauty, only difference is that in "wabi sabi"  there is beauty in the deathly decrepitude of something, the impermanence of something with timeless implications.

So what I get when sitting in  silent repose is a waning beauty that's constantly around us.   I try to capture every single little detail, as if I were counting every minute little strand of my girlfriend's pubic hairs, and then plucking them - one for me, one for her.   I used to worship her like that.

At any rate, it's a good to be back in the countryside, and this time my mission was to harvest sake rice.   I got there by local train ( 普通電車 local train).  Why pass up such a wonderful view by taking the bullet train.   Niigata Prefecture, like all 47 prefectures in Japan, are blessed with an abundance of natural resources - really.   There are over 3000 registered hot spring spas in Japan.

Fish and vegetables and fields of high quality table rice can be found in any prefecture in Japan, even as far south as Okinawa - Yes!  Okinawan rice is called Nanshoka-mai.   Niigata has an extra added blessing of having the perfect conditions for growing world-class rice and vegetables.   First, you have the Mt. Echigo Komagatake ranges in southern Uonuma, and the Sea of Japan all along the Joetsu region including Koshin ' etsu, areas are very famous for cultivating and growing great rice and vegetable, too.

The water also flows clean and fresh from bubbling brooks and underground wells from all over the region.   The local beauties reflect the bounty of their land with their long flowing hair and beautiful skin.   The local beauties even sweat pure natural spring water from their brows.

Now, I am no stranger to hard work.  I was not raised with a silver spoon in my mouth, but you could say, I have had many silver and golden plated chopsticks in my mouth.   I have eaten and have enjoyed the very best this country has offered me, in the humblest way possible.   When I finally arrived on site, I was greeted by a cadre of fellow Westerners.   We all worked together to bring in an amazing harvest.

 For those of you who've never tried rice planting and rice harvesting, I encourage you to try it at least once.   There is nothing like hands on work in the countryside.   No trip to Japan would be complete without doing some sort of manual labor.   I for one love it when it is for the purpose of harvesting my favourite food - Japanese rice.

My first time working with rice stalks was interesting; I didn't realise how delicate they were.   Cutting and tying the stalks was pretty straight forward.   I was able to get the hang of it after several tries.   Rice stalks have to be cut and bound before they are hanged, so they can dry.   The whole day went smoothly and we all learned a bit more about ourselves, and about each other.    We learned what life used to be like before you had rice tractors, which completely changed rice harvesting.   One tractor is the price of three Mercedes Benz!

 I could see how the community bond could be weakened without the need to work and toil together.   When I was down there in the dense rice stalks I made so many new connections  with people - clean your thoughts readers.   Through working together as a team from start of finish we succeeded in a job well done.   We all came and went, and we will all meet again someday.   For me, it was good to get a lay of the land and to feel the soul of Niigata again.

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