Let There Be Rice

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May 28th 2006
Published: June 12th 2006
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May has been full of all sorts of fun events- I have traveled to the Philippines, watched the Hiroshima Carps WIN a baseball game, played rice patty mud volleyball, dropped my cell in the river, went to the recontracting conference in Kobe (I ate Kobe beef!), danced till dawn at a club in Osaka with a Japanese man named Yoda, and even got to see my friend Brian perform in a German Opera in Japan. The last weekend in May I felt like I was transported back in time. I spent the last Sunday participating in Taue, or in English, Rice Planting. My friend Stephanie from Berkeley was in town. She definitely picked the BEST weekend to visit because no other time in our lives will be able to participate in something that was so cultural, historical, and fun.

No longer is rice planted by hand, but by machine. The rice planting we were participating in was a festival/tradition that was for good luck to bring a good harvest in the Fall. The first order of business was to get decked out in the traditional rice planting yukatas. They were blue and gold, coincidence? I think not! In addition to

Prior to Taue we were taken to this shrine...didn't want to miss the sights up in the inaka! :-)
the yukatas and obis, they tied a long red sash to keep the arms of the yukata from falling in the mud, a pair of black tights, and a really cool rice hat. We also had these cool rice planting shoes that we called our ninja shoes. Being our first time to be dressed like this it was quite entertaining to get dressed.

After that we headed out to the rice field that we would be planting. Since it is more of a festival/tradition now, only one field is planted by hand. When we stepped outside we were greeted by numerous women who had bountiful amounts of food and sake for us to indulge in before plunging into the mud. My props go out to Stephanie. Before her trip to Italy and Japan, she really did not eat anything besides La Burrita and Noah's Bagels. Japan is definitely the place to start trying random foods! Lisa and I were not much help- we told Stephanie that certain foods were good to eat, when neither of us had ever been brave enough to try them ourselves. Stephanie held up a tiny dried fish and asked 'Does it have any of
Getting Decked OutGetting Decked OutGetting Decked Out

Some of the Taiko Drummers getting ready for the festival.
its guts in it still?' Knowing full heartedly that it had everything still inside its belly, Lisa replied 'no its fine, just eat it!' She swallowed it down, had a look of disgust, and chased it with the potent sake. Welcome to Japan Stephanie! The next time Lisa and I recommended a food to consume Stephanie had second thoughts!

To begin the ceremony all the women who were rice planting gathered around a huge pile of small rice seedlings. Even though it was my second time (the first being rice patty volleyball) to plunge into the mud, it still surprised me and I felt like I was going to fall over! We separated the bundles into smaller bundles so that when we carried them they were not as heavy. Well, I least I think that was what was happening- everything was in Japanese and they were singing, I just pretended like I knew what was going on, humming away. I showed my teachers at school the lyrics and they had no idea what the lyrics were saying. It was such old Japanese and the languaged had evolved too much. Two men gave a speech- assuming the speeches were about
Suck it In!Suck it In!Suck it In!

Lisa getting her obi wrapped tightly around her- kinda like a Japanese Corsette!
getting a good harvest of the year. After that a few men distributed the rice throughout the field in a tiny little boat.

There were about 8 of us foreign girls participating and spread among the other Japanese women participating. We lined up in the patty side-by-side. Behind us the men were in the field as well. There was a row of men directly behind us that handed us more rice seedlings when we ran out. Behind them were even more guys decked out in traditional clothes (this is where the gaijin guys got involved) playing the Taiko drums. The drums were there to help us keep rhythm and to keep us motivated to plant the rice. Throughout the event the women sang traditional Japanese songs.

There was a string that was pulled over the rice patty so we knew where to plant (so that's how they get it to be in such a straight line!). We grabbed 3 seedlings and started planting from the left. After pushing them into the mud to make sure they were secure and standing up straight, we grabbed three more, and placed it about 6 inches from the first.

After 3
Dressing UpDressing UpDressing Up

Heather getting her yukata on. Now, Heather is not the tallest girl ever, but notice how she towers over her dresser!
or 4 of these bunches by every woman, the line was complete. We took a step back and repeated the process. In under an hour we completed the entire field. Just as the last planter stepped out of the rice patty, there was a light rain. Rather spiritual moment I must say! After the planting we had a small party with tons of food (more great things for Stephanie to try!). Like always the Japanese were so gracious and kind to all of us.

Taking Part in Taue was definitely one of the highlights of my time in Japan. The day before this event I was in Osaka- one of the craziest cities in Japan with neon lights and bustling streets. It is the epitome of the 'New Japan' Revolution that will probably someday consume most of the country. 24 hours later I was out in a rice field planting rice- the same way they had been doing it for hundreds of years. I felt like I could have been in the 1500s or the current year of 2006. It is incredible to me to see the many different cultures that Japan has to offer. I am glad that
The Rice MastersThe Rice MastersThe Rice Masters

I think these ladies have planted a rice patty or two in their lifetime, call me crazy.
many parts of the old culture are still around because they are traditions that you can find no where else in the world. It made me remember what a complex, interesting, and beautiful place Japan is. I really do love this country.

Let's hope our rice planting brings on good luck for a good harvest- then maybe I will be able to come back and harvest it myself!

Additional photos below
Photos: 29, Displayed: 26


Taue FestivalTaue Festival
Taue Festival

Some of the Participants
Becoming DomesticatedBecoming Domesticated
Becoming Domesticated

I can cook, clean, plant rice, watch out Betty Crocker and Martha Stewart.
Rice Planting RookiesRice Planting Rookies
Rice Planting Rookies

Very becoming in the yukatas, don't you think? ;-)
Berkeley in Japan!Berkeley in Japan!
Berkeley in Japan!

Stephanie and I ready to plant rice. As I said, blue and gold yukatas...coincidence? I think not!
Party in the BackParty in the Back
Party in the Back

From the back you can see the red sash to hold back the long yukata sleeves and the bows of the obis.
Sake Onegaishimasu!Sake Onegaishimasu!
Sake Onegaishimasu!

Prior to the plunge into the mud, a little sake to warm our bodies. This is Heather and Lisa, my Canadian girls.

Taiko Drummers
That good, huhThat good, huh
That good, huh

This is Stephanie post dried fish and sake. Oishii!

The valiant gaijin taiko drummers ready to go. Brandon, Jack, Jessie Brad, and Tad.
Stepping back in TimeStepping back in Time
Stepping back in Time

Marc and I dressed up for Taue, just like in the old days.
Tie it TightTie it Tight
Tie it Tight

Lisa helping Stephanie get her hat on straight.
Japanese OkasanJapanese Okasan
Japanese Okasan

There were plenty of Japanese "mothers" carrying food, tea, and sake to replenish us and thank us for our hard work.

Keeping the Rhythm for the ladies.
Sandals Anyone?Sandals Anyone?
Sandals Anyone?

Straw sandals worn by the Japanese Rice Planters

The patty before we started to planty. The bundles of rice were spread throughout the patty. The mud was spread evenly throughout the patty as well.

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