7/11/2007

田圃 rice patty field

About two years ago when I first started seriously thinking of coming to Japan I would constantly think about the terrain and what it was like. From what I was told and saw in books it was a very crowded place with cities and skyscrapers. A claustrophobic nightmare. I was aware of the importance of mountainous nature and the importance of agriculture in Japan but it just struck me as not fitting into the image I had as I held my breath and prepared myself for being elbow to elbow with the people around me. That said it was drilled into me very quickly on my first visit that nature is not a missing part in the ecosystem of this country as the photo above suggest (photo taken in Miyazaki, more on that soon).

So we have the country side and the city pretty manageable, easy to describe areas. This works right? Well not exactly...

On a field trip with Professor Mitsumata and his seminar class we had the opportunity to plant rice in a rice patty field. Where you ask? In the city. Tucked away in a neighborhood where houses are placed what seems like inches away from each other facing a busy street lies a patch of land submerged in water just big enough to place a house on there lies a rice patty field. Before I can ponder on its apparently out of place nature, I'm knee deep in mud planting rice next to screaming girls (Prof. Mitsumata failed to tell me his entire seminar class was female). The screaming is because of the mud and the host of intimate critters living there. One of them is called the Kabutoebi or "helmet shrimp". The experience is a lot less complicated then I ever could have imagined. Trying to make straight even rows you plant clumps of rice grass into the mud making sure they are not completely submerged and capable of standing on there own. After I get the hang of this its the most relaxing thing even with the sound of cars passing by and an old man taking photos.

Afterwards we have lunch and interview the old couple in charge of the little plot and there struggle to keep it. One problem they experience is garbage. Roadside drivers and walkers often throw trash into the plot of land, requiring them to go in and clean it out. There is also pressure from the housing industry to sell the lots for housing. Additional problems are getting water to fill the lot, and draining it. I couldn't understand much else of what was said but it was obvious to me that what these two elderly people and there family were doing was not easy, trying to keep a tradition in the face of change. I was curious if pollution was an issue for these crops that were so close to a busy roadway where exhaust fumes were plentiful, but didn't have time to ask or form this question.

If anything the experience threw out my idea of the country side and the city being separate places. This rice field in the middle of a busy crowded neighborhood is one of the many moments where I lose my sense of place. The definition of a city and a rice field which I think are so grounded fall apart at this sight. My expectations of this little patty field to be deep in the country side, away from the convince stores and vending machines, the traffic lights and the taxi cabs, was completely disobeying my preconceived notions. A garden in the backyard is one thing but to own plots of land around the neighborhood for growing rice destroys my thoughts on farming agriculture. Definitions and encyclopedia entries can not describe these sorts of things and most often you have to see them to believe them.

Another example I guess would be my first trip to Japan, when I was staying with a Buddhist priest surrounded by nature and mountain sides. On a visit to the mall with his family I remember being in a video game arcade watching this 40 year old Buddhist priest dressed up like a 25 year old playing arcade games and trying his best at the claw machines. This shouldn't be weird but I make it out to be. "We're in the country side but how did we make it to this seemingly futuristic Mall? and why is my host father dressed like a kid?" These were the times when I asked "Where am I?"

1 comment:

AMD said...

Wow! I hope the rice fields win out. How sad to loose the old to the new. We need both! It would be interesting, too, if you get a chance to see or participate in the rice harvest.