Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Rice up your life

Or, 'Sorry seems to be the harvest word'.

You may remember that back in May I planted some rice. Over the months this grew into a work of tanbo aato (rice field art), with the three different colours of rice forming a picture of a famous local samurai, distorted such that it could be viewed correctly from a nearby hill. Well, on sunday it was time to literally reap what I had sowed.

I was feeling a little the worse for wear on sunday morning, as I had overindulged somewhat on rice already, specifically the fermented variety. Marie-chan had invited me round for a sake tasting session, which I realised had got a bit out of hand when it was half past midnight, we had four empty (small) bottles in front of us, and I was giving barely coherent financial advice.

Arriving at the venue, the foreigner turnout was rather lower than it had been for the planting. In fact, I was the only ALT there, though there were a couple of familiar faces in the shape of a Venezuelan masters student (studying robotics of all things) and a friendly English-speaking woman from the international association.

Virtually everyone present had had the foresight to wear wellies, but I was sporting a pair of old walking shoes. Thankfully, it was a glorious sunny morning, but it had rained overnight so the field consisted of ankle-deep mud. (Rice paddies are only flooded for the early stages of growth; they are drained once the plants get established.) Fortunately I'd had the sense to wear shorts, so I just mentally wrote off my shoes and socks and plunged in.

We were each issued with a small serrated hand-scythe and some twine, and given a quick demonstration of how to use them. Take-home messages: cut diagonally downwards for safety, and don't make your bundles too big - about a dozen plants is sufficient. And don't mix up the colours, obviously.

There was something quite satisfying about the work, more so than the planting of five months ago. I found myself getting into a rhythm, trying to chop each bunch down with a single effortless-looking swipe rather than sawing away at them. We had some good division of labour going: while the front line hacked down the stems, people floated around behind them bundling up their output and then hanging it up on sticks to dry out. No one shouted at me for doing it wrong this time, which was a bonus.

As I was working up a sweat in the field, I was approached by an interviewer and cameraman. At many of these kinds of cultural events TV crews for ludicrously parochial cable stations show up. They always make a beeline for the foreigners, and I step aside to let someone more proficient at Japanese and/or less averse to looking like a tool on TV take up the slack. It was more difficult than usual on this occasion, but I managed to palm them off to my Venezuealan buddy.

When the field had been reduced to a matrix of truncated tufts, we were rewarded with lunch. This was yet more imoni, and - fittingly enough - riceballs. As before, our ticket price also bought us entry to a local onsen, which represented a useful opportunity to wash off the mud caked onto my shins.

Bidding farewell to my companions, I browsed some gift shops looking for presents for my forthcoming trip back to the UK. I bagged a couple of choice items, then took a very indirect route home, going high into the mountains marking the southern border of the prefecture. At one point I saw a large group of monkeys right by the side of the road, but there wasn't a safe place to pull over for several hundred metres. I disembarked the vehicle and stalked back, camera zoomed to the max, hoping to get a good look at the simians. But alas, all I found were a few shattered nutshells - I reckon that's what they were doing on the tarmac in the first place.

Yesterday was another holiday: Health and Sports Day. There was a race / fun run in Nanyo that it might have been advisable for me to attend, but no-one specifically told me to. I had, however, been invited to a wine festival that day, which seemed like a more appealing prospect all round.

Although Japan has never traditionally been a wine-drinking culture (except for rice wine, of course), we do grow a whole lot of grapes in this region, so it's not that surprising that people have taken to fermenting them in the last few decades. There are quite a few wineries around, but I didn't realise until very recently that one in Takahata - a nearby town even smaller than Nanyo - is actually modestly famous. With its award-winning produce, it is apparently quite a big fish in the admittedly smallish pond of Japanese winemaking.

For the three days of the long weekend, this place opened its doors, offering free wine tasting, live entertainment, and all the usual festival food stalls. I went with a couple of other ALTs, both British guys as it happened. Once again we hit the jackpot with the weather; sitting under a cloudless sky at 25°C, it was hard to believe it was mid-October. We spent the whole day sitting around in the sunshine, chatting and getting slowly drunk on wine. A particular highlight for me was wine ice cream (1% alcohol!), a concept which I would like to see catch on.


  1. I see '..we grow a lot of grapes..'! Is the gaijin turning a little native? Dad

  2. Fifa - I'm assuming you're Aoife, and not the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. If so, did you ever upload the rest of your photos from the holiday? If so (nested ifs!), can you post a link?

    (What do you mean I could just join Facebook?)