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The Cycle of Rice

If the odaiko is the heart beat of Japan; then rice must be the soul. Rice is cultivated, celebrated, revered, and the central focus of every meal. Rice is essential to the Japanese diet; so much so that the word for cooked rice, gohan, is the same word for meal. In Japanese culture, rice IS the meal. Any other foods served in addition to rice are considered okazu, side dishes.

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The change of seasons in Japan is highly visible. The pervasive pinking of the country during sakura season gives way to eye searing azaleas, followed by pastel hydrangea, muted crepe myrtle, and dazzling displays of bold and colorful cosmos, all in turn. However, as showy as the flowers are, the true mark of the change of seasons in Japan is the understated growth cycle of the rice.

Each year, as the snow melts off Azuma, the white seeding rabbit appears. The farmers of Fukushima recognize the signal and know that the farming season has come. It is spring.  There soon follows a flurry of planting activity and the country vibrates with the business of planting rice. Every tiny corner garden and wide expanse of field soon displays the intensely beautiful, bright green shoots of spring.  As spring slips into summer, and the rice matures, the color changes.  Dark and soothing to the eyes in summer, the stalks turn yellow and the grain ripens to a rich gold during autumn. Whimsical scarecrows stalk the ripe fields, fending off assaults from clever crows. Summer is at an end.


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The heavy heads of grain droop in the late autumn sun and beg for harvest; some collapsing entirely under the weight of the grain into swirling crop circles that tweak the imagination. The farmers watch their crops with a careful eye. On just the right day, as abruptly as the rice was planted, the harvest begins.  In the space of a few weeks, the fields are cleared. Looking across the fields now, we see the bent stacks of rice stalks resembling hulking old men striding across the landscape, heads bowed against the strain of the crop on their backs. In the fields, there is nothing but stubble and a few enterprising crows grabbing up lost grain. The stubble is not without value, however. It continues to provide sustenance and refuge for wild life in winter.  We see the stubble and know that, soon, the swans will be arriving from Siberia accompanied by the howling wind.

The rich earth of the fields sleeps under the snows of winter.

In the meantime, the work of the rice farmer and the cycle of the rice continue. The fields might be covered with snow; but in the green houses around town, the pale green seedling rice shoots spend the last weeks of winter maturing to planting size.

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Keeping an eye on both the green house and the weather, the rice farmers wait for the seeding rabbit to appear once more on Azuma and the cycle of rice to begin again.