We just completed an exhilarating week WWOOFing on a family-run rice farm about 90 minutes outside of Osaka, Japan, in a town called Nose (pronounced No-say). (Find out more about WWOOFing in general and WWOOFing in Japan in particular.)
Babs's old friend from school, Chris, joined us for the week. What a great debut WWOOFING gig!
It's spring spring spring, smack in time for the busy rice-planting season. There's plenty-and-a-half to keep us all out of mischief.
I help our host Shigemi to sow the year's crop. Shigemi grows about 450kg of rice a year, sells two thirds of it to a network of direct customers, and feeds her family with the rest.
The rice seedlings are nursed very carefully -- after a stint in an incubator, the seedlings bask on the front lawn of the house, periodically covered with tarp to keep out the chilly spring wind and rain. Their growth progress is closely monitored to determine when they are ready for transplanting in the fields.
Rural Japan, if not the whole country, still assigns many roles by gender. So while everyone pitches in for weeding all around the farm, the boys get assigned a lot more outdoor work while I compile a comprehensive (digital) farm instruction manual for Shigemi's future WWOOFers.
Babs and Chris help to prepare the rice fields for flooding and planting -- clearing weeds and stones, leveling the ground, and unchoking the water channel. Here's a before-and-after shot. Great work guys!
They also spend the week assembling a giant weed raker, which -- once the seedlings are snugly in the ground -- will be pulled through the fields once every three days to up-end new weeds. Shigemi's very excited about this rake because her farm is transiting towards being fully organic. She's steadily reduced her use of weedkiller over the last few years, and she says with this rake, she'll be able to stop using weedkiller completely this year. Huzzah!
We also learn a great deal about foraging and living off the land. Besides garnishing soups and making salad with wild herbs growing around the farm, tis the season for bamboo shoots, and we get a hands-on lesson on spotting and unearthing them. Unfortunately, wild boars in the area have beaten us to quite a number of the delicious shoots, but we still manage a sackful, including Chris's whopper!
Last but certainly not least, we learn 2 traditional rice product recipes whose hand-made-from-scratch renditions have largely disappeared from modern industrial Japan -- Amazake, a fermented rice drink, and a very muscle-intensive Yomogi mochi.