There used to be a comedian that would tell jokes about living in the countryside, …
Hackerfarm ran its annual community rice growing program for the fourth year in a row. It’s a wonderful project that has allowed us to contribute to and interact with the local community while learning valuable skills in traditional Japanese rice growing. You can tell a lot about Japanese culture by understanding the way they grow their rice.
The program that we help support is called the Owners Program and is run by a neighboring village to Hackerfarm called Kamanuma. In the program, everybody communally prepares plants, maintains, and harvests traditional terraced rice paddies. It’s an amazing opportunity to learn growing techniques from Japanese master rice farmers, some in their eighties, that have been farming rice their whole lives. It’s an open program that we encourage people to attend from Tokyo or around the world. This year, we had members from Loftwork, a design firm in Tokyo, Fabcafe, a design and maker café, and students from Chiba University.
The traditional Japanese way of growing rice is over 3000 years old and is completely organic and sustainable. Hills and mountains, otherwise unusable pieces of land that would never be used in industrial rice farming, are carved into terraces that can support families within a village. The surrounding forests are used as sources of compost, wind breaks, and provide the organisms that create the vibrant ecosystem occurring around rice paddies.
In the traditional method of growing rice, rice paddies are formed with clay and various hand tools into pools that can hold water without leaking. When the paddies are finished, they are flooded with water and tilled in preparation for the planting. At the same time, unhulled rice grains from the previous harvest are soaked in water until seedlings form. These seedlings will be used for the rice planting once the rice paddy preparations are complete.
The process of rice planting is a team effort and requires two people to move in unison with a rope line to make sure the rice seedlings are planted in straight rows and spaced far enough apart that they will have adequate space to grow. Another group goes into the wet mud and clay to plant the seedlings into the ground. There are also people on the side to keep feeding seedlings to the planters as they insert the seedlings into the ground.
Much of Japan’s terrain is mountainous and rice paddies in this kind of terrain are organized into steppes. Most of the water comes from natural rainfall and feeds the crops from the top of the terraces to the bottom. The decisions made by rice farmers need to be agreed upon by all members of the terraces because one person’s decision affects everyone else. If one farmer wants to add chemicals to their crops, the other farmers will also get the chemicals inside their paddies due to the interconnection of the rice terraces. This kind of communal planting, work, and decision making is typical of Japanese village life. You can also see it deeply embedded in Japanese culture and often mischaracterized in the West as Japanese “group think”.
After understanding how rice is planted and grown in Japan, you can see a much deeper practicality of the common decision making process. It actually evolved as a social and survival mechanism for villages to cope with the difficult rice growing conditions such as planting in mountainous terrain.
Now that the rice is planted in the ground, we’ll be assisting in maintenance, grass cutting, and various upkeep tasks until the rice is ready to be harvested in September. For now, the hard work is finished and it’s time to celebrate with the other Hackerfarm tradition: post rice planting BBQ!