Translated by Jelena Kitamura
Tackling A Big Seasonal Event: Rice Harvesting With Exchange Students!
Written by Keisuke Yamada
Rice harvesting is an important seasonal event in Japan. In autumn, the golden trunks of rice can be seen everywhere, and we were wondering what would it be like to do it together with exchange students. Let's go to Mineoka Iki-Ikikan to try it out!
As Japan sees the end of the hot and humid summer and welcomes the autumn breeze accompanied by the lively sound of the crickets, on a nice day in September, we head out to experience the harvesting of rice, one of Japan’s most important staple foods.
Although we were born and raised in Japan, we have never tried this so very common and much-needed work for ourselves – rice harvesting.
With technology getting more and more advanced by the day, it is no wonder that nowadays this arduous work is done by machines, but it is also well-known that before these machines were invented, people used to cut the stalks by hand. It seemed to us that it would be an altogether different and exciting feeling to tackle the important job of harvesting the rice that we eat daily by hand, so we decided to take part in a harvesting experience.
We also wanted to let other people experience this extraordinary activity too, so we invited some exchange students currently studying in Japan to join. We couldn’t wait to discover what kind of rice harvesting adventure lay ahead!
To the Mineoka Iki-Ikikan!
This time we visited Mineoka Iki-Ikikan in Minamiboso, Mineoka, Chiba prefecture, near Tokyo.
You can get there from Shinjuku, Tokyo, in about two hours by car, and you’ll be surprised to see how much this area differs from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo; it is surrounded by vast natural lands, mountains and rivers, to this day.
Minamiboso City, where our destination, Mineoka Iki-Ikikan is located, is well-known for its spacious range-style horse breeding and used to have many farms created during the Sengoku Period (end of the 15th century-end of the 16th century), mainly for raising war horses.
After the Sengoku Period, dairy farming came to be popular and widely practiced in this area. After 1728, when three white (milk) cows were imported from India, Mineoka district started breeding more and more livestock. That led to the manufacture of milk and dairy products and is now believed to have become the starting point of dairy farming in Japan.
Today you can experience a whole variety of activities at Mineoka Iki-Ikikan in Minamiboso, such as:
• Farming experience (feeding animals and baby animals with milk, milking the cows, tasting fresh milk)
• Ice-cream-making (making ice cream with milk, eggs, and sugar, then cooling it with ice and salt)
• Butter-making (making butter by filling a bottle with ice and fresh cream, then shaking it)
• Tofu-making (making tofu with soybeans produced in Chiba prefecture)
• Making soba (buckwheat) noodles (making your original soba noodles using buckwheat powder, flour, and water)
• Harvesting bamboo shoots (from May to the beginning of June)
• Dyeing with plants (using plants from the nearby mountains to dye handkerchiefs)
• Water gun-making (making water pistols and trying them out on a stream)
and much more.
Cutting Rice Stocks Barefoot in a Rice Field
We took on the rice harvesting task as soon as we set foot in the Chiba prefecture.
As there was a lot of rain the day before our big adventure, we had to take our shoes off before stepping into the rice fields, as we were instructed to do by the locals who led this whole activity.
Both the Japanese participants and exchange students gladly took their shoes off, rolled up their pant legs, and slowly entered the slimy rice field, and all that while noisily shrieking – this video will show you that entertaining moment.
Everyone had the same reaction to feeling their feet entering the gooey rice field. It was a real challenge to try and cut the rice as our feet sank deeper into the moist field with each step we took.
It took as little as ten minutes to get the hang of it, so eventually, we managed to harvest a lot of rice. Although you could also see grasshoppers, spiders, and other small insects hiding in the field, everyone was engrossed in their work and just kept cutting down those stalks of rice without noticing any of it.
Behold the Superb Rice-Harvesting Speed of the Exchange Students!
If you take a look at the video down below, you will be able to see how efficiently everyone’s progressing with the harvesting. Still, it seems as though the Japanese students (who originally came as support) were left behind by the ever-so-capable international students.
This photo serves as proof to show how neatly the whole process went.
Students from Japan and all over the world, new to this experience, stood in the mud side by side and gave it their all to collect the tasty rice.
We were amazed to witness and be part of such a co-operative activity, where everyone worked together and overcome their beginner’s insecurity, combining their strengths and giving it their best.
When all was over, everyone was sincerely thankful and happy for this extraordinary opportunity to create such a precious memory.
Making a Thick Sushi Roll Together
Finally, we also partook in the makizushi-making activity. This special type of sushi, which is an unusually thick rolled sushi, used to be served during ceremonies when a large number of people has gathered, such as at weddings, funerals, and the like. It is somewhat different in shape when compared to the usual sushi served in restaurants, and has motifs such as flowers, depicted in it, just like the photo shows.
To be able to master this craft-like culinary technique, it is not enough just to put the right ingredients together – one must also keep close attention to the shape of the roll and to all of the fine adjustments while making it. It is more demanding than it looks, and it takes a bit of time to complete the task.
You can see some parts of the making process by clicking on this video. Just look at the determination in everyone’s eyes – it was the first time for everyone, so they were fully devoted to making a perfect sushi roll.
Address: Chiba, Minamiboso, Oi 681-2
Price: 500 yen to 2000 yen
Phone Number: 0470-46-8611
Website: Mineoka Iki-Ikikan (Japanese)