By Joëlla van de Griend
‘Mountains covered with woods’ is used to describe the green area of Keihoku, just outside of Kyoto City. As part of the AGST program, students and faculty members visited a farming event organized by the Shinfujin Kyoto (the new Japan Women’s Association) and the Nouminren Kyoto (Japan Family Farmers Movement).
This event tries to make the connection between farmers and consumers and is visited by a lot of families. We can look at it as a celebration of what the earth has given to both farmers and consumers, illustrated by the waving flags showing the text: ‘Hug the Mother Earth’. For example, one of the farmers I met told me about how he grows his rice in the village at the foot of the mountain without making use of chemicals.
One of the organizations responsible for the event, Shinfujin, is a women’s organization that aims to promote environmental protection and emancipation but is also a movement to oppose the comeback of militarism in Japan. Many of the members of this organization are young mothers who are concerned with a variety of crises that could become a threat to their children’s future. This farming event however was more a celebration than a protest, with a vibrant temporary market with products and food stalls, activities, and the possibility to experience transplanting rice plants into the rice paddies.
When our group from Kyoto University arrived, we were greeted by some farmers who led us to a shady tent off to the side. Here they showed us the many steps they have to take to clean and package their long green onions, because consumers want their onions to look a certain way.
After we cleaned, sorted and packaged the onions, we had some time to wander around the market. At the market, some local specialties were available, such as (delicious!) tempura which contained wild veggies from the forest, some of which are not found in the supermarket. Another specialty was the ‘mochi’ that is made with special sticky rice (normally to celebrate the new-year). To prepare it, steamed rice has to be beaten with a large wooden hammer for some time. Some mochi of the local producers contain ‘natto’ a uniquely-fermented soybeans that smells strong (almost like blue cheese) but is healthy and tasty.
One thing that I noticed while walking around was that the farmers present cut across various generations. However, it was clear that the majority of the food producers were old. This reflects the broader trends in Japan.
After lunch, everyone gathered together and we made our way to the paddy fields. Throughout the village many paddies are to be found but one of them was left open for all of the participants to experience rice planting by hand.
The rice planting was a muddy feat with about 400 people getting their feet into the muddy field to transfer the rice plants into the earth. While the adults tried to follow the instructions of the farmers, children (some who came prepared with swimming goggles!) played in the muddy area and the water next to the paddy. Normally the planting would have been carried out by making use of a machine (rice transplanter), but today was an opportunity to experience how much work is put into the growing of rice. Despite the efforts of the visitors, the farmers had to replant the field according to their insight and expertise as it would become very hard for them to maintain such a messy field.
This sign next to the paddy contains a saying that can be translated as: ‘Let’s pass these paddies and Japanese rice on to the next generations’. This saying catches the essence of this gathering in which generations of farmers and families come together to plant, eat and celebrate.
Joëlla van de Griend, intern Kyoto University and completing her MSc in Health and Society, Wageningen University