Saturday, May 12, 2007

Growing Rice with Sanpei Sensei

Tyler: Wow! The dolphins are really loud today!

Sanpei Sensei: Those are frogs! Not dolphins!

Tyler: Oh Really? My Japanese is really getting bad since I quit studying!

Sanpei Sensei: (muffled laughter)

Yes folks, while I've stopped studying Japanese, I'm still learning a lot about Japanese rice farming and rural lifestyle from my PE teaching co-worker & comrade-in-fermented barley juice, Sanpei Sensei. Frogs love the irrigated rice fields that grow thick with heavy stalks of Japan's staple food. In the countryside, they can be heard all hours of the day, and get especially loud at night.

I went over to Sanpei's house in the morning to help him with the task of planting. I had imagined a laborious process lasting all day. We'd slog through the muddy field and manually position each and every tiny plant. I would develop a horrible hunched back like the scary little old ladys I see all around. My clothes would be ruined in the finely tilled soil. It would be a refreshing day of hard manual labor in the brutal sun!

It turns out the brutal sun was the only miserable part of the day, because Mr. Sanpei had a ride-on farm implement that automatically planted 6 rows of rice at a time. He just had to drive the machine through the mud while it planted. All I had to do was help with small pallets of baby rice we had to load onto the machine. Loading rice pallets onto the machine is simple work, like loading a magazine in a gun or changing batteries. Then I stood around and watched as Mr. Sanpei did all the work.

While Mr. Sanpei's machine did the work, I chatted with his son, who works at the Tower Records in Koriyama. It turns out we share mutual friends (I tried to get a date with his supervisor once). Halfway finished, something clogged a cantilever truss/ lever/mechanical doohickey on the farm implement and they both spent 30 minutes fixing it. The machine made very disturbing noises. I stood around contemplating the innards of the machine with brainless self importance.

Then they fed me lunch. Japanese country cooking includes rice, miso soup, bamboo, and a host of really green vegetables I only ever seem to find at Sanpei Sensei's house. I have a feeling it was all uber healthy. I recall reading some statistic that Japanese women in rural areas have the longest life expectancy. If they eat like this, its easy to see why.

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