Train from Ise-shima to Tazawako

Trip Start Sep 08, 2010
1
58
228
Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Japan  , Kinki,
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

We have been fascinated as we track through the Japanese landscape by the production and harvesting of rice we can see through the carriage window. The fields are generally very small - plots of no more than half an acre - and do not lend themselves to the high-tech mechanisation so representative of the rest of the country. It is as if each grain of rice is cultivated by hand.
We ask ourselves questions like how many ears of rice does it take to fill a bowl? how much of a field will one man eat in a year? how many fields does each farmer own?
 But most of all we have been fascinated by the drying of the straw. Once the miniaturised cat-track harvester has done its job and the rice has been collected, bundles of straw are gathered - by hand presumably - and made into sheaf. These are grouped, four or six propped up against one another to make rows of tiny, scaled-down haystacks that make a formal plaited pattern against the neat lines of cut stubble.
Once they have dried a certain amount further drying techniques are employed but we are unable to establish whether these represent different options given a particular farmer's preference, or inherited practice, or seasonal weather conditions, or if they are different parts in one multi-phased process. In any case we have seen sheaf hung out on a line like agricultural laundry, or, in a more sinister light, like the empty trench coats of a defeated army. We have seen them stacked twisted & tied clear of the ground around a central pole - lines of knotted sculptures standing one legged like shaman captured mid-dance. We have seen them laid in large, water-shedding stacks like lonesome hunchbacks.
All of these processes seem an extension of the Japanese obsessive attention to detail, of neatness and order and Asperger's togetherness. Everything is folded and pressed, plaited and tied. Edges are defined and made crisp and farmers leave their fields without the slightest trace of mud on their pristine clothing. Agriculture in Japan it seems is just another branch of origami.
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