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Japan Gets Ready to Plant Rice During ‘Golden Week’

Rice planting in Japan

Planting rice in Japan. Much of Japan's rice is produced by small-scale farming, often in suburban neighborhoods. Screencap from YouTube user kazu san.

April marks the start of rice planting season in Japan. Fields are plowed and flooded in preparation for planting new rice seedlings, typically during the extended ‘Golden Week’ holiday in early May.

In the lead up to Golden Week, some Japanese people are posting photos of preparations for ta-ue (田植え), or rice planting.

Here's another photo of Oyama Senmaida in Chiba [east of Tokyo]. As the sunrises about four hectares of flooded, terraced fields transform into a beautiful tableau. There are about 375 terraced fields, large and small, here, making Oyama Sendai one of Japan's “Top 100 Terraced Rice Fields” (棚田百選). Flooding the fields before planting really makes this a representative scene of Japan. The call of the Japanese nightingale (ウグイス, uguisu) echoes throughout the valley. I am entranced by the scene.

On average a Japanese person will eat 60 kilograms of rice a year. While this amount of consumption is about half of what it was 50 years ago, rice is still an important part of Japan's food culture.

Government subsidies mean many households in regional and rural Japan are able to cultivate rice in relatively small plots, more as a hobby and a family activity than as a business.

Golden Week is a time when many extended families gather to plant rice. The flooded rice paddies of late April and early May signify that spring has truly begun in Japan.

They're already planting rice in the Chiba. Also, for reason there is a seagull hanging out here even though we're about 10 kilometers from the sea.

The “new green” (新緑, shinryoku) of new leaves combined with the brilliant flooded fields of spring is an irresistible subject for photographers.

Here in the middle of Hiroshima Prefecture, rice planting time is drawing near.

Some regions of Japan plant rice earlier than others. Mountainous areas, as well as Japan's northeast, typically plant rice a few weeks later than in the rest of the country.

It's almost time for plangint rice [here in Nagano, in the mountains west of Tokyo]. Pretty soon I'll be able to take this shot with the train and flooded fields.

Fields, once plowed, must be flooded for several weeks in preparation for planting seedlings.

Getting ready for rice planting, we've flooded the fields, which provides a beautiful refection of the seasons. There has been a large earthquake in Kumamoto and I know people who are affected. I pray for their safety. Sadness, challenges and pain are part of our human existence. So I pray positive thoughts.

The flooded fields reflect the brilliant, warm light of spring in Japan, providing opportunities to capture magnificent images.

The water flooding the rice paddies is warming up. Soon we'll be able to plant rice here in satoyama.

In some parts of rural Japan, the wide flat valleys seem to be filled with flooded rice fields.

We're planting rice next week so right now we're tilling the flooded paddies. The weather's fine and I have the theme from the movie ‘A River Runs Through It’ stuck in my head.

Once flooded, the rice seedlings are planted. While machines have automated much of the labor, some planting is till done by hand, typically in the corners of the rice paddies that are hard to reach on tractors.

In some parts of Japan they have already begun planting the seedlings. One by one we plant the rice and pray for their success.

The seedlings themselves are grown in greenhouses prior to planting.

We started growing koshihikari [the most popular strain of rice in Japan that was developed in Sakai, Fukui Prefecture in the post-war years] 28 years ago here in Aizu, Fukushima. First we grow the seedlings under cover here, and then transfer them to the rice paddy in mid-May when they're tall enough for planting.

Sometimes the seedlings are grown in and sold by large greenhouses operated by the local agricultural cooperative.

Here we are at the nursery. It's often said it takes an awful lot of effort to grow rice, and after visiting here today I can see why that is. I am really looking forward to rice planting in May, though!

There are a variety of strains of rice grown in Japan, each developed to match a specific microclimate. Kochijiwase is grown in a corner of Niigata known for a cooler climate.

This is a rice strain called koshijiwase. It looks like it's doing well. On April 21 we will be planting it!

The rice seedlings are typically planted by a specialized tractor developed in Japan after World War II.

Planting rice.

The flooded rice fields make for spectacular images.

Before and after shots of planting rice.

Rice planting is also a time for Japanese people to bond as they participate in an activity that is typically linked to Japan's national soul.

Rice planting… I'd like to try again! All of the third-year students at Hata Agricultural High School had an awesome time planting rice as part of after-school clubs. We got a little dirty, though.

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