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Experience Rice Planting in Fukushima, Japan!

Experience Rice Planting in Fukushima, Japan!

A land of mirrors...

Driving around Fukushima in the springtime, you might think you’ve wandered into a world of mirrors. Vast rice paddies flooded with water reflect the mountains, sky, and any cars that travel by creating a beautiful scenery. Due to the hills and valleys, its common to see tiered rice paddies, something I never experienced in America! 

What is rice farming REALLY like in Fukushima?

Curious about the state of rice farming in Fukushima, I decided to visit a small rice farm run by Masakazu Suda in Iino-machi in Fukushima city to learn a bit more! Upon arrival Mr. Suda, Suda-san, took us into his conference room to talk a bit about his farm. He showed us several bags of rice that his farm had produced the previous year and told us a bit about his rice paddies. 

Japanese style vs. American style

Most of his rice paddies grow rice the ‘Japanese way’ by first growing the rice to a certain size, then removing and replanting that rice into neat, symmetric rows. This is a practice that takes some extra time and effort, but it allows rice farmers to produce large quantities of rice in smaller rice paddies. Apparently, rice farms in larger countries, like America, that have more space don’t bother with the removing and replanting step, but with this style the quantity of rice produced in only 60% of the quantity produced the Japanese way, but it takes a lot less time and effort for farmers.

I found it really interesting that despite the typically lower yield of American-style rice planting, Suda-san had one of his paddies set aside to experiment with American-style rice planting! He said his neighbors thought he was crazy, but he respects the easy-going style of America and wanted to give it a try. 

Safety first!

It felt really nice to meet a rice farmer who was so passionate and interested in trying various styles of farming. Suda-san is a really dedicated farmer who strives to produce safe and high quality rice! Following the nuclear disaster, he spent years taking care of the soil and farm, and it was several years before he could continue rice farming, but he never gave up!

Suda-san was one of the first rice farmers in Fukushima to return their fields to safety levels that qualified his farm to earn a FGAP safety certification. The FGAP is a strict certification that is awarded to farms in Fukushima that meet their high standards for safety and Good Agricultural Practices! If you would like to read more about this check out their website (available in English): https://gap-fukushima.jp/en/ 

Planting rice the old-fashioned way!

After our chat, Suda-san handed me and my boss each a pair of crocs and said it was time to plant some rice! Most of his farm is planted using a special tractor-type of machine, but he left some space for us to plant rice the old-fashioned way. Showing us how to take little rice plants and replant them into the flooded, rice paddy soil in a way that it won’t sink too deep or float away.

Slipping, barefoot, into the water and soft mud of the rice paddies was a shock at first. Then, it was a comfort. The soft soil was well taken care of and monitored, no sharp stones or surprises, very high quality soil. The music of the frogs filled the air even at mid-day, Suda-san said that when the sun sets their chorus will be even more impressive.

Setting into the rhythmic pattern of replanting the small rice plants was therapeutic. The most difficult part was achieving straight lines and adequate spacing, but we tried our best for nearly an hour! The lines and spacing was far from even or straight, but Suda-san encouraged us anyways. 

More than rice! 

Rice may be most commonly eaten during meals, but rice can also be used to create many other things, my favorites being sake and mochi (a chewy dessert rice cake) sweets.

Suda-san grows a variety of rice types, including mochi rice! After a hard day of rice planting we relaxed a bit and enjoyed some locally made mochi sweets at Suda-san’s farm. It was so good! Hearing Suda-san describe the various types of rice that he grows had me really excited for harvest season, it would be so interesting to try the different varieties that he produces here.

Aliens?

Yeah that's right.

After bidding farewell to Suda-san, we headed up the hill in town to have lunch at the UFO restaurant. The mountain here is thought by locals to be shaped like a UFO landing pad, and many locals have their fair share of stories about UFO sightings and even encounters with visitors from the stars. There is even a UFO museum where visitors can take a look at photographs, stories, and records of the town’s history with UFOs. The townspeople here were very kind and welcoming to all kinds of people, even aliens! So, it’s definitely a unique place that I would recommend visiting.

Next time we visit Suda-san we will ask him if he has seen any UFOs visit his rice paddies! 

Interested in a rice planting experience?

There are several options for farm stays in Fukushima, you may get to try out rice planting if you visit in the spring! Read more here or contact us about farm stays and experiences in Fukushima. 

Visiting Iino-machi?

You can catch a UFO, I mean... bus, outside of Fukushima station and it’s about a 40-minute ride to Iino-machi! 
 

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    Persimmon Paradise in Date City!

    Here you can drive though fields of endless persimmons...  At first you might think that someone has hung thousands of lanterns, such a romantic sight might be expected in a town named Date City... but these are actually persimmons! Acres and acres of persimmon trees grow around the Date City area. On top of that nearly every home in the area has hundreds, even thousands, of persimmons hanging from their rafters or in open air pavilions. Dried persimmons are, apparently, a specialty in Date City. These fruits are turned into delicious semi-dried fruits that you’ve got to try! They are so good. The outer skin firms up like fruit leather and the insides sweeten and become gelatinous in texture. If you have ever tried a "gusher," these are like giant gushers that are naturally sweet.  The practice of hanging persimmons at home is still practiced by some Japanese people, however it can be a bit difficult and time consuming. Fortunately for everyday people (who lack both time and skill) the farmers of Date City make and sell plenty of these delicious treats!  Those who hang persimmons for commercial use use a special method that they learned from California raisin makers, this is how they maintain their brilliant color! It was cool to find a connection to my home country in such a cute rural town.

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  2. Useful Information

    Harvest Seasonal Fruit

    Fukushima Prefecture is one of the leading fruit production regions in Japan, to the extent that Fukushima City is often called the 'Fruit Kingdom,' and there is a road within the city limits with the nickname 'Fruit Line.' As hinted at by the name, the road is surrounded by fruit orchards on both sides for a distance of over 14 kilometers. If one looks closely, they will see different fruits growing during the year, with cherries in the springtime (early June to early July), peaches in the summer months (from mid-July to early September), pears (late August through early October) and grapes (early September through early October) in autumn, and finally apples in early winter (early October to early December). During each season, the nearby fruit orchards bustle with activity as families and tourists come to buy the fresh, high quality fruit. Fruit-Picking Experience One pleasant way of enjoying the Fruit Line is to pick some fruit yourself, a popular pastime in Japan known as fruits-kari, meaning 'fruit-picking.' Fruit-picking is a luxury in Japan, available only in fruit-producing regions. In Japan, it's typical to be able to pick as much fruit as you'd like within a set time and enjoy it fresh on the spot. However, unlike some orchards abroad, many Japanese orchards don't allow fruit picked as part of the fruits-kari experience to be taken out of the orchard. Fruit can be bought separately of course. You need not bring or prepare anything to participate. You need but set out on an adventure that promises satisfaction with the deliciousness of the fresh fruit and the instinctive enjoyment of harvesting it. Here we will describe how to go about fruit hunting using the example of an apple orchard. When you arrive at the orchard, sign up for the fruit-picking experience. After signing up, you will be provided with any necessary tools, such as instruments for cutting fruit from the branch or buckets. The staff will then give a brief introduction in Japanese on how to pick the fruit and how to tell the difference between ripe and unripe fruit, but the topic is one that is easy to grasp even just by watching their gestures as they explain, so Japanese language skills are not a requirement. Then, after entering the orchard itself, there will be nothing but apples wherever you look. Your job is now to find the ones that look the tastiest from among all the others. Fukushima’s apples are known for being quite juicy and for a taste with a good balance of sweetness and tartness, the result of Fukushima’s uniquely wide temperature variation in the local climate. Take a bite of the apple and your mouth will be filled with the fresh juice accompanied by the appealing crisp sound. And if you really want to experience the taste, we recommend eating the apple as is without removing the peel first. You can also experience a variety of textures and sweetness levels depending on the variety of apple. Fukushima City's Orchards Many types of fruit are grown within the Fukushima City limits, and the volume of pears in particular is the second highest for Japan. Thus, the local farmers have plenty of opportunity to constantly improve their skills. Whereas the norm is to wrap individual fruits in little bags in Japan when they are still on the tree to protect them against pests, the orchards of Fukushima City more commonly grow fruits without using these bags, ensuring that each fruit receives more direct sunlight giving them a higher natural sugar content and richer taste. There is also a recent and growing trend to design new confections that make use of these high quality fruits. These delicious desserts are possible specifically because the orchard farmers know what they’re doing when it comes to flavorful fruit. So if you have the time, we recommend combining your fruit-picking with a culinary tour of the available confections as well. The production of jams and juices using the fruits is also quite popular at Fukushima orchards, and those products make great gifts to take home with you. The Fruit Line provides numerous ways to enjoy yourself depending on the season. When visiting, we recommend coming by car. That way you can enjoy the surrounding scenery as you drive, and the ability to stop by at any local farmer’s markets you may come across will further increase the charm of your trip. Enjoy this luxurious experience and the tastes of the season to the fullest at your own pace, surrounded by the bounty of nature. Read here for more.

    Harvest Seasonal Fruit
  3. Access

    JR Tadami Line

    Station list and timetable for the JR Tadami Line (Updated April 2020) ABOUT SERVICE DISRUPTIONS Replacement bus service runs between Aizu-Kawaguchi Station and Tadami Station. TIMETABLE (FROM AIZU-WAKAMATSU TO KOIDE, VIA TADAMI) Station name Aizu-Wakamatsu 6:03 7:41 13:09 16:56 17:40 19:40 21:47 Nanuka-machi 6:06 7:44 13:12 16:59 17:43 19:43 21:50 Aizu Hongo 6:16 7:55 13:23 17:13 17:53 19:59 22:00 Aizu Bange 6:47 8:25 13:48 17:36 18:14* 20:24 22:22 Aizu Yanaizu 7:04 8:42 14:05 17:53 20:41 22:39 Aizu Hibara 7:21 8:59 14:21 18:10 20:57 22:55 Aizu Nishikata 7:26 9:04 14:25 18:14 21:01 22:59 Aizu Miyashita 7:38 9:12 14:29 18:18 21:05 23:03 Hayato 7:47 9:21 14:38 18:27 21:15 23:12 Aizu Kawaguchi 8:06 9:40 14:58 18:46 21:34 23:31 *This train stops at Aizu Bange Station. Change to replacement bus service between Aizu Kawaguchi Station and Tadami Station.   Station name Aizu Kawaguchi 8:15 10:25 14:10 15:35 17:25 19:00 Tadami 9:05 11:15 15:00 16:25 18:15 19:50 Change to replacement bus service between Aizu Kawaguchi Station and Tadami Station.   Station name Tadami 9:30 15:40 18:35 Koide 10:43 16:53 19:48   TIMETABLE (FROM KOIDE TO AIZU-WAKAMATSU STATION, VIA TADAMI) Station name Koide 7:58 13:11 17:10 Tadami 9:15 14:28 18:27 Change to replacement bus service between Aizu Kawaguchi Station and Tadami Station.   Station name Tadami 7:10 9:25 11:25 14:32 16:00 17:45 18:40 Aizu Kawaguchi 8:00 10:15 12:15 15:22 16:50 18:35 19:30 Change to replacement bus service between Aizu Kawaguchi Station and Tadami Station.   Station name Aizu Kawaguchi 5:32 7:06 8:41 12:31 15:29 19:09 Hayato 5:51 7:26 9:00 12:50 15:49 19:28 Aizu Miyashita 6:01 7:36 9:15 13:00 15:59 19:38 Aizu Nishikata 6:04 7:39 9:18 13:03 16:02 19:41 Aizu Hibara 6:08 7:43 9:22 13:07 16:06 19:45 Aizu Yanaizu 6:24 7:59 9:38 13:23 16:22 20:01 Aizu Bange 6:43 8:21 9:58 13:47 16:40 18:25* 20:22 Aizu Hongo 7:05 8:43 10:19 14:08 17:01 18:47 20:43 Nanuka-machi 7:18 8:53 10:32 14:18 17:15 18:58 20:54 Aizu-Wakamatsu 7:22 8:56 10:36 14:21 17:18 19:01 20:58 *Train starts from Aizu Bange   Timetable updated on April 1 2020. Please be aware that a winter timetable goes into effect every year so make sure to check the JR Tadami Line winter timetable if travelling in the winter months.   ALL STATIONS ON THE TADAMI LINE Main stations featured in the timetable above are highlighted in bold below. Underlined station names are stations where passengers must switch between train and replacement bus service. Station names written in italics, are stations where replacement bus services run. Aizu-Wakamatsu Station 会津若松駅 Nanukamachi Station 七日町駅 Nishi-Wakamatsu Station 西若松駅 Aizu-Hongo Station 会津本郷駅 Aizu-Takada Station 会津高田駅 Negishi Station 根岸駅 Niitsuru Station 新鶴駅 Wakamiya Station 若宮駅 Aizu-Bange Station 会津坂下駅 Todera Station 塔寺駅 Aizu-Sakamoto Station 会津坂本駅 Aizu-Yanaizu Station 会津柳津駅 Godo Station 郷戸駅 Takiya Station 滝谷駅 Aizu-Hinohara Station 会津桧原駅 Aizu-Nishikata Station 会津西方駅 Aizu-Miyashita Station 会津宮下駅 Hayato Station 早戸駅 Aizu-Mizunuma Station 会津水沼駅 Aizu-Nakagawa Station 会津中川駅 Aizu-Kawaguchi Station 会津川口駅 Honna Station 本名駅 Aizu-Kosugawa Station 会津越川駅 Aizu-Yokota Station 会津横田駅 Aizu-Oshio Station 会津大塩駅 Aizu-Shiozawa Station 会津塩沢駅 Aizu-Gamo Station 会津蒲生駅 Tadami Station 只見駅 Oshirakawa Station 大白川駅 Irihirose Station 入広瀬駅 Kamijo Station 上条駅 Echigo-Suhara Station 越後須原駅 Uonuma-Tanaka Station 魚沼田中駅 Echigo-Hirose Station 越後広瀬駅 Yabukami Station 藪神駅 Koide Station 小出駅

     JR Tadami Line
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