Typhoons, Rice Harvests, and Udon – Oh My!

So last weekend we had a typhoon. Well, not the real deal, since we’re not right on the coast. But we did have strong winds and heavy rain, and Monday’s classes got cancelled so we only had to do a few hours of prep work and then were able to go home! There was a lot of talk about the typhoon beforehand, but it didn’t turn out to be anything alarming. Just A LOT of rain. On the final day of the typhoon (Monday), I was really interested to check out the river and see how it had changed. I was genuinely surprised to see how much it had expanded! Check out the video below to see it!

But first, a couple pictures of how the river normally looks, so you can compare. These pictures were taken in the spring:

And now, the post-typhoon video:

Fortunately, the impending typhoon did not affect our weekend plans. The city’s tourism board had invited several of us to join their green tourism event, which is apparently a growing trend. It involves going on a tour to the countryside and doing – well, countryside-ish things. This time, the plan was to harvest rice and vegetables on Saturday, and learn to make udon on Sunday. This was actually a real privilege for us to join, since the rest of the tourists (who came from Tokyo!) had to pay for the tour. They were hosted overnight on Saturday night, while we were driven back to our apartments and picked up again Sunday morning by one of the gracious tour administrators.

On Saturday, the first day of the tour, we were picked up and driven to a local farm. We were first served a very hearty lunch of curry and vegetables:

Then it was time to harvest rice, the old-fashioned way! We were taken to a picturesque rice field, where several people were already working.

Part of the rice field, with shocks of rice stalks in the background:

The rice was planted in bunches, so we were taught to take a sharp scythe and cut each bunch at the base. After cutting three bunches, we laid them on the ground, then went back to cut three more. After accumulating twelve bunches, we tied them together with dried rice stalks. It was interesting work, and I really enjoyed it because it reminded me of working in the garden at home! It was hard work, though, and we were marveling at the fact that we had only done a small part and there was still so much that the farmers had left to do. “Wow, do they do it all by hand?” we wondered, looking at the very large field that was left:

Then we asked, and were told that usually machines cut the rice these days. Oh well. So much for that theory.

After cutting down our allotted rice patch and tying the bundles of cut rice together, we hung them upside down on a rack made of sticks stuck in the mud.

After the rice harvesting, we went on to harvest sweet potatoes. It was fun, although pretty much the same as harvesting regular potatoes. Reach in the dirt and dig around til you find one!

We worked for a short time, and then the token “harvesting” was over. (There was still a lot more that the farmers would have to harvest for real later!) We headed back to the house for dinner. First, we made mochi (pounded rice) the old-fashioned way! That involves taking glutinous rice, like this:

And pounding it with sticks, like this!

We were served a delightful dinner of oden (boiled vegetables, eggs, and fish cakes), soup, mochi, passion fruit, and more. After relaxing and enjoying the meal, we were returned home for the night. The next morning, our adventures resumed as we were picked up and driven to a nearby farmhouse. This house is one of Tamura’s hidden treasures – it’s probably only about 15-20 minutes away from my house by foot, and it’s set up like a small museum. The gentleman who acts as a guide there told us that it’s 180 years old, from the Edo period.

The rest of the tour group from Tokyo soon came to join us. First, we listened to the engaging and very funny guide explain some of the history of the house. He also showed us the process of building a fire in a pot that acts as a food cooker. He explained that it was usually used to cook rice, although today he was cooking sweet potatoes in it.

After our tour of the farmhouse, we went inside a nearby community center building to make udon. Udon is a thick noodle that’s very popular here in Japan. The process for making these noodles is similar to when we made soba (buckwheat) noodles, except this time it seemed like we rolled and worked the dough a lot more. We even put it in a bag between newspaper and kneaded it with our feet!

After the udon making, we made a type of sweet that’s common here – a glutinous dough similar to mochi (pounded rice), filled with sweet bean paste. It sounds weird, but it’s quickly becoming a favorite snack of mine!

After our cooking fun, we had lunch, which of course included the noodles and the mochi treats we had made! One of the Japanese women there also graced us with the retelling of some Japanese folk tales – told, of course, in Japanese, so I couldn’t really understand them. 🙂

The day’s program was cut a little bit short, because there were concerns about the incoming typhoon. It had already been raining all day, and it was important to get the people from Tokyo back before things got worse. So after lunch, we ended our visit by heading back out to the farmhouse for a group picture. The hilarious farmhouse guide was there, too. When we’d been talking to him earlier that morning, he’d acted shocked when finding out that the two American teachers who went with me were already married. He exclaimed that he was fifty and still single. Then, when we were taking the group photo, he was standing near us. “Cold-o. Cold-o,” he said. I assumed that he was saying that because of the damp, chilly weather. Then, “My heart is cold-o,” he said. “Find me somebody to love!” Of course, we cracked up about that.

Needless to say, the two days of the tour were jam-packed with new experiences, and it was really fun to get to learn some new things. If you’re interested in seeing video footage (including the funny farmhouse guy!), my friend Kelly, who also went on the tour, took some awesome videos of the trip. She and her husband are expert travelers and have their own YouTube channel called Real World Travelers, so check out the videos she made at the links below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRU47ZThYpQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ea3d-yFjQQ

 

 

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