Paddy Fields, A Safeguard for Culture and the Environment
Rice has always been like a mother to the people of Japan. Rice lies at the heart of Japanese culture, and the rice farmers are the careful guardians of the countryside. Japanese farming is now facing a crisis, though. This crisis represents a danger to Japan's traditional culture and the environment of its countryside. If we are to pass on to future generations the culture and natural environment which our forefathers built, we must preserve our farming communities.
Steep-gabled houses in Shirakawa hamlet
(Shirakawa Village, Gifu Prefecture)
Steeply angled like hands in prayer, roofs here express coexistence, both with heavy snow and of people tied to each other. Just as sheaves of rice are tightly bound by straw, under these roofs, through thatching and rethatching, and other shared tasks in the cooperative action of daily life, the hearts and minds of interlinked lives have drawn strength through generations. In this remote place, people evolved a culture special to themselves.
These tightly bound ears of rice hanging under the eaves were blessed as an offering in the autumn Doburoku Festival. Each year, the arashine sheaf of new rice is hung at a different house. After being offered to the gods who graced the festival, the rice grains are carried off by sparrows.
Inabuchi Rice Terraces
(Asuka Village, Nara Prefecture)
Worked by human hands, land assumed the gentle beauty of embodied love.
It is no wonder that people today feel drawn to the rural heartland, where upland fields have worked since times long past. Ongoing, the care of the centuries exerts a deep attraction. The Ancient Chronicles of Japan recorded a rain-making ritual held here in the upper reaches of the Asuka River. The Imperial Ordinance on Forest Conservation is also written down, wherein Emperor Tenmu, decreed that plants and trees be respected.
These days, except in a few places, we mostly cannot see the wood for the trees, preserving sites and monuments, while neglecting to conserve the everyday scenery that surrounds them. Our hearts go out to those in Asuka who tirelessly continue to care.
Paddy fields are dams
(Ubuyama Village, Kunamoto Prefecture)
Three decades have passed since I was termed 'bold' for daring to propose that paddy fields are dams. I still remember the controversy as if it happened recently. In those days the whole concept seemed outlandish and the word 'dam' met with great resistance.
Sheer repetition of this point of view has gradually convinced more and more people of its merit. These days there is a lively movement to rethink policies concerning paddy fields. I am grateful to people who have grasped the implications, to supporters of this calendar, and those who actively work to restore our land to health.
Another photo of Ubuyama Village was used for the cover of Land of Water and Forests, Japan. Such scenes show how discretely beautiful dams can be.
Land of the Urashima legend
(Tango Town, Kyoto Prefecture)
When I wrote that Kyoto Culture was Japan Sea Culture, people wondered what I meant. I discussed this equation in the "Cultural History of Water," a series of articles carried by Bungei Shunju in 1979. Since then, the Japan Sea has occupied a special place in my thoughts. If you stand there at the tip of the Tango Peninsula, it stirs up thoughts about the land that lies over the sea.
Long ago, people bearing rice, tools, and technology landed here and created paddy fields: a great adventure pursued since the dawn of rice growing on the Asian mainland. Besides the flights of terraced fields and many tombs that fill the Tango Peninsula, iron-making and legends also flourished. Just think: 70% of the burial mounds in Kyoto Prefecture are clustered here. Ine Town is associated with legends of both Urashima and Jofuku.
Three years ago, during the Urashima Forum, farmers, foresters, and fisherfolk all came together and, committed to leaving this beautiful sea to coming generations, discussed how best to conduct and conserve their livelihoods.
Harvest. Kokura Jinai
(Kami-no-yama City, Yamagata Prefecture)
The type of landscape that evokes nostalgia shows scenes that have a human touch. It is the diligent care of human hands that naturally creates this type of beauty. That is why they say, in farm households, that the harder the farming conditions, the more the heart is moved by the scenery that results.
In fact, it is just this kind of land that brings forth the abundance of creatures. Here, at Shiginoyachi Wetland, diving beetles, water scorpions, water bugs, giant water bugs, water mantises, and other predacious aquatic insects are found, not to mention amphibians such as the Japanese tree frog, wrinkled frog, and Shlegel's tree frog.
The local children are particularly proud that even the Japanese skimmer, a dragonfly suddenly rare elsewhere, still flies and hovers here. In a project with students from Tokyo, the children are carrying out a joint survey of the paddy field ecosystem.