Last Sunday morning, a box was delivered to our house:
Opening it up, we found a very generous gift from a friend who has a farm in Kyoto. It included 5 kg of newly harvested kinuhikari rice, as well as fresh vegetables from the farm and lots of fat chestnuts! We had a delicious meal of chestnut rice yesterday.
This weekend was harvest time for the rice fields in our neighbourhood. Regular readers will remember that, back in June, I wrote about the rice being planted. Since then, I have been watching with interest as the plants grew, green turned to gold and their heads started to bow under the weight of the healthy crop of rice. The rice, ready for harvest, has a distinctive and agreeable smell, something like bread dough.
Over the past week, in preparation for the harvest, the farmers drained the fields, cleared away any weeds from around the edge of the field, and cut some plants by hand around the edge and corner of the field.
For the small fields in our neighbourhood of Minami-hanada, the farmers used a small machine like a push-type lawnmower that cuts the plants and binds them into sheaves, leaving hundreds of newly-homeless and bewildered frogs hopping in its wake.
After the rice was cut, the farmers erected long trestles and hung the sheaves to dry.
In rural Fukui prefecture, the rice was harvested about a month earlier, when we were there for a short holiday in September. Koshihikari rice was developed in Fukui in the 1950s, and is now the most popular variety in Japan.
The fields in Fukui prefecture are much bigger than the patchwork of smallholdings in our area, and the farmers use combine cutters, larger ride-on machines that cut and thresh the rice two rows at a time, depositing the grain in a storage tank and leaving the straw in bundles on the ground.
After harvesting, the rice is milled and polished, removing the husk and the bran to make white rice for sale. (A lesser degree of polishing results in 玄米 genmai—brown rice, which is supposed to be more nutritious, but not as delicious.)
Note on the word of the day:
The character for rice, 米, is derived from a pictographic representation of a rice plant. As well as meaning rice, it also means America (both the country and the continent). For example, 米ドル means American dollars, while 南米 means South America. And in times gone by it was used to mean “meter”, although this is now usually written in katakana as メートル.
When it means “rice” it is pronounced as kome. That’s two syllables: “ko” and “me”. In compounds, the Chinese pronunciations mei, bei or mai are used, for example in the word 玄米 genmai meaning brown rice.
The sign ※ , which serves as an asterisk in Japanese writing, is called komejirushi (rice mark) because of its similarity to the kanji 米.
Note that 米 kome only means uncooked rice, but that’s a story for another day.