Rice is our main diet food and cultivated in all around Japan. Here in Toyama, we have plenty water from mountains which has a lot of snow in winter so that we have a lot of green fields (paddies) on the flattened places. We can find green field very near from YAMADASAKETEN. It is just 30 seconds by walk! In this blog, I would like to talk about rice cultivation. I walked to the nearest green fields and I took photos of green fields which produces table rice "Koshihikari" through a year. You can see the changing of the rice fields from the photos.
As for table rice, farmers uses fertilizers in order to increase the yields and flavoursome components in the rice grain (proteins, lipids, vitamins and minerals). However, in case of Sake specific rice, farmers only use fertilisers in a limited way. Their purpose is not to increase the yields and flavoursome components. Their purpose is to make large grain rice. Some of the farmers cultivate Sake specific rice organically.
Rice cultivation in Japan follows the cycle below. Precise dates are different from area to area due to the temperature and weather conditions or the land conditions in each area. Also, it varies by the rice varieties.
1, Growing seedlings (around March to May)
The rice seeds are have been saved and stored from the previous year. The seedlings are grown in green house until 15 to 20 cm long, then, transplanted into the rice paddies.
2, Transplanting seedlings into the field (around late April to mid-June)
Transplanting is normally done by machine, swimming tractor that plants the seedlings in straight rows. If the small spaces or ceremonial transplanting, it is done by hand. Some brewers take place ceremonial transplanting with local people and some volunteers who like its brewer's Sake every year. This season varies depending on the rice variety and regional climates. Good sunny weather after transplanting is needed. Normally farmers flood the field with water. The advantage of flooding the fields is that it is difficult for weeds to grow; the seeds of weeds sink and can not access the oxygen and light.
(The nearest paddy from YAMADASAKETEN. After about 10 days from transplanting. This rice variety is table rice "Koshihikari". In the paddy, many tadpoles are swimming.)
3, Draining and Re-flooding the field (late June to late September)
The field is regularly drained and re-flooded throughout the growing season. The advantage of flooding the fields is that it is difficult for weeds to grow, but, if the paddy is always flooded, vegetation that fall into the water without oxygen creates poisonous acid and gas as it rots, which leads to unhealthy growth of the rice. Drying the field gives the rotting vegetation access to oxygen and can be decomposed. This becomes the nutrients for the rice. Furthermore, during dry period, the vertical growth is slow. Instead of that, they creates more large grains and develop strong root system.
(The nearest paddy from YAMADASAKETEN. This rice variety is table rice "Koshihikari". This photo was took around the middle of July. The rice has strong root system and stems.)
4, Appearance of the ears (around August to early September)
The ears are appeared on the end of a long stem. Flowers appear on the ears, and bloom for just two hours. The timing of the appearance of the ears depends on the climate and the rice variety.
(The nearest paddy from YAMADASAKETEN. This rice variety is table rice "Koshihikari". This photo was took around the end of August. The ears of rice are appeared.)
5, Ripening (late September to October)
After flowering and the development of the grains, the grains are ripening. The internal structures of the grain develop and the grains will fill with starch.
6, Harvesting (late September to October)
When the grain ears turned into gold from green, the harvest takes place. The harvest is usually done by machine, but, in case of small areas and special cultivating areas or ceremonial harvesting, it is done by hand. If the harvest is too early, the grains are still green, which makes undesirable flavours to Sake. If the harvest is too late, the grains are more drier, which has a risk of cracking.
7, Drying, and Removing the husks (late September to October)
After harvest, the rice is dried until that its moisture contents is 14~15%, then, the husks of rice grains are removed and stored. This rice is called "brown rice". If the moisture content is above of 14~15%, the rice is going to be rot. If the moisture content is below the percentage, the risk of cracking is increased. Also, this moisture content is one of the criteria for defining the weight of rice when trading it.
Ideal Soils and Weather Conditions for Sake specific rice
For cultivation of Sake specific rice, inland low mountain areas, hill country areas, and natural basin areas, and good ventilated areas are suitable. An open area from east to west (rather than from north to south) is an ideal terrain condition. In those area, the diurnal temperature range is bigger than the other area, which leads that the rice has more large grains and well defined Shinpaku.
The ideal soil for Sake specific rice has following points:
・Contain high percentage of clay particles (Caly particles can retain water)
・Rich in nutrients (Nitrogen and calcium is important nutrients for Shinpaku, especially nitrogen.)
・Free of volcanic ash
・Benefit from gluey substances that help retain water
Ideal weather condition during rice growing is warm temperature and the high level of sunlight at day time, and cool temperature at the night. During ripening of the rice, warm temperature and long hours sunshine at day time, and cold temperature at the night. If the temperature is too cool during ripening, the starch of the rice grains has a lot of branches. The rice becomes sticky and glutinous. On the contrary, if the temperature is too hot, too warm at night, lack of sunlight during ripening, the rice doesn't ripen. The rice tends to have more proteins and prone to cracking.
In the paddy, there is a lot of living things. It has a ecosystem. When we are young, we played at the paddy to get some insects, and we studied the nature and food. Rice and rice fields is necessary for Japanese people life.