Into the mud: planting rice with students

“Squelch, sludge, squish” were the sounds of my feet being sucked into the muddy rice field. The grey-brown mud squeezed between my toes and held my foot under, before I could prized it away to take another step. The mud was warm; at some points a layer of murky water sat on top of the sludge, and worse of all I could feel unknown things in the mud. They could be explained by the small bubbles that emerged from a watery footprint next to me. As I moved on with haste a small frog jumped away from me! I managed to keep my cool, although I screamed a little inside, and with a line of students waiting behind me there was nothing to do but continue on into the muddy depths.

Every year in early May the second graders at my school plant kuromai (black rice) in a tanbo (rice field) near the school. I’ve seen students’ paintings of this activity and have eaten the black rice at the Cultural Festival, so when my supervisor asked me if I wanted to join the rice planting today, I immediately said yes!

Being a JET is all about being prepared for the unknown, like when you turn up looking a sleep deprived and are told it’s the school photograph day, or just as a class is starting the teacher turns to you and asks you if you have any activities. Gulp. But over the last nine months I’ve learnt to be prepared for everything, a make-up kit ready for a school photo, a list of games for classes and an ‘emergency’ PE kit for times like these. So luckily, I was able to join the students in this annual event.

Before the hundred-so students set off to the rice field, there was a briefing of how to plant the rice. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t really help me until I saw the demonstration in the actual rice field. First, a hexagonal contraption is rolled across the mud to create a grid pattern of where to plant the seedling, or ricelings as I like to call them. Then we were given a palette of closely grown ricelings which we had to lovingly poke into the mud on the joining points of the lines. It was as easy at that!

There were screams and shrieks as the girls got into the mud and I had to stop some of them running back out of the muddy field! Then we had about an hour of planting time. It went by quickly and with so many people planting the seeds, the field was soon covered in lines of green seedlings. Yet now I feel for the real farmers of rural Fukui who have to spend all day, for many weeks just planting rice fields. It must get a bit tiresome if you’re not surrounded by a hundred excited students who are singing songs and falling over in the mud!

I look forward to watching the ricelings sprout up and then being able to eat the rice we planted in September. Just another school experience which beats any school trip I did as a student! I wonder what else the school year has in store for me…

These boys were shrieking at this point!

These boys were shrieking at this point!

Making a grid pattern on the mud

Making a grid pattern on the mud

It looks like this parent-helper was dancing, or maybe he was just stuck in the mud!

It looks like this parent-helper was dancing, or maybe he was just stuck in the mud!

IMG_0945

The rice field was filling up with water as we were planting the ricelings

Washing off the mud in the so-called 'gaijin traps'

Washing off the mud in the so-called ‘gaijin traps’

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