Wondrous Autumn

Autumn is probably my favorite season in Innai, maybe because of how much I suffer in summer's extreme humidity. Summer in Innai is much better than Tokyo, since the temperature drops significantly at night. But this year was an anomaly, summer was very wet and not all that hot. Even still, I was happy when the season started changing in mid-September. Now, nights can be quite cool, though the days are usually warm enough to be outside with just a long-sleeved t-shirt. Summer days and winter nights are probably the least pleasant times in this region, in all the other times the weather is quite mild.

One of the most satisfying autumn tasks is harvesting rice. Our paddy is very small, only about 200 square meters, but it produces just about enough rice to last us a year (it helps that we eat a good amount of great, pasta, udon, soba, etc.).

We start our rice seedlings in mid-May and transplant them in mid-June, so harvest is done in mid-October. But there are several steps from field to rice bowl, so it's usually another month or more until we are actually eating the new rice.

The first step is to cut the rice stalks, tie them in bundles and hang them on bamboo racks. This took us about four hours this year, which doesn't seem like that much work for a year's supply of rice. 

Next, the rice is left hanging for about two weeks to dry. After that comes threshing and winnowing. Our first two years we used manual thresher that you power with your legs and then used a regular room fan to winnow out the straw. Together these tasks took four or five hours. This year, a friend brought his mechanical thresher/winnower to our place and both jobs were finished in about 20 minutes. Easy, but not much feeling of accomplishment...

In any case, this yielded 68 kilograms of what is called momi-gara 籾殻, or unhulled rice. Unlike wheat, rice has a hard outer hull that has to be removed separately. Another friend lets us use his hulling machine to turn it into brown rice, but since we are still eating last year's rice, we'll leave it as momi-gara for now, since it keeps better that way. After hulling I expect we will have about 45 kilograms of brown rice, a little less than last year, probably because of the cool temperatures this summer.

At this point the rice is ready to eat. The last step, which is optional, is to refine the brown rice into white rice. The small machine we have for this lets you choose how "white" you want to go. There is a scale from 1 (full white) to 10 (full brown). We usually go with about a 5 or 6, so midway between brown rice and white rice. 

We use machines for some steps in this process (this year more than usual). Regular farmers, however, are fully mechanized. Their combine harvesters cut, thresh and winnow the rice, yielding momi-gara. This they take to a "rice center" for mechanical drying and hulling. Usually farmers sell their rice wholesale as brown rice.

Rice harvest is the major agricultural event of autumn, since it produces the main staple food for the year. But there is still plenty of farming to do as winter approaches. Innai's winter is so mild that many plants will survive into and even through the winter. Cabbage, radish, broccoli, spinach and others are planted in late summer and early fall to enjoy until spring. Onions, garlic, peas and beans are planted in autumn to grow slowly through the winter for spring harvest.

Autumn is also when the local citrus (yuzu, kabosu) and persimmon ripen. Our persimmon trees have been temperamental. Last year they produced way too much fruit to eat. This year, the same trees barely yielded a dozen fruits among them. I have four persimmon trees, but have to buy them from the supermarket.

One final reason why I enjoy autumn in Innai: the weeds stop growing. This is a rich land, but what is good for rice and veggies is good for weeds as well. Summertime is a constant battle trying to keep things under control. Once autumn comes, they give me a break for a few months. 













✉ minami.satodukuri