The origin of the Shonai plain
On the Shonai plain in March when the snow that covers the fields and mountains start to melt and the soil appears out of the snow, the farmers start preparing the rice seed that will be planted after the Golden Week (the period between late April and early May when a series of national holidays fall in close succession). And so the earnest work in the rice fields begin.
Now spring has come and the water flowing in the Akagawa River is as much as expected. This river flows from the water system of Mt. Gassan and according to researchers, the river contains less fertilizer ingredients compared to the Mogami River, which is rich in minerals because of acidic tributary flowing into it. The Shonai plain is formed in the basin of these two rivers.
In the upstream part of the basin, there is a stratum from the tertiary period that was made between 2 million to 60 million years ago, forming a solid bedrock. Incidentally, the shale found in this stratum contains shale gas and though I earlier said ‘solid’ bedrock, the eruptions from Mt. Gassan and the other mountains accumulate on the Shonai plain forming a fragile base. Furthermore, the terrain is steep so the land collapses and landslides occur frequently in the region. Meanwhile, in the middle and the lower part of the river where the Shonai plain spreads, a stratum from the quaternary period accumulated from 10,000 years ago that belongs to the alluvial epoch, recently called Holocene epoch is the latest stratum. In this region, water flowed and generated the alluvial plain. In short, the Shonai plain is an alluvial plain, created by the Mogami river and the Akagawa river. Alluvial plains are generally fertile and so is the Shonai plain. In the old days, floods which hit the region once in a decade brought nutrients into the soil and up to now bring nutrients into the fields. The earth has become rich and people have developed 370 sq. km. of paddy rice fields across the Shonai plain, which is 40 km. from east to west and 100 km from north to south and the area is 2,400 sq. km. I visited the Shonai plain for the first time on March 20, 2015 and even now, I remember the first sight of what was in front of me, with many rice fields looking darker and abundant in the vast space of the forest in the distant snow-capped mountain ranges. I began to understand the confidence and pride of the region as one of the top rice producing areas. Dewa Shonai Tokusan farm grows rice thanks to the wild and rich region and they started preparing the seeds this year. If we exaggerate, this means the work of the descendant of humans born in the Quaternary period grow rice that is a family of angiosperms grown in the Tertiary period started this year.
Preparing the rice seed
March is the season for preparing the rice seed. Seeds that bore the bitter cold of winter and are likely to germinate are sorted out and used as seeds for this year. Then in April, the rice seed is germinated and grown to rice seedlings over a month to prepare for rice planting in May.
This farm prepares the rice seed by through the following stages. First, they soak the rice seed in salt water and choose the rice seed that sinks to the bottom.
The rice seed needs albumen as a source of nutrition when it germinates and the rice seed filled with albumen is heavier therefore it sinks to the bottom. The rice seed that has contracted blast tends to be lighter than healthy rice so the salt water method is useful in removing blast rice. Then they dip the selected seed rice into hot water that is heated up to 60 degrees Celsius to sterilize it. They do not use any disinfectant, this is the farmer’s pride.
Then they dip the rice seed into fresh water to cool it down. After a while, they dip this rice seed into tepid water for around 20 hours, then buds come out from each rice seed. This germinated seed rice is sown on a bed for rice seedlings and grown to seedlings for planting to paddy fields. Not only Dewa Shonai Tokusan but also other farmers who adopt the method of natural or organic farming, prepare the rice seed this way.
The realm where ears of rice ripen abundantly.
Since rice is originally a plant of the south, it thrives in hot temperatures in summer when it gives crops longer hours of sunlight. But for the rice to be tastier, it is better when there is a huge difference in temperature between day and night. Enough water must be supplied through the growing period so regions where the snow melts slowly from spring to summer is good for growing rice. Shonai region has all the above features and they plant rice in May.
In a similar way, the various paddy fields throughout Japan has their own season of rice planting due to the respective weather conditions and natural environments. In Ishigakijima island in the far south, they plant rice in January and harvest after Golden week, early in May then they plan a second crop of the year. In Hokkaido, they plant rice from the middle to the end of May. In other regions of Japan, I’ve heard that people plant rice depending on the temperature, the sunlight condition, or the irrigation of water supply.
Dewa Shonai Tokusan got a good harvest last year. Well how will the harvest be this year? In March, when the snow starts to melt and the earth appears, they start their earnest work in the paddy fields.