Rice harvesting has started in my area and the other day Choco and I stopped and visited with one of the farmers and his wife and they seemed pleased to tell me about their rice fields.
This nifty machine is the farmer's pride and joy. He has quite a few fields and he will go from one to another for the next couple weeks. The machine picks up the fallen rice stalks, cuts them at ground level, turns and inserts them into the thresher, collects the rice, chops up the stalks and spreads the chopped stalks back on the fields all in one sweep around the field.
Later when the rice bin is full the machine sends the rice up the pole and it is dropped into a small truck to be carried back to the farm. The farmer proudly told me that his machine cost him about the price of a luxury car and he bemoaned the fact that he only uses it for two weeks during the harvest season! But he said that if he takes care of it he will be able to use it for more than 10 years.
After the rice fills the family truck, the wife drives it home and puts the rice kernels into their husking machine and it will take about an hour to husk the rice to brown rice stage and bag it. In the meantime the husband works in the fields and by the end of the day they will have half the field done...
While waiting for the next load the wife wanders around the field picking up missed rice stalks but she says the new machines make life much easier for her and really her husband could do the whole job himself... He just likes her company.
The farmer's wife was telling me that though her husband is a farmer, he also works at another job during the year. The company is very understanding about his being a farm owner though and they allow him to take off time in the spring for rice planting and in the fall for the harvesting. This is called "ni soku no waraji". Having your feet in two pairs of straw sandals...
And both of them were resigned to the fact that their eldest son was probably not going to take over the farm for them. The younger generation rarely want to be full-time farmers and it probably isn't even economically possible for most of them. Most companies are not going to give "farming time off" as the father has and so gradually the fields are becoming untended... What will happen to the Japanese rice industry in the next 20 years?