In past years, the program had been conducted as three nights and four days actual program staying in the snowy village, Tochikubo, learning the reality of current Japanese society through volunteer works like snow shoveling. However, because of Covid-19, the program of this year was totally conducted on-line.
Students learned the situation of the village with video materials including footage of snow shoveling on the roof, interferes of the locals and introduction of the elementary school in the village with a total of 12 students from 1 to 6 grade. Then, online interactive session was held.
On 8 Feb., the interactive session with the elementary school was held. Kids presented what they learned during the school year with dance and play, then university and elementary students were communicated over the screen.
Also TAKANO Takako, an executive director of ECOPLUS and a visiting professor of Rikkyo university, visited community homes holding her laptop computer for the live interviews to offer the students the reality of the live and farming business in the snowy community.
Despite the hard situation by Covid-19, students looked like deepened understandings about the situation of Japanese society and acquired skills how to investigate current situation of the society and the prospect for the sustainable future.
Ecoplus conducted rice harvesting workshop on Oct. 13-14, 2019, at Tochikubo village, Minamiuonuma, Niigata. Due to the slow growth of rice in this year, we once postponedthe schedule one week and caused by typhoon #19, or “Hagibis,” we set the workshop one day later. Students and adults from metropolitan area were struggled to come struggling confused train and highway networks. At the end seven participants succeeded to participate the program.
With the heavy rain by the typhoon, the rice paddies was covered by an inch or two of water. It was quite tough condition although most of rice were not knocked down by the wind. In such condition, a high school boy, who experienced the work first time, learned and acquired how to cut straws and to bind those by a year old straws.
In the rice paddy, no chemical pesticides nor weed killers has been used for over ten years. Only organic fertilizer has been used. Because of such efforts, many weeds were covering the ground and many insects were hopping around. Sheaves of rice were hung along the bars called “Haza,” for sun dry for around 10 days. Through this, participants experienced the way of traditional rice production of the area until some decades ago.
Participants left comments like “Accumulating the experience for long years, I am still feeling that how difficult to make food is, and how important to have harmonious relation with the nature is. ” “I identified so many knowledges embedded in the harvesting works and I felt the tick accumulations of knowledge for long years.”
In the rice paddies in Tochikubo village, Minami-Uonuma, Niigata, which is the heartland of famous Koshi-Hikari-Rice, ears of rice are getting ripped. With less sun shines since mid-August, the progress is bit late but rice paddies are now having beautiful yellowish color. We will conduct harvesting workshop on 13-14 Oct.
Program Fee including lunch on day 2 and insurance; 5,000 JPY. Student discount, 50%; Children under 6 years old, lunch fee and insurance only. Gathering spot; JR Shiozawa Station of Joetsu Line Accommodations; Local Inn, dormitory rooms male/female separated; 7.500 JPY including dinner/breakfast Compliment; 2 kg of harvested rice after sun-dried process.
ECOPLUS held organic rice farming workshop called “Tanbo no I-ro-ha” or “ABC in a rice paddy,” on 8-9 June, 2019 at Tochikubo village in Niigata, Japan, having 35 students from Waseda University in Tokyo.
Since we had very limited rain falls in May, some areas of rice paddies dried up and it helped weeds to grow seriously specially at our non-chemical, totally organic paddies. Students waled into the paddy with bare feet and used fully opened hands like as rakes to clear weeds.
Paddies were filled by water thanks to the rain since Friday evening but in most of the paddies the soil was so solid because of long dry condition that it was difficult to push fingers in the soil and we needed to pull out each weeds. Started the work at 9 am on Sunday, it took 4 hours and more to finish two rice paddies which size is over 1,000 square meters.
Beside weeding in rice paddies, villagers gave them lectures, and a specialist conducted nature tour. Through those students had a chance to feel the relationship between nature, life and community. They left comments like, “I strongly leant the true meaning of to live”, “I understood the hardship of farming”, “I should have more appreciation on food”.
ECOPLUS hosted a group of students from University of Michigan from 19 to 20 May in Minami-Uonuma for their learning on the relation with environment, life and culture through experiencing rice planting, weaving and other activities.
On 19th, they strolled around the village of Tochikubo which is located on the slope of around 500 meters elevation. They were deeply impressed by the scenery of mountains covered by white snow and young green, saying “this land might be so expensive.” They also encountered an old lady who was drying mountain vegetable called “Zenmai.”
On 20th, they experienced traditional rice planting by hands. They screamed a bit while they put their bare feet in the muddy soil of the paddy but later they acquired how to plant young seedlings in line and they finished the work in three hours.
On the last day, 21st, they came back to the city area, “Shiozawa,” to learn about the local ramie cloth called “Echigo-Zyofu,” which has over a thousand year history. Specialists from Echigo-Jofu technique preservation association demonstrated how to get fibers fro the skin of the plant, how to dye the yarn for patterns, and how to weave. Some of the students experienced actual works by their hands.
Through the three-day stay, they seem to deepen the understanding on the relation with life and nature, like getting fuels from the forest, drinking water from the spring, making the water system running around all the terraced rice paddies.
On 26 and 27 May, ECOPLUS conducted “a weekend farming workshop; rice planting” in Tochikubo village in Niigata Japan. Under the limitation of lodging space, we had eight participants from Niigata city and Metropolitan area.
We had water shortage caused by extremely small snow in previous winter in 2016, and low temperature and wet condition in 2017. This year we had enough snow as same as usual years but temperatures went up after March and it melted snow substantially. Farmers are worrying again the shortage of water.
On Saturday, we started planting seedlings in a smaller paddy which has around 800 square meters. Those paddies which have been growing rice without any chemical materials, the area was filled with so many creatures, like tadpoles, dragonflies and butterflies.
Thanks to the strong sunshine, surface of the mud is very warm. We set 4-6 seedlings in one position 1 centimeter under the surface.
One of the participants was came from Thailand but she was from the central part of big city, Bangkok. She and his Japanese husband were so good at planting works although it was the first time for them.
At the dinner so many dishes using wild vegetables just harvested by the chef from their hills were appeared. Some were boiled and mixed with sesame source or vinegar source, some were fried as “Templa”. We enjoyed the gorgeousness of the life in the mountain.
It was also very nice weather on Sunday and one of the participants succeeded to see the beautiful sunrise at 4 o’clock in the morning.
After finishing rice planting using one hour and so, we had open air lecture from Mr. FUEKI Akira, a veteran farmer. He explained that in old days when the paddies were much smaller and narrow, they conducted rice plantings one paddy to next one moving water from upper paddy to lower one. He also taught that normally 20 pesticides, weed killers or other chemicals were used for rice growing in one season but for this totally organic rice paddy he uses no chemicals. Because of this, he needs to weed by hands at least three times before harvest in each paddies.
A total of 20 people, including company workers, students, and families from various countries,visited Tochikubo, Niigata Prefecture from Tokyo metropolitan area. They enjoyed walking around the area and rice planting over the weekend.
The holiday agricultural project, ABC in a rice paddy, was held on 21 and 22 of May. It is a series of programs throughout the year, and this time, the first occasion of the year, was about rice planting.
On the first day, participants went for a walk in Tochikubo area with a villager, FUEKI Akira. From the centre of village to the top of Mt Taru, 736m, they enjoyed encounters with varieties of mountain vegetables and some rare wildlife. Although it was summer-like hot, they managed to reach the peak and one participant said \”When I stood at the top and saw how far we have come, I felt that I had achieved something\”.
After coming back from the mountain, they had a lecture and learned about the different types of rice seedlings, process of rice farming without any chemicals and pesticides, history and current challenges of rice farming in Tochikubo.
On the second day, early in the morning, most participants and some locals joined a bird watching session by FUKASAWA Kazuki. Despite of poor visibility due to mist and rain, his knowledge helped participants have a great time. At the very moment he talked about the sound of rare bird species, Akashobin (ruddy kingfisher), participants actually heard it. Whenever someone or Fukasawa found wildlife such as frogs, salamanders, and insects in the water, he provided an instant lecture about the features and ecosystem of them.
Rice planting began, having waited for the rain to calm down. It was well-supported by locals as participants learned a traditional way to band rice plants with straws, and planted them. They went into a rice paddy together with baskets filled with bunches of rice seedlings.
At lunch time, a group formed by local women called \”Kaachanz\” (Team-mothers) served miso soup with lots of local vegetables and dried fish. Everyone appreciated the soup as it warmed up their cold body from inside. Many people went into the kitchen to have the second of the miso soup.
Participants continued planting rice in the afternoon, and managed to finish the whole paddy around 2:30. They got a compliment from a local person on how straight they could plant.
Thanks to the knowledge and skills of local people, ABC in a rice paddy in 2011 has been kicked off!