This section is from the "The New Student's Reference Work Volume 5: How And Why Stories" by Elinor Atkinson.
If you should ever go to Japan, one of the very first things you would want to buy is a fat little image that is to be found in all the curio shops. It will remind you of Billikens, the comical little "god of things as they ought to be." A jolly fellow is this Japanese Dai Goku. He always sits like a well-fed miller on a pile of grain bags. If you cannot remember his name, just try asking for Oryza San. That means Honorable Mr. Rice God. Dai Goku is the deity of good fortune who brings big rice crops, and gives everybody plenty to eat. No wonder he is popular. His image is in thousands of low, thatch-roofed, wooden houses, in the farm villages of Japan.
The Japanese are such hard workers, and such wonderfully clever farmers, that Dai Goku really cannot have much to do but sit in a little niche and grin, and make the toilers feel cheerful. But that helps wonderfully. "A merry heart goes all the day," you know. In Japan, the day begins early and ends late, and everybody but much-beloved, honorable grandmother and the baby-who-never-cries,
has to work. From every farm village a procession of men, women and children marches to the rice fields at dawn. They all wear single, short garments of blue cotton, and butter-bowl shaped straw hats, as big as a little girl's Sunday parasol. Their legs are bare to the knees, for rice is a flood crop, and they have to slop around in mud and water all day.
In swamps? No, indeed. Rice doesn't like sour marsh land that is always flooded. Japanese rice farms are just as likely as not to be perched up on a steep mountain slope. Japan is nearly all rough country, with deep valleys and high mountains. But so many millions of people are crowded into the country, that every little bit of good land has to be made use of. Fortunately there is plenty of water. Hundreds of sparkling brooks tumble and foam down the rocks, bringing good soil with them. The Japanese dam these streams high up, and lead the water down through ditches that wind from one little farm to another, and drop from level to level. They cut the slopes, too, into broad shelves or terraces, and bank the one and two acre farms with earth to hold the water. Many a mountain slope glitters with flower and grass rimmed rice-ponds, as if set with silver mirrors. Wouldn't you like to see such pretty water farms?
Plowing Rice Land With Water Buffalo.
Natives In Philippines Winnowing Rice By Hand.
A Sheaf Of Rice.
The rice plants are started in forcing beds in the village. While they are sprouting the fields are broken up with mattocks or spades, smoothed over and flooded with water. Into such fields a whole village of families wade. They poke holes in the mud with sticks or their fingers, and set the plants in rows a foot or eighteen inches apart, and clear under the water. In a few days the grass-like green blades shoot up into the sunlight. Each root spreads and sends up several stalks, so the field is covered and looks not unlike a field of young oats, except for the glimmer of water among the stems. When well started the water is let out into the ditches, the field is weeded, the soil loosened and the water turned on again. Flooding and weeding alternate, until the straw begins to turn yellow. Then the water is drained away, and the crop ripens in the sun.
The rice is cut, straw by straw, with a hand sickle. It is threshed by pulling the heads through a saw-toothed frame. It is beaten with flails to free the husks, and cleaned of the tight-fitting brown skin in rude hand mills. Only the rice that is to be sold in the cities is sent to mills to be cleaned between millstones, and polished on skin-covered rollers into shining white grains.
Rice is the bread of hundreds of millions of yellow and brown people. If you could see how hard they all work, in countless tiny fields, in wet, hot lands, you would be glad if they all had a Dai Goku to help and to cheer them. They have no big, strong horses as we have in our wheat fields, no sulky plows and harrows and reapers, on which the workers can ride comfortably, no steam threshers and mills. Most of them work with the rudest tools, and with their bare hands. Some have clumsy, slow animals. In Japan are shaggy, pack ponies shod with rice-straw pads of shoes; and now and then a little wooden-wheeled cart is seen, but the drivers have to walk. In northern China, donkeys are used for pack horses. In southern China, Burma and the Philippine Islands are water buffaloes for plowing, dragging solid-wheeled carts, and working treadmill pumps. But oh, if you could see the big crops that are raised—an acre or two growing food for a family for a whole year—you would think we might learn a great deal about scientific farming from people who can seldom read or write.