Rainy planting

We had an epic rainstorm yesterday. Two schools had scheduled rice planting sessions at Oyama Senmaida. The morning group cancelled their visit. The afternoon group of 124 second year middle schoolers (7th grade) came anyway.

I was on planting duty, and I dressed for “I will get soaked no matter what I wear.” I opted for thin synthetic fabrics that wouldn’t get sodden or trap sweat. The more seasoned farmers wore proper raincoats and waterproof pants. I was wet to the skin but comfortable. I am glad my phone is waterproof.

The kids were the usual mixed bunch of teen personalities: the flock of girlfriends, a bully, the earnest one, the one trapped in his own world. Many of them were afraid of insects. Three of my group fell into the tanbo.

We held a quick orientation in the parking lot near their buses and then headed up into the paddies near the greenhouses. Planting took about an hour. It felt like longer.

Kawasaki-san and I were paired again and I appreciate his infinite patience with me. I fully understand what we are doing now…and completely lack the language to tell the kids what’s what. I am fine with giving praise and positive energy. I am not so good with instructions. I think I need to work on developing some set phrases for myself:

  • Please stay behind the planting line. If you walk in the mud where you are about to plant, there will only be footprints to put the seedlings into.
  • Please don’t walk where you already planted or the seedlings will loosen and float away. Step forward only.
  • That spider (bug, frog, whatever) doesn’t bite; just ignore him.
  • Work together as a team to move forward. Communicate down the line and do it together.
  • Control the hem of your poncho; it’s knocking over the seedlings you just planted.

I can memorise and repeat as necessary. It’s not the most elegant way to learn language, but it will be sufficient to be a better assistant.

After the students finished, all of the staff got into the fields and fixed the worst parts. I took off my boots, unzipped the bottoms of my hiking pants and joined them to plant into gaps and try to align jumbles into rows.

Over tea, the staff grumbled and laughed over the experience. I think that my new eyes see that some of the fault lies with the orientation. We don’t emphasise teamwork and there are effectively no instruction for how to move around the paddy. It can be done in the moment, but by the time we are in the fields, there is chaos rather than listening.

No doubt after another season or two I will have given up trying to improve the impossible teens and I will be laughing and grumbling along with everyone. But right now, I want to make an instructional video. 🙂

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Mediatinker, Kristen McQuillin, is an American-born resident of Japan since 1998. This blog chronicles her life, projects, thoughts, and small adventures.