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Fall’s Bounty From The Tsunami Stricken Kesennuma

October 31, 2011

Rice ears green in the summer turn to gold in the fall for the harvest of the year.  This would have been a common sight in Kesennuma, an area located in a coastal region of Miyagi Prefecture, if it wasn’t for the 3.11 Earthquake and the devastation brought about by the tsunami that followed it.  Like many other affected areas in the Tohoku region, rice paddies in Kesennuma were covered with debris and immersed in seawater, many of which were left unplanted and remain covered with weedy green even today.

Nonetheless, a small patch of golden field filled with bowing rice ears appeared in the Oya area of Kesennuma, and the harvest earlier this month proved to be quite bountiful.  The rice paddies here are not ordinary rice paddies.  Nearly for the past ten years, these paddies were managed under a traditional method in which water in the paddies is retained during the winter.  By doing so, soil is enriched by the activities of organisms in the paddies and seeds of weeds are buried deeper into the soil reducing the need for weeding.  This has also been a part of environmental education program at the local elementary and middle schools, where students have learned about the natural method of growing rice and actively participated in the management of the rice paddies.

After the 3.11 disaster, the Oya rice paddies were no different from other rice paddies.  They were full of mud, rocks, pieces of glass, torn parts of houses, etc., and even a car was stuck in the middle of the paddies; the nutrient-rich top layer of the paddy soil was stripped away by the tsunami; and there was also a concern about adverse effects of seawater that had filled the paddies.  Although planting seemed impossible in the face of such devastation, steps toward restoration and planting were taken driven by students’ desire to continue with the activities at the paddies and also by a strong belief in the local knowledge that a tsunami brings a rich harvest.  In the early May, over 100 people, including volunteers from various parts of Japan, manually removed the debris over a period of a week or so, and this made it possible for the students to enjoy the planting like the past years.  Along the way, the resiliency of life was evidenced in the form of various creatures that appeared in the rice paddies, surviving the tsunami.

However, many challenges followed.  For example, wastewater from a nearby temporally housing contaminated the rice paddies early in the summer, which had to be dealt with by securing a new water source.  Weeding over the summer was also a hard task since the benefit of winter-time water retention had been stripped away by the tsunami and no herbicide was used (that of course means manual weeding).  Thus, the fall’s bounty was brought about by a strong collective will, persistent effort, and cooperation of people.  While this is a small success in light of what remains to be done for the recovery of the region, what has been done in the Oya rice paddies and the joyful laughter of children that filled them this season surely go a long way as a hope for the brighter future.

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