Friday, May 09, 2008


The older farmer, bent-backed in his worn work-clothes and muddy boots, comes at evening with his young son - who has dyed hair and wears flashy city fashions before his Saturday night date - to unload from the back of the old pickup the trays of rice shoots for planting in a couple of days onto the paddy that is now just a sheet of sky-filled water, waiting.

They are a picture of what is happening here in the countryside of Japan - a scene straight from the ages those two, quietly carrying on with their work by the mountain field in the end of day—the father on one side of each tray, in his head perhaps thoughts of these mountains and this labor, memories of war and hunger - as spoken in his bent back - of perseverance and generations of seasons; on the other side stands his young son: well-nourished, modernly educated, immersed in nights of music and crowds and high-speed city life, now anxious in these moments with his father beside this way-up-here rice field because it's getting late on a Saturday night in the unknown matter of young life—

They are like two mutually alien creatures quietly circling, respecting each other for polar reasons: one not to insist too much on the finer points of farming-- for infrequently pondered and anyway incomprehensible reasons; the other to at least go along with the ritual, it won’t take long, the night is waiting...

It is like watching an ancient river slowly diverge, its flow dividing over a new topography of earth and dusk, of hands and life, seed and springtime, sustenance and education, enka and hip-hop, go and Grand Theft Auto, hard drives and tractors-- who can see and who can say which is the truer nourishment, the truer path, the one that leads to higher places?

Together the two men work, lifting the trays from the truck and arranging them by the paddyside, the older familiar with earth and time, the younger trying to keep his clothes clean, not yet grasping what it means to have food four months from now, his body actions tacitly expressing puzzlement over the true value of this upmountain sheet of water, these repetitive tasks, that are somehow his heritage, as his father bends willingly again to this familiar routine, performed so many lifetimes before even his own, as the older man knows to his heart and hopes one day to pass on to his son, through these trays of life they carry together now...

The sunset panorama of the lake goes unnoticed for the task at hand-- it is only the work of moments; when next I look the two are gone, and there are long new rows of green life beside the water.

The young man, even if he goes away at last, and stays in the city - as so many of his farm generation are doing - may one day remember, perceive the heft of these moments, and return... If not to here, then to somewhere he will find that is as worthy - and if he is so fortunate, he will bring his growing child to lift up the other side.


Martin J Frid said...

Yup, that's the rice I'll be eating in 2008 and 2009. So glad Japan kept its quotas, making this kind of transmission possible.

Great post.

Gina said...

Hi, we just saw the paddy fields and their farmers the way you describe it, but we also saw machines doing the job. Just back from a month's tour in Japan. Many great impressions .

Sean said...

I've said it before, though it's been a while. You're a hell of a good writer.