Fall treats & traditions in Japan
Autumn is known as the “season of healthy appetites” in Japan. It is the time of the harvest, and many ingredients are in season.
Shikuwasa, sometimes called a Taiwan tangerine or flat lemon, is a small, green citrus fruit whose sour taste is used to garnish dishes like sashimi and fried foods. It is also used to make jam or juice.
Inekari (rice harvesting)
It’s no surprise that in Japan – where more than 8.5 million tons of rice was produced in 2012, alone – much ado is made about harvesting this prized staple food. Its cultivation was once even considered sacred, involving invocations of an “inadama,” or rice spirit. When the grains began maturing in the fall, for example, green sheaves were offered to this deity whose generosity was celebrated at season’s end.
A reflection of this practice can still be found in some traditional performing arts today; and “Inekari,” or rice harvesting, remains a traditional event in farming regions where harvest festivals are held annually. A few farms even allow visitors to join the time-honored tradition of harvesting rice.
Rice harvesting can be done manually with sickles, mechanically with a harvester or by using a combination of both. Regardless of the method, a number of guidelines are followed to preserve quality.
“We need to harvest rice at the right time with the right moisture content,” explains Shigeru Oyama, a rice farmer in Ibaraki Prefecture. “After threshing, we have to clean and dry the grain immediately.”
While most rice is harvested between September and October throughout Japan, Okinawa’s warm temperatures afford two harvests a year.
“In addition to harvesting 2,140 tons of rice from late May to early September,” says Okinawa Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Division’s Seikou Gima, “we also harvested a second, 318-ton crop between late October (2012) and early February.”
Ishigaki Island is famed for its rice. It produces about 1,300 tons of annually – about 60 percent of all the rice grown in Okinawa Prefecture – due to its fertile soil and temperate climate which allow some fields to produce three crops annually. In the true spirit Japanese rice cultivation, Ishigki is also famed for its many “hounensai,” or harvest, festivals that occur island-wide – especially from late July to early September.