They said nothing would grow. They said that we need to put in their fertilizers and weed killers. They said that trying to harvest by hand would be too hard. They said lots of things.
Despite our neighbor's prediction that we would get about 150kg of rice from our .8 tan of rice field, we have successfully harvested almost 300kg. Granted, that is a very small fraction of what our neighbor gets from the same size area, but we are happy that their earlier predictions that nothing would grow without chemicals was not accurate. We also would have had more, but we left one section unharvested because there were just too many weeds and we were too busy to deal with it. I concede that we would have gotten more rice had we used weed killer, but we are also planning to sell our excess and expect that if we sell it directly to people who care about their food we can get double the price they get from the local farm coop where they dump everything.
While we will not get rich (obviously) by selling a few extra kg of rice, we also did not put as much money into the production as our neighbors would have on a similar plot of land. The only machinery and gasoline used was to till the field before planting (something we wanted to do by hand but the neighbor insisted on doing with the combine) and to take the rice off of the straw (which is depicted in the photos in this post.) Oh yeah, there was also one instance when we had to use a weed-whacker to cut the area around the field in order to live up to community standards of "tidiness", despite having no apparent functional logic. We are attempting to remedy this next year by ordering a good old-fashioned scythe which (we hope) will help us to trim the weeds much more efficiently than using the hand held kama blade that people in Japan used before gasoline powered devices were introduced.
Harvesting the rice didn't go as smoothly as we had hoped, however. There were two days of clear skies and sunshine, which meant that our rice, drying on racks, was dry enough to run through the de-kernelizer. We weren't ready to take the kernels off that day, but the forecast called for rain the next, and we will be pretty busy for the next two weeks after that, so we decided to at least collect the bundles of rice still on the straw and store it under a plastic sheet or in our basement. It took five van-loads and about an hour before sundown.
Once our neighbor saw it sitting in front of our house, however, she felt obliged to help and the next morning she came over to tell us that their entire family had rearranged their plans to help us harvest the rice. It is the guiltiest I have felt since we moved here. Her husband had to cancel his official duties as a village official in order to help her in their rice field so that her son, who was originally supposed to help her, could instead help us use the machine that she had agreed to let us borrow (but failed to mention that she didn't want us to use it alone). What's worse, they had to harvest their field before the rain that afternoon.
Another neighbor came out to help us bundle the rice. This is the same neighbor that showed us how to cut and bundle the rice stalks by hand, and seems to be very happy to have people doing it "the old way". Once we had prepared the rice for dakkoku (taking the kernels from off of the straw), we called the neighbor's son (also our neighbor) to run the machine for us. He didn't speak a word the entire time. Ouch.
After three hours, we had finished the vast majority of our rice. What was supposed to be five bags, turned out to be nine. The biggest problem now is finding where to store the leftover straw. We want to use some in the winter to try our hand at making traditional wara crafts to make our own natto. The rest we will use for natural mulch in our fields next year. The straw that will be used for mulch can be left in the yard to be covered by snow, but the straw we want to use has to be someplace that will be less enticing for mice than our warm basement. For now we just stacked it against the wall behind our house.
In exchange for their help in the morning, and because we "forced" them to change their plans, we went to help them finish their field. In roughly the same space, they harvested over 30 sacks - twice what we took in!
We were glad to help, and happy for the physical labor. The only downside was the loud machine that ruined the beauty of being out in the mountain filed. Of course, harvesting that much rice by hand would have taken a looooong time, and this was only one of their fields. With so much to do each year, I see why they need a machine, but it reminds me of how such machines that make agriculture easier, and greater yields easier, is exactly why we need easier agriculture and greater yields. On the micro level, they need to produce more to pay for their investments in the machinery and chemicals. They need the machinery to handle the increase in yields. Zooming out (to something I don't want to get into), it seems that the more food we make the more people we can feed, and the more people we can feed the more people we can make, and the more people we make the more food we need. It all just seems like a bad, bad, spiral into...