Rice Farming and Life in Kameda
Formerly a low-lying wetland, Kameda is situated between two of Japan’s largest rivers—the Shinano and the Agano—and the smaller Koagano River, which connects the two. People once referred to the region’s marshlands as a “lake omitted from the maps.”
Maps omitted the so-called “lake” because—to the people of Kameda—the marsh was actually farmland. In an attempt to make their field beds even slightly shallower, the farmers would painstakingly gather and transport boatloads of mud from waterways using special hoes known as “joren.”
During the planting season, farmers would wade up to their waists and chests in the still cool, muddy waters, practically swimming to plant their rice. Come harvest season, they would trudge waist deep in the now cold waters and use a small boat to carry the bundles of harvested rice.
On many occasions, the painstakingly raised rice would rot on the stem due to repeated flooding or backflows of salt water from the ocean. The despair of the farmers at such times exceeds imagination. By the same measure, the joy of the harvest must also have been that much greater. In his book of travel essays Kaido wo Yuku ~ Kata no Michi (“Traveling the Highway: Road through the Marshes”), the author Ryotaro Shiba said of rice farming, “It seems to me that in some parts of Japan, agricultural work was a never-ending struggle to the death.”
Born from the blessings of the earth, Kamedajima (“Kameda stripes”) supported the region’s demanding farm work as agricultural wear, enveloping the joys and sorrows of the farmers who, like us, lived each day to the fullest.
Japan’s No. 1 Rice Belt
In 1948, the Kurinoki Drainage Pumping Station—Asia’s largest pumping station at the time—was completed in Niigata. Once the station began operation, Kameda’s drowned paddies were transformed into dry fields, and farms throughout the region flourished.
Today, fed by the rich waters of the Shinano and Agano Rivers, Kameda is a broad strip of beautiful rice fields located near the heart of Niigata City, one of Japan’s premier rice-growing regions.
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