Rice Farming 101

 

I love science classes in Japan. They’re so much more fun in small schools, where the kids get a special yellow folder-esque backpack that they use to collect their data and samples. And because we’re out in the middle of nowhere you can be sure that the school owns a rice patch (or two) as well as a bit of extra land for vegetables and flowers.

About two weeks ago the kids planted the ricelings. By now my schools know I’m allergic to rice… But there seems to be some confusion on how the allergy side of things works.

“I just heard from Natsuhori-sensei! When do we plant the rice?” I asked excitedly. It’s been my dream, nay my sole reason for living (in the countryside), to plant rice.

“Oh.”

I await eagerly for my orders to ditch the indoor shoes and to go wade knee-deep into a field of water-logged mud.

“Well… It’s just that… The kids have already finished planting. They’re coming back soon.”

Shock. Dismay. Heartbreak. WHY?! Was I not loved? Was I too foreign to help plant rice? Did they not think I could survive a near drowning in a rice paddy?

“You’re allergic to rice so we didn’t want you to get a bad reaction. The kids were sad but they understand.”

O.O”?!

After a brief explanation that I needed to ingest the rice before feeling any of the ill effects they decided to schedule the follow up field work day on Wednesday (or as it is known at that particular school, the only day we know in English. Also known as, the day the ALT comes to the village).

The awaited day arrived and I counted down the periods to science with all the anticipation that my four-year old self counted down the days to Christmas.

A kind farmer who lived in the neighborhood brought all the necessary supplies to care for the field. After giving us a brief lesson in the ways of rice and growing the perfect batch, we set down to business.

We threw soy beans so that they could rot at the bottom of the murky waters. Then we threw left over a rice flour and mulch looking mixture to cover the top of the water with “a curtain”. This, I was assured, would prevent other plants like grass from sprouting. We were in effect feeding the rice plants and weeding out the competition in one fell swoop.

In two months  we’ll be releasing some koi and carps into the paddies. They’ll eat up whatever weeds and grass did manage to grow but leave the rice alone. Some farmers use ducks instead of fish, but I’m rather partial to the fish method because FISH.

And that was how I learned for the first time that fish get to swim in the rice. Mind blown.

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Hangman, the Art of Spelling

For all the 90s babies who remember what it was like to live in a decade without internet distractions or cell phones… And who remember having to play a good old round of Hangman to pass away the hours.

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Brought out this golden oldie for the junior high first years (who did not question the hanging man) and had a blast spelling out classics such as “SPAGHETTI” and stumping them with “GRAPES”.

Elementary kids on the other hand immediately called me out on the translation work…

Kids: “American kids actually play this?”

Me: “Uhhhhhhh YES :D”

Kids: “But it’s so mean!”

Me: “I never actually thought of it until now…”

Kids: “Stop hanging him, can’t you see it hurts?”

Me: “Then guess more vowels xD”

Kids: “Is Y a vowel?”

Me: “Sometimes”

Kids: o.O”

The best way to make this lesson plan work: after reviewing the alphabet and breaking them off into teams, allow younger children (elementary school age) to have a visual of the vocabulary open (textbook should be rife with illustrations and words).

The smart ones will start to count out the number of spaces. Once they get the feel for it erase the spaces for a blind version of Hangman. They won’t know how many spaces and the word will be slowly revealed for even greater suspense.

For more advanced classes, don’t reveal the word for them but leave the answered letter scrambled as they guess each letter. For example, if the word is “FISH” but they guess the letter in the following order: “IFHS” then leave it as is and offer double points for the team that unscrambles it first. Beware… POST & STOP are anagrams of each other.

And there you have it: Traditional Hangman and Blind Anagram Hangman all in one lesson.

Cheers!

Three Second Rule and Other Adventures in Home Economics

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Home economics is taught during a students’ last few years in elementary school. Here in Aomori the topics covered include sewing, cooking, nutrition, cleaning, washing clothes, and farming. Though I did not have the opportunity to take pictures of the soy bean or potato harvesting that went on a couple of months ago, I might yet be able to see the rice being collected if I get called in next Wednesday. At this point in time I would like to point out that though my elementary school had a thriving arts and science program, home economics was the far away distant dream that would not be an option until high school…

Lunch in Japan is also quite different from the United States. Food is prepared by the local school lunch plant and shipped to each school in town but it isn’t served in a cafetaria or by any staff member. Instead, kyuushoku (school lunch) becomes a collaborative effort that is distributed in each class room by the students themselves, similar to cafetaria duties. Then while everyone is eating, students selected to serve as school announcers relate the nutritional information of each meal before playing music for the lunch hour.

Cooking days for home economics at the elementary school occur once in a couple of months, if not once a semester. Students contribute ingredients and the equipment is provided by the school for them to use. Skills learned include the proper ways in which to prepare food for consumption (washing, peeling, chopping, and spotting for mold or rotten parts of ingredients), how to read and interpret recipes, substituting certain items for others, and the actual cooking part itself. All students chop their own vegetables so emphasis on class cooperation and mature level of expectations are widely understood and followed.

But that isn’t to say that kids won’t be kids, even here in Japan where so many behave like mini adult versions. In one epic moment, one of my students accidentally tripped and dropped her ingredients on the floor. Before anyone, even the head teacher, could react she grabbed the spilled veg and invoked the most sacred rule known to man, woman, and child alive by shouting: “THREE SECOND RULE!!!” And yes, in the soup they went – much to the head teacher’s horror and my amusement.

Home-made Strawberry Jam + Time Machine Archives

strawberryjam

Hiking in the morning, making jam in the afternoon, and reading heavy fiction in the evening are some nice alternatives for the people who aren’t too beach crazy. The only way to enjoy summer properly is to partake of all its joys, my dear Californians, and yes there is a world outside of our warm, sandy beaches. Fortunately this is also the time of the year that locally grown fruit makes a comeback: lower in price and oh so ripe. The best way to preserve their full flavor and freshness? In jams! 😀

So this recipe is pretty adaptable for the most part, which is great for people who want to cut back on the sugar. My friend Diana is the greatest at coming up with cooking challenges for us to try but this one topped the cake. Not only was it fairly simple and less stressful than some of our other concoctions (pasta sauce… ahaha o.o) but it’s so much fun! Just the idea of making jam instead of having to buy it – makes one feel self suffient! It’s a family friendly recipe that’s a win-win for everyone. I look forward to seeing what else she’ll come up with next 😉

.:INGREDIENTS:.

  • 2 lbs organic strawberries
  • ~1 c water
  • 1.5 c sugar (white, brown, raw)
  • 1 lemon, squeezed

::DIRECTIONS::

  1. Wash, de-stem, and cut all of the strawberries in half. And, of course, eat a couple of them along the way >.> But not all!
  2. Blend strawberries and water until completely liquefied.
  3. Pour the liquefied strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice into a saucepan and stir sugar until completely dissolved.
  4. Boil this mixture for 30-45 minutes and stir occasionally to keep jam from burning. Make sure to skim the thick, white foam that accumulates, which although tasty is not good for the jam. You’ll know it’s ready once it turns a bright and deep red.
  5. Ladle into properly sterilized mason jars (do not touch inside of the jar) but do not fill to the brim. Carefully seal mason jar and place lid down onto a towel on a flat surface, which will help the jam to seal properly. Once cooled place the mason jars into the refrigerator so that jam can properly congeal 😉

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Even so this jam will be a little runnier than the kind you buy at the supermarket because there are no artificial additives. But it holds up well and tastes amazing. The amount of sugar listed in this recipe is just right for those who like a tart sweetness. Two cups of sugar (but no more) recommended for people with a really sweet tooth. All in all it’s a pretty adaptable recipe. Enjoy!

And now for some time machine archives from the old blog – those of you who would like access just drop me a line using the contact page: strawberry picking, otherwise known as いちごかり (ichigokari) in Japanese, is a great day trip to take if you live in the city and want to get out for a couple of hours.

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For about 1,000 yen (approximately $10.00) you can pick and eat as many strawberries as you want in the hothouses for a set amount of time. Most places do anywhere upwards of an hour and a half to two and a half hours of wonderful berry picking and eating.