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Sendai: Gen Shoji

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Gen Shoji, 24, is a university student and director of a group that supports sustainable farming. He talks about efforts to restore the region’s rice paddies, a staple in Japanese cuisine.


April 2011

Hello, Dallas! I am with the Sendai Igune Club. I decided to participate in Letters from Sendai so I can tell you about us, something the mainstream media doesn’t report on. I wonder if anyone knows what igune means.

Igune is a stand of trees planted to enclose a farmhouse, and you find them on the plains of Northeastern Japan. Igune serves not only as windscreen and sunshade, but also as source of food, fuel and lumber.

The Sendai Igune Club has been educating elementary school students about the environment using igune and the surrounding rice paddies as our classroom. Our activities center around the rice farming calendar, so together we cultivate the field, grow rice, and enjoy harvest just like the old days.

Normally, at this time of year, you would see clear water in the fields and green grasses sprouting. Instead, you see piles of debris everywhere, brought in by the flood.

Video of Sendai rice field in 2010

When I removed some of the debris and touched the rice paddy there was no soft soil that used to bring us such abundant gifts every year. When I nervously licked the soil with white crystal, it was terribly salty.

We could do nothing but just stand there, stunned by this harsh reality.

A farmer I know suggested I plant rapeseed. He said that rapeseed helps reduce salt in the soil and that farmers near the coast used to plant it for that reason. After rapeseed, we decided that we will plant beans, because we learned beans help the soil regain its own power. It was the moment that at last shone a light on our rice fields.

Our ancestors coexisted with – and sometimes fought against – nature, and their wisdom has been passed on to us.

July 21, 2011

We finished removing debris from the fields but rice can’t be planted this year. Instead, we decided to grow sunflowers in our fields as a symbol of recovery.

Video of Sendai rice fields after tsunami in 2011

It is truly difficult to cope with that kind of loss.

The people in the area who have always supported Japan by producing food are proud of what they mean to others.

Rice is known for more than just eating.

To us, the people of Sendai and northeastern Japan, rice and rice paddies were the center of our pride and the identity that had been passed down from our ancestors.

In the current situation it is highly likely that the farmers will decide to give up farming. I think it is necessary to establish a support system to encourage people to continue to select farming as an occupation.

Northeastern Japan, including Sendai, is a region full of natural blessings. We are working as hard as possible to regain our way of life to co-exist with nature. Please visit us in several years when we have accomplished that.

From the Sendai Igune Club,
I’m Gen Shoji.

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