June Rain was written by my good friend Efrot Weiss, who is a long-term resident of Japan, and intercultural trainer and coach. Are you a lover or hater of June rain? If you have any recommendations to help people enjoy the rainy season please comment below.
June Rain by Efrot Weiss
Early summer in Japan means days of incessant rain, overcast skies and rising humidity. Known as tsuyu, or baiyu, this rainy period is regarded as the country’s fifth season.
Caused by a Siberian cold air mass colliding with an air mass moving up from Southeast Asia, the rains commence in early June and continue until late July, as they work their way up the archipelago. Japan’s Meteorological Agency announces the official start and end of the season across each of the regions.
Tsuyu, which means plum rain because the fruit ripens during at this time, is particularly important for the cultivation of rice.
Although largely mechanized nowadays, historically, young women were responsible for planting the rice in early June. In farming communities, though, rice-growing rituals and festivals continue, with ceremonial offerings, special dances and Shinto priests reciting prayers for a bountiful harvest. Since dancing is credited with boosting the strength of the rice, these performances tend to be elaborate.
The importance of rice in Japan cannot be overemphasized. A dietary staple, gohan (cooked rice) is also the word for meal, and whatever accompanies the rice—fish, meat or vegetables—is considered secondary.
Modern diets, however, are changing. A 2011 government survey found that families now spend more on bread than rice.
Rice was introduced to Japan from China more than 2,000 years ago, and it has helped shape Japan’s culture and national character. In fact, according to archaeological findings, wet-rice cultivation triggered community living in the country.
This kind of farming, where seedlings are transplanted to paddy fields, is labor intensive and requires social organization and technical know-how. The idea that the needs of the group take precedence over those of the individual can trace its roots to these early farming communities.
With a scarcity of arable land and water, farmers had to work together. This was particularly evident in rice paddy irrigation, which required water to be channeled down slopes and across many different farmers’ plots. In the Edo period, farmers even paid their taxes in rice, which was regarded as currency.
Rice is fundamental to both Shintoism and Buddhism, too. Inari is the Shinto god of rice, while Inadama is the spirit that inhabits rice and is responsible for its growth. Naturally, rice and sake are common offerings at Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.
This grain is so ubiquitous in Japan that it is even used in a saying about the all-important virtue of humility: “The heavier the head of rice, the deeper it bows.”
First published in the June 2014 issue of Tokyo American Club’s monthly magazine, iNTOUCH.
June Rain by Efrot Weiss
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