Karumai Town, Iwate Prefecture, 2018
Nov 22, 2021
This photograph portrays a familiar sight in rural Japan’s autumn months: a golden field of harvested rice, with rice straw (wara) bundled and left to dry in the sun. Rice straw, a byproduct of rice production, has been traditionally used in Japan to make tatami mats, rice paper, straw rope, and sandals.
In Japan, the Autumn Harvest Festival (Niiname-sai) dates back 2,000 years to when rice was first cultivated in Japan. Traditionally, Niiname-sai celebrated the year's labor; during the ceremony, the Emperor would dedicate the harvest to kami, the nature spirits of the Shinto religion, and taste the freshly harvested rice for the first time.
In contemporary Japan, the modern name for the harvest festival is Labor Thanksgiving Day (Kinrō Kansha no Hi), which is celebrated on November 23. The modern holiday was established in 1948 to mark changes brought about by the postwar Constitution of Japan.
Rice production is fundamental to Japan's cuisine and food supply—most farms in Japan plant an annual crop. Japanese rice (uruchimai) has a sticky texture when cooked, allowing it to be easily eaten with chopsticks and lends itself to sushi making. Uruchimai is also used to brew sake.
In honor of Thanksgiving celebrations, both near and far, we offer the Japanese cheers of "KANPAI!" ("Drink your cup dry!")