A snake in the rice heralds food chain of life
Mushizuka (a historic site designated by Tokyo) Kan-eiji Temple
Mushizuka was built in 1821 by bequest of Sessai Masuyama, a feudal lord of Ise Nagashima (present-day Mie Prefecture), in order to console the sprit of dead insects which were used as models for drawings. Sessai interacted with many literatus such as Nanbo Ota, and was active as a patron of them. He also mastered the art of realistic painting of Nanpin-ha School in China, and produced many paintings of flowers and birds. Among them, "Chu-chi Jo," a picture book of insects, is especially famous for its minuteness and accuracy.
I am growing rice again this year on a plot of mountain land that I lease.
I weeded the paddy the other day during a break in the tsuyu rainy season.
As I bent down and looked closely, I could see all sorts of small aquatic life around the roots of the rice plants.
Tadpoles wriggled away and diving beetles scuttled off in panic, but water striders glided over the water as if nothing could ever bother them.
There were dragonfly larvae, too. They will soon be flying around to herald the arrival of summer in this mountainous land.
There are various traditional sayings about rice farming, and many concern animals.
For instance, a paddy where snakes live is said to be a good paddy. Such a paddy is heavily populated by frogs, which eat insects that harm the crops, but are themselves eaten by snakes. Rice grows well in this "food chain" of life.
Not everyone may be familiar with the word "biodiversity," but it simply denotes a rich variety of life- forms within a given ecosystem.
I saw the paddy ridges crawling with earthworms. Insignificant as they are, these creatures are "natural hoes."
They excrete the soil they eat, and their excrement becomes enriched soil in turn. In some areas, the amount of earthworm excrement per square meter may amount to as much as 25 kilograms a year.
I am reminded of a poem by Hiroshi Yoshino, which goes: "Life, apparently, is designed not to be self-contained ... All of us living beings have been scattered around/ Not knowing, nor having been told/ That we all complement one another."
The Earth is home to 1.75 million known species of creatures.
After the rainy season ends, the green rice crops will start growing ears.
Nanbo Ota (1749-1823), an Edo Period (1603-1867) writer of kyoka (humorous short poems of 31 syllables), wrote in his ripe old age: "Living to the age of 70/ Has always been a rare feat/ All those grains of rice I've consumed in 70 years/ Are countless gifts from heaven and earth."
Nurtured by a rich variety of life forms, the crops that are now green will turn into an undulating sea of gold in autumn.
--The Asahi Shimbun, July 12(IHT/Asahi: July 21,2008)