The 88 Steps To Make Rice

Rice is Japan’s most important crop. Known as “88” in Japan and represented by the kanji 八十八, the process for growing rice in Japan is a source of national pride. There are 88 steps in rice growing, and even though farmers don’t agree on what those steps are, the number 88 has become synonymous with rice. Even the kanji for “rice” comes from the number 88! By stacking the two kanji for eight (八) on top of the kanji for ten (十), it creates rice (米).

In the Jomon period, people began growing rice. In the old days of hunter-gatherer culture, people grew rice using only the power of nature’s blessings and their own two hands. Farmers had no heavy machinery to cause air pollution in the rice fields, and there were no worries about pesticides and chemicals in the fertilizer.

Now, machines help farmers cultivate rice faster than ever. Even with modern advances in farming technology, 88 still forms an important foundation for rice farming. Recently, with the rise in organic farming, people have turned to old techniques and combined them with new technology to create entirely new techniques for farming. Farmers now invest time in growing the best rice possible.

Growing rice is a year-around process. Before planting seeds, farmers till the fields and add straw to the soil for the winter months. They also mark the rough shape of the fields. Once spring starts, the straw is mixed into the soil with water to create compost and replenish nutrients in the soil. In April, farmers prepare seeds for planting. They put seeds into trays covered with newspaper to protect them from the elements and provide humidity control. This allows farmers to ensure growing conditions. Farmers regularly check the trays, making sure seedlings grow strong. Ditches for irrigation are dug and farmers till the fields again to distribute organic matter and fertilizer while waiting for the seedlings to grow large enough to plant.

When seedlings reach 2 inches tall, they’re transplanted. Once planted, seedlings are watered and tended, helping them to grow strong. Farmers also check the seedlings for pests and disease and sometimes even use ducks as a method of pest control. By July, the rice is growing taller and while the ears sprout. Rice farmers pay careful attention to the growing rice during this period, monitoring for rice blast. If not caught, rice blast can kill rice plants and ruin an entire harvest just as the weather turns most humid in August. Then in September farmers harvest the fruits of their labor and the cycle begins again.

These days farmers aren’t as obsessed with having 88 discrete steps to rice planting. They use technology and newfound knowledge to grow rice, but the spirit of 88 remains. Japan grows rice with love and care for people to enjoy, no matter where in the world you are. We hope that you’ll take your time and savor the rice you eat, honoring the time and effort it took to produce.