The color that most people would associate with summer in the Japanese countryside is green- in all its possible shades, but especially that of the young rice plants, Japan`s most famous and important agricultural crop. In late May through June, however, a drive or bike-ride around Tsukuba`s rice growing areas ( for example Oda or Hojo), will show you that just as the paddy is starting to fill out, deep green in the flooded fields, the MUGI (麦）, which in Japanese could mean either wheat or barley, is turning a golden brown amd is ready to be harvested. The contrast in colors beween the crops is striking. The Japanese even have an expression (or two) to describe this beautiful scene, and this time of year (early summer) in general- BAKUSHU ( 麦秋)- or MUGI NO AKI ( 麦の秋)- which can both most simply be translated as- BARLEY`S AUTUMN. I probably dont have to mention that autumn signifies harvest time (but I just have, sorry).
This week might be your last chance to savor and photogragh this special agro-scape this year, as the farmers like to get in the wheat and barley before the big rains come ( oops, they are late already!). If you are able to have a look, please know that most of the MUGI in Tsukuba is wheat (KOMUGI) which will be ground into flour and made into noodles (udon and ramen). I have confirmed this by visiting the local branch of NOKYO, the giant agricutural co-operative. There might also be (but very little around here), some barley, which is used for producing beer or MUGI CHA, barley tea, a staple of Japanese summer.
Most people imagine that Japan has always been a rice eating nation,and in a sense, this is true. The fact is, however, that the farmers always grew rice, but NOT for themselves. They grew it to pay their taxes. Thus, we can say that the farmers spent their lives working to grow rice for the warrior class , aristocrats and some merchants. The usual folk always had to have other grains to mix with their rice (if they had any). These other grains were barley and millets (awa , hie or kibi), which provided vital nutrition to most of the Japanese population.
Wheat and barley had been introduced to the Japanese Islands from the Continent , probably in the fifth or sixth centuries ( but maybe much earlier). Because of Japan`s climate, more specifically its rainy season, the wheat and barley are NOT of the highest quallity, and that is why so much is imported from abroad these days.
Besides being a fundamental part of the peasants diet, mugi was also used in making all sorts of snacks (菓子, kashi), in particlar Chinese style snacks (karagashi,唐菓 ), and also for making noodles. Barley bran was also used for producing some types of miso, shoyu, and sake.
Mugi is also important in its role in crop rotation, with many farmers alternating between rice and mugi every year, to give the soil some rest (for rice). The Japanese government gives subsidies to farmers who do this.
Anyway, maybe its better not to waste your time reading this. The reapimg machines are out. Get your cameraｓ and head out to the fields, or just take it all in with your eyes- The Barley Autumn- BAKUSHU- will be over before you know it.
For more post related to this season:
and the fireflies are back! Read last years report: