Micro-Season: “The Rice Ripens”

We have entered the micro-season of “The Rice Ripens”.  This is the third micro-season of the mini-season of Limit of Heat.  The micro-seasons within Limit of Heat are:

  • The Cotton Lint Opens (Aug 23-Aug 27)
  • Earth and Sky Begin to Cool (Aug 28 Sep 1)
  • The Rice Ripens (Sep 2 – Sep 6)

These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others.  No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point for your personal exploration of the world around you. 

As a way to celebrate this season, we will look at the taxonomy of the rice plant and how it is grown. Then we will read a variety of seasonal rice-themed haiku by Issa and Basho.


About Rice

Rice is the seed of a grass species from the genus Oryza in the Poaceae family.  Oryza sativa, also known as Asian Rice, is the primary species that we use for food.  Oryza glaberrima, also known as African rice, is the second most common food species.  The term “Wild Rice” is sometimes used for grasses from the genera Zizania and Porteresia. “Wild Rice” may also be used to describe some primitive versions of Oryza sativa.(1)

Rice was first domesticated for human use in China along the Yangtze River around 8000 BCE.(3) It is suspected that rice traveled west with traders and travelers in the 15th or 16th century.  Since that time rice has become an extremely important crop for humans. Britannica explains, “Roughly one-half of the world population, including virtually all of East and Southeast Asia, is wholly dependent upon rice as a staple food; 95 percent of the world’s rice crop is eaten by humans.”(2) 

Terraced Rice Fields by Maria Orlova on Pexels.com
Terraced Rice Fields by Maria Orlova

Growing Rice

Rice is a semi-aquatic plant and requires flooded areas and constant irrigation to grow. The United States, which produces about 20 billion pounds of rice annually, grows most of its crop in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas.(4) 

Rice takes about 6 months to go from seed to harvest.  The following is a timeline of the basic steps of commercial rice production in the United States as explained by Think Rice.(5)

February – Early May: Field Preparation & Planting

Commercial rice farming in the United States utilizes heavy clay and silt loam soils that are very good at retaining water. This makes them perfect for rice.  Planting may start as early as February in the southern parts of the growing region. Commercial farmers will use machines called “grain drills” or perhaps aircraft to plant the crop.

March – Early August: Irrigation & Growing

Think Rice, the outreach and promotion arm of the USA Rice Federation, explains, “The traditional irrigation method is to construct earthen levees that follow the contour of the land and flood the field with about two to four inches of water which is maintained over the growing season.”(5) Rice farmers may also use poly-tubing with holes precisely placed to deliver water effectively and efficiently to the crop. It takes about 120 days for rice to grow to a height of about 3 or 4 feet. At this time grains start appearing on the top of the panicles.

Mid-July – November: Harvest

When the rice is ready to be harvested, the water is drained from the fields.  After the fields are drained, modern farmers use specially designed combines to cut the rice and separate the grain from the stalks.  Once harvested, the rice is moved to drying facilities that reduce the moisture content of the rice until it is ready for milling.

August and Year Round – Milling

Milling is a mechanical process where harvested rice passes through sheller machines to remove the inedible husks.  This initial pass-through produces what is known as brown rice.  If the manufacturer wants to produce white rice, they run the rice through another mill that rubs the kernels together to create this “polished rice”.  At this point, the manufacturer may add vitamins back into the rice.  The process of adding vitamins and minerals back to the rice is called “enriching”.  

Rice kernels after various milling processes by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com
Rice kernels after various milling processes by Polina Tankilevitch
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Rice-Themed Haiku 

The World Kigo Database (WKD) tells us that the rice crop, and the rice paddy, are multi-season words in haiku.  The stage of the plant, or the stage of the field, is what will determine the seasonal connection.  For example, referring to actions that will prepare the field for planting places the haiku in spring. If we reference a planted field this would place the haiku in summer. If you mention harvesting or draining the fields this would be autumn. If there is snow in the fields, the haiku is placed in the winter.  

Let’s look at the work of Kobayashi Issa to see how the seasons show up in various rice-themed haiku.

plowing the fields -
plum blossoms get crushed
under the feet
(Translated by Gabi Greve)

The WKD tells us that “plowing the fields” makes this a spring haiku.

the rice fields
greener and greener!
flute practice
(Translated by David Lanoue)

The WKD says that green rice paddies and green rice fields are summer kigo.

rice field water --
saying many goodbyes
it returns to the spring
(Translated by Chris Drake)

Chris Drake explains that this haiku was written in August 1821 and Issa was noticing that the rice farmers were draining their fields for the last time before the harvest.(6)

This next haiku by Issa would also be set in autumn as it indicates that rice is about ready to harvest

all at once
the field is rustling...
heads of rice
(Translated by David Lanoue)

Matsuo Basho also wrote several rice-themed haiku.  Here are a few from him that show rice in different seasons. 

Beginning of poetry – 
the rice-planting songs
of the Interior. 
(Translated b Haruo Shirane)
Intermittent rain - 
no need at all to worry
over rice seedlings 
(Translated by Sam Hamill)

The WKD indicates that planting rice and rice seedlings are summer kigo. What I find interesting is how, if these haiku were written in the United States by modern farmers, they may be more oriented towards spring.

A weathered temple,
blossoming peach, and, hulling rice,
just one old man 
(Translated by Sam Hamill) 

Huling rice, which comes after harvesting rice, puts this haiku in late autumn

dawn moon
close to the end of the year
pounding rice 
(Translated by Jane Reichhold)

In this haiku, both “close to the end of the year” and “pounding rice” put this haiku in the winter months. The phrase “pounding rice” refers to the process of mashing rice for dumplings that were traditionally used in a special soup that is prepared for New Year celebrations.(8)

This final haiku by Basho moves us slowly into spring.

spring begins - 
new year, old rice
ten quarts 
(Translated by Makoto Ueda)

In this haiku, I am guessing that Basho is celebrating the early arrival of spring and counting the rice that is left in his cupboard.


A Haiku Invitation

Today we looked at rice and how rice can show up in any haiku of any season.  This week’s haiku invitation is to write a haiku or senryu using “rice” and a seasonal word of your choice. 

Share your haiku in the comments below, or post on your own page and link back to this post.

I can’t wait to read what you write!

Long Grain Rice Photo by Keith Weller, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Long Grain Rice Photo by Keith Weller, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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Resources:

  1. “Rice”; Wikipedia
  2. “RIce”; Britannica
  3. “How to Grow Rice: A Guide to Growing Rice”; MasterClass.com
  4. Where Rice Grows”; USARice.com
  5. “How Rice Grows”; USARice.com
  6. “Fields, paddie” World Kigo Database
  7. “Matsuo Bashō’s haiku poems in romanized Japanese with English translations” Editor  Gábor Terebess 
  8. Pounding rice (mochi tsuki, mochitsuki), World Kigo Database

Issa’s haiku were retrieved from the World Kigo Database.  Matsuo Basho’s haiku were retrieved from “Matsuo Bashō’s haiku poems in romanized Japanese with English translations” Editor  Gábor Terebess.

Featured image of mature rice plants taken by IRRI Images, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Want to support our work? Visit the Naturalist Weekly bookstore and browse our curated lists of books of poetry and haiku. Or pick up a gift card that can be used throughout the store.   

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18 thoughts on “Micro-Season: “The Rice Ripens”

Add yours

    1. Hi Ashley, Thanks for the comment! As you may notice, I usually can’t come up with a haiku by the time I want to post the piece either! Sometimes the deadlines are, and other times they aren’t, helpful for my creative process.

  1. When I lived in Japan, I remember the rice being harvest. I lived in Izumo City, which was surrounded by rice fields. When I would go to high school, I would see people out in the fields with their knives standing up to their knees in water.

  2. I have more good memories of rice paddies than bad. Ive been places where I have never been and done things that never happened. The poem that came to mind today is not a good memory. I apologize in advance, I’ll share it anyway…

    I skirt the paddies –
    cradling my piece in my arms
    always summer here

    1. Thank you for sharing this. The poem is impactful and real. It brings up a good point about how we are all individuals and we have our own experiences that shape how we see the world. What might make one person happy, might make another person sad and poetry can sometimes help share and communicate our realities. Thank you again for sharing such an important piece.

    1. Rice makes a perfect lunch. Good thing we weren’t in the micro-seasons of the cicadas! I don’t think they make a very good meal. Or perhaps they do?

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