Haibun: Rice Planting

Part of my life journey, part of a travel journal. As a devoted follower of Basho and Japanese poetic forms, at one time, I undertook a journey to not only travel in France and Tuscany to renew my love of food and cooking, I also travelled to Japan to follow the journey of Basho in his “Narrow Road” – the precursor to haibun. He wrote paragraphs of a day’s travel followed by a haiku. Thus, haibun came into being. A haibun in its best form is an extended haiku which include seasons (kigo), a cutting section (kireji), aware (uh-wah-ray) – delicate sense of melancholy at the passing of things, and the amazing Oh! or as we non-Japanese say, an Aha moment. I hope you enjoy. I am linking to Poets United Poetry Pantry.  http://poetryblogroll.blogspot.com/2016/02/poetry-pantry-291.html  This is also being linked to dVerse Poets Pub, Haibun Monday.  Our guest Prompter today is Rajani (thotpurge) who wants us to write a travel haibun in the manner of Basho.  http://dversepoets.com/2016/02/29/haibun-monday-8/

Rice Planting
All journeys may begin with a single footstep but, sometimes that first step is taken because of madness, bitterness, the hope of regaining that which was lost, or renewing a love now gone sour. I stepped away from being a successful executive chef to find again my lost love – food. An exacting lover but one that changes for the better in all the seasons of the year, in all the places of the world. Oddly enough, also the lover who taught me more about writing haiku – classic, real, genuine haiku. The lover who instilled in me a deeper sense of poetry and beautiful discipline – not a tightly constrained discipline, but one that flowed with the world around me. In my burned out madness, I truly believed I could win back this lover. My journey began with stepping on the plane to Tokyo.

It was spring – spring in Japan when the cherry blossoms were merely reddish-brown buds ripe with the promise of a blooming spring. I had arranged a trip that would allow me to follow in the footsteps of my beloved and revered Basho. I arrived at Sukagawa during rice planting season – this time of early spring. Workers were standing in the water planting rice – sometimes in total silence, at other times bits of song reached my ears accompanied by the song of birds. The rich smell of water and mud surrounded me. The air was cool and the distant mountains seemed to make the air even cooler. My guide asked if I wanted to speak to some of the workers. I said that in addition, could I be shown how to plant rice and to be allowed to share in the labor? He hesitated but after money pressed into his hand, he spoke to the supervisor who put me with a group of older, more experienced rice planters – small women with wrinkled faces and tough, surprisingly delicate hands. The guide stood on the side of the field as I rolled up my pants and took off my shoes. The women looked at me with bland faces – hiding thoughts – rich white woman wants to play in the mud – but courteously allowed me to stand by them and then, at my smiles and insistent gestures, showed me how to plant rice.

I followed them on that journey of bending, digging, lightly pressing plants into the mud and when they judged I would not ruin the crop, left me alone to my work beside them. Sometimes I would look around me at the field, the other workers, an early blooming pear tree on the hillside and then bend again. At noon, they stepped onto the side of the field and began to eat a brief meal, while standing. I was gladdened when they began to share out their simple meals with me – balls of steamed rice wrapped in black seaweed, bits of fish, sliced cucumbers and apples and with fingers pressed to lips for silence, sips of sake. Motions from the women told me the rice I was eating came from this field. I looked at the rice ball and felt tears sliding down my face. In my hand, I held once again that lover I had thought I would never find again. Before I left the field that day, I gifted my Nikes, a bracelet, some American coins, a head scarf. Paltry items in return for what they had given me. I was on the way to being sane and whole again, taking the first step to rediscover my soul and reunite with my true love.

pear blooms on hillside –
cold spring day with meal of rice
and fish – rice field waits.

public domain image

public domain image

46 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Victoria C. Slotto
    Feb 28, 2016 @ 14:06:40

    You managed to include so many sensory experiences. Delightful, poetic prose topped by the haiku. An amazing experience–immersion in that culture.


    • kanzensakura
      Feb 28, 2016 @ 14:28:00

      I was awed and humbled by their work and the reminder of where our food really comes from. I never eat rice but that I remember their faces and their kindness.


  2. robert okaji
    Feb 28, 2016 @ 14:12:24

    Beautifully, done. It gave me chills.


  3. Mary
    Feb 28, 2016 @ 14:47:07

    What a beautiful experience, Toni. Really touching about you requesting to work in the rice fields, which I am sure gave you a deeper appreciation as you worked beside these women that day. I enjoyed reading part of your journey back to yourself & your soul.


    • kanzensakura
      Feb 28, 2016 @ 15:27:41

      It was hard work and cold! But I needed to do it and not just as a curious bystander. When they realized I was really going to learn and work, they took me in. When I plant my garden or prepare food, it is with that love I thought I had lost.


  4. Björn Rudberg (brudberg)
    Feb 28, 2016 @ 14:58:03

    This has so many layered stories in one, a beautiful prose that just to pull it through, the seasons, the melancholy and the way solace can be found bending, planting rice… the haiku containing the pear bloom really add so much to the haibun..


  5. Sanaa Rizvi
    Feb 28, 2016 @ 15:00:29

    So beautifully written ❤


  6. Sherry Marr
    Feb 28, 2016 @ 15:05:09

    Toni, this is my favourite piece of writing by you. You took me right there, I felt thast same gratitude at the ball of rice that came from that same field. As I read, I thought “this should be in a book of similar pieces”. Have you considered doing a book about your time in Japan, which I know is so special to you? (I probably have asked this before and have forgotten. So sorry. No short term memory.) This is extremely beautiful, soulful work.


    • kanzensakura
      Feb 28, 2016 @ 15:11:10

      Your memory is perfect…you have not mentioned such a book before. 🙂 a couple of weeks later, I helped repair rice terraces while planting went on around me. This was by Oceanside rice fields. And that is another story, my friend. I am so glad you liked this. I have never looked at rice the same since. We sometimes forget the faces behind the food we eat.


  7. C.C.
    Feb 28, 2016 @ 19:39:38

    I agree with Sherry….a compilation of stories about your time in Japan would be spectacular because your love for the culture always comes through so clearly in your writing and the emotion it evokes in us as readers is evident.


    • kanzensakura
      Feb 28, 2016 @ 20:19:01

      Thank you. I have never thought of a book. I am happy with those who find and read and sharing we with them. That is all I need. If after I am gone and my writings found, like Dickinson, then that will be good.


  8. thotpurge
    Feb 28, 2016 @ 21:16:03

    A beautiful experience….


  9. Myrna Rosa
    Feb 29, 2016 @ 00:06:11

    Thank you for sharing these beautiful words and this wonderful experience. I haven’t read much of Basho but plan to read him extensively soon. Haiku, to me, is such a special and profound poetry genre. You are so gifted in it.


  10. Sumana Roy
    Feb 29, 2016 @ 01:48:14

    Rice planting is a very common scene in my part of the world but I do not have the rich experience that life gave you at your insistence…thank you Toni for taking us there and sharing with us the joy…


  11. Snakypoet (Rosemary Nissen-Wade)
    Feb 29, 2016 @ 06:32:06

    A fascinating ‘journey’ to get back in ouch with what is real and deep.


  12. Snakypoet (Rosemary Nissen-Wade)
    Feb 29, 2016 @ 06:32:21

    *in TOUCH


  13. Laura Bloomsbury
    Feb 29, 2016 @ 06:59:25

    your poems are like grains of rice – pearly and fulfilling. I admire your journeying and can see in this haibun how much you fully understand


  14. Glenn Buttkus
    Feb 29, 2016 @ 15:39:18

    Having never been to Japan, or Asia, I rely on your memories to transport me there. This piece illuminates the haibun form, as both your stirring prose & of course, pure
    haiku morph our consciousness into a whirl of wonder & awe.


  15. Linda Kruschke
    Feb 29, 2016 @ 15:56:51

    This was incredibly touching! It actually brought tears of joy to my eyes in those last few sentences. Beautiful as always. Peace, Linda


  16. navasolanature
    Feb 29, 2016 @ 17:01:07

    Your experience is so moving and I really feel how you love the Japanese poetry and people. Your writing is so delicately crafted and makes me feel as if I am reliving planting the rice with you.


  17. Grace
    Feb 29, 2016 @ 17:30:58

    As one who came from the rice planting country, I applaud you for your heartfelt and sincere experience in immersing yourself in rice planting ~ I often take this for granted, never appreciating the bond of the earth with the seedlings, until I am older and more appreciative of my blessings ~ Thanks Toni for reminding me of my roots ~


  18. Magaly Guerrero
    Feb 29, 2016 @ 18:50:50

    Few experiences are as beautiful and soul-soothing as that of preparing and eating food we’ve planted ourselves. I know the speaker doesn’t eat food she has planted herself, but the depth of her reaction (such emotion!) shows that when she put hands to soil she understood and embraced the process.

    I was raised in a small farm, growing our own food (rice planting and harvesting where some of my favorite experiences). The work was hot and hard (in the Caribbean), but when the end of the day came, and we got to eat our rice (cooked covered with plantain leaves), oh my, oh my, the joy… and the singing…

    I love what you shared with us. Thank you so much. You’ve made me miss home… in a very good way. ♥


    • kanzensakura
      Feb 29, 2016 @ 20:13:57

      I grew and we raised much of our vegetables i n a huge kitchen garden. We all worked in it both raising and then canning, freezing, pickling. We had family in the country where we got our milk, butter, eggs, meat products. It was something I missed and was glad to return to so now I have my own garden. It was basically, you ate what you could see. Planting rice that day reminded me of so much I had left behind and back in my life to feel that wholeness. I am glad you were reminded of your home. I truly enjoy Caribbean food and am fond of the rice cooked in those plantain leaves. In the Fukushima area, they steam their rice in lotus leaves. So many similarities between us all, in spite of the differences. My grandmother sometimes would steam rice covered with okra pods. I still do that or if I can purchase lotus leaves from the Asian market. I will have to try the plantain leaves!


      • Magaly Guerrero
        Feb 29, 2016 @ 20:18:36

        And must try steam rice covered with okra pods. I just got some fresh okra at the grocery story (one of the blessings of living in NYC). I can’t wait to do some cooking (and eating!).


  19. summerstommy2
    Feb 29, 2016 @ 19:52:15

    I found this such an emotional haibun, I loved the discovery, the imagery. Having been to Japan I know what a wonderful culture it is to be able to share in.


  20. lynn__
    Feb 29, 2016 @ 22:25:44

    A beautiful haibun that reveals a love of the land and it’s people, the joy of food and the process of growing it…thanks for sharing this lovely story, Toni!


  21. http://vivinfrance.wordpress.com
    Mar 01, 2016 @ 02:49:05

    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful experience with us. Very Basho!


  22. kim881
    Mar 01, 2016 @ 03:55:40

    An amazing memory. A single rice grain can mean so much.A whole field can mean life.


  23. Misky
    Mar 01, 2016 @ 06:13:25

    A mesmerising retelling. I enjoyed this very much.


  24. Adriana Citlali Ramírez
    Mar 01, 2016 @ 15:42:26

    I have never visited a rice field, but could see it through your words. Beautiful!


  25. Bryan Ens
    Mar 01, 2016 @ 16:14:12

    That simple act of planting rice becomes an experience of religious importance in this. Beautiful.


  26. Bodhirose
    Mar 01, 2016 @ 22:16:24

    Tears sprang to my eyes as I read of your experience with the workers planting rice, Toni. It was almost sacred in its beauty. Like a sadhana done in revered silence. It was when I came to the part about eating rice that came from that very field…my tears mixed with yours…


  27. Margaret Elizabeth Bednar
    Mar 01, 2016 @ 23:35:05

    Singing in the rice fields – that fantastic and yet simple lunch… what an experience. Beautiful prose and poem. Thank you.


  28. Let's CUT the Crap!
    Mar 03, 2016 @ 21:15:35

    I marvel at your experiences. I see the hillside and the blossoms here. ❤ ❤ ❤
    I saw rice fields in China and understand rice farmers there suffer from rheumatism and arthritis from the sometimes cold, but always wet work.


    • kanzensakura
      Mar 03, 2016 @ 22:21:12

      It is true. Bending all day in a wet field in cold water, feet and hands in cold water…it is a crippler. Some fields have to be planted and harvested by hand. It made me appreciate rice much more.


  29. Vernice Latner
    Jun 06, 2016 @ 01:10:38

    Good article and straight to the point. I don’t know if this is really the best place to ask but do you people have any ideea where to get some professional writers? Thanks 🙂


    • kanzensakura
      Jun 06, 2016 @ 02:13:09

      Some of us are professional writers and have been published. It would depend on what you needed professional for. You can look under the menu item, d’Team.


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