The harvest

Through the broiling days of summer the rice grows. Fed by the nutrients of the earth, the heavy tips of the golden stalks bow low.

The passing of summer brings the harvest season. Gohyakumangoku sake rice is harvested a little earlier than table rice, from late August to the middle of September. For farmers, harvest is the biggest event of the growing cycle, the aggregate of an entire season's dedicated work. More than ever, they evaluate weather conditions and the growth of the rice.

Weather plays a huge part in determining the success of a harvest, complicating decisions about timing in years when conditions fluctuate.

Kokuryu's test fields at Adoso Jitoho are surrounded by mountains. A damp climate and an abundance of water make it a humid place, especially in the rising temperatures of summer. The humidity and daily temperature range create prime conditions for high-quality sake rice.

But rain during harvest season is unwelcome. The clayey soil absorbs water readily, making it hard to move through the paddies and harvest the crop. And once the clayey soil absorbs water, it takes a long time to dry. Evaluating weather, ripeness of the rice and condition of the paddies for harvesting is extremely difficult.

During this period, determining just the right timing for the harvest and bringing in the crop with speed and efficiency become the district's highest priorities. Spreading the harvest over too many days results in rice of varying quality, which in turn affects the quality of the sake.

It takes knowledge and skill born of years of experience to deal with constant changes in rice, soil and weather. When the ripeness of the rice and soil and weather conditions are all optimal, farmers start harvesting early in the morning. From then, ideally, bringing in the sake rice will take five days.

The task requires studying every golden grain to make sure things are going well. It is a rare moment when, taking in the plumpness of the mature grains, farmers allow themselves a measure of satisfaction. Their faces reflect happiness and gratitude for a crop well grown.

After the harvest, when the rice has been dried, thrashed, milled and brought to the brewery, only then can they finally take a well-deserved rest.

Together with the sake brewers, the farmers celebrate each year's harvest at the Adoso community center. They discuss the crop and ways to improve the quality of rice and sake. The yearly gathering affirms the bonds between the two groups — those who put their hearts into growing sake rice, and those who will now transform it into sake. The goal of both is excellent sake, but the road ahead is long. They talk in earnest about the crop and the sake that will come of it.

These are craftsmen sharing a bond of sake rice. On an autumn night in Adoso, their talk and laughter, the sounds of bonds being deepened, fill the cool air.