Rice was the variety of life in old Japan

Mainichi Shimbun, Tuesday 27 July 1999

[wooden plaques]
The plates used to identify different types of rice.
At least 15 varieties of rice were harvested in ancient Japan, and 10 of those might have been grown until the mid-19th century, a National Museum of Japanese History researcher announced on Monday.

Minami Hirakawa, professor of ancient Japanese history at the museum in Sakura, Chiba Prefecture, studied wooden name plates excavated from seven remains in six prefectures, including Fukushima, Osaka and Fukuoka. Many of them were ruins of district governors' offices from the 8th to the 12th centuries.

Hirakawa identified the names of 15 rice species from the plates, which were used to indicate different varieties of rice, taxed and stored at the offices.

The harvesting times of the 15 crops differed. It is believed that the district offices ordered farmers to grow rice with different reaping times to maintain a designated level of income tax.

According to the professor, rice species with early harvest times were grown in Osaka and Fukuoka prefectures. Crops reaped later in the seasons were planted in Ishikawa Prefecture, while farmers in Yamagata Prefecture grew rice that was harvested in between the early and late crops.

They prove that the government of the Nara (710-784) and Heian (794-1192) periods had systematically controlled rice farming, Hirakawa said.

He also discovered that 10 out of 15 species were mentioned in documents on agriculture written in Edo Period (1600-1867).