TONDABAYASHI, Osaka Prefecture--Rice seedlings grown from stalks that survived the 2011 tsunami in northeastern Japan to flourish where a house once stood were sowed in a paddy here to help promote reconstruction efforts.
Children and Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA) members planted the rice in a 300-square-meter field in Kishi district on May 25.
Dubbed "Kiseki no Fukko Mai" (reconstruction rice of miracle), the seedlings originated in the tsunami-ravaged town of Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture.
In October 2011, seven months after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, Tae Kikuchi found three thin stalks of rice growing from the ground where the entrance of her house used to be. The tsunami that washed her house away seemed to have carried rice seeds there.
"Alive, in a place like this," Kikuchi, 73, recalled saying when she saw the plant. Her eyes welled up.
Tono Magokoro Net (Tono city disaster relief network), a nonprofit organization from the neighboring city, obtained seeds from the rice stalks to plant. The grains multiplied, with the group collecting 5.4 kilograms of seeds in autumn 2012 and 837.5 kilograms in autumn 2013.
Though Tondabayashi is more than 700 kilometers from Otsuchi, Yoshimi Yoshimura, 49, a member of the Osaka prefectural assembly, has been supporting the Tohoku region's reconstruction efforts for the last three years. Concerned that people outside the affected region were losing interest in the plight of the disaster victims, he turned to "reconstruction rice" to keep the issue alive.
At first, Tono Magokoro Net declined Yoshimura's request to grow the rice in Tondabayashi.
"We want to grow the rice as a symbol of reconstruction and as a local rice brand," an official initially replied.
But in February, seeing how passionate Yoshimura was about his plan, the group decided to send him a kilogram of rice seeds, free of charge.
The seeds were given to JA Osaka Minami's Yasuhiro Okuno, 39, an expert on cultivating seedlings. Because reconstruction rice comes from the Hitomebore strain harvested in the colder regions of Japan, the rice seeds had to be planted earlier than the local strains of rice grown in the area.
At his home, Okuno kept the seeds in a seedbed in 25-degree water, a little warmer than the norm. On the fourth day, little seedlings sprouted.
He watered the seedbed four times a day for a month, until the seedlings grew to a height of 20 centimeters and were ready for planting in the paddies.
"The rice, so thin and weak at first, has grown strong, thanks to everyone's support," said Kikuchi. "I hope it can keep spreading to many other places."
If all goes well, about 150 kilograms of rice will be available in autumn, and Yoshimura anticipates inviting the residents of Otsuchi to the harvesting festival in September.
He also plans on expanding the rice fields and donating a portion of the proceeds to Otsuchi to support the relief efforts of the town.
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