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Seed rice forges deep friendship with Iwate and Ishigaki

Date Posted: 2009-01-29

Ishigaki Island and Iwate Prefecture have a special bond between them, and they give credit for the relationship to seed rice.

Ishigaki Island, to the far south of Okinawa Prefecture, and Iwate Prefecture in northern Japan, had seeds of friendship planted in 1993, and those have nurtured through time, to the point a special monument was dedicated last weekend to commemorate the relationship. It all began in Iwate Prefecture more than 15 years ago, when heavy rains and cold weather wiped out mainland rice paddies.

Iwate Prefecture, devastated but unbowed, turned to Ishigaki Island and its warm weather for help. Officials asked Ishigaki to grow seed rice for later planting in the home prefecture, and Ishigaki gladly agreed. Within a year, there had been a 60-fold increase in the amount of rice being grown on Ishigaki and harvested for Iwate. Iwate farmers took the super rice home, planted it, and became prosperous.

The friendship tale didn’t end there, though. Tourism flourished between the two regions, and in 1998, when Ishigaki Island was hammered by a typhoon and severely damaged, Iwate Prefecture was quick to respond to its southern friends. This time, Iwate Prefecture brought seed rice to Ishigaki, a move that has become permanent; Ishigaki residents today are still using the Iwate rice.

In recognition of the friendship, Ishigaki City and JA Okinawa’s Yaeyama District Rice Center decided to hold a formal ceremony, just to be sure nobody forgets the collective efforts of two far flung regions. They built the “Seed Rice Emergency Breeding Work Monument” which praises Mr. Kunisuke Sugawara, an Iwate Prefecture official who came to Okinawa, and stayed six months teaching local residents about rice. He died last year, but his wife and Iwate Prefecture officials attended the ceremonies.

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