Hardworking Rice Growing Emperor of Japan

Rice Growing Emperor

From time immemorial, the Japanese Emperors have been the keepers of the tradition of growing rice. The current Japanese Emperor, Akihito (83) , the 125th Emperor is still keeping the tradition of growing rice and conducting agricultural ceremonies.

Prince Hisahito who is the third in line for the Chrysanthemum throne is already growing rice at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo at the tender age of 10 and keeping the tradition which dates back more than 2600 years since the first Emperor Jimmu was throned in AD 660.


The famous poem on rice stalks by Emperor Tenchi (AD 626 – 672)

Over 1300 years ago, Emperor Tenchi (AD 626-672) also known as Prince Nakano Oenooji or Amatsumikoto / Sakiwakenomikoto has written a famous Japanese poem which is in “Ogura Hyakunin Isshu,”  a classical Japanese anthology by one hundred poets. This poem was the first and the most important poem in the anthology.

At the humble hut made of the rice stalks in the autumn rice field,  my sleeves are collecting the dews while I weave.

Emperor Tenchi

It reveals that not only the Emperor himself was weaving a mat or some form of a craft using rice stalks but he was also involved in the process of growing rice just as the current Emperor is.

The Japanese people are considered to be very hardworking people. People have been telling each other for at least a few thousand years that we must work hard because even the Emperor himself works in the field. In Kojiki, even the divine figures or the “gods” work in the rice field.

The Japanese Emperor’s lineage has lasted this long because they were originally the rice growing peaceful, hardworking vegetarians who were constantly praying.  Since they were considered spiritual figures in the ancient times who were called Tenshi-sama (Child of the God or Heavenly Child) or Ookimi (the Great one), the Emperor has been always respected.  There was no need to have a “revolution” and kill the Emperor in Japan because they have been respected for their hard work and self-sacrifice as well as their divine lineage.The Japanese Emperor’s family is considered to be the direct descendants of Izanagi and Izanami who are said to have created the islands of Japan in the Japanese classics, Kojiki.

Growing rice since 6000 years ago

According to the current research,  the tradition of growing rice dates back to the beginning of “Jyomon Era” which is approximately 6000 years ago.  According to the report by Kyodo Press in 2005, the professors from Okayama Rika University and Notre Dame Seishin Women’s University have uncovered the evidence of ancient rice called “plant opals” from “Hikozaki Kaizuka” in Okayama prefecture which dates back 6000 years ago.

In the recent years, more evidence have been uncovered to prove that the practice of growing rice started before Yayoi Era (BC 300 – AD300).  It used to be believed that the technology of growing rice was brought to Japan from the Chinese continent. Several archaeological findings disprove this theory now. The plant opals of rice were also found from the ancient porcelain piece found in Mikamo Himesasahara in Okayama which dates back 4500 years.

Uniquely Japanese ancient utensils and values

One of the most important ceremonies conducted by the Japanese Emperor at the Imperial Palace is a “Thanksgiving” ritual called “Niinamesai” which is conducted on November 23rd.  In this ceremony, he eats the newly harvested rice of that year along with other crops for the first time using an oak leaf and a bamboo pincet called “Oribashi.”  Oribashi have widely used in the Japanese Jinja or shrines in the old days. This utensil is unique to Japan and it suggests that the original Japanese people did not use chopsticks as in China or in the Korean peninsula.

This ceremony which has been passed down for thousands of years also suggest how their ancestors were eating rice in the old days. It suggests that people were originally eating without a bowl and chopsticks.  It means that the tradition of growing rice and eating rice came BEFORE they started making porcelain bowls and using chopsticks.

The fact that this ceremony is still preserved in the Imperial ceremony suggests that they considered it important enough to maintain this humble way to eat along with the tradition to give gratitude for the new crops. Understanding how long the Japanese Emperor and the people have been growing rice and eating rice is the key in understanding the Japanese culture.