The word for rice in Japanese is gohan. It’s also the word used in Japan for meal. The best reflection of rice’s value in Japanese society is that it was once used as a form of currency.

In their bid for greater self-sufficiency the members of the Hikari Jigyodan workers cooperative in the far south of Japan began to grow their own rice in 2009. Little were they to realise the value those grains would later come to hold. On March 11 2011 at a quarter to three in the afternoon one of the most powerful earthquakes to afflict Japan rocked the north-eastern part of its most populous island, Honshu. Buildings rocked in Tokyo 200 kilometres to the south of the epicentre. A seven metre-high tsunami followed, destroying villages, damaging the fishing industryand washing agricultural lands out to sea. Eight months later members of Hikari Jigyodan – part of the Japanese Worker’s Co-operative Union (JWCU) – made the day-long drive north. They were bringing 60 kilos of their rice to fellow JWCU members in the Ishinomaki Jigyodan worker’s cooperative. This cooperative’s office, and in some cases its members’ livelihoods, had been washed away by the tsunami. The sticky rice cakes they first prepared, then ate together, became the potent symbol of their cooperation.

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