Climate change fearsThe most delicious rice grown in Japan is koshihikari, which grows in Nigata. It is white, lustrous and the core is tight and high in sugar. Koshihikari also grows in other regions, but the Nigata climate makes this variety special, earning it more praise and making it more expensive.
Nigata summers are characterized by lots of sunshine and low rainfall. But in winter there are record amounts of snowfall. Kawabata Yasunari, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968, used Nigata as the backdrop to his book “Snow Country.” The snow there can reach up to three meters deep and usually melts after May. As the water seeps into the ground, it works as a natural insecticide, protecting the rice. The clear stream created from the melting snow provides plenty of water for cultivating the rice.
However, something strange is happening. This year the price of Koshihikari has fallen, while Hokkaido rice, the lowest quality rice in Japan, is getting more expensive and selling in greater bulk. Hokkaido rice is famous for its poor taste, attributable to extremely cold temperatures.
The problem is global warming. The amount of snow that falls on Nigata has plunged in recent years and the summers are getting hotter. Meanwhile, Hokkaido, located about 400 kilometers north of Nigata, has become a better place to grow rice as the climate changes.
Elsewhere similar changes are taking place. In the Himalayas, where the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest, stands 8,849 meter above sea level, the surface of the Kumbu glacier has decreased 30 percent in thirty years, according to research conducted by The Asahi Shimbun and Nagoya University. It is the same story for the other 3,000 glaciers in Nepal: They are melting very quickly.
According to the United Nations Development Programme, water shortages caused by global warming threaten millions of people in this region. Some experts say that by 2080 all of the glaciers in the Himalayas could disappear.
Starting from today, crucial negotiations on global warming are underway in Bali Indonesia. The objective is to create a global warming prevention system for when the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2013.
Global warming is the biggest challenge to the world today. There are many changes taking place around us, and the story of the rice from Nigata and Hokkaido is just one of them. Another story could be that one day South Korea starts importing good rice from North Korea. Anything’s possible now.
The writer is the Tokyo correspondent of JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Hyun-ki [email@example.com]