|People in every part of the world eat rice in different ways: the Chinese chaofan, the Indonesian nasi-goreng, the Korean kukpap, the Mexican chili con carne, the Spanish paella, and Japanese onigiri. In Japan rice is not only one of many foods, but the most important staple of the diet and the centerpiece of almost every meal.|
|Where did rice come from?|
Rice is eaten not only in Japan but is the staple of people's diets throughout Asia. Nine thousand years ago it was already being cultivated from India to the region of present-day Yunnan Province in China. Rice agriculture subsequently spread in all directions, and was introduced to Japan about 4,000 years ago.
|What kind of rice is eaten where you live?|
Rice can be broadly divided into two varieties; japonica and indica. The rice consumed in Japan is almost always of the short-grained japonica variety, which is more glutinous and sticky when cooked. Indica strains of rice are generally long-grained and drier and lighter when cooked. There is also a category of rice native to Africa. One popular way of eating rice in Japan is as onigiri, balls or triangles of rice packed firmly by hand or in a mold, and this is possible because of the sticky quality of the japonica variety. Ways of cooking and serving rice clearly vary for each variety of rice.
|What types of grain are eaten where you live?
How are they related to the climate in your area?
Japan's climate is characterized by hot summers and abundant rainfall. This provides an ideal environment for cultivating rice or, as the Japanese call it kome. Kome is grown in paddies in Japan and some parts of East Asia, and archaeological evidence indicates that the Japanese first began to live in fixed settlements after they acquired the techniques of wet-rice cultivation.
Population naturally concentrated in areas suited to this type of farming,villages were created, and a society gradually developed that centered on the cycle of rice cultivation. Until the mid-nineteenth century the size of a local lord's estate was measured by the amount of rice it yielded, and the stipends of government officials and samurai as well as the taxes levied on farmers were paid in rice. In that sense,kome was as precious as money.
Most of the festivals that Japanese celebrate today began long ago when people gathered in the fields to pray for a bountiful harvest. Shoogatsu , or New Year's, was actually a ritual to honor the rice god. Even today, all forty-seven prefectures in Japan grow rice. The country's total annual rice production for 1995 was approximately 11 million tons, which represents 30 percent of total agricultural production. Rice-growing is a key Japanese industry, and until recently a government license was required to sell rice.
|What food is important to you?|
If you take a close look at daily life in Japan, you will find that a great many commodities are made from kome, ranging from breakfast foods, ready-to-eat bentoo (box lunches), and onigiri to frozen prepared fried rice, pilaff and casseroles, snacks like rice crackers(senbei) and rice cakes (mochi), sake (rice wine), seasonings, and even soap. Institutionally served school lunches are sometimes rice based. Gift coupons for rice are one way of expressing gratitude for favors done. An electric rice cooker is an essential appliance of the Japanese home.
|The traditional chooshoku (breakfast), also called asa gohan, generally features gohan (rice), miso shiru (miso soup), yakizakana (grilled fish), tamago (eggs), and tsukemono (pickled vegetables), offering a fairly balanced and nutritional complement of carbohydrates and protein, without much fat. With so much attention being paid to healthy eating habits lately, traditional Japanese fare has been gaining favor in other parts of the world. Meanwhile, millions of Japanese people, especially those of the younger generations, wake up to toast, cereal, yogurt, and coffee instead.|
|Typical breackfast fare||Breakfast with bread and coffee|
|Even some of the offerings at fast food outlets, such as those of a domestic Japanese burger chain, appeal directly to the public's appetite for rice. The rice burger (raisu baagaa) is a variation on the hamburger, with a grilled, circular cake of rice substituting for each half of the bun.|
|A Day in the Life|
|The family is gathered for the Saturday evening meal, even Father, who usually has to work overtime and rarely gets home in time for dinner with the family on weekdays. Tonight's menu consists of rice, miso soup, grilled fish, deep-fried chicken, and salad. The container marked furikake contains a bonito-flake-flavored seasoning for sprinkling on rice. There are several varieties of furikake, made with nori (seaweed), salmon flakes, and other ingredients. Shooyu, another important seasoning, is on the table to be added before eating. Each place is set with individual servings in separate bowls and plates. Each member of the family has his or her own chopsticks and rice bowl. The eldest child has just come home late from juku (cram school). In a hurry to sit down and eat, he doesn't forget his "itadakimasu!" The customary words spoken before starting to eat, it expresses gratitude for the meal one is about to partake. Usually, everyone says "itadakimasu!" together after sitting down to eat. His sister, a few years younger, loves the deep-fried chicken on the menu tonight. In accordance with good Japanese manners, she holds her bowl in her left hand as she eats her rice. Mother serves up a bowlful of rice for her late-arriving son. Serving rice at the table is usually the mother's job. Father is in a good mood, enjoying sake, rice wine, with his dinner. As each person finishes, they say "gochisoosama," expressing appreciation and gratitude for the meal.|
|A Photo Montage: Rice |
( Supplementary Explanations on the Photos )
Kome refers to rice in general, as a plant, as a grain crop, or as an uncooked foodstuff.
Gohan refers to cooked rice, usually served in a bowl (a standard serving is about 150 grams), and generally steamed rather than boiled. Used in another sense, the word gohan simply means "meal."
Dango is a traditional Japanese confectionery whose primary ingredient is mochi. The dango shown here are served on bamboo skewers, coated with anko, a sweet bean paste(right), and with a brown sauce made from sugar and soy sauce(left).
Original text : The Japan Forum Newsletter no9 "A day in The Life" June 1997.
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