Japan’s Staple Food: Rice

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Hauptnahrungsmittel Reis
Japan’s staple food: rice

All of East Asia should now be experiencing the 5th season – the rainy season with high humidity and warm temperatures. As this is also the time when the air-conditioning is working a full power, it is also the time of the year when a lot of people catch a cold in this area of the world.

Staple Food: Rice

As terrible as we feel during this rainy season, it is absolutely necessary to grow Japan’s staple food – rice. Not enough rain during the months of June and July would mean no rice to be harvested that year, and the necessity to import enough to feed 125 million mouths. This actually happened in 1995, and the government took time to decide where from the rice would be imported, as they were reluctant to buy oryza japonica from just anywhere. The quality of food and it’s taste is closely linked to where it is grown, and they wanted to provide an adequate substitue that was as close as possible to the taste and feeling everybody was used to. In the end they decided to import rice from Thailand and took the trouble to inform the population in a massive campaign, that this rice would taste almost like Japanese rice if cooked together with dried seaweed (konbu).

Rice is sown in spring and the seedlings are first raised in a green-house. However, just before the rainy season starts, they are transplanted into the rice paddies. Nowadays this is mostly done with heavy machinery, but the season is opened with a ceremony with women adorned in traditional clothing will transplant seedlings into a paddy field that has been consecrated to the gods by a priest while the men play traditional instruments. There is a series of photographs of such a ceremony in Kitahiroshima, which can be viewed here.

Enough rain during the rainy season ensures that the paddies are well filled with water as long as the rice is growing. However, before harvesting the water will be drained. During the time I was living in Japan, this season when the rice was growing in the water-filled paddies, was one of my favorite seasons – not only because of the view, but also due to the special intense sound of the frogs, who were croaking in great numbers every morning and evening.

For those readers who are especially interested in healthy food, I would like to add, that while Japanese food mainly sports white, i.e. polished rice, it is also possible to buy natural rice or an intermediate and very tasty form called haigamai 胚芽米 which is peeled in such a way to leave the husk. This kind of rice was my favorite during my stay in Japan, which of course I had to do without for a while when rice was being imported from Thailand.