Rice in Japanese Culture, The Importance of Rice in Japan

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By Ashley Woodward • Last Updated:  April 17, 2022

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Rice in Japanese Culture

Hello! Do you also wonder why rice dishes are so popular in Japan? If you are like me who wants to learn more about it, let us all discover about rice in Japanese culture from this new post.

If you are in Japan, you won’t find a single meal without at least one rice preparation. The Japanese consume rice on a daily basis, which makes rice a staple food of Japanese. Since Buddhists are prohibited from eating meat, most of Japanese have switched to the consumption of rice.

Rice is a rich source of nutrition, which explains the reason why most Japanese men and women are fit and healthy.

History of Rice in Japan

Japan

Japan owes its tradition of growing rice to China and Korea. The culture of growing rice started in Japan about 3000 years ago. Since then, rice has become a main part of the diet for Japanese.  Rice only grew in some parts of Japan till late 16th century but by the 20th century, rice was already an important part of the national diet of Japan.

Importance of Rice in Japanese Culture

The importance of rice in Japan can be understood by the fact that rice was once the currency of Japan. Rice was paid in return to services. Along with rice grains, arrowheads, gold, and cloth were also considered as commodity currency in ancient Japan.

Gohan (the Japanese word for rice) is believed to be consumed for breakfast, lunch as well as dinner. In fact, it was almost impossible to have a meal in Japan without a rice preparation. Asagohanhirugohan, and bangohan, the Japanese words for breakfast, lunch and dinner respectively. The suffix Gohan (meaning rice in Japanese) is attach to the names explains that rice is included in all the meals of Japanese.

Rice Production

Japan Rice Production

Since the consumption of rice in Japan is very high, about 85% of the farms in Japan grow rice. Koshihikari variety is the variety of rice growing in Japan.

The process of rice planting starts in spring around the month of April, cultivation takes place in summers and finally, the yield is harvested in winters. The yield of Japanese rice is then shipped to the supermarkets and wholesalers, from where they are made easily available for end users.

Japan’s top producer of rice is Hokkaido.

Rice Exports

Japanese rice exports are growing every year. The reason behind the increase in rice exports is the growing popularity of the Japanese cuisine across the globe.

Rice has a high nutritional value and also has the ability to sustain high populations across the globe. This is one of the major reasons why rice has utmost importance to the people of Japan. Rice (Gohan) not only finds its way in the Japanese foods but is at the same time of cultural and traditional importance to Japanese.

Types of Japanese rice

Japanese Silk Rice fields

Japanese rice has a number of short-grain varieties from Japonica rice. The most common varieties of rice found in Japan include:

Rice By-Products

Apart from rice and rice dishes, you will find other products in Japan, which include

Japanese Rice Dishes

There are a wide variety of dishes that you may like to taste when traveling to Japan, all of which came from rice or has rice as a key ingredient.

Some of the most common rice dishes of Japan include:

Sushi- Sashimi
  • Gohan: Gohan is a popular breakfast dish of rice with pickles and soup.
  • Mochi: A kind of flavorful rice cake, from glutinous rice and is a common site during the New Year’s eve as part of Japanese rituals.
  • Onigiri: Or rice balls are famous snacks available at most stores across Japan.
  • Tamago Kake: A breakfast dish that is a combination of rice and eggs.
  • Chazuke: A hot water over a bowl of rice is the Chazuke.
  • Kayu: Kayu is a Japanese name for rice porridge. In japan, this dish is usually serve to people with digestion problem because Kayu is easy to digest.
Japanese Sushi
  • Sushi: Sushi is one of the most famous Japanese dishes available all over the world. Sushi is a combination of plain rice with vinegar.
  • Sanbei: Baking rice with different sauces is the delicious Sanbei.
  • Nukazuke: A combination of rice and vegetable pickles is the Nukazuke.
  • Omuraisu: A combination of egg and fried rice is a common food for breakfast in most Japanese households.
  • Donburi: This is a form of plain rice on a bowl with other food toppings.
  • Sweets: A large number of Japanese sweets are with rice as key ingredients, some of which include ohagi and daifuku.
  • Komepan: Komepan is a bread that is out of Rice flour and sold at all Japanese Bakeries.
  • Chahan: Chahan is the Japanese word for fried rice. This dish has its origin in China and later came to Japan.

How to Cook Rice

Did you know that the first ever rice cooker is also from Japan? Yes, they practically thought of cooking rice easily through a device without much human intervention.

The brand Toshiba was the first to launch rice cookers but only until Zojirushi came out with their genius machine with different technologies like: fuzzy logicMiCom and of course the Induction Heating. Since then, other famous brands also offer the same technologies with multifunction settings.

Japanese Rice Festivals

Japanese Rice Festivals

Japan has a tradition of celebrating events that are related to growing of rice, from harvesting to the first crop.

The various festivals include:

  • Niiname-sai– Or also known as the ‘first taste’ celebration. This is an annual celebration during the first rice harvest. It is usually happening every November 23 or on the day of the rabbit in the 11th month of the lunar calendar.

  • Nukiho festival-  A celebration for a bountiful harvest made in the Ōyamazumi shrine, Aichi prefecture. A one-person sumo contest demonstrates the spiritualism of rice. This celebration marks every September 9 of lunar calendar.

  • Rice-planting festival – This is the oldest rice-planting festival in Sumiyoshi shrine, Osaka, Japan dedicated only to praying for a rich harvest when rice-planting starts. Men and women usually dance to give powers to the seedlings that were spiritually purified. Rice planting festival happens every June 14 of each year.

  • Rain festival – The Bessho hot springs, in Nagano prefecture, celebrates the Rain festival every Sunday that is closest to July 15 to ask gods for rain. They usually do “Take no nobori” wherein people parade to the mountains with bamboo poles decked with colorful streaming banners waving in tune with the tunes of flutes and drums. It also has a ”3-headed” lion dance following the procession.

Summary

With all these things we learned above, truly rice in Japanese culture has greatly impact not just their own people and neighboring countries but also the world. So the next time you bite into your favorite sushi or any Japanese rice dishes, remember that the food has so much to be proud of!

Comment us your favorite Japanese rice dishes below! We’d love to hear from you.