The way we can’t imagine Marco without Polo, beginnings without endings and Yin without Yang, the same way Japan without rice is undreamed of. Their connection goes beyond eating- they think rice, pray rice and drink rice- you can say they just live rice.
We are not saying this; rice is established in Japan’s very history and roots of existence. Do you know? Earlier Japan was called “Mizu ho no Kuni”, which can be translated as the land of the water stalk plant or rice. You will find multiple variations in this term’s rendition but the word rice will remain constant. Another interesting fact that strengthens this amazing country’s deep connection with this grain is the Japanese chosen word to identify with the United States, it is Beikoku (land of rice or rice country).
For the Japanese, rice is just not a food but a source of blessing and joy. It carries the essence of creation and existence for them. Rice has a very sacred and deep placement in this country’s culture. Rice is integral to the very thinking that perceives life. As per the Japanese mythological story, Amaterasu-Omikami, the sun goddess, is also called the mother of the grain soul. Amaterasu had sent Jimmu, the first king of Japan, and instructed him to cultivate rice to transform the land from the wilderness. Jimmu was a Shaman and peasant and used to talk to deities for the prosperity of his land.
No celebration, worship, mourning, or personal achievement can be carried out without rice. You know the New Year celebration is impossible in Japan without rice wine, which is also called Otoso. It is being consumed to keep evil spirits away and to bring fortune and health to the family and close ones.
In Shintoism, Japan’s polytheistic indigenous religion, many things are connected with rice. As rice farming is majorly about correct weather, therefore, various ceremonies or festivals in Japan are to pray for the protection of harvest. Sake (rice wine) and mochi (rice cake) are considered to be sacred offerings at the shrines and both are the products of rice. As a custom, the Japanese offer the best sake to pray for the health and bountiful crop every year.
Inari, accompanied by the fox spirit, is a famous deity connected to rice and agriculture. A revered name among merchants and swordsmiths. It is believed that Inari comes to land during rice planting season and goes back once the harvest is over. Japanese wrestling, Sumo, was originally an agricultural ritual to seek divine blessings and protection. Later, it became a sport at the imperial court. We see the same sport in modern Japan also. Stories, history and faith, all of that and more, that too in abundance are related to one grain. Amazing, isn’t it?
There is a very famous saying in Japanese- “there are 88 gods’ blessings in rice grain”. Therefore, kids are sensitized since childhood to not waste a grain of rice on their plate in Japan. As per the ancient traditions, kings have always been part of rice cultivation. The recent king has also conducted rice harvest after sitting on the throne.
A bowl of cooked rice is an imperative part of their meals. The most common types of Japanese rice are Hakumai (white rice), which is a short grain that becomes sticky when cooked and Genmai (brown rice), which is less preferred as it is not as delicious as Hakumai. Mochigome (sticky-rice) is the second most preferred rice in Japan as they become more sticky than regular Japanese rice.
Rice is, without any doubt, more than a crop or source of nourishment for the people of Japan. They live a bond with this grain. Everyday!!