Tuesday, July 17, 2001

Boxed Lunches with California Rice

According to this evening's paper, boxed lunches packed with American-grown rice went on sale today at 26 JR stations throughout the Tokyo metropolitan area. A subsidiary of JR East Group, Nippon Restaurant Enterprise Co., imports the "frozen boxed lunches" which use the California-grown organic rice, "Akita Komachi". Some years ago, when rice crops in Japan suffered due to a particularly cool summer, the government immediately imported rice from other countries. I took advantage of the "importing by individuals is tax free" situation and served as an intermediary for those who wanted California or Thai-grown rice. There are those who probably wonder why a religious leader would do something like this, but it was because I wanted the members of Seicho-No-Ie, at the very least, who were of the "Anything other than Japanese rice just isn't rice" mentality to free themselves of that "A frog in a well does not know the great ocean" mentality. Compared to those days, it seems as though we are in an entirely different world.

When I was in Chiba Prefecture the other day, I went to an American wholesale store and noticed that Thai Jasmine rice was being sold at less than half the price of domestic-grown rice. This was imported by a first class domestic rice wholesaler. This fragrant rice is a long grain variety that has a distinct fragrance, and, even when cooked, is non-sticky. As such, it doesn't go very well with Japanese foods, but it does, however, go quite well with curry or as a pilaf. Basmati rice grown in India is another high grade of rice which is now being sold in import markets throughout the country. I mentioned "Wild Rice" in another journal entry, but this is still very expensive in Japan. While it is of the same rice family, it is different than the Makomo variety, and the taste and texture are also quite different, so I don't think we need to expect any competition with this and rice grown in Japan.

I'm grateful that we in Japan can partake in many different varieties of rice, but I don't think that because of this Japanese will stop eating domestic-grown rice. Incidentally, at our house, we buy pesticide-free rice (3300-3800 yen/5 kg) and usually only have Jasmine or Wild Rice about once a week. The reason we buy the pesticide-free rice is because pesticides are a concern when it comes to something we eat daily and, although it might be a little more expensive, it's a small price to pay for our health. And I'd like to support the efforts of those who grow things free of pesticides. According to the newspaper, Japanese rice growers are protesting the importing of these boxed lunches, but the Japanese people know how delicious domestic-grown rice is, so I don't think the frozen boxed lunches will take over the country. It may catch on within the ranks of the younger generation, but I'd like to think we can forgive and be a little more broadminded when it comes to things like this. I also think that, if we are to be culturally diverse, it's good to eat a special rice from another country every 10 days or so?

- MT

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