Delving into the Intangibles


A newspaper reporting on the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) negotiations expressed surprise that people in some countries do not know that rice is the staple food of Japanese. Sometimes a thing taken “for granted” is not taken “for granted” at all, as with the ideas of many foreigners about Japan.

On this long autumn evening, I think now is as good an opportunity as any to reflect on our staple food and consider what “rice” really represents.

Let’s begin by trying to figure out how many meals we Japanese take in a lifetime. Say you are 70 years of age, for example: you have lived 12 months x 70 = 840 months, which translates into 25,200 days multiplied by 3 (meals a day) = 75,600 meals. If you eat bread for breakfast and noodles for lunch that leaves around 25,200 meals in which you might have rice. It’s a wonder we don’t get tired of eating rice more than 25,000 times: every day, over so many years.

The reason we don’t get fed up eating rice could simply be that rice is white, with no particular taste or smell. If rice were black or red, and had a strange taste, it wouldn’t be the same. “White”, and without anything unnecessary––what a wonderful source of Intangible power! I can feel it. It is a motive power for everything, in its “birthday suit”, without being further processed* in any way.

Like the innocent heart of children, rice is white, as white as a blank canvas.

Is there a key to the mystery of white rice? If, by a happy chance, I succeeded in solving the difficult question, might I be awarded the Nobel Prize? Ah, please overlook this leisurely flight of fancy!

Eating dinner at a five-star restaurant on three successive nights, even if invited for free, will likely make you sick. If you are Japanese, don’t you feel tempted, on going home, to eat ochazuke? A bowl of rice soaked in hot green tea will cleanse your stomach and refresh your mind and body. “Simple is beautiful” don’t you think? One tenth of my 25,000 “rice” meals, around 2500, would consist, I suppose, of ochazuke suppers.

A simple bowl of hot boiled rice with an umeboshi (pickled plum) or nori (dried seaweed flake) we call suppori meshi. It was once the typical meal of the common people in Japan. But for us, living in these days of plenty, suppori meshi seems to have become a sort of luxury.

I don’t feel like eating “colored” or “flavored” rice, even if modern technologies make this possible. I wonder how many Japanese have really noticed that white rice has Intangible power? A pity if they haven’t.

On a long autumn evening, I feel on top of the world enjoying a bowl of freshly boiled, hot rice with hakusai no tsukemono (pickled napa cabbage), I must confess.

*White rice, of course, is processed: it’s refined. And then it’s cooked.