Learning To Love Rice

Matsumoto rice field

This may sound strange coming from a food lover, but I used to find rice rather boring. When I was growing up, it was served without much fanfare, usually as a quick, easy starch that required little seasoning nor much attention. In our family, pasta and bread were the carbohydrates of choice, with rice making only an occasional appearance on the dinner table. This was fine by me, as my favorite foods were cereal, pasta, and bread, in that order. (I was actually a pretty adventurous eater, but those three always topped the list.)

When I moved to Chicago for college, this pattern continued, in part because I lacked a rice cooker. Steven eventually bought me one for fifteen dollars at the local Walgreens, but it never seemed to work properly. There was always a thick layer of gluey rice left on the bottom of the bowl, and so any benefits offered by the machine were ultimately negated by the amount of time it took to clean. Eventually, I took to cooking rice in a pot on the stove, but I always encountered the same problem: an intractably sticky mess. In retrospect, this was probably because I failed to rinse the rice beforehand and added too much water. In comparison, pasta was easy – bring salted water to a boil, add noodles, stir, taste periodically, drain. Why was rice so frustrating? I was a perfectly competent cook, yet this simple grain continued to elude me.

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Japan’s Post Post-Industrial Age

Prompted by this fantastic documentary, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what the future holds for Japan. It is well known that the country’s economic prosperity and survival lies in solving its population crisis. In order to combat this, the government has set its sights on increasing immigration and, to a lesser extent, encouraging domestic growth.

Over the past several years, Japan has made some attempts to ease restrictions on immigration. This summer a number of reforms concerning visas, foreign resident registration, and re-entry permits were passed. Though the reforms were fairly minor, that immigration is even being addressed is noteworthy for a country that has long held foreigners at arm’s length. Although this attitude is changing, Japan still remains a fairly insular culture. For example, a person of Korean descent born in Japan must hold an Alien Registration Card unless she is willing to give up her Korean name in exchange for Japanese civil rights (for more on this, see the aforementioned documentary). Yet simply altering a few laws and allowing more unskilled, cheap labor into the country will not necessarily bring the desired results. Continued prejudice against foreigners will almost certainly hinder Japan’s attempts to create a truly thriving economy and socially equitable society.

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Kinpira Gobo, take II

Kinpira gobo

My mom and I always call this time of year the “shoulder season,” when the last rush of summer produce tumbles in and people begin to set their sights on the soups and warm comforts of the coming months. Those of you in the States are probably already donning your fall jackets, scarves, and other cool weather accoutrements, as have many of us in Japan. I, for one, have never been so happy to wear pants, long sleeves, and boots! Autumn is indeed a very special time here, in part because people are eager to bid farewell to the hot and humid Japanese summer.

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