The Rice Crisis – my Japanese husband teaches me why I should care

It was a winter afternoon. My newish husband and I were at the grocery store near our Tokyo apartment. I was perusing what was probably spinach and heard Hitoshi’s voice from somewhere nearby, “Hilary, we’re out of rice.”

Continuing to examine the supposed spinach with eyes focused downward, “Uh huh” slipped out.

Hubby’s voice popped up again from the carrots. “Hilary. There is no rice in the container in the kitchen.”

While acknowledging Hitoshi’s presence and noting stress in his voice, tomatoes still won my attention.

“Hilary. There’s NO rice.” The stress had turned to strain.

Upon returning home, Hitoshi was barely. He had a headache and had to lie down.

Should the empty rice container be hidden under a large sheet? And why do I feel so guilty?

Do you have enough rice?

At every family visit, Hitoshi’s mom asked if he had enough rice. She never asked if he had rice. Hitoshi would invariably answer in the positive.

The one time he said, “No”, his mom dashed to fill a plastic grocery bag to bursting. The thin handles stretched from the weight of the nurturing load that seemed to symbolize his mother’s duty to feed her son. While it was partly this, I learned that lack of rice meant unhappiness and stress in my husband’s family.

The rice crisis incident at the grocery store was a turning point. From then on, the quantity of rice in our container was actively monitored. While the importance of rice to Hitoshi was understood, I still struggled with matching his depth of connection.

A friend from Singapore had another experience with rice. Her grandmother always told her that an empty rice container would bring bad luck or impending doom. Another friend from Hong Kong simply stated that her family never, ever ran out of rice!

rice container and bag of rice

Japanese rice grown in America in a container made in Korea

What has been your experience with rice in your family? If rice is not part of your life, what takes its place?

PP Aug 17, 2010

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43 thoughts on “The Rice Crisis – my Japanese husband teaches me why I should care

  1. Hahah…this is so typically Asian I must say! As an Indian, that too from the rice-eating belt in the east, I don’t think my family has ever run out of rice either! Although my husband and I are not big rice eaters, I always have some at home! Old habits die hard I suppose.

  2. Hmm..I think a rice crisis would translate into Nespresso capsules crisis in our home:) Btw, I love Japanese rice, but it’s so difficult to find good rice outside of Japan. I usually eat it with those salty black sesame seeds on top.

    • Ha ha ha! Well, I think everyone has something that becomes a calamity when it runs out. 😀

      That’s interesting about finding good rice! The true Japanese rice is rare here and very expensive. Most of the “Japanese” rice we eat is from California. And those salty goma are soooo addictive!

  3. Growing up, we rarely ate rice, if we did, it came from an instant rice box–my mom didn’t like to cook. I am not a fan of rice, I feel it is too high in sugar and low in nutrition. My husband loves rice and cooks it deliciously but I end up having a tablespoon full. I LOVE potatoes–my Irish roots 🙂

    • Oh yes! The instant boxed rice is not the greatest. It reminds me of styrofoam. I did like it though as well as those boil-in-a-bag rice pouches that came out when… the 80s I think? I used to take them on Girl Guide camps.

      Now. potatoes are not something I’ve eaten much but I’m trying to eat more and cook them in differen ways. Do you have a favorite kind of potatoe and a great way to prepare them? I could use some ideas.

  4. Last week my boyfriend’s dad gave us a box with at least 5 kg of rice… Considering that we only eat at home in the weekends, I don’t know how many years that rice will last haha.

  5. Interesting! I’ve never heard of this, but reading it makes sense. I’m usually the one that makes sure we don’t run out, mainly because I don’t want to be the one carrying it home, haha! (I’ll let YJ know we need more before he leaves work and he can take it on his motorbike and drop it off on the way home.) For me, it’s more of a laziness thingsーcooking rinse means just rinsing, filling w/ water and pressing a button on the rice cooker. Pasta or potatoes involves monitoring the stove…blah. 😉

    • Happy New Year! I am so happy to read your words. I thought I might have missed a post but then saw your latest by email with the blogging break. Happy New Year!
      Ha ha ha! I know what you mean about carrying the rice. We bought really small bags in Japan but now come home with 7kg sacks. That is a good point too about the ease of cooking rice compared to anything else. Have you tried pasta or potatoes in the rice cooker? I think pasta might not work but potatoes perhaps??

      • Nope, you didn’t miss anything, I just completely fell of the internet 😀

        Hmm, I know some people do cook potatoes and bake bread etc, but I’ve just not been adventurous enough, haha! Maybe this year is the year! 😉

    • Oh good! Hitoshi has relaxed a little with the panic and now it is more me that does. We have had trouble finding white rice though and went through a stage of almost only brown rice so now we have 7kg bags of both. It is really rare now not to run out! Part of the trouble for us in Canada is having to go far to find the rice we like whereas it was much easier to find it in Japan. Is it pretty easy to track it down in the UK? Oh! I have not checked out your blog in a while and I owe you a huge congrats!!!

  6. I cannot be without rice in ny house. We didn’t have it very often growing up (potatoes for us!) but I have to have it. I rarely have potatoes anymore, I have rice almost every night. Rice and soy sauce are my favourite things!

      • So many people have told me that my comments are in their spam folder! I have emailed the support team.
        I think jasmine is my favourite, we have a pack here called Jasmati, a mixture of jasmine and basmati, that’s really good. I cook up a batch and have it in the fridge for the week. Gidget has chicken or lamb and rice for dinner as well 😊

  7. I have no ‘rice shame’ and nor does my husband – if we run out, we buy more, plain and simple (or at least I think it is). However, not eating every piece of rice in your bowl is another thing. I have had some of my husband’s uncles look at me strangely when I didn’t eat every little piece of rice out of my bowl. My husband’s immediate family, however, could care less.

    • Neat! Yes, Hitoshi was told that if he did not eat every grain of rice, his eyes would fall out or something similar. I think this sort of thing is common whenever there are circumstances of poverty in the memory of the parents saying this. I think Hitoshi may be writing about this on his blog. Has your hubby ever said why his uncles do that? I am very curious!

  8. We have traditions that evolved around rice and its always associated with bounty, abundance, prosperity because of the dedication and effort associated with planting and harvesting rice 🙂

      • One is to make sure we don’t spill food / rice and try to eat everything on our plate because the labour people did to get that to our plate was not easy … we have a song “Magtanim Ay Di Biro” literally translated “Planting Rice is Not a Joke” – they are bent all afternoon cannot sit and cannot stand << it's hpw the farmers are doing the planting. Check out the link to know more about it http://www.lyricspinas.com/2013/02/magtanim-ay-di-biro-lyrics.html 😀

        • Thank you for the link and info! I really enjoyed reading it and the song lyrics feel a combination of persistance mixed with sadness. I have only had one experience with rice and that was helping neighbors in Thailand cut the dry rice by hand. It was a wakeup call to understand the labour of agriculture.

          • It is a symbol of bounty and pride that is why the old people value every grain and we should too 🙂 before the electric mill rice was pound manually which is still done in some parts of my country …

            • That makes sense… “bounty and pride”. Valuing the individual grain… something small and seemingly insignificant is so important, especially since something that is small is not necessarily unimportant.

              Oh yes, those mills help tremendously. Do you find that pounding the rice by hand to mill it is different than an electric mill?

              • When I am in the province I appreciate the pounded rice – more aromatic in a rice kind of way when cooked and more glutinous which I like when eating with my hands 🙂 and they do it in batches so the rice is well dried under the sun before they are pounded. Milled rice varies and of course good in commercial farming makes life easier for many people in saving for the rainy days — all rice should be milled and kept dry to last until the next harvest.

                • Thanks so much for the explanation about rice! I also love sticky rice… eating it with my hands is a glorious treat. I ate a lot of it when I was living in Thailand and there is something special for me about dipping the rice into sauces and eating it without a utensil of some sort interfering with the experience. I didn’t notice much about rice and its smell before living in Japan. It’s really fun to pay more attention to the differences and better appreciate the variety. Do you have photos of the rice production process? I would love to have some images to go along with your descriptions.

  9. there’s ‘no rice shame’ in our family – once Momzilla run out of it so when we went to store we had to hide the rice in Sing’s backpack so neighbors won’t see it and gossip we run out of it. like a taboo or something – to them we just always need to have rice, never ending rice bag 😀

    • So true! I love that you had to hide it in Sing’s backpack, although he either had a huge pack or did you buy a small bag of rice?? 😀 Those 7kg bags we buy now take up our whole backpack. Before we had a car, I always hoped that Hitoshi would get the rice! I know what you mean about hiding it. Somehow rice should come out of a secret faucet in the house. We now keep *two* bags of rice – one white and one brown so we dont ever run out.

      • we can say ‘first rule of the rice club: you don’t talk about the rice club’ 😀 we got a smaller bag because it was almost the end of our trip but a regular one we buy is 25 lbs 😀

        • Ha ha ha! So true. 😀

          Yes! Those 25lb bags are something else, especially when you’ve got a baby of almost the same weight balanced on your hip and you didn’t bother to bring the stroller into the store because you only had one item to pick up but the guy in front of you insists on having a debate with the cashier and then returns half the stuff in his hands while the other cashier couldn’t be bothered to make eye contact and continues drinking her soda and staring at the ceiling. Gosh! I guess I still have some hard feelings about that. ;D

    • Do you mean asking if he had enough rice? 😀 Maybe it’s an agricultural family thing, too?? In my family, food is always offered when you visit direct or extended family. I think food is one way to calm worry. 😀

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