Despite it being the backbone of the country’s agricultural industry, rice consumption in Japan is on the decline.
While favourites like sushi and donburi continue to be enjoyed, increasingly few young Japanese sit down to a bowl of rice with their meal compared to even ten years ago, with more and more people are choosing bread and pasta instead, citing their convenience and “cooler” image.
In the past, both morning and evening meals in Japan were comprised of rice, a bowl of miso soup and fish, meat or vegetables. Lunch, too, often included rice or onigiri rice-balls. While the nation still continues to eat vast amounts of the stuff, and we’re in no danger of losing cute and creative bento packed lunches any time soon, it has been revealed that Japan now consumes more bread than it does rice, and that rice farming is in trouble.
In an effort to keep its rice industry alive, however, Japan Agriculture, along with a host of rice producers, have struck upon an idea that’s proving to be a big hit and putting a little cool back into the nations staple food.
Introducing: The Moé Rice Revolution!!!
The concept of putting cute or sexy characters on rice bags, known as Moegome (lit. Moé rice), first sprang up in Akita prefecture, when bright sparks at JA struck upon the idea of putting popular game characters drawn by artist Aoi Nishimata on their bags of rice. The project was a huge hit, and prompted a host of other rice manufacturers to follow suit.
At the opposite end of the country to Akita, Fukuoka prefecture launched a series of manga-inspired rice-bags that soon become massively sought-after and were collected almost for the designs alone. Their rice was packaged in bags that depicted seven rice gods from local folklore, titled Komekami! inspiring consumers to buy the complete set, eventually leading to the production of a limited edition box-set featuring one of each of the designs.
But it’s not just rice packaging that’s being used to reinvent the food- a whole host of comics and short anime series now exist that focus entirely on rice.
Tanakasan no Hakumaichan (Tanaka’s Girl White rice), for instance, is a manga that tells the story of a young man who spends his days with a tiny girl who pops out of his rice cooker each morning. The girl, Hakumai-chan, is supposed to represent freshly-cooked white rice, and helps Tanaka through his days by providing healthy meals for him to enjoy.
▼”I’m Akita white rice! I’m going to help you out in a tasty way today, too!!!”
While at first this might sound about as enticing or original as a grade-school campaign run by teachers to make homework and eating your broccoli “cool”, getting past the fact that Tanaka’s rice is talking to him and expects to be eaten, the manga is genuinely well written and contains some laugh-out-loud moments.
Just take a look at this amazing promotional video for the same manga and tell us honestly that it’s not the greatest thing you’ve seen all day.
If the sausage/octopus suffering an identity crisis or the gooey nattō zombies at the end of the video didn’t at least make you smile I don’t know what will…
Hakumai-chan’s best friend even turns up to offer some serving suggestions for the culinarily-challenged, offering up tofu, aburaage and bean sprouts.
▼Who wouldn’t smile if a team of helpful foods helped them start the day?
Meanwhile, Suihanki Shojo Komeko (lit. Rice-cooker girl Komeko) from the same publisher as hit series Kei-On! is a manga about a young man and his girl-shaped rice cooker.
With her son living away from home, one young man’s mother worries that he won’t eat properly, so decides to make a special rice cooker for him that’s shaped like a girl. The girl, known as Komeko (lit. rice girl) frequently helps her master out by popping her head open and serving a nice, nutritious bowl of hot rice.
Finally, “Squeeze it tight! Yonechan” is a series that sees a young girl who cycles around her town each morning selling rice-balls.
Since bread and pasta have become so popular in Japan, rice has slowly come to be seen as a little fuddy-duddy and something that only the older generation eat a lot of. Young men living alone rarely care to take the time to wash, soak and cook their own rice every day, and instead opt for quicker meal options. But with campaigns like JA’s and well-written manga series like Yonechan, Komeko and Hakumai, Japan’s otaku community are rediscovering their love of the food and making the effort to eat it more often.
It would seem that rice is fast becoming an otaku food in Japan, and that the key to the country’s farming industry might well lie in the hands of the same men who frequent maid cafes in Akihabara.
Who knows; maybe ten years from now we’ll all be chubby from a heavy bread and pasta diet while Japan’s manga fanatics will be maintaining slim physiques thanks to their healthy Japanese-style cuisine?
YouTube video: Nikunomansey