In the never-ending debate about which country makes the best cars, it’s common to derogatorily refer to a Japanese automobile as a “rice rocket,” “rice burner,” or “rice runner.” Really anything with rice.
But with a new product from Saitama-based company JPN, you can own that insult, and turn it into a positive.
JPN stands for Japan Professional Network, and befitting a company with such a vague-sounding name, it’s a little hard to find a common theme in their product line-up. Aside from interior paints and leather smartphone covers, JPN also sells car accessories such as door handle covers and cell phone chargers.
With mobile phones covered, JPN’s designers moved on to another machine near and dear to the Japanese way of life: the rice cooker.
Called Takeru-kun, JPN’s rice cooker plugs into the 12-volt electrical socket found in any passenger car. With compact dimensions of 160 mm (6.3 in) across by 155 mm (6.1 in) tall, the Takeru-kun won’t feed a whole family with one batch, but JPN claims it makes enough for two bowls of rice.
The machine isn’t any harder to use than the average suihanki rice cooker found in any Japanese home. After plugging it in, open the lid and add the rice and water. Pre-washed rice works best, of course, and JPN recommends a ratio of 1.1 parts water to one part rice. Shut the lid, hit the start button, and in about 25 minutes, the rice will done.
Although it’s technically ready to eat at that point, it’s best to let the rice sit, with the lid closed, for another 10 minutes or so. This extra steaming time will ensure that each grain is moist and fluffy, unlike the microwavable packs of rice bachelors buy from the 100-yen shop. Test testers have been fully satisfied with the results, saying that Takeru-kun’s rice comes out as tasty as the stuff they eat at home.
The standard Takeru-kun retails for 4,980 yen (US$50). A 24-volt version, usable with the larger capacity outlets on trucks and other large vehicles, is a little pricier at 5,480 yen, but cooks its rice just a little faster as well. Both models come packaged with a rice scoop.
JPN’s executive director, Nobuyuki Masuda, says the development team grappled for one year with problem of generating enough heat to properly cook rice with just 12 volts of power. Their eventual solution was to coat the Takeru-kun in insulating materials that retain as much heat as possible. This design choice has the additional benefit of helping to keep the rice warm after cooking is complete, although the machine also includes an electrically-powered function for the same purpose.
Takeru-kun is well on its way to meeting JPN’s sales target of 10,000 units in its first year. The rice cooker’s official release date was August 21, but even before that JPN had already received 3,000 preorders following the product’s announcement in June. Masuda himself was surprised by the reaction. “Honestly, we thought it would take more time for it to catch on.”
Outdoor enthusiasts are an obvious market for the product. Roasted marshmallows may be the first food that comes to mind for Americans campers, but in Japan you’re not really camping until you’ve cooked up a batch of curry, which means you’ll need some rice to go with it. Masuda says the Takeru-kun’s price point is in line with what people are willing to pay for disaster-preparedness goods as well, with some stores displaying the rice cooker alongside blankets, bottled water, and other emergency supplies.
Unfortunately, the Takeru-kun’s instructions specifically state that it is not to be used while the vehicle is in motion. This is probably for the best though, since like all rice cookers it emits a steady stream of hot vapor out of its vents while in operation, which could be just a tad distracting for motorists. So follow the directions and start your cooking after you’ve stopped your car on a flat surface. Like they say, a watched pot never boils, so we recommend using the 30 minutes or so you’ll be waiting for any of a number of traditional and necessary car-related activities, such as checking your tire pressure, reconfirming your route on the GPS, or making out in the back seat.