The relationship between rice and Japanese cuisine

I recently attended a reception event called “The appeal of Japanese cuisine and rice, acknowledged on a global level.” I was so deeply impressed by a talk given there by one of the three guests, the third-generation owner of Ryoutei Aoyagi, Hirohisa Koyama, that it led me to think about Japanese cuisine all over again.
I have summarized the speech given by Mr. Koyama for the benefit of tourists in Japan, some of whom think that Japanese cuisine is just sushi and ramen.



Japanese cuisine included on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list

Japanese cuisine, or washoku, has been included on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, but what has actually been listed is not the “food” per se, but the “culture.” Japanese cuisine is not only the sushi and ramen that foreigners all know about, just as pizza does not equate to Italian cuisine. So what is the real Japanese cuisine?


A restaurant for a goddess

Amaterasu Omikami, Japan’s supreme deity, is enshrined at the Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture. Without missing a single day, for 365 days of the year over the past 1,500 years, twice a day—morning and evening—meals have been offered to Amaterasu Omikami in the Omike Hall of the Outer Shrine of Ise. And it seems that the deity comes to enjoy meals each day at the Inner Shrine of Ise, which is five kilometers away.

Is it only Japan that has such a restaurant for a goddess?

It seems that, in addition to sea bream, abalone, and lobster, Amaterasu Omikami is a great fan of rice. Her tastes are not so different to those of contemporary Japanese!

Rice plays a central role in Japanese cuisine

Rice plays a central role in both the meals of this deity and of the Japanese people. France, for example, has the concept of a “main dish,” which demonstrates that bread or rice does not take a central role. In Japan, as is shown in the word “shushoku” or “staple,” rice is the main part of the meal.

Fundamentally, all Japanese dishes, such as salmon or kombu seaweed that have been seasoned with salt, or miso soup, exist to make the rice taste good.

Listening to Mr. Koyoma’s talk about “shushoku,” I felt that I was learning about the essential feature of Japanese cuisine, which I had not been fully aware of, as for Japanese this is such a matter of fact thing.

This was the substance of Mr. Koyama’s talk.


“One soup and three side dishes” as an eating style

After Mr. Koyama’s talk, Ryoutei Aoyagi served us “one soup and three side dishes,” which was a was completely commonplace eating style in Japan 30–40 years ago.

Rice: boiled rice (hitomebore)
Soup: miso soup with shrimp-shaped taro and shimeji mushrooms
Side dish: shira-ae of konnyaku and Daitokiji wheat gluten
Grilled dish: yuan-yaki grilled salmon with deep-friend ginkgo nuts and simmered bitter-skinned chestnuts
Accompanying dish: simmered chicken and vegetables


The most delicious freshly-cooked rice

Glossy, freshly-cooked rice. Something as simple as a bowl of piping hot, sweet, white rice brings a huge smile to my face.

It is almost magical how you can create such a sweet and delicious taste just by putting rice and water into a pot and cooking it up.

While this is a matter of fact for Japanese people, it might be something new for people from overseas. Neither wheat nor barley can be eaten like rice, cooked up this simply.

A very healthy style of cooking

Seasonal ingredients that provide that autumn mood— salmon, chestnuts, and gingko—are lined up in an earthenware pot. Simmered dishes rely on a stock made with bonito flakes and kombu seaweed to enhance the sensation of the flavors of the vegetables. No dishes cooked in this style use oil, so they are very healthy.

While Japanese cuisine is intrinsically healthy, I had been dieting by preparing a main dish using the kind of oil that is used in western cooking, meanwhile avoiding eating rice as my main source of carbohydrates in my everyday meals. I realized that I had somehow confused the natural order of things, and felt rather embarrassed.

The roots of Japanese “tastiness” is in the rice!

Mr. Koyama has been traveling the world for 25 years, spreading the word about the wonders of washoku.

His talk, which is informed by his position a chef, provides an opportunity to re-think the appeal of Japanese cuisine and the tastiness of rice, both for international audiences and uninformed Japanese such as myself.

Ohhhh, how I want to just go home and eat a bowl of freshly-cooked white rice!


“I was surprised by the way of cooking, that draws the sweetness out of the rice,”
said Eric Trochon


Ms. Ryuzaki, who provided a demonstration of “futomaki festival sushi,” a regional dish from Chiba


Rose blossom and peach blossom futomaki festival sushi that were made

Ryoutei ”AOYAGI” Third-generation owner Hirohisa Koyama

MOF prize-winning chef Eric Trochon
“Pirouette,” a restaurant directed by Eric Trochon

Supervised by the Chiba Traditional Regional Cuisine Research Group Eiko Ryuzaki

■Sponsor: Institute for the Stable Supply of Grains, Public Interest Incorporated Association

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Hideki Motosue

Hideki Motosue


I was born in Fukuoka prefecture and raised in Wakayama prefecture. I’m a lover of pork ramen and umeboshi and a freelance designer. I command the 'foot soldiers' at Tadaima Japan.

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