Many things confuse and baffle foreign visitors to Japan, that much is true. After reading an umpteenth travel blog post about “wow, it’s a washlet and I got sprayed” or “holy crap, it’s a squat toilet, in the middle of freakin’ Tokyo” alternating with “look at all the vending machines in this country!” and “meido cafés, those chicks are sooo cute” you may be excused if you think that Japan is visited mostly (only?) by idiots on their very first trip abroad.
But recently, it was my turn to be baffled when a brave tourist, who ventured outside of the capital city (read: got lost in the countryside) asked this: “And what are those oversized phone booth thingies?”
And then he added, “And I haven’t seen them in Tokyo, but here (meaning - in the countryside) they are everywhere.”
And then he added, “And it seems people dump some bags in there and it obviously serves a purpose, but not sure how or what…”
Very observant, indeed!
People do dumb bags – of rice – into the contraptions in those “phone booths” and what the machinery does is simply polish the rice.
“What? You need to polish your own rice?” I heard him ask.
Well, yes… You see, not everyone buys their rice at the supermarket. We don’t. We get our rice directly from the farmer. Such rice comes unpolished and yellow in color. And I’m sure that some health nuts would eat it like that just fine. But I (and most of this country) prefer my rice fresh, white and shiny.
And that’s where the machine comes in. You dump your yellow rice in at one end, put some money in, press some buttons, and voila, shiny white grains come out on the end.
We normally polish only a bucket at a time to keep our rice fresh and yummy. The whole procedure is very quick – it takes only a few minutes, and my only disappointment is that colorful lights don’t light up during the process and cute arcade music doesn’t play while the machine is running.
And you’d think that where as where, but in Japan the companies would think of such obvious technical improvements.
PS. There are other rice-related machines, but I'm going to spare you the full-blown rice farmer story right now, OK?