Sunday, December 27, 2009

Rice, Rice, Baby...

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?”

Come again?

Iseki x500

“Well, from the outside they look like miniature laundromats or oversized phone booths, but there are no phones inside. And no washing machines. Only some control panels and strange contraptions.”

Control panel x500

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.

Cleaning rice x500

“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.

Yellow rice
yellow rice in

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.

Clean rice x500
white rice out

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?


  1. This is SOOOOOO cool. I want one of these machines!

  2. My sensei has one of the home versions of rice polisher, but she usually eats it unpolished.
    Most of us (both American and Japanese) would consider the yellow (what we call brown) rice to be healthier. Use the polished stuff to make congee for sick people.

  3. Well... It's really original thing :)

  4. Oh yeah, another health food nut, and this one can even quote wikipedia. Wow! Am I supposed to be impressed? Ok, go now and eat your brown rice sushi and fight beri beri in the world. Hop along now and bye bye!
    PS. It always amazes me when people think that if someone prefers white rice and (white flour), because, yes, it does taste better than the brown stuff, that someone must be on the verge of dying from a multitude of diseases because of his/her unhealthy diet. Are people really THAT stupid?

  5. Whereabout are these machines? I live in Tohoku, and I've been all around its countryside without ever seeing one.

  6. Hi Jon!
    I know there are plenty of them in Miyagi, look in smallish towns in parking lots next to konbinis, drugstores or supermarkets, etc. An inconspicuous-looking booth there is probably a rice machine.
    In Tochigi there are everywhere. The one we went to (theres a whole cluster of them) is right next to a Softbank and a supermarket on the outskirts of Utsunomiya.

  7. And your utter lack of sense of humor makes you look dour. That's not science, that's a fact. Also, how brave of you to leave your comment anonymously - yay! Congrats for having balls! I'm duly impressed.

  8.'re saying you don't want to go out?

  9. Hi Anna!
    You got a bad attitude girl. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Dr. Martin Luther King said it best when he said "I have a dream that brown rice and white rice can live together in one sushi roll"
    Lay off the wasabi, bitch!

  10. I thought this might be for sake making hobbyist or something since you have to polish the rice for that, usually, although they do make some sake with brown rice.

  11. that's so tite! I love learning new thing about other cultures...i might sound ignorant but i had no idea rice was yellow...

  12. I lived in Japan for 2 and a half months and to see how they package foods and live makes so much sense! It's all so fun, too.

  13. Hi Holly!
    Actually, I am not so fond of how they package foods (and a lot of other things too) - too much totally unnecessary plastic, paper and general waste. It does look pretty and it is convenient, but at what cost to the environment? Hmmm... I might have to write something about it. Thanks for the suggestion!

  14. I love Anna. Reading these comments made me laugh. Lighten up people!

  15. Thank you Darren! Fortunately, reading these comments makes me laugh too. But hey, I should not complain, this stuff brings in some crazy, serious traffic. LOL!

  16. Oh wow. I'm a little unnerved by the amount of hate one little comment on how a person prefers rice can incite.
    The whole "Japan begins and ends with Tokyo" mindset does get ever so tiring. I'm with Anna on this one. There's a lot more here than squatty potties, bright lights and schoolgirls.
    I never knew what those little booths were. I live in a little town with a LOT of rice paddies so I might have to look into using one.

  17. Very clever you Japanese.But what about cleaning
    yellow snow?Awful to see.But nice to make.

  18. Craig, Seattle WAApril 9, 2010 at 10:50 AM

    Very cool, I had gone to Japan back when I was 16 and have wanted to go back ever since. I did go into the "country" if Nara counts. Loved it and have been traveling around the world since. I had never seen these.. or at least I don't remember seeing them and this was actually quite fun to read. Good job

  19. The only thing I disagree with is that white rice tastes better than brown rice. Black rice is the UTTER BEST though. I don't eat much sushi though. Each one has it's place :) But I'm sure white short grain sushi rice is best for any form of sushi :) I didn't know rice was polished even, so thanks for that. I didn't know there was fake brown rice (cept for that "instant" brown rice).


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