Ever wondered how BIC Camera has isles of 50,000-100,000+ JPY (500-1000+ USD) rice cookers? Or perhaps you’ve seen posters and adds with chopsticks holding a few steaming grains above a delicate rice bowl? The above diagram basically sums it up: the Japanese take their rice seriously.
You can find the original Japanese diagram is from the Yamatane Corporation.
The Right Rice for the Right Dish
Despite Japanese rice being classified as Northern, pearl-like rice as opposed to the Southern long-grained ‘Thai’ rice, they have their own sub-segments.
Rice that is more plain and ‘hard’ (such as masshigura) is better for soaking up thick curry sauces. Firm and springy rice (such as koshihikari) has a delicate flavour that is best enjoyed on its own, or with delicate washoku flavours on the side. Springy and soft yumepirika is hard enough to pick up delicate with chopsticks, but nonetheless able to absorb the bold flavours of pickled vegetables. Nigiri (in English sushi rolls) is so different it requires an entirely different type of rice: Sasanishiki.
You can see your full options in the diagram above.
Where Can I Get My Rice?
Rice is also a regional product. Rice from Niigata Prefecture is commonly found Kansai (Osaka and Tokyo) and northward. Osaka will also source from Toyama Prefecture and South. Tokyo usually sources rice from Niigata and Akita prefectures. Rural areas will usually stick to their own produce.
Specific prefectures and regions are most famous for certain types of rice. According to this list the top producers (in area devoted to production for each type of rice is:
The types of rice ordered by the volume of production are:
- １コシヒカリ日本全国 Koshihikari – Entire country
- ２ヒノヒカリ西日本 Hinohikari – Western Japan
- ３ひとめぼれ東北 Hitomebore – Tohoku Region
- ４あきたこまち東北 Akitakomachi – Tohoku Region
- ５キヌヒカリ東日本 – Kinuhikari – Eastern Japan
- ６はえぬき山形 – Haenugi – Yamagata
- ７きらら３９７北海道 – Kirara 397 – Hokkaido
- ８ほしのゆめ北海道 – Hoshinoyume – Hokkaido
- ９つがるロマン青森 – Tsugaruroman – Aomori
- １０ななつぼし北海道 – nanatsuboshi – Hokkaido
- ササニシキ – Sasanishiki – Tohoku Region
- ゆめびりか – Yumepirika – Hokkaido
- つや姫 – Tsuyahime – Rotated annually which prefecture produces it. It originated from Yamagata
- 森のくまさん – Morinokumasan – Kumamoto Prefecture.
Best of the Best Rice: Fall Rice
The first rice is the best rice rice possible, full in its delicate, subtle flavour, and perfectly textured. If you want to understand how rice is harvested, for about 2000 JPY, you can harvest all day at a farm and bring home sacks for the rest of the year.
Another equally fun option is to check out the supermarkets and local shops. New stock is marked with ‘新米’ (new rice) stickers and every bag is stamped with its packaging date. You can head to the Food Hall at Mitsukoshi in Nihonbashi to get award-winning rice, check out the various supermarket chains, or go to the little corner shops. You can even by 1-person portion rice to sample.
Rice sacks are usually labelled first by prefecture and then type of rice. The actual producer is usually in the bottom back corner.