Why has rice been eaten in Japan for so long? Learn about the history and appeal of rice.


I'm Narita, a staff member of "Kome Dreaming."

It's been very cold lately, how are you feeling?

Now, let's talk about rice, a staple food that is familiar to us in Japan.

When I was little, about 80% of the food on the dinner table at home and in school lunches was rice.

In Japan, rice has been eaten as a staple food since ancient times, but why "rice"?

This time, I will write in several chapters about the history of rice, Japan's soul food, and its unique appeal today.

1. From the origins of Japanese rice to the present day

The type of "Asian rice" commonly found on Japanese dining tables is "Japonica rice," but its roots are thought to lie in Chinese Fujian rice, which was cultivated in China and brought to Japan during the Jomon period.


So how did rice, which was introduced from the continent, spread throughout Japan?

Let's look at the history of rice in Japan from the Jomon period to the present day.


Originally, the Japanese diet was mainly based on nuts such as walnuts and oaks, i.e. acorns.


It is known that by the late Jomon period, the culture of rice cultivation had already spread, mainly to Kyushu.

It seems that they mainly ate boiled rice and made porridge.

During the Yayoi period, rice-growing culture spread rapidly throughout eastern Japan, and it is believed that rice-growing culture spread throughout the entire country except for Hokkaido.


In other words, the Yayoi period is thought to have been a turning point when Japan's food culture changed from nuts to rice cultivation.

As rice became more widespread, the population increased and the physiques of the Japanese people improved.


The style of having a staple food and a side dish, which is still relevant to modern eating habits, was already established as a "regular diet" during the Nara period, although people were limited to two meals a day.

The staple food was rice with one soup and one side dish as the basics, and at banquets held by the nobility, many side dishes were served.


It is believed that from this time on, emphasis was placed on increasing the variety of side dishes, even if they were small in number. Conversely, common people began to eat fewer side dishes, more staple foods and pickles, and miso soup on the side.

This lifestyle continued until the Second World War.

From the Kamakura to Muromachi periods, productivity increased due to the development of technologies such as double cropping, water wheels, and fertilizers.

A large number of people are required, and local rules for communal living in the village are created.


It was around this time that the "cooking and drying method" was perfected, and delicious ways of cooking rice were also developed.

During the Meiji period, tax collection was shifted from rice to money, and full-scale rice breeding began in order to increase agricultural productivity.

Koshihikari, the variety that is currently the most widely distributed in Japan, was created in 1956 (Norin No. 100), and since 1979 has boasted the largest planting area for over 30 consecutive years.


Since then, breeding has continued, and as of 2019, there are 500 varieties registered with the government, of which 271 varieties are grown for use as a staple food.

2. What is the origin of Japanese rice?


Did you know that rice is actually a tropical plant that does not grow naturally in Japan?


Rice cultivation is thought to have originated around 10,000 years ago in the area around Hunan Province in the Yangtze River basin in China.

It is said that 6,000 years ago, rice cultivated along the Yangtze River was brought to Japan, and rice cultivation there began.


Rice can be broadly divided into Japonica, Indica, and Javanica rice, each with their own characteristics:


Japonica rice: Short and nearly circular in shape, it becomes fluffy, soft, glossy, sticky and elastic when cooked.

It has a sweet taste when chewed well, and does not deteriorate easily even when cooled. It is often cooked or steamed.


Indica rice: Long and thin, with a fluffy texture and little stickiness.

It has a light and mild flavor and is often eaten with seasonings such as curry, pilaf, and paella.


Javanica rice: Large, wide grains, light in flavor but less sticky than Japonica rice.

The cooking method and texture are similar to Indica rice.

There are many different types of rice.

Which of the three types of rice do you think you usually eat?

Most of the rice commonly seen on dinner tables today, such as Koshihikari, Akitakomachi, and Hitomebore, is Japonica rice.

Now that you mention it, I feel that the rice I eat on a regular basis also fits the characteristics of Japonica rice!


The rice that was introduced to Japan 6,000 years ago was also Japonica rice, but after undergoing selective breeding it has continued to be eaten to this day.


Why was Japonica rice chosen in Japan when there are other varieties of rice available?


Did you know that Japan has a unique food culture called "kuchu choumi" (seasoning in the mouth)?

This is an old-fashioned culture in which rice and side dishes are alternated and flavors are developed in the mouth. By increasing the number of times you chew and stimulating saliva, it is expected that you will be able to prevent overeating and consuming too much salt and fat.


It is said that one of the reasons why Japonica rice continues to be in circulation to this day is that it is compatible with this "mouth seasoning."


It also grows well in Japan, with long hours of sunlight and moderate temperatures, making it a good fit for the country.

3. Rice cultivation spread throughout the country

Perhaps because Japonica rice was well suited to Japan, rice cultivation spread throughout the country in the blink of an eye.


As time passed, cooking methods increased, from boiling (porridge) to steaming (strong rice), and then polishing rice became widespread, and cooking rice (himemeshi) became more common.


I loved the egg rice porridge my mother used to make for me when I had a cold, and I would ask her to make it for me even after I recovered.It's amazing to think that rice porridge has been made 6,000 years ago.


Next time, I would like to try making steamed rice using the steaming method that was popular during the Yayoi period.

It has a gentle sweetness and flavor, and seems to improve the texture as well.

Not only cooking methods, but rice itself also continues to be improved, and the number of regional varieties and brands of non-glutinous brown rice harvested in 2022 has increased by 28 from the previous year to 921.

*Reference: " Japan Agricultural News "


Rice is ranked based on the evaluations of experts, and as of 2022 there are 42 varieties that have been certified as Special A, the highest grade.


One way to enjoy rice is to have fun searching for the type of rice that suits you best.

4. Rice < The Wheat Era and the Rice Surplus

Rice is a food that is very compatible with Japan and has spread throughout the country, but in recent years, consumption of imported wheat has increased and consumption of domestically produced rice has been decreasing year by year.


This is thought to be largely due to the spread of wheat in school lunches after the war and the simplification of food culture.


After the war, Japan, which was facing a food shortage, accepted as food aid a large amount of wheat that had been stored in the United States as wartime rations for soldiers.


Until then, rice was the main staple in Japan, but in order to popularize bread, it was introduced into school lunches, and bread gradually became more popular throughout Japan.

In addition, food culture has become more simplified.

When it comes to meals at home, some families eat together as a whole, while others eat whatever is in the fridge at different times.

As a result, meals consisting of one soup and three side dishes are becoming less common, and more households are eating ramen and bread that can be eaten immediately.


In fact, I also started going out more after entering high school, and I often found myself eating chicken ramen or steamed buns alone at night.


Against this background, rice consumption has decreased and rice surplus has become a serious problem.

5. The decline of rice farmers


As rice consumption declines, the number of rice farmers is also steadily decreasing.


Table 1. Changes in the number of rice-growing farms nationwide, harvested area, and harvest yield

Number of rice-growing farms (households)

Rice harvest area (hectares)

Rice harvest (tons)












*Reference: "Rice Grain Organization Rice Net 2. Rice production-related information "

Paddy rice is rice grown in paddy fields.

In just 35 years, harvest volumes have fallen to two-thirds , harvested areas to half , and the number of rice-growing farms to a quarter .

In terms of food self-sufficiency, on a calorie basis, it was 73% in 1965, but by 2020 it had fallen to just 37%.

In recent years, food has become more diverse and simpler, making the world a more comfortable place to live.

On the other hand, there are also aspects of Japanese culture that are fading as the number of rice farmers decreases, farmland and terraced rice fields are lost, and reliance on imports increases.


I love hamburgers, pasta and pizza, but I also love Japanese culture, such as the Japanese diet of one soup and three side dishes and rural landscapes, and I want to preserve these for the future.


We want to rediscover the charm of Japan, expand the possibilities for Japanese people of the future, and help them to love Japan even more than they do now.

We hope that spreading the new appeal of rice through Kome Dreaming will lead to such a future.


From here, we would like to think about the various ways rice is currently used and how we can interact with rice in the future, and discover the charm of rice!


6. Current use of rice


Currently, rice is distributed as a variety of products.

For example, as a healthy food.

Brown rice and mixed grain rice are rich in minerals and vitamins, and barley rice is rich in dietary fiber, making them popular with people who want to improve their intestinal environment.

In recent years, the gluten-free trend of avoiding the consumption of gluten contained in wheat for health reasons has become popular, and rice flour made from rice is also becoming popular as a gluten-free food.

Compared to wheat flour, rice flour is richer in nutrients, containing not only carbohydrates but also protein and vitamins.

Another product that puts the SDGs into practice is the

Plastic bags made from rice resin, which is made from rice, emit 25% less carbon dioxide when incinerated than regular plastic bags.

This is because the carbon dioxide absorbed during the rice growing process offsets some of the carbon dioxide emitted during incineration.


In other words, rice is beginning to be used as a "resource" that can lead to carbon neutrality.

In addition, utilizing abandoned farmland in Japan will also contribute to the local community.

*Reference: " MFG Hack "


Other products that use rice bran include skin care products and kitchen detergents.


Rice is being used in a variety of ways to meet current demand.

7. How to deal with rice in the future

Rice is something we have eaten since we were young, but behind the scenes there are many hidden issues, such as a decline in demand for rice, a decrease in the number of rice farmers, and an associated decline in food self-sufficiency.


When we look at the numbers, the challenges Japan faces become clear.

I can't help but feel a sense of crisis, wondering, "Will our current lifestyle still be able to continue in a few years?"


However, the safety of being able to walk the streets at night with peace of mind, and the sense of wabi-sabi and hospitality are wonderful cultures that Japan has built up that are unique.

I hope that the future of Japan will become brighter and more exciting.

When I do something, I feel a little happier.

In today's world, there are many challenges and needs, such as health, gluten-free, rising wheat prices, and SDGs.

When I think that we can use Japanese rice to contribute to solving these issues, I get excited.


We aim to discover and disseminate new value unique to rice today, and work to solve problems while enjoying rice.

I would like to continue to interact with rice in this way.