Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
A streak of escapism in my character probably lies behind my decision to come and livein Japan many years ago. But since moving here, to the other side of the planet - at the edge of the map so to speak, where monsters live - I have never ceased wondering what it would be like to livein any number of other places in the world, because it’s fascinating that human beings live everywhere. I am entertained by the notion that every little village and outlet I can find in my atlas supports communities of people, and there are most likely people of a similar character there looking at Tokyo in their atlases and wondering what life here is like. It’s a facet of my belief that every place in the world is pretty much exactly the same as every other place.
So I sometimes ask my Japanese acquaintances, “If you could liveyour life anywhere, where would you like to live? Would you like to livehere? Would you like to live there?”
Many Japanese are quite game and I am impressed by the wanderlust that they communicate to me. But so often it happens that they express a longing for Japanese rice as an addendum to their travel fantasies. No problem, I say. You can buy rice - any kind of rice - at supermarkets in Sydney, or Kansas City, or Nairobi, or Reykjavik, or Torbay, or Bombay. You can even have it delivered to Antarctica.
“But it’s not the same as Japanese rice. Japanese rice is so delicious.” But I don’t get it. Rice is rice. By itself it is quite bland and has little taste, like other grains. The same is true of bread. It is how we prepare the food, what we add to it while cooking, etc. that imbues it with taste. But the mythology of rice still looms so large in Japanese thinking that all I hear is a chorus of, “No, you’re wrong!” Well, I could be wrong, of course, but naturally I don’t think so.
Published on Sunday, September 21, 2008 as “No substitute for Japanese rice.”
I’m not happy with the editing of this letter. The title is misleading and wrong, and the eloquence and humour of my original letter was stripped right out of it. I was excited when I saw my name, of course, but then I read the title and felt confused because right from the title my antagonism to the “Japanese rice is so delicious” position seemed to have been reversed and turned into an endorsement. I hope readers were not fooled by the unfortunate title. I am not so much pro-Japanese rice as I am anti-Japanese rice.