Why “Washing Rice”?

Anyone who’s ever heard of or been to Japan probably knows that rice is the staple of pretty much all Japanese meals.  On its own, Japanese rice looks simple and tastes plain.  In reality, preparing great-tasting rice takes more effort than you’d think.  The first step to cooking rice is washing it.  Rice is washed, literally “polished” in Japanese, using cold water and your hands to remove the starch.  You add water, gently run your hands through the rice, empty the water, and repeat until the water is clear.  It takes time and patience just to achieve something as simple as a good, steaming bowl of rice.  Likewise, it’s taken time and patience to build up my simple life in Japan into something I’d call happy.

It also has another connotation when it comes to dating.  Women who “can’t wash rice”, or live up to the usual domestic expectations that Japanese consider a woman’s duty, are rarely accepted as suitable marriage partners by Japanese men or their families.  So as you can probably guess, a foreign woman like me is usually not high up on the list of who to bring home to mom and dad or marry, and the result has at times been as harsh as it’s been humorous.

I grew up in the U.S. and through a series of events moved to Japan long-term after graduating college to move in with my Japanese boyfriend, now husband.  We eventually settled down in a leased apartment, called a “mansion”, with our two cats in a mid-size rural city on the main island.

I’m no native Japanese nor have any delusions of being one, but this country is where my heart now lies, and it’s where I’ve made my home for the past eight years.  It’s taken an amazing support network to get where we are now, and not without our share of bumps and bruises along the way.

When I first moved here, there were few resources for foreigners or real glimpses at what daily life here was all about.  To some extent, this is still true today.  The majority of Japan-related blogs on the web then and now focus on pop culture, niche hobbies and interests, domestic travel, and all the mind-boggling stuff you’ll encounter when you first arrive.  As cool or interesting as these topics can be, they aren’t really helpful for going about your daily life or preparing you for what you’ll encounter everyday.  It’s like trying to describe what life under water is like by only describing the how the water looks from the surface above.

Writing about Japan, or any country, on a personal level is hard to do accurately.  Foreigners like me, for the most part, will only process what they experience and see through the lens of their own cultural bias.  They may also lack the language skills or social connections to comment fairly on many issues.  Natives naturally know their own country inside and out, but may lack the ability to answer “why?” truthfully, or explain things in terms that are easy for non-natives to understand.

Being an active participant in Japanese society and keeping your life here running smoothly requires an open mind to the Japanese way of thinking, reflection on your own cultural upbringing, and trying find some happy medium between the two.  It’s often a hard balance to keep in check, and having a good shoulder to lean on when things get frustrating is a must.  But as I wrote above, I’ve had a lot of help along the way, and so now I’d like to try and pay it forward.

Through my own personal narrative, I hope to not only chronicle my own experiences, but give a voice to social issues and information that could help anyone living here. As my adventures and knowledge grow, hopefully my blunders and experience will help someone else’s grow as well.

I encourage anyone reading to chime in with their own experiences and opinions.  Any specific questions for me, Japan-related or not, are welcome as well!  Don’t ever hesitate to comment or ask! 🙂

– J


All photos © J // Washing Rice Blog taken with an iPhone 5. Any photo edits are usually done in PhotoWonder or DecoPic.

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