Japanese Rice, simple but not so plain

You probably know this but rice is a very important part of the Japanese diet. It makes up the main component of a vast majority of meals here. Rice is so important to the Japanese that it was even once used as a currency.

What you might not know however is how many different kinds of rice there are and the different ways to use it. In today’s post, I will be introducing some of the rice varieties and the different ways that the Japanese cook with it.

Rice plantation has been the center of Japanese economy since the dawn of time




Rice field,, typical scenery in the countryside of Japan



Coming from Thailand, rice is also quite a big deal for me. I believe perfect rice makes a perfect meal! Thai rice goes really well with Thai food in the same way that Japanese rice goes well with Japanese food.


White Rice – Hakumai


White rice with pickles


The most common kind of rice eaten in Japan is short grain white rice. This is rice that has been polished of the outer husk called rice bran. Japanese white rice becomes sticky when cooked, making it easier to eat with chopsticks.

White rice cooked with barley


The most common variety of rice in Japan is called Koshihikari. The name means “light of Koshi”. Koshi is the birthplace of this variety. The light part refers to the translucent quality of the rice grain.


Brown Rice – Genmai

Brown rice is not consumed as much because it is considered not as tasty as white rice. However, consumption has been increasing as more people are trying to eat healthier. Since brown rice has the bran intact, it has more vitamins, minerals and fiber than white rice.

A kind of rice that has been becoming more popular lately is Haigamai. This rice is like half white rice and half brown rice. It has more nutrients than white rice while being tastier than brown rice and taking less time to cook. It has the best of both worlds!


Glutinous Rice – Mochigome

Mochi rice is a form of white rice that has shorter grains and gets much stickier when cooked. It is used to make a wide variety of dishes. The most common is mochi, a sticky rice cake. It is traditionally made by pounding cooked mochi rice.


No-Wash Rice – Musenmai

Musenmai has been becoming very popular in Japan. This is rice that does not need to be washed! A special machine is used to remove the bran leaving squeaky clean rice. If you are shopping for rice in Japan and you see these characters, 無洗米 that is musenmai.


Products Made From Rice

There are many other products that are also made from rice.

“nihonshu” is alcoholic beverage made of rice
  • Sake – Also known as rice wine and “nihonshu” this alcoholic beverage is made from distilling fermented rice. Sake is usually not drunk with rice dishes since it is considered rice itself
  • Mirin – A sweet rice wine that is widely used in Japanese cooking
  • Vinegar – Japanese rice vinegar is milder and not as acidic as other vinegars. It is used in a variety of dishes such as pickles and for preparing sushi rice
  • Flour – Rice flour is made from grinding up rice. It is used to make Japanese sweets and snacks such as “senbei”, rice crackers. Rice flour can also be used as gluten-free alternative to wheat flour for baked goods like bread and pasta

Common Rice Dishes

A standard meal for a Japanese family consists of a bowl of rice, a few okazu (side dishes such as meat and vegetables), tsukemono (pickles) and some kind of soup like miso soup.

There are also many other kinds of dishes that utilize rice.

  • Rice balls – Known as onigiri in Japanese, this is made by forming rice into a shape that is easy to hold (such as a triangle) and with some kind of filling. Common fillings are umeboshi (pickled Japanese plum) and fish. These are commonly eaten as a snack or a meal on the go.
  •  Typical shape of rice ball is triangle but currently they are made into many cute characters. Some of them are just too cute to eat. Check out these facebook pages!



  • Curry – Curry is a very popular dish in Japan. Japanese curry is a bit sweeter and milder than Indian curry.


veggie curry
Curry rice with vegetable
soup curry1
Soup curry with rice


  • Omurice – Another popular dish in Japan, the name comes from omelette + rice. This dish is like an omelette filled with fried rice. It is usually topped with a sauce like demiglace or ketchup.





  • Ochazuke – A simple meal consisting of rice with some toppings and hot or cold tea poured over it.


  • Donburi – a ubiquitous dish with an endless amount of variations. Essentially, it is a bowl of rice with toppings. Common toppings include thinly sliced marinated beef, chicken and eggs, salmon sashimi, marinated eel and tempura.
Donburi dish with sashimi
Donburi with tempura (=Ten don)
  • Chahan – Chahan is the Japanese word for fried rice. It can be made with whatever ingredients you have on hand.
simple fried rice













  • Sushi – Of course we cannot leave out sushi. Most forms of sushi contain rice such as nigiri and temaki.


Nigiri sushi
California roll and nigiri with avocado
























  • Okayu – Okayu is a rice porridge made from cooking rice for a long time in a lot of water. It is often served to sick people as it is easy to digest. In my country, rice porridge commonly served as breakfast although it’s not as simple as one in Japan (just rice and pickle most of the time) I often have it in Japan. Every time I have porridge, my Japanese friend always ask if I am sick;)


Japanese rice porridge
sources: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2043.html ; http://commongrains.com/japanese-rice/


Rice Cooker – Suihanki

As you can imagine, a rice cooker is an essential part of every Japanese kitchen. They make cooking rice so easy as all you have to do is measure the rice with the cup provided, wash it and then fill with water up to the line marked on the pot.

Most rice cookers have timers so you can wash the rice at night and have a freshly steamed pot ready for breakfast in the morning. Rice cookers also keep your rice warm after cooking.



Since rice cookers are so important, there is a wide variety available on the market with many different functions. You can now use rice cookers for more than just cooking rice. You can bake bread, cakes and even make yogurt. There are many creative ways to use rice cookers and Japanese ones are some of the best ones on the market!



Read more? Check Japan times  Japan’s Fancy Rice Cookers Score Abroad

I hope you have learned something new about rice in this post!

Also, just a note. If you are in Japan or planning to visit. There are a couple of manners to keep in mind when eating rice.

  • In Japan, it is okay to hold the rice bowl to your mouth when eating. It is actually considered rude to lower your face to the bowl because that is what dogs and other animals do when eating.
  • You should try and eat every grain of rice you are served.
  • Finally, never stick your chopsticks straight up in a bowl of rice as that is what is done at funerals. If you like to read more about

Thank you for reading and see you next blog!

Blog by Christine&MONTHLY





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