Thursday, October 04, 2007

rice, people. rice.

The agricultural journalists' congress (the reason I was in Japan) was fun. Very few seminars, workshops etc – mostly visits to agricultural sites, organizations, farms etc. After 2 days in Tokyo, we headed northeast to Sendai City. From there we went on a 2 day agricultural tour the surrounding Southern Tohoku region.

I met some great people, but was also surprised at the narrow attitude of some of the participants. Most people were from Western Europe* and North America; for many, it was their first time to Japan (or, for that matter, Asia). I didn’t expect people to understand every nuance of Japanese culture (god knows I don’t, and I lived there for a year), but I thought at the very least they’d expect things to be a bit different to home. But on several occasions, I overheard conversations that implied that people were getting pissed off because things weren’t working as they expected (schedule changes, for example). We’re in a VERY different country, relying on translators, and there were a few hiccups. Who would’ve thought? And others whinged about the food, sneaking off to Starbucks and McDonalds when they had the chance.

Again – I don’t expect everyone to love all Japanese foods, and wanting some home comfort food is fair enough. But the attitude I sensed among some (and this was a small minority; most people had a ball) was not “Japanese food is very different, I’d like some more familiar food.” It was “Japanese food is shit, rice at every meal sucks, I want some REAL food.” Disappointing, people, disappointing. Thanks to MC, an ag journo from back home in Oz, with whom I discussed such things over late-ish night izakaya beers.

It was interesting too, seeing people start to understand the place of rice in the Japanese national psyche. Without viewing rice through a social/cultural/historical lens, it’s almost impossible to understand Japanese rice policies – e.g., paying farmers to keep 30% of their land out of rice cultivation but not really encouraging them to grow other crops on that 30%; 7-800% tariffs on imported rice (which is only imported because of obligation due to a trade agreement). But rice really is so ingrained (pun intended! HA! In-GRAINed! Geddit!?!) in the traditions and culture of Japan – and most other Asian countries – that if you simply view it in economic terms as an agricultural commodity, you can’t understand it. By the end of the week, people were starting to get it though. That’s not to say that they agreed with the policies, or that things can’t change. But in Japan, the “culture” component of agriculture should really be underlined, bolded and italicised - especially compared to, for example, Oz, which only has a couple of hundred (as opposed to thousands) of years of agriculture.

And, as always -- because I care -- here are some photos...

*There were a few Eastern Europeans too, and my hat goes off to the fattish, balding, moustachioed Ukrainian bloke who wore a skin-tight, shiny muscle shirt over his considerable torso. Fair play, fella:

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Blogger sammy j said...

Ah, rice. There is no food that makes me feel as good. It is very much inGRAINED in my personal culture too.

12:21 pm  
Blogger secret wombat said...

Hey - that's my pun!

6:24 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The price of rice in the supermarket in the UK is truly shocking, and the sizes of the bags it comes in quite laughable. All a bit reminiscent of the bags of potatoes sold in the Philippines, which one could slip into one's pocket (if one was given to shoplifting potatoes).

Your cultural sensitivity is commendable(bowing deeply, in parentheses because blogger won't accept the angular kind).

FYI there was a one hour documentary on the box the other day about clubs in Japan where boys do the entertaining of girl customers. And they earn up to $50,000 a month.

I just thought I'd mention it.


6:59 pm  

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