Because I have always been fascinated by the packaging and products of Japan, I prevailed on my very dear friend who is the daughter of a rice dealer in Nagoya ..the third largest city in Japan with a population of 2.17 million… to tell me more about her family’s business.
KR: Did your father start your family rice business?
EE: No, my grandparents started the business right after the war. My grandmother moved from our city during the war to the mountains, to Nagano ..where the Olympics were held… because Nagoya had a large weapons factory and her family was worried that that would make the city a target. My grandmother’s parents had a wheat business in Nagano. My grandmother left Nagano for Nagoya in 1951, and she bought the family’s wheat business logo from a relative so that she could use it for my grandparents’ rice business.
KR: I love that logo! Can you tell me about it?
EE: Well, the guy symbolizes abundance because he is round-cheeked and looks well-fed.
KR: And since rice is considered a staple of the Japanese diet, there must be an abundance of rice dealers.
EE: Oh, there are so many.
KR: So you get the rice delivered and then package it?
EE: We get the rice delivered twice a week by the truckload from the North of the country and then we have a factory in the back of our store that polishes the rice to different grades.
KR: Really? What determines the grade?
EE: Well, you actually get different grades and kinds of rice depending on where the rice is from. My family has actually had to get new sources of rice since a lot of the places they normally buy from were destroyed by the recent tsunami. Most of the rice comes from the North and those are the areas affected by the earthquake and flooding.
KR: Is it difficult to find supply?
EE: So far they have been able to find new farmers that they can go to directly.
KR: Does the processing of the rice change the grade too?
EE: Yes. My brother is able to control the stickiness and the type of rice by the way he finishes the rice. The Japanese people have been eating rice for centuries and they are very discerning of its flavors and textures. He makes up his own concoctions and then brings them to restaurants to taste. This is basically his edible business proposal to get their business… finding just the right combination they are looking for.
KR: What about brown rice? Is that at all popular?
EE: Oh, yes. We sell brown rice. It’s just the rice with its soft, second skin left on the grain.
KR: Really, brown rice is white rice before it’s polished?
EE: Yes. The machine takes off the soft brown skin that makes it brown rice. You can also leave on the germ of the rice which gives it a whole different flavor and more nutrients, or you can continue to polish it till it’s white. The soft shell that comes off the rice becomes a powder that gets sold for rice oil. People also use it in its powder form for pickling… some even use it to make a facial mask when mixed with water. It’s called Nuka.
KR: Love that everything has a use. Now, to wrap this up…. why is it that the Japanese do such a great job packaging and especially wrapping things?
EE: Making things presentable is important… So they take care in matching up edges when they wrap (like origami) and they like to incorporate nature in the wrapping so often they’ll use vines and color them. They’ll go to great lengths decorating just the envelopes for cards presented at graduation and weddings.