Japan is so patriotic about rice that there's a rice dish called hinomaru designed to look like the Japanese flag.
Japanese Farming CrisisJapanese agriculture is fading into the past. In 1960, Japan produced 79% of the food required to feed its population. Today, it only produces 40%. The situation is going to get worse. Over 60% of Japanese farmers are over 65 years of age.
Japan is worried that it's idyllic countryside of green rice farms will soon be a thing of the past.
The government also worries that Japan will be at the mercy of other countries for its food supply. People are aware of the crisis and pitch in with their yen to help. It's considered patriotic to buy Japanese rice and produce despite the fact it's expensive.
In the countryside, there are rice shops and rice vending machines.
Rice can be purchased unpolished (brown) from the machine. You feed the rice into a polisher for a separate fee.
QualityJapanese agriculture has an excellent reputation for quality and safety. Japanese rice is a short-grain variety characterized by a slightly sticky texture. Most Japanese people (and some long term residents of Japan) can tell you right away if rice is Japanese from the texture, taste and consistency.
NishikiCalifornia rice farmers produce a grain called Nishiki that's similar to Japanese rice (Japonica). It hasn't caught on in Japan. However, it was a commercial success due to demand from Japanese restaurants around the World.
Fading Rice CultureThe Japanese diet has Westernized.
In Japan, rice consumption per capita has fallen for many years. In 1965, the average person consumed 118 kilograms (260 pounds) of rice a year. Today, that has dropped to 60 kilograms (132 pounds).
Rice GodRice is important to Japanese culture. Historically, rice cultivation was key to survival. Japan is a small island nation with a high population. Due to its mountainous geography only 11% of land is arable. Japanese history is dotted with terrible famines.
In this context, it's no surprise that Japan's most important god is Inari — the androgynous (god or goddess) of rice. Shinto gods often have more than one responsibility. Inari is also the god/goddess of fertility, agriculture, foxes and business success.
Inari is said to transform into a fox from time to time. In Japan, foxes get a lot of respect. There are shrines to Inari all over the country.
(Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto)