The Rice Conundrum

Rice is an integral part of Japanese culture and has been cultivated for over 2000 years. Rice was once even used in place of money and prices were calculated based on the amount of rice the average person would eat in a given time period. So your neighbor could offer you a month’s worth of rice for re-thatching his roof, or you could say, “Junior, mow the lawn and I’ll pay you a week’s worth of rice,” which would never happen because lawns pretty much do not exist here and Junior is too busy playing with his Nintendo anyway.

The word for rice is kome, but that’s only rice that hasn’t been cooked yet. Cooked rice is gohan or meshi (men’s word) which also both mean “meal”. So if your mom yells, “Gohan!” that means it’s time to eat, but not necessarily rice, and she would never yell, “Meshi!” Yaki means grilled so yaki-meshi should be grilled food but it’s not. It’s fried rice, which can also be called chahan. And women never say yaki-meshi unless that’s what it’s called on the menu. And you can’t say yaki-gohan. Ever.

If your rice comes in a bowl and you eat it with chopsticks, then it’s called gohan but never meshi unless you’re an uncouth lout. If it comes on a plate and you eat it with a fork, it’s called raisu. If you want another half serving of rice, you ask for han-raisu, regardless of whether it comes in a bowl or on a plate, and if you ask for han-gohan or han-meshi, all you’ll get is a blank stare.

Confused yet?

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