Saturday, July 21, 2007

Speaking of rice

Rice holds such a special place in Japanese culture it becomes very political.
I couldn't get into the complexities in my story about the latest effort by the USA Rice Federation to push Calrose in Japan.
Japan's market was closed to rice until 1995.
The government allows in only the amount of foreign rice it has to under WTO requirements called "minimum access."
Much of it comes under what's called "ordinary tender," which means it never enters stores or restaurants or our stomaches as kernel rice.
(Such rice become processed as crackers, sauces and other kinds of food, sits in storage for emergency, becomes foreign aid or even animal feed, according to the government.)
Only 100,000 tons a year enter the market under SBS, which stands for "simultaneous buy and sell." And that's the only kind of foreign rice you eat as real rice that looks like rice.
Any rice that dares to enter Japan any other way faces a 770 percent tariff, so no one is crazy enough to bring in rice that way.
And in a new strategy, Calrose medium-grain rice will be coming into Japan by SBS virtually for the first time ever.
SBS is a kind of bidding system and so the lower the price, the bigger the margin the government gets.
And so the name of the game is cheap rice.
No wonder the Americans have been losing ground to the Chinese in recent years.
In the past, U.S. rice farmers tried to conquer this market by growing fancy short-grain Japanese-style rice like Koshihikari and Akitakomachi.
USA Rice Federation official and rice farmer Michael Rue says there's no scaling back on Koshihikari and Akitakomachi production, although the effort to export those grains to Japan has failed.
The consumption of American Koshihikari and Akitakomachi has grown not only in the U.S. but also elsewhere (besides Japan) because of the global popularity of sushi!
Mr. Sawaguchi in the photo in this link hopes someday to go abroad to advance his career _ which means he's going to be making sushi with foreign rice, he said.
And so he needs to get used to it, he shrugged.
A kind of internationalization of sushi working backwards _ requiring a young Japanese man who's a master sushi chef to learn how to work with non-Japanese rice.
His dish "Beef on a Griddle Sushi" combined sushi with sukiyaki _ served with milky half-cooked egg (seen toward the front of the plate) and sukiyaki sauce (he is pouring it).
It's still unclear whether his dish is going to be served at the sushi store where he works.
But "Sun Souffle," the creation by the winner in my story, Mr. Suzuki, is almost certain to be added to the menue at the Palace Hotel.
Mr. Suzuki said his two children drew a picture of his dish the day before the contest and wrote "Ganbatte Papa!"
He looked like he was going to cry when he won the award.
He also won the top award in the voting from regular folks chosen to be part of the panel of judges.
Appealing to the experts and the masses must be nice _ compliments to the chef.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Taiko in Brazil

This is a photo of my son Isaku during his previous trip to Brazil to teach taiko, Japanese drumming.
He's there now with his master sensei Yoichi Watanabe to do more good work.
Taiko tends to be viewed as something for old people in Japan, but it's totally cool in Brazil.
It's part of kids' lives and a music to party to.
My son is learning a lot from Brazil _ and the youngsters there who believe in the same magic of taiko that he believes in.
Isaku writes in his July 6 entry of his blog:
Learning how to teach
Aside from the 100th Anniversary music we've been teaching in Marilia, we've also been conducting 5th Degree Nippon Taiko Foundation Examinations.
The entry level exams we have been conducting in Marilia test drummers on basic knowledge of music and the history of taiko.
The exams present a high-pressure situation for the kids, because they must perform a piece perfectly as adults, peers and instructors look on.
Today, a boy who had trouble reading music could not perform the piece without making mistakes here and there. One by one, his peers passed the examinations until he was the only one left.
Watanabe Sensei put peers on either side of him so that he could follow them, and told the boy to play the piece again.
The boy, who was now teary-eyed, still could not play the piece.
Sensei shouted "Stop crying! You're almost there," and started the piece again.
The entire room was filled with tension, as everyone prayed. All of us wanted him to play the music perfectly.
After he finished playing, Sensei said "Congratulations! Muito bon!" and his friends ran over to him, hugging and patting him on the back. The boy could not hold back his tears.
Teaching taiko is not only about improving technique. It's about life experiences that will help the kids to be better people. It's about learning things that will help the kids succeed in whatever path they choose to take in life.
We hope the boy gained confidence in himself. We hope he learned that if you stick with something, good things will happen. And we hope all of us in the room learned something about kindness and caring for others.
As teachers, we try to teach these core values - but that is easier said than done. Today I got to see Watanabe Sensei work his magic, so that someday I may work my own.