Friday, May 21, 2010


THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF DISCERNMENT


Choice is not a big deal in traditional Japan and never has been, especially out here in the countryside, where vanilla ice cream is exciting and everybody drives a white pickup truck. I could go on, but then I'd never finish, so I'll stop here if you don't mind, and take a quick right to get to my point.

Every couple of months we ship to Kasumi and Family up north a big bag of the organic brown rice we buy unpolished from Mr. S., an elderly rice farmer who lives across the Lake. We then take it to the community rice polisher down in the village, dump in the rice, use the graduated knob to fine tune the settings for optimal brownricedness, put in the coins (yes it's a rice-polishing vending machine!), then let it run and out comes rice polished just the way we like it. We ship the appropriate portion of the result to Kasumi; the grandies love that fresh natural country rice.

A side benefit of this is that now and then we get to meet various neighborhood folks down there, which can be interesting, plus we can store more rice at home, and for a longer time, because it has the hull still on until we polish it in the village, plus we get the bran and other husky stuff, that's emptied into a large barrel beside the polishing machine. I take the bran home and use it on the garden; it can also be used for making pickles, skin scrubs etc. (A mesh scrub-bag of organic rice bran in the bathtub!) How I dream on...

On Wednesday, a rainy season day, we headed down to the village with a 30kg  bag of rice to polish and send to Kasumi and family, went up to the old rice polisher and found that it was a new rice polisher. Looked real slick. Big, fancy buttons. Maybe even digital. Never had digital rice, no doubt it's fast and convenient. But on closer inspection we found that the concept of fine tuning was no longer appreciated, had been deemed an outdated thing of the past, and was not available. Gone was the big old friendly knob that had enabled infinite polishing choices. In its place were two buttons: 70% polished or Complete Obliteration of Any Indication that This Is Rice. For a higher price, too. Plus in its obsessive efficiency it sucked all polishings into a black hole; no bran was returned. This would not stand. Plus, we'd paid for that bran. (I suspect we may be the only ones around here making that argument.) We put the rice back in the car and headed north along the Lake to find another village rice polisher in an even more rural place where a spectrum of choice might still prevail, a last bastion of preference.

We went on quite a while through the downpour till we came to the egg cooperative, where they have a rice polisher in a shed out front. It was new, too, as it turned out, but offered three choices: 50%, 70% and Complete Obliteration etc. (What are these tiny translucent granules?) We like our rice around 35% polished, so there was no game in town for us, and it was now raining extra hard, which let me tell you makes it difficult to find new rice polishers tucked away up little village side streets, a demanding task at the best of times. So we put in our rice, put in our money, selected 50% and went for it, vowing to find an older, more liberal machine if there was one still around within a reasonable distance, though it probably wouldn't be there long if no one out here was opting for brown rice choices. Who's gonna support that? This sleeker, quieter, faster and more expensive rice polishing machine took our bran, too, and could not be insulted.

It seems that no one wants to choose the degree of polishing anymore, that there is no demand for the full-spectrum brownricedness, that in the new world we are all becoming, deep choice is no longer efficient.


5 comments:

Tabor said...

Efficiency and economics have removed crafting of all kinds. It is particularly sad to see this happening Japan as that culture has always been about taking ones time and working with the medium.

Chrissy said...

I am really surprised that they want to do away totally w/the 'old' way of polishing the rice... The more polishing evidently means less nutritional value? I could see the new machine enhancing it a bit and you would think the purists would still want to keep a method that evidently wasn't broke still there...I realize efficiency is the key but sheesh....

Maggie said...

Those old machines had to go somewhere. Can you find one and bring it home? :)

R. Brady said...

If as a brown rice diehard I could get hold of a crew and a big truck and an operating manual and had the extra space and shed, but the maintenance, and I don't eat THAT much rice...

vegetablej said...

Can it not be eaten unpolished with the bran remaining where it ought and cleaning out you rather than you cleaning out it?

Darn that new technology with every decision made for you, though. I wonder how many folks on what kind of a committee it took to come to a "correct" decision about what the "average consumer" really wants. Perhaps what they really need is a combination rice polisher and lobotomizer.