Akemi's Anime World

Akemi’s Anime Blog AAW Blog

Japanese Earthquake News

Japan made the world news in the bad way last night on account of a massive earthquake and subsequent Wrath of God-level tsunami that devastated the northern end of the main island of Honshu, killing hundreds, possibly thousands of people. The country is one of the most earthquake-ridden in the world, so such things are inevitable, but it’s still sad and frightening when a major quake hits, particularly one of this scale.

Akemi is currently in Japan, and despite being nearly 300 miles (460km) from the epicenter in rural (and inland) Yamanashi prefecture, she said that there was a considerable amount of shaking. The effects are also being felt here in Northern California where I am on the opposite side of the Pacific, where low-lying highways are closed due to the incoming tsunami and there are warning signs all over the area directing people away from beaches.

[Addendum: With good reason; the harbor in nearby, tsunami-prone Crescent City was more or less wiped out by 8-foot waves, and one man not far from there was in all likelihood killed when he was swept out to sea by the waves. Two others there and more in Oregon were also caught by the waves, but made it back to shore.]

AAW’s current home is in a similarly earthquake-prone coastal area with a lot of land just above sea level, so the helicopter-shot videos of the Japanese tsunami methodically washing away entire towns as drivers flee for their lives are particularly terrifying.

While the Tokyo area was shaken and sustained some damage, it was relatively fortunate that the northern end of Honshu is not densely populated. The current danger, though, is that this quake has some chance of setting off the Kanto fault, which is due for a major (~8 magnitude) earthquake any day. The last time it happened, in 1924, Tokyo was practically leveled. Japan’s rough equivalent of San Francisco’s “Big One” will, when it eventually does happen, cause massive devastation in the country’s capital, cultural center, and the largest urban area on Earth. Building codes in Japan are very good, but with 30 million tightly packed residents the death toll could still run into the tens of thousands, and the logistics of helping the survivors will be daunting.

There is also the nearby Tokai fault, which runs roughly through Mt. Fuji and is also due for a large quake in the immediate future. It could even set off an eruption of Mt. Fuji (a similar occurrence happened in the early 1700s), although that probably wouldn’t be particularly destructive to anything but tourism on the iconic mountain, as it is not an explosive volcano and the area immediately around it is not heavily populated.

In the present, though, our hearts go out to those affected by the earthquake, particularly those who lost loved ones.

All About White Rice

If you’ve actually got a taste for Japanese-style short-grain white rice, here’s what years of experimentation have taught Akemi and I: Most of what you find in a US West Coast supermarket is junk.

The best readily-available rice on the West Coast is Lundberg Organic Sushi rice (also sold in bulk), but even that is only decent. If, however, you can find a well-stocked Asian market, Tamanishiki (comes in a yellow bag) is the best stuff—not going to stand up to the best stuff in Japan, but it’s even up to snuff by Japanese standards (H-mart, a Korean supermarket chain with locations all over the US, carries it, for example). It will also run you about $25 for a 15-pound bag, and is as far as I’ve seen the most expensive of the common high-end brands. You get what you pay for, I guess. (You can order a bag through Amazon, amusingly, although shipping will run you $17: Tamanishiki, 15 lbs.)

Also keep your eye out for “New Crop” stickers—the bag gets those when it’s fresh and starchier, which is to say better by Japanese standards.

If you’re looking for a step up even from that, I have seen, in San Francisco’s small Japanese district, several house-brand, small-bag organic versions of more common brands. That’s the only place I ever saw them, and I didn’t try one because they were twice the price of anything else and the penny pincher in the family vetoed it.

Rice quality is a touchy subject among Japanese and aficionados of Japanese food. Up through meeting Akemi, I was under the impression that rice was rice. It took a few years of demonstration otherwise before I eventually developed my taste to the point that not only was long-grain white rice entirely unpalatable (dry and bland) unless it’s being fried or otherwise seasoned, I could tell the difference between low, medium, and high-quality short-grain (aka Calrose), Japanese-style rice. Japanese people, of course, have been doing the same thing since birth, so their pickiness is that much worse. I’ve sampled a pretty wide range of quality, including the privilege of a small annual bag of fresh, hand-picked, farmers’ special straight from the fields in Japan, on account of there being some old-timer rice farmers in the extended family—now that is good stuff.

On the plus side, I can now properly appreciate a super-premium product like that on a more-than-conceptual level. On the minus, I can no longer stand “cheap” rice, into which category a surprising amount of Asian restaurant rice falls. Oh well; thus is the price of being a connoisseur/food snob.

Pro tips: The biggest sign of quality in white rice is how it tastes on the second day; the better the rice, the fresher it seems when reheated. Also, never refrigerate cooked rice—a chemical reaction occurs that turns it into a bowl of tiny rocks. Surprisingly, though, it will keep for at least a day, probably two or three, out of the fridge, so long as your house isn’t too warm; freezing it also works quite well. When reheating rice (particularly if it’s been frozen), sprinkle a bit of water on it, cover, and microwave—this basically re-cooks it to restore the texture to a pretty good approximation of when it was fresh. It won’t help much with refrigerated rice, but it’s better than throwing it out.

The easiest way to cook rice is to get a standalone electric rice cooker. The fanciest Japanese ones use all manner of crazy technology—fuzzy logic control schemes, inductive heating, triple-Teflon-coated bowls, and Lord knows what else—and of course have a price to match (not unusual to see them costing into the $200 range). That’s all fine and dandy, but really, the budget $20 crock-pot-style cookers at your local K-Mart will get the job done with a minimum of hassle. At worst they’re likely to burn a little of the rice to the bottom.

Any rice cooker will also come with a measuring cup and have markings on the side so that you can easily determine how much water to put in for a given number of cups of rice. This is probably obvious, but keep in mind that one dry cup of rice expands into a considerably larger amount of cooked rice—about three times as much. (Interestingly, “rice cooker cups” used when measuring dry rice are generally standardized at 180ml, which is smaller than both a US cup, which is 240ml, and a Japanese cup, which is 200ml; this is a leftover of an archaic unit of Japanese measurement, Gou. The only other thing now measured in that unit is sake. Fortunately, if the water level marks on a rice cooker are designed for these cups, it will always include a properly-sized measuring cup.)

A few cooking tips: While you don’t need to wash rice, the Japanese almost always do—at least two rinses in my family. With less-fresh rice—which is to say anything not labeled “New Crop”—it’ll come out better if you let it sit in the water for about 45 minutes before you start it cooking. You probably also want to add a little more water than the rice cooker tells you to, or it may be on the firm side.

Incidentally, don’t take this to mean we don’t appreciate brown rice. Whatever culinary purpose white rice serves, brown rice (which hasn’t had the outer shell removed) is drastically healthier than white. Indeed, you can very nearly live on brown rice, while white rice—as Japanese sailors discovered the hard way in centuries past—lacks several essential nutrients. Countless men in the Japanese Navy died from Beriberi, a neurological disease with a funny name that’s a lot better known in Japan than elsewhere for exactly this reason—it’s caused by thiamine deficiency, which could have been prevented by eating whole rice instead of processed white stuff. The funny name isn’t Japanese by the way—it’s called Kakke in Japanese.

In fact, if you make onigiri—rice balls—with a 50/50 mix of short grain brown rice and white rice, they have an appealingly firm texture and are, if anything, even tastier. At worst, they’re unquestionably healthier than straight white.

Hinomoto Oniko: Moe Meets Racial Slur

This is one of those times when otaku do something that’s somewhere between impressive and tragically oblivious.

Apparently, as the Internet tells it, there is a racial slur in China targeted at things Japanese written using the following characters: 日本鬼子; it roughly means “Japanese devil.” These characters also exist in Japanese, but don’t come across as meaning quite the same thing; in particular, the character 鬼 is oni, the traditional Japanese ogres we all know and love from Urusei Yatsura and any number of other anime incarnations.

Now, it also happens that in Japanese that looks a bit like a name: Hinomoto Oniko. Which, once you think of it that way, is a pretty badass-sounding name; were it a real name, it would mean something like “Japanese Child of the Oni.” And then you give that to otaku, and you get this:

Oniko Hinomoto

This is just one of dozens (#46, specifically) at the below-linked site; it doesn't give an artist credit.

The page from which this illustration came makes an attempt at aggregating well over a hundred moe-fueled examples—some quite skillful—of interpretations of the person that the name would fit.  #9 is particularly cool, and even includes a subtle tiger-print UY nod.

It’s not entirely clear whether this is a clever subversion of an insult or a comically tragic example of the contextual ignorance that happens when you throw otaku at pretty much anything—rule 34 and the laws of moe work their magic on it.

Either way, it’s pretty funny, and there is some nifty art in the gallery.

[Linguistic footnote: Hinomoto Oniko is the Japanese order; her family name would be the fictional Hinomoto (written with the same characters as "Japan"), and her given name would be the unsurprisingly-fictional "Oniko" ("child of the oni"). The name would also be female, since it ends with the character "ko."]