Why do you favor cold rice and cold noodles in Japan?

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Prof. Takanori Shintani

Updated on Aug 24 2015

Q.In Italy, we rarely eat cold meals. Why do you favor cold rice and cold noodles in Japan?

A.The culture of “bento” is deeply rooted in Japanese society

 The fact that Japanese people eat cold meals reflects the culture of “bento”(弁当) or “obento”(お弁当) box lunches, which is deeply rooted in Japanese society. The history of bento goes back to the Nara-Heian period (710-1185), during which travelers and soldiers had a custom of taking with them food contained in “kochu” (行厨, which literally means “moving kitchen”)or “tonjiki” (屯食, which means “gather” and “food”). The classic anthology “Manyoshu” (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves) includes a poem written by Arima no Miko (Prince Arima): 家にあれば笥に盛る飯を草枕旅にしあれば椎の葉に盛る(While on a trip using a grass pillow, a meal is served on leaves of the chinquapin tree in lieu of tableware used at home). Donjiki was a term used during the Edo period (1603-1867) to refer to onigiri (おにぎり), rice balls. As the culture of merchants and commoners flourished in the Edo period, the culture of bento emerged alongside people taking bento lunches with them when going on outings such as picnics, theatergoing, or trips. There is a technical factor behind the development of the culture of bento ― it was difficult to keep cooked rice warm at that time. Japanese people used an “ohitsu” (おひつ) or a round, wooden container to keep cooked rice warm for a short while and devised the “ochazuke” (お茶漬け) style of pouring hot tea or water over cold, cooked rice. At any rate, the culture of enjoying cold meals contained in bento boxes is so prevalent in Japanese society that Japanese people feel little resistance to cold meals. The development of various cooking solutions for cold food in recent years is one reason for the widespread popularity of “konbini bento”(コンビニ弁当), box lunches sold at convenience stores.img_01


published in The Japan News on 24/8/2015


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