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"The Japanese are hospitable. Hospitality is such a lost art in America, where I'm from. And it is truly that: an art. People here will bend over backwards to help you."
- Ryan Roling

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Rice is Japan
by Ryan Roling, 25, Asahikiwa, Japan
Mar 12, 2000

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The Japanese are a community. I first learned this during my inaugural trip to Japan with the Let's Start Talking Project in 1996. Our team was headed downtown, alone, for the first time. We had no idea how to read Japanese written characters, or speak the language. So, we asked our host how we should go about getting back. He said he would write out the necessary question, and that we could "ask anyone and they would help us". Now, we were in a city of nearly one million people and I thought to myself, "if I had a Japanese friend visit a city of one million people in America, would I feel safe telling him to 'ask anyone'"?

But here, they are a community. That is because of rice. The Japanese rely on their rice harvest to sustain themselves throughout the year. In order to get it all planted and harvested in time, they must help one another. They reap and sow as a community, going from one field to the next until it is finished. In small communities, this is still practiced today, similarly to the Amish in America. In the past,the lives of the Japanese people depended on rice, and they depended on each other to get that rice.

The Japanese are a perserverant people. This, too, is related to rice (in a roundabout way). Being an island country, Japan is susceptible to some of the worst weather imaginable. If a crop of rice was ruined by a typhoon or tsunami, then the people had to figure out a way to survive. Often they did so by eating the roots of the rice. What was not damaged lay underground, and this would sustain them throughout the winter. It had to be done. And over time, it became the nature of the people. In many ways, it still is. How else can you explain a country with such limited natural resources becoming such an economic world power? They learned to use what they have-- and in this case, it is knowledge.

The Japanese are hospitable. Hospitality is such a lost art in America, where I'm from. And it is truly that: an art. People here will bend over backwards to help you. They seek you out and offer their services. If you have to ask, never will you be refused help. This, too, comes from the days of old when rice was grown to stay alive.

The lives of those who grow rice are stable, as opposed to nomadic. Before mass media and communication were so widespread, outside information was hard to come by. People stayed within their small communities, helping each other survive life. They rarely had the opportunity to travel. When an outsider would come through a village, needing food and shelter, they gladly gave to him in exchange for the information he had of the outside world. A traveler who had seen other parts of the country, and knew what was going on, was valued to the farmer stuck at home. So the traveler was brought into the home and fed. He was showered with great hospitality, and in exchange, he would share with them what he had seen or heard. As the generations came and went, the traveler was still welcomed. The generations were taught the same lesson, and still are, though the original reasons are no longer the source of their helpfulness.

The Japanese are harmonious. I believe they value harmony more than truth. That thought has caused me to wonder if truth is absolute in all situations. To them, harmony and peace matter more. They will gladly tell their ugly friend dressed like a baboon that she is beautiful in her new dress rather than tell her the truth and offend her. What's so bad about that?

But the reason they have become so harmonious is because of rice. In the days of old, if a child stole, or did something wrong to a member of his community, the whole family would be shamed. The people depended on each other to help with the rice, and because they could not pack up and move like nomads, they were stuck in that place. So, to act properly, and treat people with respect, was essential to their survival within their community. They became courteous out of necessity. And like all habits, that became a part of who they are. Today, Japanese literally get pushed into trains, packed like sardines, and go on with life without complaining because they know that living in harmony is their only choice. There is no alternative. They must, so they do.

It is really beautiful to see a whole nation, a whole history and have a little understanding of how and why they are as they are. Just as beautiful is to know that over the past 5,000 years they have not left their staple. Rice is still at the heart of Japan. It is the "meal" of every meal.

Rice is Japan.

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