This small — and inexpensive — hashioki represents one of the most powerful objects in Japan: rice. The delicate painting of a rice stalk in flower belies the essential role that rice has played not only in Japanese cuisine, but in Japan’s culture and economy.
Gohan, the Japanese word for cooked rice, is also the word for meal, reinforcing the fact that the short-grain white rice grain is the cornerstone of Japanese cuisine. The word for breakfast is asagohan (morning rice); lunch is hirugohan (noon rice); and dinner is bangohan (evening rice). Rice is not only served as a grain, but is also used to make sake wine, mirin cooking wine, rice vinegar, mochi or rice cake sweets, and as a fermentation base for some Japanese pickles.
Farmers used to pay their taxes with sacks of rice, and in feudal times land was valued not by area, but according to the amount it produced. Rice farming is an intensive activity, and some sociologists have suggested that harmony in Japanese society stems from a tradition of having to work together to farm rice.
Some of Japan’s liveliest festivals revolve around transplanting or harvesting of rice — fueled, of course, by the appropriate rice byproduct, sake. That may be when this humble grain shows just how mighty it can be.