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THE LEGEND OF “WASAMON” #3 : Furikake (Friend of Rice)

Mayuna Mizutani Mayuna Mizutani 13/04/2018 10 min read
In the center of Kyushu, in the far west of Japan, lies a land called Kumamoto. Surrounded by a bottle green sea and towering mountains, this place of outstanding beauty is known as the “Land of Fire”…and where there is beautiful nature, unique and intriguing cultures flourish. Naturally, the people of Kumamoto have imbued their own culture and language with these same, mystifying characteristics…  


— the article series that aims to introduce the “WASAMON” people of Kumamoto.   What is Japan’s “Soul Food? Undoubtedly “Rice”! Japonica rice (or Sinica rice), to be exact. The history of rice in Japan began in ancient times (at least 3000 years ago), when rice farming was first introduced to the Kyushu region via China. Used as both food and currency throughout its long history, rice has become synonymous with the history of Japan. It’s no exaggeration to say that rice plays a big part in Japan’s cultural identity, a fact the most Japanese people are immensely proud of. I really cannot stress enough how much Japanese people love rice! So much so that, in the hugely popular Manga, ‘Dragon Ball’, Goku’s son is actually called “Gohan”, literally meaning ‘rice’. There’s even an anime, Love Kome starring the personification of popular rice brands! Look at the set menu in any “Teishoku” restaurant and you’ll undoubtably see “Rice + Soup + Main/Side Dish + Pickles”, with ‘rice’ firmly taking the top spot. In fact, the very word ‘gohan’ itself can be used for both ‘meal’ and ‘rice’! So we can safely say, when a Japanese person think’s of food, they think of rice.    But did you know that there’s a magic powder that makes rice taste doubly… no, triply… no, INFINITELY MORE delicious than it is already!? No? Well, that  very same magic powder was invented by a very kind and caring man from Kumamoto! Let us introduce you to “The Friend of Rice” – a.k.a, FURIKAKE!  Furikake (Pronounced Foo-Ri-Car-Keh)” is a powdery/granularly seasoning you sprinkle on rice. The name comes from the Japanese verb for “sprinkle”. To make Furikake (which you usually don’t, because you can buy a dose readily prepared), you grind the ingredients into powder, then leave them until they are bone-dry. There are various types of ingredients for Furikake, including Fish (Salmon, Bonito, etc), Meat (Beef, Pork, Chicken, etc), Eggs, Vegetables (Leaf mustard, Wasabi, etc), Seaweed (Nori, Wakame, Kombu, etc), Umeboshi, Fish Eggs,  Perilla leaves (Shiso), Sesame, and much more. There are even unusual flavors like Potato Chips and Curry! I’m fairly confident in saying that, there isn’t one Japanese person in the whole of Japan who hasn’t tried Furikake. In fact, every child sitting down to lunch in kindergarten will almost certainly open their bento box (lunch box) to find a sachet of Furikake, lovingly placed there by a hurried parent, with elementary school’s handing them out as a matter of course. From hotels and “Ryokan’s” (Japanese-style inn) to “Conbini’s” (convenience stores), if you’re eating a traditional Japanese breakfast with rice, you’ll experience the wonder of this underrated, classic Japanese condiment.    The origins of Furikake go back to the Taisho era, at the dawn of the 20th century. In those days, Japan was facing a major food crisis, with many people suffering chronic Calcium deficiency. Alarmed by the situation, Kumamoto chemist Suekichi Yoshimaru decided to take action. He ingeniously devised the method of grinding dried fish into powder and sprinkling onto rice, thereby combining the eating experience. Thus a legend was born, with the first incarnation of Furikake known as “Gohan no Tomo (Friend of Rice)“.

Mr. Suekichi Yoshimaru

  A century later, and you’ll find a countless incarnations of Furikake made by numerous companies all over Japan. However, Mr. Yoshimaru’s “Gohan no Tomo” still remains a firm favourite, lovingly produced by a company from his home town…Kumamoto.  There are many reasons to love this delicious pinnacle of Japanese culinary genius. Firstly, it’s perfect time saving device, able to conjure up a satisfying meal without the need to actually cook. Just sprinkle in rice! Being a dried product, it’s also long lasting making it readily available in most Japanese kitchens. Moreover, it comes in a variety of mouth watering flavors, enabling you to mix and match your rice breaks throughout the week. Last, but certainly not least, Furikake is packed with nutrients, particularly Calcium. Could there be a more reliable friend?!  Mr. Suekichi Yoshimaru has definitely earned his place as a culinary revolutionary of Japanese cuisine. Presented with a National Emergency, this forward thinking man of Kumamoto solved the problem in the most delicious way possible. Surely the very essence of WASAMON!    Penmaru:  Furikake! I love it as well! “Nori-Tama (Seaweed and Egg)” is so sweet and tasty. I didn’t for a single second imagine Furikake was invented in Kumamoto! To invent such a tasty thing to help people improve their nutrition…Yoshimaru-san must have been a really nice person!   Shihan: I believe the best thing about Furikake is that it’s designed to let children who don’t like fish enjoy all the benefits of a fish diet. Perhaps it’s thanks to Furikake, that the Japanese people are among the healthiest in the world? By the way, my favorite flavor is “Okaka (Bonito)”, but I’m interested in trying the “Iriko (Dried infant sardines)” as well! It’s used in “Gohan no Tomo“!   In the next episode, we will be going back in time – to the SENGOKU ERA! It’s a story about the first WASAMON’s who were influenced by Eastern culture!   Do you want to try Japanese “Furikake”? What is your country’s “Meal Friend”? Please let us know by sharing this article with your friends on SNS! Don’t forget to follow Mayu on Twitter /Facebook, as well!
Mayuna Mizutani

Mayuna Mizutani