I understand that rice is a sacred food, and that your citizens are reduced to wretched misery when deprived of its nourishment. It's so important to you that you use the same word, gohan, for "cooked rice" and "any meal of any kind". The Hero explains with adorable solemnity that it's an unforgivable sin, not to mention a grave insult to the cook, to leave behind a single grain of rice when you're eating your food.
I watch you quaffing onigiri on station platforms, snarfing it before class, gobbling away happily in restaurants.
I've read long, scholarly dissertations about the effect of rice cultivation on your national character: because rice-farming is labour intensive and requires a lot of cooperation, you developed this group think phenomenon. The scholarly dissertations elucidate it more elegantly, but that's the gist of it.
Incidentally, I've never understood this analogy. I don't think a wheat farmer in Iraq ed-Dubb, circa 9600 BC, could've sown, harvested and transported his crop by his glorious Lone Ranger self, since he probably didn't have a John Deere Combine Harvester yet. However, I accept that I'm a southern barbarian with a tenuous grasp of world affairs, and I won't argue too much.
When I arrived on your shores many incarnations ago, my only knowledge of rice was Tastic Rice's claim to fame: "Tastic parboiled rice always cooks up separate, fluffy and white every time."
That's what my mother taught me, too: when you cook rice, every grain should be separate and fluffy. (Let's not dwell on the white aspect too much. It remains a sensitive issue in South Africa.) Then I came here, and a turn-your-head-180° adjustment was required. Separate = bad. Stick together = good.
I now agree that Japanese rice tastes better than Tastic Rice; as a matter of fact, there's really no comparison. I even took a small bag of koshihikari rice with me to South Africa, to introduce it to my mother. It was a mistake. I now have to lug along a 5 kg pack whenever I go home. Do you realize that a 5 kg pack of rice contributes generously to an overweight suitcase?
So, you see, I really do get it.
But, Japan, here's the thing.
Nothing beats the fragrance of freshly baked bread. Nothing.
I register that dampish smell bubbling from a rice cooker and I think, "Oh, it's almost done."
I catch a whiff, just a tiny whiff, of freshly baked bread wafting from an oven, and my brain goes into raptures, my salivary glands kick into over-production, my stomach gurgles and frolics and starts turning triple somersaults.
I know it's cultural, but come on. Bread smells better. You know I'm right. Right?
I remain, Japan, your obedient, tax-paying, rice-eating, bread-loving servant –
PS: I'm talking about real bread, not Yamazaki pan.