Nishijima Toyozo is one of Japan’s certified “five-star rice masters” of Japan Rice Retailers Association. His reputation can be backed up by his encyclopedic knowledge about rice. Now, he travels around Japan to support the farming sector of the country with the hope that each farming community will become sustainable and will also be able to establish a rice brand of its own.
Nishijima Toyozo was born in Tokyo in 1962. He graduated from the School of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science at Kitasato University. Nishijima-san then worked as a consultant for the Hokkaido Agricultural Modernization Technology Research Center after he graduated from the university. Later in 1988, he took over his family business in Tokyo – the Suzunobu Inc. rice shop. In his effort towards sustainable rice farming, he supported regional projects geared towards the development of new rice brands that would also help in the revitalization of rural communities through his extensive knowledge of agriculture. He aims to bridge the gap between rural areas and consumers. Nishijima-san is also notable for his published works— Kyoo Wa Kono Kome (Today It’s This Rice), Okome no Tatsujin ga Kangaeru Gohan Kihoncho (A Rice Expert’s Directory on Cooked Rice) and other important works regarding rice.
According to Nishijima-san, rice has been a staple of Japan since the Yayoi period. At present, new varieties are being cultivated to suit the country’s climate and the palate of its people. However, cultivating high quality of rice is a matter of price rather than brand. Most farmers choose to play safe by cultivating Koshihikari (most popular variety of rice grain) rather than rare local strains of rice. There are also shortages of the younger people who would be willing to take over family farms and thus, more farmlands are left fallow.
With more farmlands left fallow, the Japanese government has initiated the revitalization of rural farming communities. Along with Nishijima Toyozo’s undertaking, the Suzunobu Rice Project has been facilitating rural farmers, local governments, agricultural experiment stations and other stakeholders to develop a new brand of rice. At present, sixty brands of rice have been created. Nishijima-san also shares his experiences and knowledge to get rice consumers be choosing products based on their preferences. He also aims to eradicate biases regarding which regions cultivate rice the best. The Suzunobu Rice Project aims to not only eradicate these biases between regions but also pave the way for a new rice age through educational campaigns where children too are involved in gaining more knowledge about rice.
Rice production cost may be high in Japan but only because the Japanese do not want to compromise the taste of their grains and this is evident seeing that they produce some of the highest quality of rice in the world.
Cooking Japanese Rice in the Rice Cooker: Ensuring the Best Flavor