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In December 2013, Washoku (traditional Japanese cuisine) was inducted into UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list, with rice being the main ingredient. In Japan, where rice is a staple food, there is almost no household that does not own a rice cooker, and the most outstanding producer of rice in Japan is Niigata Prefecture.

Niigata takes the cake in terms of both acreage and yield, with the prefecture’s climate and fertile soil indispensable to such a scale of rice production. With short daylight hours accompanying plentiful snowfall in winter, and long daylight hours with little rainfall in summer, the two seasonal extremes result in clear streams of water from melted snow, offering an abundance of the clean water necessary for rice farming. And since rice plants thrive in high-moisture climates, they grow particularly well during Niigata’s humid summer days.

Niigata has very rich land. The rice fields are made of fertile clay soil gathered from the upstream areas of major rivers such as the Shinanogawa River and the Aganogawa River. This soil has an abundance of nutrients necessary for rice production, meaning few chemical fertilizers are needed.

Twenty-one types of rice are produced in Niigata, but the one that represents the prefecture, with an unparalleled taste known across Japan, is called Koshi Hikari. However, Niigata is working on the development of various other breeds of rice as well, and in 2003, after eight years of cultivation, Koshi Ibuki was developed through collaboration between the prefecture and its agricultural associations. Maturing early, Koshi Ibuki can be harvested roughly 10 days earlier than Koshi Hikari. The grains can ripen during the hot summers without losing their quality—a feat previously considered all but impossible—and can still present a beautiful gloss and a just the right amount of stickiness when cooked. The quality is exceptional, and the taste can be compared to Koshi Hikari.

As the top producer of rice in Japan, the quality of rice is constantly being improved through Niigata’s inventive ideas. Rice fans can expect continued production of delicious rice, as well as the development of even more delicious varieties in the future.

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