If you want to reproduce the healthy and tasty Japanese cuisine at home, you’ve got to start with cooking good rice. It’s because Japanese meals revolve around rice.

A household Japanese meal is considered “full” or “well-prepared” when you get 1 soup and 3 dishes (and often an additional small serving of pickles). It will look like this:

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The content of the soup bowl and the 3 dishes will change daily, but the one thing that will stay constant is the rice. So what you’re doing is enjoying the taste of rice in different contexts by accompanying it with different dishes.

The soup helps as an appetizer to keep you going and eat more rice. It’s common to ask for a second serving of rice.

Every time you eat a portion of one of the 3 dishes, the next thing you’ll bring to your mouth will be some rice. Rice comes every other bite.

So no matter how tasty your 3 dishes are, if your rice sucks, your whole meal’s gonna suck. This article is a guide for people interested in reproducing a Japanese meal at home to make sure their rice tastes good.

What is the ideal, authentic Japanese rice?

There are two wide categories of Asian rice, and the rice this whole article is going to talk about is the Japonica Rice, which is primarily eaten in Japan, Korea and China. Japonica rice looks and tastes totally different from the Indica Rice eaten in other parts of Asia, so don’t get them mixed up.

Indica Rice, when cooked, is long and dry so they don’t stick to each other. It’s hard to eat Indica Rice with chopsticks because they’ll slip away. That’s why they’re eaten with a spoon.

Japonica Rice, when cooked, is plump and sticky. If you try eating it with spoon, it won’t look pretty because you’ll constantly have rice sticking to your utensil. That’s why they’re eaten with chopsticks.

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Japanese people like me, if they go to another country and eat at a restaurant and see Indica Rice served, will feel utterly disappointed. Because for us, Indica Rice is not rice.

It is said that Indian people feel Japonica Rice is an inferior type of rice because it doesn’t taste as good as Indica Rice. Well screw them because we feel Indica Rice tastes terrible.

If you’re looking to cook Japanese rice, go for Japonica Rice, as its name suggests. A vast majority of Japanese dishes are designed to go well with Japonica Rice.

It’s a challenge to describe how the best-tasting Japonica Rice looks and tastes, but here’s my attempt to verbalize it:

  • When cooked well, good rice has a glossy shine to it, and is slightly transparent. It looks as if it’s glowing. The color is rather silver than white.
  • It’s neither hard or mushy – although each piece adheres to one another, you can see that each individual piece has its own end.
  • There is a slight hint of sweetness, which may be hard to tell until your tongue has had enough experience to distinguish subtle differences in taste.

So how is this perfect Japanese rice made? Here are 3 steps to follow.

3 steps to cook tasty Japanese rice

1. Get a DAMN-GOOD rice cooker

Rice cooking used to be considered one of the most challenging art in the world of Japanese cuisine back when pots that looked like the one below were used to do the job.

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Having tried it myself several dozen times (and failed at least a few dozen times), I insist that the traditional method of Japanese rice-cooking can well be the most difficult task to do right – in the world.

I won’t go into details here, but it involves lengthy stretches of concentration, a complex procedure, a steep learning curve and a sixth sense. If you’re interested in learning all about the madness, here’s an article about it:

History of Japanese food culture – rice

But in our modern day world, making the ideal steamed rice can be done effortlessly. It just takes some initial investment on a quality Japanese rice cooker.

Japanese electronics manufacturers have meticulously programmed their high-end rice cookers to conduct the complicated steaming procedure which takes months or years to learn.

With these rice cookers, you can literally reproduce the taste and texture of steamed rice served at the priciest and most prestigious Japanese restaurants in Japan with a touch of a button.

So which rice-cooker, among hundreds sold out there, should we get? Get a DAMN-GOOD one once and for all, would be my advice.

Japanese rice-cookers are highly durable and basically, you can continue using them for years until YOU decide to divorce it, for whatever reason.

I used my first one (that cost me less than a $100) for about 5 years and although it was still perfectly fine, I replaced it with a better one (which cost me around $700) in pursuit for better taste. I’ve been using this rice cooker happily for 4 years now, as rice tastes immensely better with this ruby-red technological masterpiece (picture below). If you’re gonna marry a rice cooker, better marry one you could love, in terms of quality (and design).

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As a general rule of thumb, Japanese rice-cookers come along with several functions and features no matter how basic the model is, like:

  • a heat-retention feature that keeps your rice warm and tasty for 35 hours, or even 40 hours max!
  • capability of cooking brown rice, mixed rice, festive red rice, rice pourage, and all the other varieties of rice beyond your imagination and needs! (some are even capable of baking bread)

But as you probably felt, most of these features are overkill even for the average Japanese, and they won’t come in handy unless you cook rice for a living or something (Japanese manufacturers tend to overdo R&D).

I only tell my rice cooker to:

  • cook rice
  • cook rice quickly

So I’m pretty confident to tell you that you won’t have to worry about comparing different brands to see which one has the most number of useful functions. And as another rule of thumb in the world of Japanese rice cookers, you’re basically guaranteed this: the more you pay, the better your rice will taste.

So your primary concern will be deciding how much money you want to invest and ergo how high the quality of rice you want to get.

But then, the best rice cookers are made for use in Japan and there will be small inconveniences if you are a non-Japanese seeking quality rice-cooking in your home country. Many come without an English manual and many require an electric transformer for use outside Japan.

So here are a few recommended products from the perspectives of convenience and price range.

1. Medium-priced; English buttons
*made for use outside Japan
Product Name: NS-YMH10︎
Manufacturer: Zojirushi
▶︎ 220-230V with SE plug: good for use in much of the European continent, India, China, Argentina, etc.︎
▶︎ Can cook up to 5合 (10 servings) of rice at a time
▶︎ Comes with English, Korean, Chinese manual
▶︎ Menu buttons in English
▶︎ Capable of “Quick mode” which cooks rice faster, sacrificing taste in return
▶︎ Capable of “Premium mode” which cooks rice with better taste while taking double the time
2. Affordable; English buttons
*made for use outside Japan
Product Name: RZ-DMD10Y 220V – 240V 
Manufacturer: Tiger
▶︎ 220-240V with SE plug: good for use in much of the European continent, India, China, Argentina, Australia, etc.︎
▶︎ Can cook up to 5.5合 (11 servings) of rice at a time
▶︎ Comes with an English manual
▶︎ Menu buttons in English
▶︎ Not capable of “Quick mode” which cooks rice faster
▶︎ Not capable of “Premium mode” which cooks rice with better taste while taking double the time
3. Minimum functions; cool design
*made for use in Japan
Product Name: JPB-G101-WA
Manufacturer: Tiger
▶︎ 100V: good for use in Japan. For use outside Japan, you’ll need an electric transformer.
▶︎ Can cook up to 5.5合 (11 servings) of rice at a time
▶︎ Comes with Japanese manual
▶︎ Menu labels in Japanese
▶︎ Capable of “Quick mode” (Labeled “早炊き”) which cooks rice faster, sacrificing taste in return
▶︎ Capable of “Premium mode” (Labeled “極うま”)which cooks rice with better taste while taking double the time.
4. Damn-good rice cooker
*made for use in Japan
Product Name: NJ-VX106-R
Manufacturer: Mitsubishi
▶︎ The one I have.
▶︎ 100V: good for use in Japan.︎ For use outside Japan, you’ll need an electric transformer.
▶︎ Can cook up to 5.5合 (11 servings) of rice at a time
▶︎ Comes with Japanese manual
▶︎ Menu buttons in Japanese
▶︎ Capable of “Quick mode” (enabled by pressing the “炊飯” button twice) which cooks rice faster, sacrificing taste in return
▶︎ Capable of “Premium mode” (labled “匠芳醇炊き”) which cooks rice with better taste while taking double the time
5. Really Damn-good rice cooker
*made for use in Japan
Product Name: NJ-AW108-B
Manufacturer: Mitsubishi
▶︎ The even better version of the one I have.
▶︎ 100V: good for use in Japan.︎ For use outside Japan, you’ll need an electric transformer.
▶︎ Can cook up to 5.5合 (11 servings) of rice at a time
▶︎ Comes with Japanese manual
▶︎ Menu buttons in Japanese
▶︎ Capable of “Quick mode” (labeled “お急ぎ”) which cooks rice faster, sacrificing taste in return
▶︎ Capable of “Quick-and-tasty mode” (labled “うま早”) which cooks rice fast while not sacrificing taste much

If you choose to buy a rice cooker designed for use in Japan, you’ll need an electric transformer. Before you buy a transformer, check out the voltage and electric socket type of your country at this wonderfully organized website here:

Complete list: Plug, socket & voltage by country – World Standards

This is the transformer I use when I want a Japanese electronic appliance to function in the US. This converts a 100V input (the Japanese voltage) into 120V (the US voltage).

1-2. Trusted Japanese rice cooker manufacturers

In the event my recommendations didn’t really win your heart and you would like to search for a rice cooker yourself, here is a list of trusted manufacturers that have been producing rice cookers for decades.

Pick a rice cooker made by one of these companies and you won’t need to worry about defects or problems with quality.

象印 (Zoujirushi) ▶︎ In business since 1948
▶︎ Specializes in kitchen appliances
TIGER ▶︎ In business since 1923
▶︎ Specializes in kitchen appliances
MITSUBISHI ▶︎ In business since 1870
▶︎ A huge group company with 30+ businesses
Panasonic ▶︎ In business since 1935
▶︎ A huge group company with 30+ businesses
Hitachi ▶︎ In business since 1910
▶︎ A huge group company with strength in products meant for use outside Japan

2. Choose the right brand of rice

Let’s say you now have a nice rice cooker and you want to try putting some rice in there to see what it can do.

You search on Amazon but come across several brands of rice at different prices and don’t know which one to order.

There are 2 points to consider when choosing which bag of rice to buy. I’ll point both out here, but let me make your life easier by reducing the points to consider to just 1, because you’re probably looking into cooking tasty rice and not thinking about exploring variety yet.

2-1. Yet-to-be washed or pre-washed?

Rice needs to be washed before you start cooking it. There is still some unwanted substance on rice, namely bran, after it’s picked off the field. Cooking rice without washing away the bran will add the undesirable smell of bran to the finished product. And there is a specific 10-minute procedure for washing rice properly. Tedious.

If you buy these yet-to-be washed rice bags, you’re gonna have to do the washing yourself. Tedious.

But consumer-minded rice farmers were thoughtful enough to rid the washing process for us by washing their rice before packaging it. Enter 無洗米 (Mu sen mai), or pre-washed rice, which you can just toss directly into your rice cooker and still make it taste great.

I always get pre-washed rice. Because of the added manufacturing process, it’s priced around $2 higher than yet-to-be washed rice. But it’s totally worth it.

So I recommend that you get pre-washed rice. You’ll know which product is pre-washed because it will say “無洗米” in the front side of the bag. Like so:

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2-2. Which brand of rice?

There are several Japanese rice brands that are renowned for their quality. Here’s a list of some famous brands:

  • コシヒカリ (Koshihikari)
  • ななつぼし (Nanatauboshi)
  • あきたこまち (Akitakomachi)
  • ゆめぴりか (Yumépirika)
  • ひとめぼれ (Hitomeboré)
  • 青天の霹靂 (Seiten-no-Hekireki)
  • つや姫 (Tsuyahimé)

There are more. So at this point, you’re probably thinking “OK just tell me which one you recommend. I can’t choose.”

Choosing a brand of rice is like choosing a bottle of wine. If you’re really into rice, you’ll know the subtle differences in the taste and texture of each brand. If you’re a real rice geek, you may even check out the area the rice was made, as the quality (although I can’t tell the difference AT ALL) differs depending on the weather conditions throughout the year of the area.

I honestly don’t care that much because they all taste good. So my recommendation to non-rice geeks like myself, is that you first try the one that’s best known: コシヒカリ(Koshihikari).

Lately, there have been a series of births of many new quality-brands, but コシヒカリis one of the oldest brands of quality and is still considered prestigious.

Go with 無洗米コシヒカリ (pre-washed Koshihikari)first.

2kg of コシヒカリ
5kg of コシヒカリ

2kg of rice will equate to around 26 rice bowls. 5kg will equate to around 66 rice bowls.

3. Cook it right

Now here’s where you need to do a little learning. But it’s pretty easy after going through the process once.

First of all, rice is measured with a unit called 合(Gou). 1合 is good for two big servings of rice.

I cook for two adults and one 4 year-old at home and we don’t eat a whole lot, so I usually dump 1.5合 into my rice cooker.

Here’s how 合 is converted into other units of measurement you may be more accustomed to:

合 (Gou)  grams ounces mL cups cc
1 150g 5.3oz 180mL 0.9 cups 180cc

When you buy a rice cooker, it should come with a measuring cup and a rice scoop called しゃもじ(Shamoji). They’ll look like this:

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A more traditional form of the measuring cup looks like the picture below, and the volume of rice it holds is exactly the same as the measuring cup you got along with your rice cooker.

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Here’s a video I’ve put together to show you the whole procedure – from measuring rice to putting cooked rice into a rice bowl.

The optimal amount of time the rice cooker spends cooking differs on many variables:

  • the type of rice you’re trying to cook (white rice, brown rice, multigrain rice)
  • the volume of rice
  • your room’s temperature
  • the season
  • the electric voltage of your country
  • how firm or soft you prefer your rice to be

Imagine finding the optimal cooking time for each type of rice, each season and each family’s preference. This is why rice-cooking was considered to be one of the most difficult tasks in cooking, before electronic rice cookers were developed.

Many rice cookers allow you to select how fast you’d like your rice to be prepared. Of course, the shorter the time you allow for your rice-cooker to do its job, the less tasty the outcome will become.

But sometimes you just can’t wait and will need to sacrifice taste to start eating sooner. Or other times you have time to spare and would like to prepare a gourmet meal.

Here’s a list of cooking modes and how they will be displayed on your rice-cooker. The wording may differ depending on the machine you’re using, but this should be a pretty comprehensive list. Modes not on this list are probably mode variants even an average Japanese would never use.

白米 Select this if white rice is what you’re trying to cook.
無洗米 Select this if pre-washed rice is what you’re trying to cook. If your rice cooker doesn’t have this as one of its modes, select “白米” instead.
玄米 Select this if brown rice is what you’re trying to cook.
雑穀米 Select this if multigrain rice is what you’re trying to cook.
ふつう The standard cooking mode.
Takes around 45 minutes.
かため For eaters who prefer firmer rice.
Takes around 45 minutes.
やわらか For eaters who prefer softer rice.
Takes around 50 mintues.
お急ぎ or 早炊き For eaters who can’t wait long.
Takes around 20 minutes.
極うま or 匠芳醇炊き or 熟成炊き Takes more time in order to bring out the sweetness of rice further. Tastes better.
エコ炊き For eaters who are super environmental-concious and would like to save even a little speck of electricity.
赤飯 or おこわ If red bean-rice is what you’re trying to make.

 

 

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おかゆ If rice pourage is what you’re trying to make.

 

 

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炊き込み If you want to cook vegetables and/or meat together with rice. Oftentimes, this purposefully creates a slightly-overburnt layer at the bottom.

 

 

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So I hope all this got you prepared to eat your first quality homemade-rice.

Cooking rice won’t require any thinking once you learn how to do it. You can start making the rest of your meal while your rice cooker prepares the rice.

Enjoy your homemade Japanese meal!