Ode to a Japanese rice cooker

I’m not sentimental about stuff. There is a box up on a shelf in my closet that has my great-great grandfather John Turner’s powder measure in it. He used it in the Civil War; it’s made from the breast bone of a turkey. I’m pretty sure it’s the only thing I own from that side of my family, but you know what? If it got lost or stolen I wouldn’t really care because it’s just a thing.

Bikes are the same. I owned bikes that are what you’d now call “classics,” but if I still owned any of them all I’d ever call them is clutter. Good fuggin’ riddance.

Last week my wife bought a new rice cooker. Here is a picture of the old one, beat to shit.


We bought this Zojirushi rice cooker in June 2000, when we moved back to the United States from Utsunomiya. I calculated that it has cooked over five thousand pots of rice since then, and it has never hiccoughed, much less needed repair. At the time it cost $200, which in today’s dollars is about $45,000,000, adjusting for inflation and poor arithmetical skills.

My sentimental rating for this thing is zero. The front cover has peeled off from being so close to the stove for so many years, and it is covered with more battle scars than an alpha male bull elephant seal. Since it still works fine, we’re handing it off to our youngest, who has left the dorms and signed up for apartment living in his second year of college.

Like I said, no sentimentality for that old thing. Some big corporation made it, I worked to pay for it, it did what it was supposed to do, and now it’s going off to Santa Barbara to do it some more. Most people would love to retire to Santa Barbara anyway.

But even though I’m not sentimental, not even a little, about the contraption that fed us and nourished us and did its job without interruption or complaint for close to twenty years, when you think about it, that old rice cooker marked a lot of time with our family.

When we brought it home from the Asahi Japanese Market in Austin, my youngest son was two. His brother, seven. His sister, eleven. He’s now a sophomore in college and I’m a grandfather. Time didn’t fly, it vanished. These wrinkles on my hands are tree rings, they mark the truth and can’t be obscured.

That rice cooker saw a lot of trials and a lot of tribulations. Terrible family altercations, family illness, family death. Friend troubles, school troubles, work troubles, life troubles. That rice cooker saw paychecks cashed with so little to go around that working poor would have seemed like an upgrade. Through the worst times, though, it coughed up a daily diet of hot steamed rice, nourishing food that left us with full bellies no matter how dire things otherwise might have seemed.

That rice cooker saw a lot of happiness, too. Reconciliations, mended friendships, excitement and adventure, new jobs, California, graduations, nuptials, and the crowning gift of life, babies. Whether we were making up or celebrating a milestone, that old rice cooker kept plugging away, pumping out the mainstay of every meal we ate together as a family for almost twenty years.

Those meals we ate together as a family, sometimes mad, usually happy, often hilarious, always filled with commentary about the things the day had brought, those meals were the glue that bound us, and they bound us in a way that frozen food and dinners out and ready-to-eat Trader Joe’s fare never could have. Whether we argued or whether we laughed, we did it over home cooked food whose backstop was invariably steamed white rice.

And if I’m so damned unsentimental about that old home appliance, maybe you can tell me why I’m so sad to see it go.


26 thoughts on “Ode to a Japanese rice cooker”

  1. Don’t worry, these symptoms of humanity will disappear as soon you begin riding again and can only focus on yourself.

  2. Because, that’s money that could be spent on carbon with carbon bike components / a set of fancy tyres.

    Happy labor day, and thank you for nourishing my days, day in day out.

  3. We have the same rice cooker although a few years newer. When you press the cook button it chimes “twinkle, twinkle little star”. First time hearing that made us laugh. But in subsequent uses, that chime became a comforting sound perhaps explained by Ivan Pavlov.

    1. Talking rice cookers, whispering the happiness of freshly steamed rice almost ready to be scooped out and eaten! Fun fact: The little flat white spoon with the bumpy surface that comes with the cooker for scooping out the rice is called a “shamoji.”

  4. That distant sound is a collective “Awww” from Japan. [heart emojis popping everywhere]
    The Prime Minister of Pokemon is sending you an honorary leaky, Japanese citizenship certificate as we speak.

    1. Emblazoned with emoji nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles adorned with the flag from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

  5. For once in my life I am not being a smart-ass; this is a legitimate question. How is this (or any) rice cooker better than mine: a pot with a lid, on the stove, and 20 minutes on the timer?

    1. It cooks the rice better if you are using good rice. Consistency of heating, consistency of temperature, and very importantly a platinum coating on the rice pot enhances the ionization process that causes the grain to absorb the water.

      As with bikes, no bike is “better” than any other. People get different levels of satisfaction based on their experiences, their expectations, their culture, their lifestyle, their knowledge, and their outlook as it is affected by advertising, marketing, word of mouth, and shared cultural norms.

      For some it is a waste of money. For others, life changing …

  6. Arkansas Traveler

    Dang, man. How you turn a rice pot into a Kodak moment I’ll never know. But I think there’s something in my eye…

  7. A good writer is someone who can write compelling prose about the most mundane of topics. My favorite line: “These wrinkles on my hands are tree rings, they mark the truth and can’t be obscured.” Well done!

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