The Japanese art of regenerative living
Of the many tools that are used in the Japanese kitchen, ohitsu may be one that doesn’t make its way to other countries worldwide. It’s a hinoki, Japanese cypress, wooden container with a lid. Specifically made to store rice after it’s been cooked.
While being the staple of the country, until about a hundred years ago, Japanese people most often cooked rice just once a day. It was quite the project to cook rice. The rice needs to be soaked in advance, a fire needs to be built inside the stove, an extremely heavy rice pot called kamado was used for cooking so lifting and cleaning was far from easy, and frankly the day was filled with many other jobs. From a practical perspective, there was probably only a single cooktop, so other dishes were made during a different daypart. All to say that hot freshly-steamed rice was eaten for one meal, and rice was repurposed in various ways for other meals. Packed in a bento or made into rice balls for lunch outside of the home, warmed as rice porridge or simply eaten at room temperature. Until then, the rice was stored in an ohitsu.
It’s a technological prodigy. Artisans who craft ohitsu shape the container and lid just so. The hinoki breathes, allowing just enough moisture to remain and absorbing the rest, to ensure the grains remain perfectly bouncy and moist, without going stale or wet. Hinoki’s natural antibacterial properties keep rice safe to enjoy later in the day.
While more modern technologies like refrigerators and microwaves have made way for a different type of rice routine, there are people like me who recognize that the technology of the ohitsu is still hard to beat.