BBC Earth Production for Plenus|The Story of Rice

Rice is eaten all around the world, in many different countries and in many different preparations.
The famous Irish chef, Rachel Allen, who handles ingredients from around the world in her daily work, sets out on a trip to learn about rice. Her destination is a country whose food culture is centered around white rice: Japan.
Outside Japan, many people mainly associate Japanese food with sushi, but of course that's not the only way to prepare rice. So then how do Japanese people eat rice?

Tokyo, Kyoto, Nagano—Rachel visits cities all over Japan and explores a rich variety of Japanese dishes, all centered around rice. A picture starts to emerge of Japan as a country shaped by its relationship with rice.

  • Rachel Allen

    A native of Dublin, Ireland, Chef Rachel Allen teaches at the world-renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School (located in the city of Cork in Southern Ireland), and also finds time to appear on TV, write books, pursue journalism, and even raise a family. Her popularity extends beyond the UK and Ireland, and her TV series is gaining increasing international acclaim, now appearing on 33 channels in 27 countries. She is also the best-selling author of eleven cookbooks that have sold more than two million copies worldwide.


Nov. 15, 2022

It was screened at a lecture on Nutrition for children at Faculty of Education , Chiba University.

Oct. 15, 2022

It was screened at an online event of the Plenus Rice Culture Inheritance Project.

Jun. 26, 2022

It was screened at an online event of the Plenus Rice Culture Inheritance Project.

Feb. 22, 2022

It was screened at a lecture on Izumi Elementary School (Sugito-cho,Saitama) 5th grade.

Apr. 25, 2022

It was screened at a lecture on food culture in Japan at Toyo University's Faculty of Food Environment Science.

Sep. 18, 2021

It was screened at an online event of the Plenus Rice Culture Inheritance Project.

Feb. 18, 2021

It was screened online of Plenus Rice Culture Inheritance Project.

May. 25, 2020

It was screened at a lecture on food culture in Japan at Toyo University's Faculty of Food Environment Science.

Program Highlights

In her classroom, she uses many ingredients from around the world, including rice, which is eaten by 1.6 billion people worldwide. Rachel sets out on a trip to Japan to learn about the simplest preparation of white rice.
Rachel is a proponent of home-style dishes that anyone can make for themselves. So then how is rice served on the average Japanese dinner table? Rachel visits Kyoto Prefectural University, where she eats in the bustling dining hall with Professor Yoichiro Sato, an authority in rice research.


On her trip, Rachel encounters a variety of different Japanese foods. When you think about it, it's surprising that the same white rice we eat at home is also the centerpiece of everything from refined chakaiseki dishes (small meals served before tea ceremonies) to the vegetarian cuisine served to ascetic Buddhist monks. Since the Japanese first chose rice as their staple food, flooded rice paddies have dotted the landscape all over the country. Rice cultivation is a year-round endeavor, and the sight of rice paddies is a nostalgic and sentimental one for many Japanese. Rachel explores the landscapes of the Japanese heart when she visits the studio of Morihiro Hosokawa, the artist behind "Seasons of Tanada." Then, Rachel travels to Obasute in Nagano to experience the scenery of the terraced rice paddies for herself.

Japan is known around the world for its long average lifespan, but Nagano residents enjoy particularly long lives. To seek out the secret to a long life, Rachel goes to the Nagano village of Otari to talk with Professor Nobutaka Suzuki, an expert in preventive medicine. At an old-style family farm, where three generations are living together, Rachel helps out with the rice harvest and then sits down with the family for dinner. According to Professor Suzuki, the secret behind Nagano's longevity is a nutritious diet of rice and vegetables. Nagano cuisine is known for its abundant use of home-grown rice and vegetables, as well as soybeans and fermented foods. Rachel learns about the healthy, rice-based Japanese diet while spending time with this lively family.

At the end of her trip, Rachel puts to use what she learned at her stops around the country to create her own original Japanese set meal. The venue for this meal will be in a neighborhood in Kyoto lined with traditional Japanese wooden townhouses. Using ingredients from the local Nishiki Market, Rachel cooks a variety of heartful side dishes to complement the meal's centerpiece: fluffy, glossy white rice cooked in a traditional kettle.
Japan's healthy rice-based diet was passed down through generations, along with many diverse aspects of Japanese culture. The very simplicity of white rice is what makes it so timeless. Chef Rachel Allen, a visitor from faraway Ireland, is enchanted by the flavor of freshly cooked white rice.