All About Japan

Yamagata's Rice Idols

Anime Japanese Countryside Yamagata Tohoku

In today’s modern age, there’s no surer visual shorthand for Japan than cute anime girls, which is exactly what you’ll find on these bags of rice from Yamagata Prefecture.

As one of Japan’s top rice-growing regions, Yamagata already has plenty of cachet when it comes to the nation’s staple grain. This promotional push, though, aims to put a face—or actually three—on the product.

Meet the girls of RiCes, which is oddly enough pronounced like “recess.” Billed as Yamagata’s unofficial rice idols, the team consists of Tsuyahime Uzen, Haenuki Shonai and Hitomebore Miyagi, all of whom have a first name that’s also a strain of rice grown in Yamagata.

The girls will each appear as illustrations on special packages of the rice they share their name with. ¥2,500 will get you a five-kilogram (11-pound) bag of either Haenuki Shonai Haenuki rice or Hitomebore Miyagi Hitomebore rice. Ponying up a cool ¥3,000 will get you a five-kilo bag of Tsuyahime Uzen Tsuyahime.

While critics might be tempted to call this shameless targeting of otaku, bags of rice, decorated with anime characters or not, are still a far less frivolous purchase than expensive figures or huggy pillows. And while the RiCes rices aren’t exactly budget-priced, they’re not that much more expensive than what premium types of rice usually sell for in Japan.

It’s not like RiCes producers can be entirely blamed for the idea of combining Yamagata rice with cute girls, either. Tsuyahime literally means lustrous princess, while hitomebore is a Japanese phrase meaning “to fall in love at first sight.” The idols’ designers are simply carrying out Yamagata rice growers’ marketing of their product to its logical conclusion.

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