Shoyu: An Investigation

September 19th, 2005

So a few weeks ago I got into a conversation with JK Show intern Ben Hamamoto on a subject close to both our hearts: soy sauce -- or, as my Japanese-American wife, Sara, calls it, "shoyu."

Generally, my wife's cultural upbringing and my own Jewish-American one have proved to mesh quite comfortably -- with the singular exception of my shoyu habits. You see, Sara has always taken it as gospel that you do not put shoyu on your rice (an opinion as fiercely held as my late stepmother's irrational hatred of the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team, though one more relevant to my daily life). By all means add it to your salmon, she avers, but the rice is to remain pristine, shoyu-free.

But I like my rice with shoyu. Lots of shoyu, actually. And while I pour it on my rice, Sara looks at me with ... is "disgust" too strong a word? No, it is not too strong a word.

So I got quite excited when it somehow came up that Ben -- also a lover of shoyu'ed rice -- gets the same attitude from his Japanese-American mom. Neither of us knows why this is considered so horrible. And that would be the end of it -- except that Ben, with the impulsive can-do spirit of an American youth, has begun to research this issue, asking around among both Japanese and Japanese-American family members and acquaintances. His preliminary findings seem to indicate that, while the rice/shoyu dichotomy is strictly enforced among Japanese-Americans, apparently this is not an issue in Japan itself. Which is not to say that in Japan people douse their rice with shoyu; it's just to say that (apparently) it's not an issue there.

Does anyone have any pertinent data to report on this divisive matter? I'd be grateful for any further insights. ...

By the way, Ben kindly brought in his own home-made Rice Krispy Treats to the show's taping last Friday. And no, neither of us even thought of adding shoyu to them. ...

Entry Filed under: let's digress

12 Comments

  • 1. Alan  |  September 19th, 2005 at 4:47 pm

    Josh, Alan here the gaffer from the “Faith” shoot. Were Ben’s Rice Krispy Treats as good as the one’s we had that night while shooting the grocery store scene?

  • 2. Jean  |  September 21st, 2005 at 9:20 am

    Must be a question of aesthetics. We Filipinos have no problem with mixing things up on one plate. And occasionally, we eat with our fingers, too.

  • 3. Elise  |  September 21st, 2005 at 3:53 pm

    I lived in Japan for a year. Never saw anyone eating rice with shoyu and got the impression that it would kill it’s purity from my Japanese friends and colleagues. I’ve always been a rice purist myself, and think that it ruins the flavor of really high quality rice, but to each their own.

  • 4. Elise  |  September 21st, 2005 at 3:54 pm

    I lived in Japan for a year. Never saw anyone eating rice with shoyu and got the impression that it would kill its purity from my Japanese friends and colleagues. I’ve always been a rice purist myself, and think that it ruins the flavor of really high quality rice, but to each their own.

  • 5. misuba  |  September 21st, 2005 at 3:57 pm

    Perhaps rice in Japan isn’t as bland as it often is here.

    (SHould I complicate matters by introducing the sushi issue to the debate?)

  • 6. shivu  |  September 26th, 2005 at 10:36 am

    i personally think more shoyu the better – add some ketchup to it if youre eating fried rice. in singapore (where im from) the best sauces found in local street food contain these two vital ingredients (haute cuisine tip).

  • 7. Josh Kornbluth  |  September 26th, 2005 at 2:30 pm

    Alan — I was never offered any of those Rice Krispy Treats at the shoot! Who was bogarting the Krispies? … Hey, have you heard anything about how that film cut together? Was it submitted to Sundance? …

    Jean — I think you’re right: it comes down to aesthetics. Filipino-style sounds just right for me — especially if you add some nice chopped liver. …

    Elise — your response will warm my wife’s heart.

    Misuba — if you’re going to deny me my shoyu on sushi as well as rice, I’m going to be very sad.

    Shivu — I’m gonna save up my frequent-flier miles so I can go to Singapore. Shoyu and ketchup — yum!!

  • 8. Matt  |  October 3rd, 2005 at 10:20 am

    I was once assured by a forceful Japanese woman that adding shoyu to my rice would make me blind! (cue dramatic music) I was never able to figure out where that one came from. In any case, I have a theory that the prohibition comes from the fact that shoyu will break down the “sticky” in sticky rice so you won’t be able to eat it with chopsticks. Perhaps that’s how it makes you go blind, too … having to find each grain of rice to pick up with your chopsticks must be bad for the eyes.

  • 9. Josh Kornbluth  |  October 3rd, 2005 at 12:09 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Matt. I never dreamed that this shoyu investigation would get Oedipal!

  • 10. michael t. baublitz  |  October 9th, 2005 at 1:02 pm

    Am a regular viewer, and seldom comment on new programs.
    I’m into Antiques Roadshow, History Detectives and Nova…
    Out of curiosity I watched the first “Josh” show with Rita Moreno and enjoyed it, as I like “biography” – I want to know more about people’s life story and philosophy. The show with Barbar Boxer was ok too, but I lost interest after the 3rd and 4th. Sorry, but I don’t know what is so funny about this guy? I’m just interested in his guests. I think “Josh” talks a little too much (‘small talk’). He tends to ramble on and on about what?
    And what’s’ with the shirts? Look like they were cut from a
    woman’s blouse! How about dress him up in ‘stipes’ ok?
    Anyway, I’ll keep watching, but I want to see a little more
    indepth conversation with notable personalities who can share meaningful life stories (like Alan Alda) than with these local writers/actors to-be, whom I’ve never heard of. Just some of my thoughts. Michael “Blitz Media Reviews”
    888-436-6453

  • 11. sachi  |  October 17th, 2006 at 7:17 pm

    the shoyu on rice thing in Japan is equivalent to putting catchup on filet mingon in France. I did it once as a kid, visiting my aunt’s house in Japan. She shuddered at my faux pas; it means you’re too poor to afford proper toppings for your rice like pickles or fish.

  • 12. Josh Kornbluth  |  October 22nd, 2006 at 12:11 pm

    Thanks for that pithy explanation, Sachi!


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