Kome-touban: Protect Your Rice the Natural Way

Summer is in full blaze in Ishikawa. It’s disgustingly humid, which means that mold and bugs are a threat to your apartment. Sure, you’ve been cleaning your tatami, airing out your futon, and throwing roach traps all over the kitchen, but have you stopped to protect your rice from bugs?

Meal worms are called that for a reason, after all. They live in meal—grains, flours, etc.

To prevent wasting several kilos of rice because of an infestation, there are three very simple (and cheap) steps you can take.

1. Buy only what you need.

If you buy smaller amounts of rice, you won’t have a bunch sitting around going bad. Although brown rice (玄米) is healthier than white rice (白米), white rice keeps longer. If you are going to buy brown rice, you need to be extra careful about finishing it in a timely manner.

2. Store your rice in an airtight container.

A simple model from rakuten.com

Home-goods stores will have several options for rice storage containers 米びつ (kome bitsu). Pick an appropriately sized container, and wash it. Be sure it is completely dry before putting in your rice.

Additionally, store your flours, sugars, oats, etc. in airtight containers, as well. A glass jar with a sealing hinged lid is ideal.

Store in a dry place–not under the sink or outside.

3. Buy an insect repellent made for rice

Image from the エステー official website

These will be located in the rice-storage sections of home-goods stores and the rice section of supermarkets.

I recommend a Kome-touban 米唐番. Shaped like a red pepper, Kome-touban contains natural chili powder, which repels bugs. The name is also Japanese pun—a 当番 (touban), as those of you who work in schools know, is the “class leader,” the person who is “on duty.” Kome-touban uses this pronunciation but changes the tou kanji to the 唐 of 唐辛子 (tougarashi), pepper.

The pepper keeps the bugs away and the other main ingredient, fermented alcohol, keeps the rice fresh. These natural ingredients will protect the rice while protecting you from harsh chemicals.

Kome-touban comes in two sizes—one for 5 (up to 10) kg of rice and one for 10 (up to 30) kg of rice. To use, unscrew the tip of the pepper and remove the plastic safety cap inside. Leave the white paper part. Screw the tip back on and place in your rice container. Form follows function, and the back of the container suggests 3 visually pleasing ways to use this visually interesting device—lay it on top of the rice; stick it (cap up) in the rice, or hang it from a provided hook in the rice container.

The MSRP for a 5 kg Kome-touban is 378 yen; for a 10 kg model, 578 yen.

Kome-touban lasts for an average of six months—4 months in summer and 8 months in other seasons. Replace when the red gel has shrunk down to the bottom of the device.

Keep out of the reach of children. Store in a cool (well, as cool as possible), dry place out of direct sunlight.

Between the good price, the natural ingredients, and the cute shape, Kome-touban is a great way to keep rice fresh and bug-free without the use of harsh chemicals.

Leah Zoller in a first-year CIR in Anamizu. She believes strongly in environmental responsibility. For other ways to be kind to the environment and your body while living abroad, see her posts on finding additive-free soaps in Japan and organic tatami cleaner.


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