A Koku of Rice

Lately, I’ve been fascinated by the concept of a koku (石) of rice: I find it pretty neat. A koku was a Japanese unit of volume (of rice) in use especially during the Edo Period (Tokugawa Shogunate) roughly equivalent to around 278 liters, or 330 pounds, and was said to be the amount of rice needed to feed a single person for a year. Other rice growing cultures had similar concepts, but none defined it as well as the Japanese.  The cool thing about koku was that it was also the measure of the wealth and taxation of a feudal domain during this period. Interestingly enough, the Japanese population of around 30 million exceeded the national production of koku (around 26 million) which raises many questions. Of course, farmers grew other crops and often maintained secret fields to avoid taxation.

The concept interests me because I eat rice as my staple grain. This is partially because of my background and what I grew up eating (my parents are Indian immigrants to the United States) but also a function of the practicality of rice preparation versus bread preparation. It is a lot more time and effort intensive to knead dough and bake bread; furthermore flour must be made in mills and not at home for the most part. Even the cheapest bread will cost more over a yearly period than a sack of rice. A good sack of rice can usually last a few months. Unlike flour, once rice is harvested, it can technically be cooked and consumed by anyone. It can be easily flavored and mixed with multiple dishes. I recently bought myself a large sack of basmati rice to last me to the end of the year. My goal was to aim toward having a koku worth of rice but alas, the rice bags in most stores are not that big. To my surprise, they are barely 1/13 the size of a koku: I guess people ate bigger portions more often back then.

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