Japan’s top rice-growing prefecture designs character, releases two videos in hope of changing anime breakfast trope.

Niigata is Japan’s top rice-grower, and the prefectural government is concerned about Japan’s per-capita rice consumption going down. There are several possible reasons for this. For one, Japan’s culinary culture has become increasingly diverse over the past few decades, with non-rice dishes that originated abroad now a common part of Japanese people’s meal mixes. Supermarkets and convenience stores are also more prevalent and open longer than they used to be, making it easier to keep your home conveniently and affordably stocked with a variety of ingredients, lessening the need for rice to make up as large a portion of any individual meal as it used to be.

But the government of Niigata has found what it thinks is another reason for lower rice consumption: anime.

“Is it the fault of that anime scene?” asks the Niigata Prefectural government.

Watch enough anime (or Japanese dramas), and eventually there’ll be a scene where a character, generally a schoolgirl or office worker, has overslept. “Oh no, I’m going to be late!” they shout, before we cut to an exterior shot of their home and they come bursting out the front door as they make a mad dash to school or the office. Obviously there’s no time for a leisurely sit-down breakfast, and so their go-to on-the-go morning meal is, pretty much without exception, a piece of toast, which they hold in their mouth as they run.

It’s a time-honored storytelling trope, quickly conveying that the character is in over their heads in their current situation, but still doing all they can to try to keep it together. But while anime enthusiasts are familiar with the scene, Niigata thinks this might be turning young people off from eating rice at breakfast, as explained in the following statement:

In Niigata Prefecture’s analysis of why [rice consumption is dropping], we arrived at the hypothesis that manga and anime, which are deeply engrained in Japanese culture, are influencing the situation.

What we speak of is the “Girl Running Late with a Piece of Bread,” or the scenes in which a student, office lady, or salaryman who overslept runs while holding a piece of bread in their mouth. Often, the scene includes the female character falling in love as she rounds a corner.

We believe that repeated viewing of such scenes may be forming an image in viewers’ minds that ‘breakfast = bread,’ and causing them to be less likely to eat rice at breakfast.

And so Niigata has decided to fight fire with fire, or anime schoolgirls with anime schoolgirls, by launching the Girl Running Late with a Rice Ball Project.

By creating, and encouraging others to create, scenes of anime schoolgirls running to school with a musubi/onigiri (both Japanese words for rice ball) in her mouth, the prefecture can help shift perceptions. If an anime heroine can eat a rice ball prior to crashing into her one true love, magical girl power-granting animal familiar, or whatever other fateful encounter will kick off that arc of the story, maybe viewers will think “Hey, I could eat rice for breakfast too!”

That’s the plan, anyway, and since the Girl Running Late with a Piece of Bread trope also shows up in Japanese TV dramas, the project has also recruited actress Manami Igashira to appear as a live-action Girl Running Late with a Rice Ball in the first of a planned series of video shorts.

The musubi are, of course, made with Niigata-grown rice, according to the video, which also says they’re katsu (pork cutlet) rice balls. This is a rather unusual type of rice ball, but it allows the video to add a pun, something Japan loves almost as much as anime and earnest schoolgirls, since katsu can also mean “victory” in Japanese, and the video is trying to establish katsu rice balls as a good luck charm for kids taking school entrance exams.

Reactions so far have been mixed, with comments for the videos including :

“Nice. Rice culture is part of Japan.”
“It looks like the actress is having a really hard time running with a rice ball stuffed in her mouth.”
“Katsu rice balls sound like a seriously heavy breakfast.”
“What a dumb, fun idea!”
“Go for it, you idiots!”
“How about a Girl Running Late with a Sushi Roll?”
“I think I’m gonna have rice for breakfast tomorrow.”

There are, however, a few things Niigata Prefecture may not be taking into account regarding the Girl Running Late with a Piece of Bread scenes. First, in practical terms, it’s way easier to clamp down on a piece of toast as you run to the station than it is a rice ball. That’s because rice balls aren’t really balls at all, but a very large number of individual grains of rice pressed together. While a rice ball will hold up just fine in your hand, if it’s jostling around as you hold it in your teeth during a dead sprint it’s probably going to crumble pretty quickly and you’ll spill your breakfast all over the asphalt.

The even bigger issue, though, is that while you’ll see plenty of Girls Running Late with a Piece of Bread in anime, you won’t actually see any in real life. Much like all-powerful student councils and easy rooftop access, running to school with a piece of bread in your mouth is one of those anime tropes that isn’t a case of art imitating life, so it remains to be seen if the Girl Running Late with a Rice Ball Project will lead to life imitating art.

Source: PR Times via Teny via Hachima Kiko, YouTube/新潟米PR【公式】 (1, 2)
Top image: PR Times
Insert images: YouTube/新潟米PR【公式】, PR Times
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