Niigata Pref. keen to take bread from people’s mouths — nicely!

Courtesy of Niigata prefectural government
A video produced by the Niigata prefectural government features a high school student running with a rice ball in her mouth.

NIIGATA — Late for school, a young girl bursts from her house with a slice of bread clamped between her teeth. This busy-morning scene is a staple of Japanese anime and manga, but has recently been revamped, with an onigiri rice ball supplanting the bread.

The Niigata prefectural government has created a series of promo videos featuring young characters biting down on a rice ball as they sprint toward their destination. The nation’s top rice-producing prefecture hit upon the idea of targeting young people over concerns that consumers were eating less rice.

“We want to promote our rice ball campaign nationwide in hopes of boosting rice consumption,” a prefectural government official said.

The first installment of the series was posted Jan. 24 on the prefecture’s YouTube channel. The video depicts a female high school student rushing to make class on time. “Studying late into the night for university entrance exams means she isn’t getting enough sleep these days,” says the narrator, who then explains that the rice ball was made from rice produced by her grandfather, who lives in the prefecture.

The video notched up more than 30,000 views in its first week, and received such comments as, “Very funny!”

According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, domestic consumption of rice in fiscal 2020 was 6.404 million tons, down about 4% from the previous fiscal year and marking a fall for the seventh consecutive year. The novel coronavirus pandemic has also helped spur the decline in rice consumption as people dine out less frequently, which has led to sluggish demand.

The prefectural government plans to release a total of four videos through Feb. 14 with new episodes appearing each Monday. The second episode, posted Monday, features a female fashion model also holding a rice ball in her mouth. A video with a male cast is in the pipeline, too.

According to the prefectural government, 80% of Japanese citizens consume rice for dinner, but only 50% choose it for breakfast.

“We want people to really fill their faces with rice balls at breakfast time,” said an official of the prefectural government’s food and distribution division.