How To Use A Japanese Rice Cooker

By Donald Ash | Articles


Rice in Japan/Asia is as popular and as ubiquitous as bread is in to America. Odds are if you’re going to be living in Japan, you’re going to be eating more rice than you were accustomed to in the United States or your respective country. Rice is great because it’s incredibly easy to make, and I really think Asia has the best rice there is. I know that sounds weird, because rice is essentially tasteless. Once you’ve eaten enough of it, you start to notice subtle differences in the rice you eat. Rice goes great with A LOT of things. Miso soup, shabu shabu (which is like a Japanese stew), unagi, or just about any fish you can think of, all go great with a nice, steaming bowl of rice. Oishii!!

When I first arrived in Japan, the company I was teaching for actually provided me with this industrial-sized, gargantuan, rice cooker (Suihanki or すいはんき(炊飯器)). Okay, maybe I won’t say industrial-sized, but it looked like it was big enough to feed between ten an fifteen people. Truthfully, I didn’t know the first thing about how to use my rice cooker because I had never done it before. Thank goodness for good friends/coworkers. My friend Robby was gracious enough to show me how to use my rice cooker, and now I think it’s only right to pay it forward. So let me show you how to use a Japanese rice cooker.

Albeit this rice cooker is much much smaller than my original, but it’s a more high-tech style rice cooker. It also has many of the same functions that the old one did. If you know the basics, you’ll be able to make rice without breaking a sweat.

The Rice Cooker Panel

This is the main panel for my rice cooker. Let’s go through each of the different settings and buttons so you can get a little more familiar with the kanji:

1. メニュー, Menu- Pressing this button displays a small, black arrow that cycles through each of the different cook settings (numbers two through seven in the picture).
2. 白米 (はくまい), Hakumai- White rice.
3. 早炊き (はやだき), Hayadaki- Fast Cooking
4. 無洗米 (むせんまい), Musenmai- Pre-washed Rice
5. 炊込み (たきこみ), Takikomi- Mixed rice (or something mixed with rice)
6. おかゆ, Okayu- Rice porridge. This porridge is used as a remedy when a person is feeling sick. I don’t know exactly why, but it is.
7. 玄米 (げんまい), Genmai- Brown Rice
8. 予約 (よやく), Yoyaku- Reservation. This mode allow you to start cooking rice at a later, specified time.
9. 炊飯 (すいはん), Suihan- Cook rice.
10.保温/取り消 (ほおん/しとりけし), Hoon/Torikeshii- Keep Your Rice Warm/Cancel

Basic Japanese Rice Cooker Use

Step 1: Add the desired amount of rice.
Step 2: Add water. A wise man (Robb Johnston) once told me that a good rule of thumb is for the rice to be submerged to just below the first digit of your index finger.
Step 3: Close the lid and turn it on by pressing the “Cook Rice” or 炊飯 button.
Step 4: When you hear the signal (my rice cooker beeps several times), the rice is done. Open the lid and serve away!

That’s really all there is to it. I promise. We don’t really need to overcomplicate things. Now there are other features that you can use if you like. For example the “yoyaku” button allows you to do scheduled cooking. So let’s say you want a nice piping bowl of rice as soon as you get home. Touching the yoyaku button will allow to set a timer where you can chose the number of hours when the rice will start cooking. So if I set the timer to 8 hours, the cooking will start in eight hours. I don’t know if every machine is the same though. Please do a test first, because burned rice is no fun at all…it doesn’t taste good either.

Here’s to heaping helpings of steamy, delicious rice!

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About the Author

Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of thejapanguy.com blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.

  • LanceT says:

    Great post! Love the video and the translations. This should go in your “General Living in Japan” section or maybe a specific “How To” section since most of your instructional posts begin with “How To”. 🙂

    • Donald Ash says:

      You’re right Lance. I’ll have to take care of that. I always appreciate your comments, man.

    • thejapanguy says:

      LanceT I was going through looking at old comments, some that I never responded to. I wanted to check on you. Are you doing okay these days?

  • Giles says:

    Thank you good sir! I’ve been so absolutely confused with my rice cooker, but now it seems I can finally eat glorious rice!

  • Christy says:

    Donald- I have a rice maker that is unique to me. It is a 4 cup and it has japanese writing on it. I do not know how to read it. I have a pic of it. But not sure how to get it to you to see if you can help me?

  • Pong says:

    Thank a lot, I could not have lunch without this video. Thanks

  • J. Lieb says:

    Donald, you’re awesome. You helped a lot. I’ll buy you a beer sometime.

  • Lisa says:

    I’ve had my rice cooker for a year or two now and all I knew was that the green button cooked my rice haha! Thanks to you I know its other features and can now have cooked rice waiting for me. I love rice for breakfast. Thanks again!

    • Donald Ash says:

      Hey Lisa! I’m glad I could help! I hope you enjoy many piping hot bowls of steamy, delicious rice! 😀

    • thejapanguy says:

      I never thought that I’d eat rice for breakfast until I came here. So I know what you mean. I’m really glad you can use the other features on your rice cooker now!

  • Sei Paulson says:

    Thank you so much, Donald! I got a rice cooker free from some students (I live near Cornell) and I’ve been hanging on to it for ages. I finally thought I’d better give it away, because I didn’t know how to work it and my kitchen is, like, Tokyo kitchen size, so I can’t spare the space (sad face). But you saved the day! OTZ

  • Clay says:

    Thx Donald for the re-introduction to my rice cooker lol. I ‘ve had it for a while and I took it out of my closet and wanted to use it but I forgot which buttons to press. U saved me !!! 🙂

  • Renee says:

    Donald, we just moved to Japan and bought one. Thank you so much for the informative help.

  • kitty says:

    Ok, so I’ve got the rice part down. Now I’m a little ambitious and I wanna bake a cake. What button can i press? It seems this one doesn’t say cake like the other ones I’ve seen.

    • Donald Ash says:

      Oooh, sounds cool. I don’t think I’ve ever had a cake-baking function on mine. I might get myself into trouble with that, lol.

    • I never saw this comment!! I’m so very sorry. I’ve heard about people baking cakes in rice cookers, but I’ve never tried actually. This is something I’ll have to look into.

  • Krystel and Sophie says:

    thank you so much !!!!!! you save our dinner with your explanation !! :p 😀

  • Song See Sing says:

    I want to repair my panasonic IH rice cooker. May I know where can i send it to.

    • thejapanguy says:

      I know this reply is super late, sorry. Hmm…that’s a tough one. Finding rice-cooker support on their website wasn’t as easy as I had planned.

      Try using this number and getting them to redirect you to a service center: 0120-878-554 (from the Panasonic website)

      Judging by how the site isn’t even a little bit English-friendly, you may want to have a Japanese friend nearby to help you out…just in case.

  • Camilla says:

    Thank you SOOO much!

  • Applepiee says:

    Promised my Japanese girlfriend that I’d cook the rice today, you kinda saved me here!

  • Dot says:

    Hi Donald,
    My son bought this rice cooker when he was teaching in Japan. We got a transformer for it and have been using it by pressing the left top pink button then the larges central pink button and it seemed to do a great job. Last night I did that and it only came up luke warm – did not cook the rice and no steam came out as per usual. I suspect maybe I pressed another of these unknown buttons by accident any of which I have no idea what they do! I have tried to find a manual on-line with no success. Can you help?

    • thejapanguy says:

      OH NO!!! Why am I just seeing this?!? I am so sorry. Did you ever figure out what the problem was? How long was your rice cooker running in cook mode before you noticed no steam or anything was coming out?

  • Roisu says:

    Hey, just moved to Japan and bought one. Thank you for the page and advice, test driving it as we speak!

  • Luis says:

    I just got a rice cooker from my friend and had no idea how to use it, thank you! You saved my dinner tonight!

  • John Doberman says:

    You call yourself the japan guy?

    “Reservation?”

    In this case it means TIMER!

    What are you using, Google translate?

    And if you don’t know why people eat Okayu (Rice Gruel) when they are sick, it’s because it’s soft with a high water content and is very easy to digest.

    Sorry but you aren’t really putting much thought into what you’re doing here.

    • thejapanguy says:

      What’s the point of you making comments like this? To try to embarrass me? To make yourself look smart?

      I have no problems with corrections whatsoever, many people have checked me on things here (I welcome/appreciate it actually). But honestly I can do without the rude, smug comments…this site isn’t the place for that kind of stuff.

      Seeming as how this post was literally written years ago, I did the best I could at the time. And you know what? People found it useful. Really that’s ALL THAT MATTERS TO ME.

      • John Doberman says:

        Well for supposedly preaching the noble art of the comment, you have certainty escalated and ranted about smugness and rudeness and i want to make myself feel important and hurt you and summed it up with all caps.

        I said “you call yourself the Japan Guy?” because you call yourself the japan guy.

        I pointed out the mistakes so you could fix them.

        Once fixed, my comment becomes irrelevant.

        If however there’s some real reason for you to be in such a panic, like maybe this comment of mine will smear your reputation forever, then just reply something like, “points taken and corrections made, kindly remove your post.”

        After all, I’m just a pseudonym while you have your name and photo on the page.

        You might want to lighten up and try to let it roll off your back a bit. Of course it’s all the same to me if you need to blow off steam but it wasn’t my intention to wind you up, it was just my initial reaction.

        That people who know nothing about a topic find a post written by someone who knows next to nothing about a topic helpful doesn’t mean too much.

        If you want to be the Japan Guy, go for it. But don’t get hostile that some of us might be incredulous.

        Peace and if you ever want to fix your post and chill out I’ll be happy to remove my comments!

        • thejapanguy says:

          Of course I escalated!

          I have a voice just like you do.

          I’m not just gonna sit here, on my own site of all places, while you bash me, especially when you know full well you’re being insulting.

          Corrections are one thing, being abrasive as all hell is another…

          Why on earth would I panic about my reputation being smeared over an old post that some faceless person (hater?) decide to nitpick over? Last I checked this wasn’t even a post about okayu. I kinda thought it was about how to use a rice cooker.

          It wasn’t your intention to wind me up???
          Are you freakin’ serious?!?
          That’s pure bs…

          Even in your follow-up comment, you insulted me again. Don’t say snide things to me and then try to placate me by telling me to chill and to lighten up.

          Don’t make pompous-a$s assumptions about what I know and what I don’t because you found some minor detail you wanted to correct.

          Seems to me, from the comments and emails I’ve gotten, that there are people who this post found it helpful. Thus it accomplishes EXACTLY what it was intended to.

          I’m not at all worried about your comment being taken down. This being my site and all, I’m able to remove comments as I see fit. I try to not to jump the gun on that, though…even when people get on my nerves.

          If you’re gonna keep being insulting to me, or anyone else on this site for that matter, I’d just rather you not come.

          Seriously. I’m not begging you to be here…

          There are thousands of good people who already come to this site, that don’t have to be offensive to get their points across (even when they disagree with me).

          I’d rather spend my energy on them than to continue a pointless, borderline ocd-ish, conversation with you over the digestibility of okayu and the context of a single kanji.

          I’m done…

          • John Doberman says:

            ……????

            Did ny comment smear your reputarion?
            Or have you just done that yourself?
            Breathe. Think.

            Now I just feel sorry for you..

        • MG says:

          Dobey, dang why you being such a bakka gaijin? Such a jerk? Oh wait, did I spell bakka gaijin wrong? Maybe you should correct me in some degrading manner.

          This was a good and helpful post – my wife is back in Japan visiting family and I wanted to cook some rice, this post hit the mark!

  • Anne says:

    This is great! Many thanks. We’ve lived in Japan twice and brought our cooker home with us the 2nd time. I tried brown rice in it for the first time last week, thanks to your translation. Love it.

  • sandra hamilton says:

    So awesome! We’re headed to Japan soon. I plan b on getting a rice cooker myself. This really help, thank you!

  • Naruto says:

    Thank you so much.. Your post very helpful!

  • I’m so glad the English versions (ie http://www.nmhmf.org/) are so much simpler. Lol. I bet you’ve helped a bunch of people with these explanations though, buddy!

  • Owen says:

    My rice cooker includes an aluminum disk with holes in it that fits in the bottom of the cooking pan. What is this meant to do?

    • Aluminum disk with holes that fit in the bottom of the cooking pan? Do you have a picture? I’m used to seeing the aluminum disk fitting in the top lid that closes down. And I was thinking the holes were to allow for some ventilation. But if I see the picture I’m sure we can figure it out.

      • Owen says:

        Thank you for the offer to take a look. I’ll try to figure out how to post a photo, but in the meantime, do you think Greg McCann (see above) may have hit on it? Indeed, it seams logical that the disk is actually a steaming tray accessory. And for re-heating rice in the cooker, would it be helpful to have the rice sitting on the steaming tray, or would it likely not matter (it would be difficult to remove the rice in order to insert the try) and I’d be fine to just add a little water to the pan?

    • Greg McCann says:

      Owen,

      I am not familiar with rice cookers, but I have seen these used with saucepans for steaming vegetables. You put a little water in the bottom of the pan and then put the disk in. (There should be room for about an inch of water before it reaches the bottom of the disk.) Put veggies on top and bring the water to a low boil for 15-20 minutes. Voila, steamed veggies! I imagine your rice cooker disk has a similar purpose. (But really, I think the collapsible metal steamers that have a ring in the center to pull them out work better.)

      • Owen says:

        Yes, that may be it…for steaming vegetables. Do you think it would also have a use for re-heating rice?

        • Greg McCann says:

          Maybe put a little water in the cooker, add the disk, then put the rice in a small bowl on top of the disk and steam for about 20 minutes? That’s just my guess. Give it a try!

  • HOORAY!!! I’m so glad I could help, Bianca!!

  • Greg McCann says:

    はじめまして, Japan Guy. I have been debating whether or not to get one of these.
    They seem pretty popular, but cooking rice the old-fashioned way is
    about as simple as it gets… measure water and rice into a saucepan,
    bring to boil, reduce to lowest heat and simmer for 20 minutes. I
    hesitate to get another single-purpose appliance when kitchen space is
    so limited. What do you think?

  • Pamela Macon Ravenel says:

    Thank you so much for your help!

  • Patrick Float says:

    I have this rice cooker(Japanese, Sharp) and need a translation! All I know how to do is just warm the rice LOL. I live/work in Japan too. Nice job btw on all this! 🙂

  • ryusaki says:

    I think I didnt put enough water to mine…. when I ate the rice was kinda sandy

  • Loree says:

    Thank you thank you! I have the same rice cooker without a manual, and never knew about the menu. Maybe now my brown rice will cook without making a big mess!

  • Narm says:

    Thank you for this!! I’m going to try tomorrow;))

  • JustSarah says:

    Great article!! I do love rice and I’ve been dreaming of japanese rice cooker for a long time. With this info now I can finally understand how it works.

  • Cheri H says:

    I have a Tiger Rice Co https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ea59357cf12c8ac71f8a7670e61cd93f605621caf84a997a3e6bfc96e13ed79f.jpg oker that is quite similar to yours, however some of the functions I still don’t understand and one or two of them aren’t on yours. Yours helped me get most of it for sure! And I wouldn’t have been able to even get started using it without your article! Thank you! I just wish I could translate the last two functions, so that I’d know for sure what they do. I have an old translation written down but the person who wrote it didn’t get everything else perfectly accurate so I’m not sure that it is right. Do you know what these bottom ones are?

    • Cheri! I’ve been off in my own world (spending way too much time at work). I apologize for the late reply. But this is a great way to get back to my blog’s original purpose – to have fun and help people.

      Okay, let’s get to your question. This is my first time seeing these two. I guess my rice cookers have all been pretty basic LOL.

      The yellow arrow (and I hope I’m saying this right) is
      雑穀米 – ざっこくまい – ASSORTED GRAINS

      The blue arrow is
      調理 – ちょうり – COOKING
      I know rice cookers in Japan are used to make dishes and even bake bread sometimes. Though I can’t say for certain, I think that’s what this is for.

      Thank you for an awesome question. Happy cooking!

  • poor students says:

    Super really helpful. You save our entire life.

  • George Vickers says:

    God mf bless

  • Trevor says:

    Thanks!

    FYI, on my Tiger rice cooker the timer works by setting the time you want it ready at (using a 24h format clock.) So, if I want my rice to be ready at 6pm, I set the timer to 18:00 and press start. The display will switch from flashing to solid indicating it has set correctly.

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