Discover Nikkei Logo

Until the last grain of rice

In 1995, after finishing college and a one-year internship in Japan, I started working at a large multinational here in Brazil. Our lunch was served in the company cafeteria. One of the conversations during one of the lunches was about human metabolism, which is said to slow down after the age of 23. At 24 years old, I was already feeling the effects of gaining a few kilos, even though I ate less than I did as a teenager. One of my coworkers said: “To avoid gaining weight, just don’t eat everything on your plate.” Like this? Don't eat it all? After years I discovered that, unconsciously, I ate everything on my plate. Until the last grain of rice.

In the stories we hear from our Japanese immigrant ancestors, there are frequent facts about the needs they all went through, especially the lack of food. Most immigrants also arrived from poor areas of Japan, where food was not abundant. Even my father, already born in Brazil, says that many times in his youth he only had an apple for a meal.

Fortunately for me and my sisters there was never a lack of anything. But we still learned that leaving food on the plate was Mottainai . I heard this word mainly from my obaachan with whom I lived, also born in Brazil, but who had the same difficult life as the first immigrants. I believe it was no different in the homes of most Brazilian Nikkei and those from other countries that received immigrants. Many may understand Mottainai as waste, but it is something much bigger. We were unable to translate it literally into Portuguese, but Mottainai would not give the real value of things.

Grandchildren and great-grandchildren of obaachans Mioco Sampei and Toyo Takeuchi reunited in September 2015

I believe that one of the greatest legacies we receive from our family are values. And I can include Mottainai among them. And because it was so rooted in my values, I didn't even realize I practiced it with my food, as if it were something obvious. How can we not eat everything on our plate? How can you leave food on your plate that took such a long way to reach you and with so many people going hungry?

Mottainai is perhaps not just a value passed down by our ancestors. We can consider it as a concept. And so it can be practiced by everyone. A word that has its origins in ancient Japan, when there was a lack of resources of all kinds, is still very current, as it can be applied to today's lifestyle, when we consume more than nature offers us, we waste our skills on unnecessary things and we waste our valuable time. Searching the Internet a little, we found several projects in Japan, especially in the environmental area, that use the word Mottainai to raise awareness.

I hope that my son recognizes the importance of Mottainai , both as a value and as a concept, and that other people also know its meaning. I hope that we can continue to pass on the values ​​that we received from our ancestors from Japan, combining this with the best that our countries, where we were born and raised, offer so that we can try to be better people. So I believe we can have a better future for everyone.

© 2015 Claudio Sampei

Nima-kai Favorites

Each article submitted to this Nikkei Chronicles special series was eligible for selection as the community favorite. Thank you to everyone who voted!

55 Stars
aesthetics Brazil Discover Nikkei families metaphysics mottainai (phrase) Nikkei Chronicles (series) Nikkei Family (series) psychology theory of knowledge values
About this series

Nikkei family roles and traditions are unique because they have evolved over many generations, based on various social, political, and cultural experiences in the country they migrated to.

Discover Nikkei collected stories from around the world related to the topic of Nikkei Family, including the stories that tell how your family has influenced who you are, and allow us to understand your perspectives on what family is. This series introduces these stories.

For this series, we asked our Nima-kai to vote for their favorite stories and our editorial committee to pick their favorites.

Here are the selected favorite stories.

  Editorial Committee’s Selections:

  Nima-kai selection:

To learn more about this writing project >>

Check out these other Nikkei Chronicles series >>

Learn More
About the Author

Born in São Bernardo do Campo, São Paulo, Claudio Sampei is a Chemical Engineer specializing in Business Administration, Business Management, and Environmental Education. In 1994, he held a scholarship from the Chiba Prefecture —in the water treatment field—but currently works as an executive in the travel industry. He holds posts in various community-oriented organizations, such as the JCI (Junior Chamber International), where he was President of the São Paulo Chapter and National Executive Vice President; he is Chairman of the Board of the ASEBEX (the Brazilian Association of Former Scholarship Holders in Japan), Vice President of the IPK (the Paulo Kobayashi Institute), Financial Advisor of the Pan-American Nikkei Association of Brazil (APNB), Second Secretary of the Chiba Kenjin Association of Brazil, and member of the Communications and Marketing Commission of Bunkyo (the Brazilian Society of Japanese Culture and Social Assistance).

Updated November 2014

Explore more stories! Learn more about Nikkei around the world by searching our vast archive. Explore the Journal
We’re looking for stories like yours! Submit your article, essay, fiction, or poetry to be included in our archive of global Nikkei stories. Learn More
Discover Nikkei brandmark New Site Design See exciting new changes to Discover Nikkei. Find out what’s new and what’s coming soon! Learn More

Discover Nikkei Updates

Nikkei Names 2: Grace, Graça, Graciela, Megumi?
What’s in a name? Share the story of your name with our community. Submissions now open!
Nikkei Uncovered IV: a poetry reading
Join us virtually and enjoy poetry by Matthew Mejia, Christine Kitano, and Mia Ayumi Malholtra.
See exciting new changes to Discover Nikkei. Find out what’s new and what’s coming soon!