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Onigiri event helps raise awareness of food insecurity

ASU School of International Letters and Cultures held annual Onigiri Action event in conjunction with World Food Day


Students lining up at table to make rice balls.

Students line up to assemble their onigiri, or rice ball, with help from faculty and students in the Japanese department. Photo by Aidan Richmond

October 23, 2023

The Japanese department at Arizona State University's School of International Letters and Cultures held their annual Onigiri Action event on Tuesday, Oct. 17, as part of Humanities Week, where students and staff had an opportunity to create their very own onigiri, or rice ball, while also providing meals to school children throughout the world.

Lecturer of Japanese Kumiko Hirano Gahan led the event, which has grown in attendence each year. This year, more than 100 students lined up in the lobby of Durham Hall on the Tempe campus to build their onigiri with furikake (seasonings) and nori (seaweed).

“Rice is a Japanese staple food. Each family has their own way to make it. … It has a very warm feeling of family, so I think it’s the perfect food for this kind of activity,” Hirano Gahan said.

Onigiri Action is an international event spearheaded by the organization Table for Two, which encourages participants to share photos of their onigiri, along with the hashtag #OnigiriAction, on social media. For each post made, five school meals are provided to communities in need around the world.

“It’s a win-win situation for everybody, including our students at ASU, who enjoy Japanese food and learning how to make it, and through the small action of uploading their pictures, it’s another win for children in need. It’s a win for the Japanese section because it’s a chance to promote Japanese culture and food … and a win for our sponsor IRIS USA,” Hirano Gahan said.

The event gave students an opportunity to engage with Japanese food culture and make a difference, at no cost to themselves, something that Hirano Gahan noted as a hopeful takeaway for the students participating.

“Of course they enjoy some free food, but maybe they get a curious feeling about Japanese food, culture and language — and also I want them to know that they don’t have to pay something out of their pocket in order to help people,” Hirano Gahan said.

Professor in middle and two students smiling

From left: Japanese major Racine Merritt, Lecturer of Japanese Kumiko Hirano Gahan and Japanese major Angus Mcvicker help out at the Onigiri Action event at ASU on Oct. 16. Photo by William Hedberg

The multi-week campaign originally launched in 2015, with this year’s running from Oct. 4 until Nov. 17. Onigiri Action as a whole has already reportedly provided 8.3 million school meals and has the goal of delivering 1 million meals each year.

The event also was held alongside the United Nations’ World Food Day on Oct. 16, which seeks to encourage education and action to address world hunger, a major aspect of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs.  

IRIS USA, an ongoing supporter of the event, provides all the rice used for the event and also gives an additional 240 servings of free rice to take home for all students participating in the event.

Hiromi Rozell, administrative manager of IRIS USA, said that she wants students to get the opportunity to try quality rice while also learning about shokuiku — the Japanese concept of dietary education.

The event was also supported by volunteers from the Bridge of Japan-America Club, who helped attendees make onigiri and participate in the humanitarian effort.

Group of four people smiling for camera at onigiri event

From left to right: Lecturer of Japanese Kumiko Hirano Gahan, IRIS USA Senior Management Specialist Tad Fujimaki, School of International Letters and Cultures Director Mike Tueller and IRIS USA Administrative Manager Hiromi Rozell. Photo by William Hedberg

Wirtten by Aidan Richmond, student, Walter Cronkite School of Jouranlism and Mass Commuication and School of International Letters and Cultures

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