When I was a kid, my grandma would often sternly say, “Eat every single grain of rice in your bowl. Don’t leave any of them.” I would look into my rice bowl and see two or three grains stuck to the sides.
It was difficult to pick up a grain of rice with chopsticks when I was little. I also didn’t care. I just wanted to finish my meal and watch TV.
I also hated to have my rice bowl checked by grandma. One day I had to ask. “What’s the matter with leaving one grain of rice, grandma?”
“One grain of rice has 88 souls inside. If you leave even one, you’ll lose your vision.” Then she started writing the character for “rice” in the air with her finger.
“Look at the word. You can see the hidden character 88.”
I thought that was an interesting story but was old enough to know she was bluffing. I simply replied, “Okay” and quickly cleaned my rice bowl so I could start watching TV. She also didn’t explain about what the “soul” was and I didn’t bother to ask.
After that I still didn’t care about finishing to the last grain of rice. I hadn’t lost my vision but by the time I was 10, my sight became poor and I had to have glasses. After that I changed my habit but it was too late.
Around the same time, my brother also needed glasses for the first time. “Oh, Hitoshi! It’s because I didn’t eat all my rice!”
My brother explained what I hadn’t understood before. There are 88 processes for farmers to produce rice. That’s why the character for rice can be read as 88. We shouldn’t waste even one grain because it is so complex to produce. The farmers also deserve our thanks for their hard work by us eating every last grain served.