In Japan, the freshness and seasonality of ingredients used in cooking is of paramount importance. Even in this age of mass production and imported foods, people still care about the appearance of fresh bamboo shoots in spring, or the first matsutake mushrooms in fall.

One of the most treasured "fresh" ingredients is shinmai (new-harvest rice). According to the Japanese Agricultural Standard (JAS) rules set by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), rice can only be labeled and sold as shinmai if it has been processed and packaged for sale in the same year in which it was harvested. And although genmai (brown rice) is increasing in popularity for health reasons, shinmai, to most Japanese people, refers to polished, gleaming white rice.

Incidentally, the word "shinmai" also means "newbie" or beginner. A shinmai mama is a new, first-time mother, and a shinmai shain is a brand new first-year company employee.