The Film Critic and the Rice Pot
Fifteen Minutes More Under the Futon
Is it better to cook rice in an automatic electric rice cooker or by one of the traditional methods?
Film critic Roger Ebert had a definite opinion. He was enchanted with the romance of the rice cooker and has written a classic cookbook on how to use it.
“Many Japanese households now use these electric rice cookers to save time and work. I use one myself.” — Sonoko Kondo 
Modern rice cookers started out as a military product that became a civilian consumer product.
And they let the housewife in Japan snooze in an extra 15 minutes in the morning.
Traditional ways of cooking rice on the stove top or in the oven still have their place. There are certain dishes and types of rice for which the new automatic cookers don’t work as well as the time-tested ones.
But for standard white or brown rice, and also for a number of other rice preparations, like sticky rice, rice porridge, or congee, the new Japanese-type rice cookers have carved out their niche as a practical alternative.
From Option to Necessity: The electric rice cooker is an example of a product that started out being optional and has become for many people an essential tool of everyday life. 
For many Asian kitchens in the modern world an electric rice cooker is a basic necessity. In the 1960s advanced electric rice cookers with thermostatic controls and timers first become widespread and sold for reasonable prices.
One of the Most Important Inventions: In a TIME/Qualcomm international survey conducted in 2013, the Electric Rice Cooker was identified among the most useful inventions of all time. The Rice Cooker ranked between cruise controls and blow dryers and was ranked close in importance to velcro.
Fifteen Minutes Under the Futon: The new rice cookers made the process of cooking rice automatic and helped the Japanese housewife spend a few minutes under the futon covers in the morning.
An article in Time magazine in 1962 described the life of a young Japanese couple working for the National (Panasonic) electric maker: “Seiji and his young wife Kumiko wake to the bubbling of their automatic rice cooker, turned on minutes before by an electric timing devices.” 
An Ancient Appliance: Rice cookers themselves are a kind of ancient housewares. Archeologists have unearthed ceramic rice cookers dating from about 1250 BCE.
Imperial Army Rations: But of course these models were not electric. The ancestor of today’s electric rice cookers was developed int he 1930s by the Imperial Japanese Army as a way of cooking rations in the field. It was a clunky, huge affairs, and the user ran the risk of electrocution. So a lot of improvement was needed.
Peacetime Evolution: In the years after the Second World War, Japanese appliance makers began developing electric rice cookers for home use. One of Sony’s first products, before radios and the Walkman, was an early model of electric rice cooker. 
By the 1960s, makers were experimenting with more sophisticated electronic controls and timers, and this kind of development has continued until today.
As the battle for market share continues, makers are putting more and more advanced features into rice cookers. Sometimes they are more than consumers really need.
“If you’re a rice lover, invest in a rice cooker. They cost about as much as a good electric toaster but pretty nearly guarantee properly cooked rice every time.” — Sonoko Kondo
Today you would probably pay more than for a good electric toaster, but maybe not too much more. Of course, the sky’s the limit, if you opt for the latest models with the most optional extras.
State of the Art: A recent rice cooker from Toshiba has been described as looking like a tiny spaceship, with a price of $830. Other models can cost nearly a thousand dollars.
But you don’t need the most advanced models to make good rice. In blind tests conducted in Japan, consumers preferred the rice made in standard or basic models made by some of the major Japanese appliance makers.
Rice cookers come in different sizes, making as little as two cups of rice at a time on the small end and up to 1 0 cups in the larger models.
Church Supper Size: An American maker has even introduced a rice cooker with a 16-cup capacity, so these things must be getting more popular in the mainstream. That would be big enough to make rice for your church supper! 
Today rice cookers are made in many places, especially Japan, China, Taiwan and South Korea and also in several countries outside Japan by Japanese companies. The whole market is about 85 million units yearly and continues to evolve constantly, with more and more sophisticated features.
Rice cookers help save money and time, make cooking good rice basically foolproof and also have the side benefit of freeing up an additional burner on the stove for preparing other dishes.
Their thermostatic controls are set to keep the cooked rice at a correct temperature so that possibly harmful bacteria do not develop, which can be a risk at certain lower temperatures.
Rice cookers have given rise to a new category of cooking and cookbooks, which explain how to use them to prepare a variety of grains, casseroles and other dishes, even making tofu at home. There are several cookbooks available, devoted to the cooker, at least one of which describes itself as the Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook. 
Asian cooks in particular like rice cookers and Indian cooks have adapted them to make a number of traditional Indian dishes. A large number of specific recipes, Indian and other, are available on the Internet. 
Some excellent contemporary Japanese dishes like Ginger Pilaf even require the rice pot to make them.
Appliance with Its Own History Book: Ms. Yoshiko Nakano has written a history of how the rice cooker went global, published by the Hong Kong University Press. 
The Film Critic and the Rice Cooker: Pullitzer prize film critic Roger Ebert has long been an ardent user of the electric rice cooker. He has been fascinated by it, and featured the cookers in his blog.
This later led to a book by Ebert on what he called the mystery and romance of the rice cooker. Ebert’s book contains a collection of recipes plus his own insights on how the appliance can be a tool for anyone wanting to live with Zen-like simplicity.
The book contains a lot of Ebert’s own aesthetics and philosophy of life. 
For Further Information:
 Sonoko Kondo, The Poetical Pursuit of Food (New York: Clarkson Potter, 1986) — http://www.amazon.com/The-Poetical-Pursuit-Of-Food/dp/0517556537
 “Rice Cooker,” article, Wikipedia — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rice_cooker
 “Business Abroad: Following Henry Ford,” Time,, February 23, 1962 — http://www.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,895931,00.html
 “One of Sony’s First Products A Rice Cooker,” — http://www.sonyinsider.com/2009/03/16/one-of-sonys-first-products-a-rice-cooker/
 Black and Decker 16 cup Rice Cooker — http://www.amazon.com/Black-Decker-RC436-16-Cup-Cooker/dp/B001ESOOP4
 Rice Cooker cookbooks and recipes, Cookbooks: Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufman, The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook, and other titles — http://www.amazon.com/Ultimate-Rice-Cooker-Cookbook-Porridges/dp/1558326677
 Internet sources for electric rice cooker recipes, e.g. Indian Kitchen — http://jopreet.blogspot.com/2012/02/ghee-fried-rice-electric-rice-cooker.html
 Yoshiko Nakano, Where There Are Asians, There Are Rice Cookers: How ‘Nhttp://jopreet.blogspot.com/2012/02/ghee-fried-rice-electric-rice-cooker.htmlational’ Went Global via Hong Kong (Hong Kong University Press, 2009) — http://www.amazon.com/Where-There-Asians-Rice-Cookers/dp/9888028081
 Robert Ebert, Th Pot: The Mystery and Romance of http://www.amazon.com/The-Pot-How-Use-It/dp/B004X8W882the Rice Cooker —