Shinmai (新米): 2 Different Meanings of the Japanese Word
Niigata (新潟), the prefecture where I live, is Japan’s top producer of rice, and here, the harvest time spans from August to September.
(Ex. Koshiibuki/こしいぶき: from early September, Koshihikari/コシヒカリ: from mid-September, Shinnosuke/新之助: from late September)
Most farmers have finished reaping by the beginning of October, and the Shinmai (新米) season is finally coming.
Shinmai (新米) is a word formed by combining Shin (新) or Atarashii (新しい: meaning new) with Mai (米), also pronounced Kome, meaning rice.
So Shinmai is new rice or the first rice crop of the year, and its definition, based on JAS (Japanese Agricultural Standards) Law, is:
- Brown or polished rice packaged by December 31 of the harvested year
As seen from the Kanji character 米, meaning rice, Shinmai is a word relating to the crop, but it also refers to a novice or new hand in Japanese.
One theory holds that this Shinmai derives from Shinmae (新前: meaning novice or new hand) due to pronunciation changing.
(Reference Page: Goo Japanese Dictionary 新米 )