HEALTH AND BEAUTY ARCHIVE:
498: All natural
Health-conscious Tokyoites are developing a taste for organic foods. Steve
Trautlein chows down.
494: Tour de Morton
Seasoned bicyclist Don Morton charts a course to Odaiba.
490: Shaking it up
Belly dancing is back and attracting devotees across the city. Lauren Gard
reports on this latest fitness craze.
486: Working it out
Struggling to find an exercise class and instructor to suit your needs?
Cathy Frances offers a few pointers on the latest fitness trends and the people
who teach them.
482: Slim chance?
Shops are stocked with pills and potions that promise quick weight loss.
But are they safe? Cathy Frances reads the fine print.
478: Great shape
With clubs fine-tuning their facilities, toning up in Tokyo is getting easier.
Georgia Jacobs and Anouska Wilson report.
472: The big sneeze
Its that time of year again: You cant stop sneezing, you have
a runny nose, and your eyes itch. Cathy Frances sniffs out what you can do about
hay fever this season.
467: Yogurt yo!
The hottest health food this winter is yogurt-specially Caspian Sea Yogurt.
Cathy Frances samples the goods.
464: A ray of hope
Beamed to Earth courtesy of NASA, lasers are the latest dental innovation
to hit the Tokyo molar circuit, Cathy Frances reports.
456: Straight to the point
Lucia T. McCarthy investigates the ancient remedy of acupuncture.
453: Mind over matter
Forget fat content, low metabolism and counting calories: Weight control is
a mind game
Health-conscious Tokyoites are developing a taste for
organic foods. Steve Trautlein chows down.
Spared the ravages of SARS, Japan recently endured a health
scare involving a far more benign source: frozen spinach.
In May, it was discovered that Nichirei Corp. and Marunbei
Corp., two of the country's leading food manufacturers, had
imported from China approximately 34 tons of greens that contained
250 times the acceptable levels of a pesticide called chlorpyrifos,
thought to cause respiratory distress when consumed in large
quantities. Following other recent food-related panics, such
as when tainted milk from the country's leading dairy, Snow
Brand, sickened hundreds of people, and when meat distributor
Nippon Ham admitted that they intentionally mislabeled Japanese
beef as Australian, Tokyoites could be forgiven for approaching
their refrigerators with a certain amount of dread.
But now, fed up with lax regulations, deceitful bureaucrats,
and cost-cutting importers, Japanese consumers are choosing
whole foods and organically grown fruits and vegetables in
an effort to give themselves peace of mind-and body. Although
costlier than comparable goods, the pesticide-free produce,
all-natural dietary supplements and no-preservative-added
prepared foods benefit both the consumers and the environment
they live in.
"The traditional Japanese diet was traded in for the
junk from the West," says John Bayles, founder of Tengu
Natural Foods and proprietor of Alishan Organic Center, a
Saitama-based café and educational space.Ê"Now
they are rolling out of that and looking for the better ideas
that the West has to offer."
Chief among these is organic farming, whose produce appears
on the shelves of even traditional supermarkets. Tokyoites,
after their fashion, are now avid buyers of what was until
recently just a novelty. In 2000, the year before the Ministry
of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries set up guidelines regulating
the labeling of organic foods, Japan was already the world's
second-largest market for such products, spending over $3.5
billion on them annually. According to a report by the Australian
Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Japan will,
by 2007, become the world's leading buyer of organic food,
with sales expected to reach $32-43 billion.
The study also found that although many Japanese were willing
to pay more for organics, others were put off by a lack of
choice and were wary of the absence of certification standards.
The former complaint has been overcome as increasing demand
has led to an abundance of organic-friendly retailers. And,
in developing clear labeling criteria based on the pre-existing
Japan Agricultural Standards, the Agriculture Ministry addressed
the latter concern with a set of guidelines for what constitutes
To call their fruits and vegetables organic, or yuuki in
Japanese, farmers abstain from certain pesticides, chemical
fertilizers, and other proscribed substances on soil where
plants are grown for three years prior to their cultivation.
After harvesting, produce must be processed, cleaned, stored
and transported in a similarly chemical-free manner. Compliant
growers are required to apply for JAS certification, which
is carried out by a third-party inspection agency. A separate
but related set of standards applies to processed foods, and
one is being developed for the labeling of meat. If all demands
are met, growers and food manufacturers can affix the JAS's
distinctive leaf logo to their labels, which easily identifies
products as certified organic.
|One of Tokyo's increasing
number of organic food outlets
From the ground up
Japan is one country whose agricultural industry is in dire
need of encouragement to go green. According to figures compiled
by the Washington Post, the total area devoted to organic
farms in Japan in 2000 was a paltry 50km2-just one percent
of total farmland-compared to 5,463km2 in the US and 39,980km2
in the EU, an alarming difference even considering the respective
sizes of the nations. Whereas the level of pesticide saturation
on farms in the US is less than 1kg/hectare and in the EU
less than 2kg, in Japan, according to Bayles, it's over 17kg.
But Bayles feels that any improvement in these conditions
must come from consumer choice, not government fiat. "There
are lots of organic farmers in Japan," he says. "It
is the retailing system here that needs pressure. Food production
is a very short and simple feedback system. Customer pressures
affect producer/farmer choices quickly. The loop is measured
Your food choices affect what is provided."
There are signs that consumers are already forcing a change.
Owing to their higher cost, and thus reputation, organic foods,
besides allaying health concerns, touch the same consumerist
nerve as do those must-have designer totes. Nowhere is this
more evident than in fashionable Aoyama, where well-heeled
young women flock in the early afternoon to the local branch
of Natural House, a whole-foods grocery store offering bento
lunches that at neighboring stands are sold at two-thirds
the price. Even convenience store operator Lawson, one of
the distributors implicated in the frozen spinach scandal,
has gone upscale and healthy, introducing a chain of 12 Natural
Lawson shops in Tokyo and Yokohama, which offer more nourishing
But the soul of health food retailing remains in the consumer
cooperatives, shops and restaurants that are committed to
improving communities in addition to diet. Such places include
Takadanobaba's Lifely, which besides selling natural foods
also conducts seminars that promote healthy living, and Crayon
House, a children's bookstore and small vegetable shop with
two organic restaurants.
|Crayon House, a health
Back to nature
"For Japanese customers, the discovery of whole grains
and food is leading many, many people to us," Bayles
says of Alishan, which is an hour outside of Tokyo in Hikka
City. What new arrivals encounter is a bucolic setting that,
besides the Organic Café (see restaurant review, issue
#498), features a natural food store, organic farmer market
days, and an event space for yoga classes, retreats and seminars.
"We will also start farming this winter on land nearby,"
Bayles has noticed that since founding Tengu Natural Foods
15 years ago, there's been a change in attitude toward whole
and organic foods. "Early customers were solely non-Japanese,
which slowly morphed into non-Japanese and their local friends,"
he saysÊ"Now customers cover the whole spectrum."
Gaijin, he notes, are often more savvy about natural foods,
which results from being exposed to them from an earlier age.
"Among non-Japanese, I think the market is fairly stable
but is changing in that we now have consumers who were raised
by their baby boomer parents on natural foods. This is not
something they came to as an adult."
And now that Japan has itself emerged as an affluent nation
since World War II, its eating habits are set to mature as
well. "As their standard of living increases," Bayles
says, "people start to look at what they eat as a quality
issue and no longer as a quantity matter." Leaving behind
contaminated Chinese spinach, Tokyoites are now looking for
nourishment in their own backyards.
Photos by Michael Donovan
Discuss this article with metropolis
readers at http://forum.japantoday.com