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More information
The JAS leaf symbol indicates produce that's grown in compliance with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries' guidelines for organic foods. Detailed information about the regulations, including a list of acceptable additives, can be found at the following ministry Web pages:


Grocery stores
Alishan Organic Center
Whole foods shop, cafe and more. English spoken. Their Fall Organic Market Day is October 25. See events listings for details. 185-2 Komahongo, Hidaka, Saitama. Tel: 0429-82-4811. Nearest stn: Koma.

Takanawa Branch. 2-20-23 Takanawa, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3445-6999. Open Mon-Fri 9am-7pm, Sat-Sun, hols 10am-6pm. Nearest stn: Senkakuji.

3F Inamon Bldg, 2-18-11 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku. Tel: 03-3232-6527. Open daily 10am-9pm. Nearest stn: Takadanobaba.

Eight shops in Tokyo and Yokohama. Shinjuku branch: B1F Isetan Shinjyuku Honkan, 3-14-1 Shinjuku. Tel: 03-3352-1111. Open daily 10:00am-8pm. Nearest stn: Shinjuku.

Natural House
More than 40 shops are open in Japan. Aoyama branch: 3-6-18 Kita Aoyama, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3498-2277. Open daily 10am-10pm. Nearest stn: Omotesando.

Natural Lawson
Twelve convenience stores in Tokyo and Yokohama. Motoazabu branch: 3-1-32, Motoazaabu, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3403-7034. Open 24hrs. Nearest stn: Roppongi.

Taiyo Shokuhin
Setagaya branch.
4-12-13 Todoroki, Setagaya-ku. Tel:03-3703-9228. Open Mon-Sat 10am-7pm, closed Sun. Nearest stn: Oyamadai.


Internet-based delivery services
Seikatsusya to Yasaibayake no Page


Tengu Natural Foods
Delivery service of the Alishan Organic Center. Hundreds of domestic and imported foods. See contact info above.

Virtual Yaoya
Tel: 06-6100-1101.



Membership delivery services
Daichi wo mamoru kai
Tel: 047-398-5541. Fax: 047-397-0559.



bar news and views

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
It’s that time of year again: You can’t 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


All natural

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.


Green scene
"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 organic products.

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 in months… 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 food choices.

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 fanatic's delight


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," he says.

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

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