Summer is upon us, and spring-cleaning of your body may be long overdue.

As many Japanese stray from their long tradition of using diet to promote good health, cure sicknesses and induce longevity, and adopt a more Western diet, more than a few Japanese have started using alternative ways of cleansing the body.

Detoxification has existed in India for thousands of years and has been a fringe interest in America for about 50 years. Over the past decade, this method of cleansing the body to speed up healing processes has been gaining momentum through an array of detox diet kits, books, Web sites and programs.

But until recently, body detoxifying has remained virtually unheard of in Japan.

Detoxifying is meant to aid the body in ridding the build-up of harmful toxins picked up daily through air and water, then promoting a quick recovery of a long list of ailments, such as fatigue, weight-gain, and poor complexion.

While critics say the liver, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract are sufficient enough to cleanse our bodies of toxins; proponents claim that our bodies alone can’t easily eliminate today’s pollution, processed foods, cleaners, hormones, herbicides and pesticides.

According to this year’s sales at Sanriz Corporation, the only distributor of detox diet kits in Japan, many Japanese are now looking outside the country to mirror other ways to battle these problems.

Austrian-based Sanriz (Neuner’s Japan) has been selling ten different detox diet kits by mail order for ten years and supplies the kits to Ebisu Garden Place Mitsukoshi, The American Pharmacy and LOFT (from August).

Sales manager Makiko Higashiura says in the past year, the detox kits have become such a hot commodity, they can’t keep the products on the shelf.

She says sometimes stores must wait up to a month to get the next order in after their supplies have been cleaned out.

“The word ‘detox’ became popular about one year ago. After that, our products have been getting popular too,” says Higashiura. “Eating habits have changed, especially in the last 30 years, and gotten similar to a European style. It’s not healthy anymore. We take many additives unconsciously and it hard to find real natural food.”

As the westernized diet invades Japan, more Japanese are looking for alternative ways to reap the benefits of traditional diet.

John Wood, doctor of naturopathy and co-founder of the 21-Day-Detox program, says anyone can benefit from detoxifying.

“As the Japanese people incorporate some of Americas unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as a diet full of fat and fast foods and processed foods they will become obese and unhealthy,” says Wood. “So detoxing will become more important than ever.”

A detox course lasts anywhere from three days to three weeks and typically means adopting a vegan diet, rich in foods found to cleanse the body’s digestive tract.

A few ingredients used in Wood’s program include flaxseeds, psyllium husks and apple cider vinegar. Also, buckwheat, arama, hijiki and kombu seaweed, and soy products such as miso and shoyu are recommended during a detox diet.

So, although Japan has been slow catching on to the detox “trend,” it’s with good reason — the nation’s been doing it for centuries.

According to Paul Yamaguchi, writer on Japanese nutracueticals for the Natural and Nutritional Products Industry Center in New York, Japanese food is traditionally eaten for its health benefits, not just to fill an empty stomach.

“There are several natural foods that are known to support liver functions in Japan,” says Yamaguchi. “Some well-known natural remedies are ‘shijimi’ (small Japanese clams), garlic, ginger roots, wasabi, ‘ukon’ (tumeric) and shiso or perilla leaves.”

And the list of naturally detoxifying agents found in Japanese cuisine goes on.

For example, seaweed, as recommended in Woods’ program, has the ability to remove heavy metals from our bodies. Some seaweed contains ingredients that bind with the toxins in the intestines making them indigestible so they are carried out of the system.

Other Japanese foods that help in detoxification include sesame seeds (especially good for detoxifying alcohol, “konnyaku” (a paste made from konjak flour) and “natto” (fermented soybeans). Soybeans have been incorporated into Japanese dishes since the Jonan Period in 300 B.C. Seaweed, vegetables and nuts have been on the menu since before 1600.

“Sukemono” (pickled dishes) and “sunomono” (vinegared dishes) are especially good for those who are always on the go, as the amino acids in vinegar are known to aid in the reduction of fatigue, irritability and sore muscles.

Vinegar’s healing powers have been incorporated into a more recent Japanese detoxifying method. “Jueki shito,” foot patches commonly known as Sap Sheets, were invented in Japan and have been widely available for over a decade.

In ancient Japanese times, during the process of making charcoal, wood vinegar essence was discovered in various trees and used in growing vegetable crops.

This vinegar, used in the Sap Sheets, is said to have the ability to absorb toxins through the acupuncture points located on the soles of the human foot.

The Japanese followed a strict vegetarian diet, influenced by Buddhism and Shinto, until the Meiji Restoration occurred in 1867, after which Europeans introduced meat-based dishes. However, fish and rice remained staples in the diet until the last few generations.

A comparison by the Ministry of Agriculture on the changes in food culture over the past 60 years shows the shift away from fish and rice towards an oilier, meaty diet.

Rice intake dropped from 60.2 percent in 21 Showa (59 years ago) to 24.7 percent in 9 Hesei (8 years ago). But meat consumption increased from 0.5 percent to 16.5 percent, and oil intake grew from 0.2 percent to 14.4 percent.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the most extreme dietary changes occur in teenagers, but even those under 30 have altered dramatically.

People aged 20 to 29 have a daily intake of 107.4 grams of meat, 46.5 grams of beans, 13.5 grams of seaweeds and 324.8 grams of vegetables. Those over 70 years of age consume an average of 44.6 grams of meat, 70.9 grams of beans, 16.3 grams of seaweeds and 390.4 grams of vegetables.

Some may argue the younger generation is losing touch with traditional homestyle cooking because fewer households have multiple generations living together.

“When older Japanese require treatment, they go to natural remedies, which are foods,” says Yamaguchi. “That’s why if you complain about the condition of the body, they’ll suggest you to take particular foods. Unlike Westerners, Japanese weigh on prevention rather than treatments.”

Another reason for the change in dietary consumption could be the decrease in hakariuri-style shops, where traditional home-cooked dishes are sold by weight. If one doesn’t have enough time to prepare food at home, these shops were the perfect place to get all the required daily nutrition.


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