National / Media | BIG IN JAPAN

Magazines indulge Japan’s healthy obsession with staying spry

by Mark Schreiber

Contributing Writer

Last September, travel data service Recruit Lifestyle Jalan, asked adults in a nationwide survey about what they had recently become interested in or concerned about. In the findings, released in February, the top three responses were diet, travel and health and relaxation.

In a follow-up question, subjects were asked, “What topics are you taking more of an interest in now than previously?” Again, the top responses given (in percent) were health and relaxation (62.8), travel (61.8) and food (59.5).

Broken down into age groups, respondents showed increased interest in pursuing a healthy lifestyle across the board. This may account for the recent surge of articles in the weekly magazines about diet, health and avoiding illnesses.

Which brings us to the subject of a dish referred to as “Popeye bacon.” Would you like to venture a guess at what this might be?

Well, Popeye bacon is the colloquial name for slices of bacon sauteed with spinach, a popular appetizer found on menus at family restaurants and izakaya (Japanese pubs). In Flash (April 17), dietician Reimi Aso advises avoiding it. But if you insist on chowing down, she suggests squeezing juice from a fresh lemon over it to curb absorption of nitrosamine, a substance in cured meats that has been known to be carcinogenic since as long ago as 1956.

The gist of the Flash article is “the potential dangers of foods that appear to be good for health.” Other items to avoid eating in combination include black tea with lemon (carcinogens present), nattō (fermented soybeans) with hot rice (damages enzymes), pork liver with beer (breaks down iron) and a fresh salad with non-oil dressing (destroys vitamins A, E and K).

Instead, the magazine recommends: an egg salad sandwich and vitamin C drink (good anti-aging properties); a grilled salmon bento lunch box with cheese on the side (wards off diseases blamed on poor diet, lack of exercise and other unhealthy lifestyles); fresh avocado with raw tuna (fortifies the protein in the fish); and cold sliced chicken breast with umeboshi (pickled plum) (aids in recovery from fatigue).

Shukan Asahi (April 6) reviews the market for chocolate confections after the passing of Valentine’s Day and White Day (March 14). It seems that as more people become aware of the purported beneficial properties of chocolate, sales have been booming. Citing industry-wide figures for 2016, the total sales of ¥526 billion represent 30 percent growth over the previous decade. Some years ago, sales of chocolate surpassed Japanese-style confections, and its lead continues to grow.

A key factor behind the growth has been so-called high-cacao products, which consist of at least 70 percent cacao — roughly double the amount in conventional chocolate candies. The buyers of these are believed to be older people who purchase them for their supposed health benefits. The high-cacao share of the overall market has expanded from 1 percent in 2013 to 6.3 percent last year.

Lotte, which observes its 70th anniversary this year, boasts that it has invested an additional ¥32 billion in new facilities that should raise its production capacity by 40 percent. Meiji HD, meanwhile, announced an outlay of some ¥27 billion for equipment at its plants in Saitama and Osaka.

Sunday Mainichi (April 8) turns to the subject of a food highly popular with Japanese, the ika (squid or cuttlefish). “Japanese are a rare case in the world in that they are a people with an unmistakable love for cuttlefish,” the article asserts.

As proof, it lists the many ways to prepare and consume it, ranging from sashimi, as a side dish with sōmen (wheat noodles), shiokara (eaten with its own salted intestines), dried squid jerky, raw with nattō, pan-fried and so on.

While about 15 species of ika are commonly eaten, according to professor Yuzuru Ikeda of Ryukyu University, the overwhelming majority, accounting for 80 to 90 percent, is surume ika (Todarodes pacificus), also known as the “Japanese flying squid” because it avoids predators by propelling itself a distance of up to 30 meters above the ocean surface.

In passing, Ikeda adds that the cuttlefish is quite intelligent.

“Among invertebrates they have a high learning ability and their abilities for memorizing and learning have been recognized,” he says.

The article also notes that as squid contain such substances as DHA and EPA, consuming them will benefit the liver. And their umami mixes well with such vegetables as satoimo (taro) or grated giant radish.

Asahi Geino (April 12) examines the rankings of healthy life expectancy in Japan’s 47 prefectures, as compiled by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. The top three for males (with number of years in brackets) were Yamanashi (73.21), Saitama (73.1) and Aichi (73.06), and for females, Aichi (76.32), Mie (76.3) and Yamanashi (76.22).

A landlocked prefecture, Yamanashi is No. 1 in both wine production and consumption. Geino also provides a recipe for preparing a “healthy” local concoction called sarumiso, prepared using raw shiitake mushrooms, garlic, umeboshi pulp, honey and rice wine.

Besides healthy eating, Geino focused on other beneficial factors such as environment and community, and then proceeds to introduce male-oriented recreational activities, including the sole soapland (bathhouse offering sexual services) at the Isawa hot spring near Kofu, where elderly men in work clothes and driving mini-trucks of the type used by farmers can be seen coming and going.

Akira Ikoma, who edits “Ore no Tabi,” a guidebook that covers sex and travel, tells the magazine, “Yamanashi is relatively free from earthquakes and other natural disasters, and the girls who work in the soaplands there tend to be easygoing.”

While the health ministry so far has remained mum on this topic, Asahi Geino implies that the relaxation and ambience accorded to Yamanashi’s spry male seniors by the local soaplands may be a contributing factor in the prefecture’s top ranking for healthy longevity.