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From hangover cures to prairie dogs, tabloids end 2019 with a bang

by Mark Schreiber

Contributing Writer

For their final issues of December, the weeklies — their covers trimmed in gold color (except for the Sunday Mainichi, which came out in yellow-orange) — typically publish two-week bumper issues with extra pages. This gives many of them leeway to write about lots of timely topics. For instance, journalist Akiko Takata contributes a piece on prevention and remedies for hangovers in the Sunday Mainichi (Jan. 5-12).

Word on the street in Shinjuku is that a heavy bout of drinking should be preceded by taking three tablets of Miraglen (an over-the-counter liver supplement) and a “garlic injection” containing B vitamins and glycogen (a multibranched polysaccharide of glucose).

“The symptoms typical of hangovers — headaches, nausea, palpitations and so on — occur while the liver breaks down acetaldehyde, a harmful substance present in ingested alcohol,” says Dr. Toshio Akitsu, author of “A doctor who loves to drink tells about how to drink so that the liquor becomes like a medicine,” who doesn’t think the above will be effective. Instead, he suggests consumption of protein-rich foods such as edamame or cheese.

Since alcohol acts as a diuretic, hangovers are best avoided by drinking water, which will dilute the levels of acetaldehyde in the blood.

Rather than imbibing the hair of the dog, safe foods to eat while nursing a hangover include okayu (rice porridge), udon (wheat noodles) and varieties of white fish.

“You’ll have a better chance of recovering faster if you also take amino acids or vitamin B1, which boost liver function,” another physician is quoted as saying.

More recently, tomatoes have become recognized as a food that assists metabolism. In 2012, Asahi Group Holdings and Kagome Ltd. announced the results of clinical trials that found tomato juice — that is, a bloody mary minus the vodka — had a significant effect on reducing the density of alcohol in the bloodstream.

Intrigued, I consulted a physician in the United States over the story, skeptical about the article’s recommendations. He said that “contemporary thinking does not confirm the acetaldehyde theory that it is the toxic effects of alcohol metabolites causing the symptoms,” adding that “the prevailing assumption one has to consume an antidote for some toxic substance produced in the liver is not scientific.” So it’s probably best to take the magazine’s advice with a grain of salt, and hold imbibing to manageable levels.

Next, will 2020 see the long-anticipated outbreak of a yakuza war? Violent incidents between three rival factions of Japan’s largest criminal syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi, have heated up following the recent release from prison of gang kingpin Kiyoshi Takayama, and authorities are nervous this may lead to full-fledged gang warfare that hasn’t been seen in Japan since the 1970s.

Writing for Shukan Post (Jan. 3-10), journalist Tomohiko Suzuki pulled off something I have not previously seen in any publication: a survey of gang members. The survey was conducted by telephone with 70 active gang members, to which another 30 were added from Suzuki’s own Rolodex of contacts.

Several of the questions covered general topics and sought only yes or no answers. For instance, the first was, “Do you support the Abe government?” Their responses: yes, 26; no, 48; no opinion 26. Or this: “Do you think the Tokyo Olympics will be successful?” To which 68 replied yes, 19 no and 13 no opinion.

Question three got right down to the nitty-gritty: “Do you think the dispute between rival Yamaguchi-gumi factions will intensify?” Their replies: yes, 33; no, 21; not sure, 46.

One Kansai-based gangster said: “The gang leaders aren’t giving their rank-and-file any explanations. If they want to know something, all they can do is read a weekly magazine. Some data has been posted on the web, but a lot of stuff is just black propaganda.”

For his final question, Suzuki asked, “Do you think that yakuza will continue to exist during the Reiwa Era?” The responses came as a resounding yes, with 98 giving affirmative replies. A high-ranking gang member said: “Even if the yakuza are outlawed, the roles they play will not disappear. So they may change in form, but illegal drug sales won’t stop, and prostitution and gambling won’t disappear.”

Meanwhile, Shukan Gendai (Dec. 28-Jan. 4) sought to compile a list of Japan’s smartest geniuses, using a formula that provides a maximum score of 100 based on the four criteria of intelligence, determination, sensibility and capability.

The top 10 included three businessmen, two baseball players, two musicians, an academic, a shogi player and a performer of kyogen theater.

At the top of the list, with 85 points, was vocalist-composer Miyuki Nakajima, who was accorded a perfect 25 for her sensibility and 23 for capability. She was one of only two females on the list, the other being another musical performer named Yumin (Yumi Matsutoya), in third place with 78 points. The three businessmen were Masayoshi Son of SoftBank (second, with 84 points), Tadashi Yanai of Fast Retailing (fourth, with 74 points) and Hirofumi Suzuki, former CEO of 7-Eleven Japan (sixth, with 71 points). Recently retired baseball superstar Ichiro Suzuki was ranked eighth place with 68 points.

Last but not least, in a series titled “Major predictions for 2020,” Nikkan Gendai (Dec. 20) visited a pet shop in Tokyo’s Ebisu neighborhood, where the photographer snapped a photo of shop coordinator Mayumi Kitamura cuddling a large rodent that may be the harbinger of Japan’s next pet fad. Animal lovers who are willing to shell out ¥480,000 — prices have soared due to animal protection laws — can become the owner of a real, live prairie dog.

“This one is especially affectionate, but they have their own personalities and not all of them take to being handled this way,” Kitamura says. “Still, they’re easy to care for and, unlike hamsters, aren’t nocturnal in their behavior.”

“They also have a wide range of color variations,” she adds.

A perusal of a website introducing exotic pets, however, notes that prairie dogs are social animals that demand a lot of attention. Neutering and removal of anal glands are strongly recommended. Worst of all, perhaps, these cute, cuddly critters have also been known to carry the bubonic plague.

This could be taking pet loss to a whole new level.

Big in Japan is a weekly column that focuses on issues being discussed by domestic media organizations.

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