Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Healthy Eating - Japanese Style

When you think of Japanese food, the first thing that comes to mind is probably sushi, or maybe even sashimi. With Japanese cuisine becoming more and more popular around the world, more people come to Japan to try the local delicacies, or at least to explore the wonders of Japanese food.

It is widely known that the Japanese diet is one of the healthiest in the world. Rates of heart disease and obesity are among the lowest in the world while life expectancy is the highest. A lot of this is attributed to the properties of the food. For example, miso soup is a common staple of Japanese food. Fermented foods such as miso have been shown to contain essential properties that, among other functions, aid digestion and slow down the visible traits of aging. Other popular fermented Japanese foods include: tofu, natto (fermented soy beans) and tsukemono (pickles).

One other possible benefit of the Japanese diet is in regard to mental health. A recent study undertaken at the National Center for Global Health and Medicine in Tokyo concluded that eating a traditional diet of fish, rice, seaweed and a variety of fermented dishes may decrease the likelihood of depression. While other diets tested in the study weren’t considered to be depressive, they did find the diet of Japanese dishes to be somewhat less depressive.

Next time you take a bite of some sashimi or a bowl of natto, you’re not just doing your body a favor but you’re possibly doing your mind a world of good as well.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sports in Japan

Just like other facets of contemporary Japanese culture, the sports scene in Japan is an interesting blend of both domestic and international games and activities.

Although soccer has been increasing in popularity in recent years, the most popular and commercial sport in Japan today is probably baseball. Baseball is typically known as yakyuu in Japan. The term literally means “field ball”. It dates back to the 1870's when the game was introduced by an American English professor. By 1920 the first professional baseball league had started in Japan, and from then on it quickly became a national past-time. High-school tournaments, such as the one held in Koshien annually, have become iconic. Many teen-aged Koshien participants have gone on to become professional baseball players in Japan and the USA.

As mentioned earlier, soccer is also a very important sport in Japan. Soccer was first introduced to Japan around the same time as baseball. Despite being a hugely popular international game, the sport never gained much interest in Japan until the 1960's when Japan won an Olympic bronze medal for soccer. Since then soccer’s popularity rapidly increased, leading to the formation of professional “J-League" in the early 1990’s. In 1998 Japan made its first appearance at the soccer World Cup finals. The team didn’t win a game but its appearance at the tournament was seen as a sign that soccer was now a major sport in Japan. Interest in the game peaked in 2002 with Japan co-hosting the World Cup with Korea. Earlier this year Japan recorded their first ever victory in a World Cup tournament.

Traditional Japanese sports are still very important. The most popular Japanese sport by far is sumo. Sumo is hundreds of years old and today the sport is fully professional with approximately 700 registered professional sumo wrestlers affiliated with 54 stables. The sport is administered by the Japan Sumo Association. The top-most sumo division receives a great number of spectators both on television and at the match with the highest ranking yokozuna receiving great prestige and financial reward. Sumo traces its origin to ancient Mongolia where wrestling had been a hugely popular sport for thousands of years. As a result the sumo leagues of Japan feature a number of Mongolian wrestlers. The most famous being the recent yokozuna, Asashoryu and Hakuho.

Of course there are many more sports to watch and participate in Japan. Here we have only touched on the top three. Joining a club or a team is an important part of Japanese culture. Consequently, sports thrive in Japan. Team members and supporters are incredibly organized in their chants and cheers for their teams. If you can’t join a Japanese sports team, being a spectator is also a great experience.

Friday, September 3, 2010

School’s out!

With the school summer vacations almost over, students of all ages across Japan are gearing up for the start of another school term. But there’s still some vacation time left.

Summer vacation for schools and universities in Japan usually commences right after the national holiday known as “Marine Day” in mid July. During this period it’s not uncommon for Japanese junior high and high school students to go on overseas exchange trips. Popular destinations for these school trips include New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Hawaii. Students often return from their trips more tanned, heavier and sometimes more proficient in English.

One thing that may differ from school vacations in other countries is that Japanese school students may actually spend a lot of their summer vacation in school anyway. Term may have ended but extracurricular clubs go on. In fact, with studies out of the way, many after school club teachers see the summer vacation as a good opportunity for tournaments and extra practice. Busy parents are also appreciative of the school club schedule.

But what if there are no exchange trip or club activities? No need to worry because there is always juku. A juku is basically an after-school school. During the summer vacation, many jukus thrive. The emphasis on education and getting into the right school is intense in Japan. As a result jukus do a lot of business in the summer. Extra study classes in your summer vacation may sound like a chore, but believe it or not, some students actually want to go to juku. If many of your friends will attend juku, then it suddenly becomes a more interesting prospect.

By the time September rolls around and it’s time to go back to school, a lot of students may be all studied/activated out. But kids will be kids and it’s questionable whether they actually finished all their homework and studies over the break at all. Luckily there are a string of holidays in September and October to catch up anyway.

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