Protein powder; a surprise expense

Selection of protein at Kirindo, drug store

Protein powder is not for the faint of heart, or should I say wallet

Since coming to Japan, one of the most expensive things to buy has been protein powder. While I do love DNS products (the crème de la crème of protein in Japan) some products I have used are about 7,000 JPY for 900 grams and while this is not a lot, in the scheme of things, it soon mounts up.

So, what options are there in Japan? More importantly, what are my recommendations?

Firstly, unless you go to a sports shop (like sports depo) you are unlikely to find specialised proteins e.g. vegan, slow release etc. Your options, therefore, are mostly going to be whey proteins with different added vitamins, minerals and differing flavours.

Additionally, unless you plan to spend a lot, you are looking at 900g or 2 lbs maximum for your money- this is the 5,000 JPY and under price-bracket.

The main Japanese brands are Savas (this is the protein you see in convenience stores- soy protein is widely available as well), Meiji, DNS- my personal favourite, along with some others. Furthermore, most Japanese protein shakers are a different style- they are tall plastic cups with no mesh divider to allow the protein to be broken up.

Protein can be bought at supermarkets, drugstores (which is usually a lot cheaper), sports shops (with a lot wider selections) and as always online.

I would also advise to look at the flavour you’re buying. I bought Yuzu flavoured protein powder by DNS- which did take some getting use to (I now love the flavour). Besides the obvious Japanese flavours (matcha) there’s what you would expect- vanilla (バニラ), banana (バナナ), chocolate (ココア) etc.

Hope that gives fellow gym goes some ideas as what to expect.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Erratum: In a previous article, I said I had lost 20 kgs since coming to Japan, please read this as 25 kgs instead (in 9 months)

Vending macines: a healthy choice?

Japan, the land of vending machines but is it a cause of ill health as well?

Kirin, one of the major vending machine operators

Japan is known as having a very high number of vending machines serving everything from snacks, drinks, alcohol to books, rice and ice cream. But just looking at 2 typical vending machines, are the choices they offer healthy or not?

The first thing to note about the kirin vending machine is that it offers both hot (red) and cold (blue) drinks, perfect for any season- so the temptation begins.

Of the hot drinks, 2 of the 6 are black coffee, no sugar nor milk so you’re looking at a calorie free drink. The other drinks ar standard hot drinks with milk and sugar so in the 100-200+ kcal range. The other drinks on the bottom row are the same but cold instead, so 3/12 drinks are very low in calories.

Starting from the top right, there’s green tea (few calories); an amino acid and vitamin drink- quite a bit of sugar but tastes good; a standard sports drink to replenish ions (salts); mets lemonade which has few calories and no sugar and tastes great; soda water with no sugar and added minerals; large black coffee–no sugar; large milk tea- with added sugar; oat tea- few calories; lemonade with added sugar and water.

Of that entire selection, the drinks that have sugar in for no purpose are the kirin lemon, and the tea. All the others, excluding the sports drinks, have little sugar. Additionally sports drinks are recommended for extremely hot weather in Japan-sugar and all (it didn’t drop below 30 degrees for 3 months!).

The count: healthy drinks 13/24. Now the last row- summary: there’s three drink with no added sugar/good for you: the fruit tea, the giant Yakut, and the Tropicana.

Final total: 16/36 or 44% of the selection consisting of health drink- that is not to say the others cannot be part of a healthy diet.

A smaller company with its selection

Itô is a much smaller company but I’ll quickly list this companies’ offerings in this vending machine:

  • 6 Japanese teas
  • sports drink
  • peach soda
  • sparkling water
  • water
  • 2 black coffees- no milk or sugar
  • green tea
  • 青汁 (Ao-jiru)- vegetable juice
  • tea
  • Peach soda
  • 2 yoghurt
  • soda
  • lemon soda
  • water
  • vitamin C drink
  • 5 milk coffees
  • 2 black
  • 2 coffees milk no sugar
  • 2 coffees
  • black coffee

This vending machine offers 21 healthier drinks out of a total of 36.

Please note this is a small survey of vending machines but out of a total of 72 drinks, 37 are ‘healthy’ drinks. This is a healthy total of 51%, a marginal majority.

Final thoughts: these vending machines offer some healthy drinks and can be handy if you’re in need in either summer or winter but do be careful. There are some good options but more unhealthy than healthy.

Note on this ‘investigation’

If I expanded this investigation for all the vending machines in Nabari or at least in a larger area for example, ensuring a representative sample (from each company), there would be a much clearer picture.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Opinion: you couldn’t make this up

Cultural experience day on 6th of October

As I am catching the train to get to work, I see a poster for Iga International friend association fair this Sunday, which seems like a bit of fun. So I pickup a leaflet and start checking it out.

Under the section which highlights some of the things you can do, there is the usual international offerings: calligraphy, making badges, wear different national costumes, smoking experience…. You read that correctly. As the leaflet was in more than one language, I make sure I understood the English correctly and the Japanese clearly states: 煙道体験 endotaiken.

Once again smoking seems to take, literally, central stage in a cultural experience. Hopefully when I go, it’ll be at least informative and not “look at me smoking, aren’t I cool?” type of vibe.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

How2: reading train fare tables

A large complex chart, for the uniformed that is

When I first came to Japan, and before I bought an IC card, calculating the correct train fare seemed like the start of a JLPT- even with the romanji. But it’s a lot easier than it looks.

We’ll start small with the Iga-tetsudo line:

Train fares for the Iga-tetsudo line

The Iga-tetsudo line like the Yokkaiichi lines are a small service with few stops, so finding the train fare is very simple. Want to get from Iga Kanbe to Uenoshi? That’s ¥370 one way for an adult or ¥190 for a child? Want a return or to go to more than one stop? Buy an all-day ticket (一日フリー乗車券) for ¥740- the same price as a return and the ticket machines are in multiple languages as well!

Now for something more complex, the kintetsu line:

So many places…

The kintetsu is a very large network and the fare map highlights this. Want some advice? Know where you’re going! It sounds basic enough but you have to be aware of train station names that sound the same (nishi Aoyama, and higashi Aoyama are a good example).

Another reason to be careful is if you are not using an IC card, and get the price wrong, you have to waste time at a fare adjustment machine before you may exit a station.

My advice for travelling in Japan is to use an app such as Japan Transit planner, which tells you the fare, train time and fastest journey.

Alternatively buy an IC card, it automatically deducts the train fare from the card and some link with your bank account, so you don’t have to worry about how much is left.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring

Review: Axtos gym

A good gym for the price?

I will say I am a member of Axtos gym under the anytime plan with insurance. The reason why I say this is that it costs me just over 10,000 JPY a month to go (and I may have been quite bad in the last month…). But is Axtos worth it?

Axtos offers several levels of membership from daytime (mornings), anytime, professional, to evenings and weekends only. It is a strange system, but the most basic package is 7000 JPY (for daytime), and each additional time that you can go, increases the price. Insurance is an extra 500 JPY a month- but you do get a discount card for quite a few places across Japan.

Axtos in Nabari has a swimming pool, free weights, cardio equipment, Sauna, and general weight training equipment. But there is one VERY importance difference compared to western gyms- etiquette.

You arrive to the gym in whatever footwear you desire, then take them off, put them into a shoe locker and go to the changing room. You only put on your training shoes once you enter the exercise area- want to do yoga or use the mats? Take off your shoes. Forgot something in the locker room? Take off your shoes.

This is a classic example of inside and outside culture in Japan but more likely at Axtos is for hygiene reasons.

The last bit of etiquette is that you are expected to clean any equipment you use (and clean well). This is one policy I wish all gyms in the UK followed so strictly.

Do I enjoy going? Yes, I love it (I’m known as the foreigner who goes to Axtos). Do I think there could be more equipment and weights- definitely? Why haven’t I gone? Lazy/ I did not go with an injured foot (didn’t stop working out without the gym though). Is it the best gym in the world and 100% worth the money- I’ll use the German word Jein (yes and no). Why haven’t I changed gym then?

Nabari doesn’t have much choice and it is the best and most convenient gym in this area.

Overall, (this will sound strange) I would continue to go even if there was another gym. All the staff are professional, I have had some brilliant conversations with people- and seeing a 60-year-old do full on yoga when you cannot touch your toes is humbling. DO I wish it was cheaper, of course but the price ensures that I go (ignoring the last month).

My one word of caution, Japanese only. But if you do have a Japanese friend who’s a member and they refer you, you’ll get a 1000 JPY gift card- it’s a little something at least!

When will I go back? I’m there now- go health month!

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Day light robbery: the price of fruit in Japan

Fruit glorious fruit…

When an apple is more expensive than a beer, you’ve got problems

Whenever you come to Japan, you are slightly confused with the currency. You have thoughts like, “well how much is that in pounds/dollars/euros? If it’s about £1.5/$1 per ¥100…” etc ad nauseum.

But when you get down to it, fruit can be astronomically expensive. I recently saw a 80g punnet of blueberries for 250 JPY, or how about a singular apple for 300JPY, or what about strawberries for 450 JPY.

With these sorts of prices, it is no wonder that I am an advocate for frozen fruit, its much better value and it won’t spoil if you forget about it.

So once we have established a good part of your monthly budget is needed if you want fresh fruit, we will look into the world of the gift box.

Part of Japanese culture is to give gifts when visiting someone’s house, or give gifts at any special occasion, like the West. A popular gift is fresh fruit. The problem with this is the expense. A very nice-looking gift box with 2 watermelons will cost you ¥10,000. That is about $100, for 2 watermelons. The alarming thing is these gift sets sell in the thousands.

But this is not the crème de la crème of fruit, for that we must travel to the fruit auctions in Yubari, Hokkaido where 2 Melons sold for (deep breath) ¥5,000,000 or $50,000. For the Japanese there is a reason for this, the type of melon can only be produced by approved farmers, the specific grade for the melon is the 1% of the 1% of the 1% of melons grown etc.

However, I cannot see any justification for such a melon.

Taking this into account, some fruit can be bought for no money; bananas and grapes for example. But difference in pricing from prefecture to prefecture and even from store to store is crazy.

My advice is to go to a drug store if you want fruit, it won’t break the bank but you usually need to eat it quick.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

How2 eat healthy without breaking the bank

Not a millionaire? Don’t worry here’s some advice

Food shopping in Japan can seem expensive at times- no matter where you shop but here’s some advice I have found during my tenue in Japan.

Firstly, buy what you can at drug stores. Drug stores offer a reduced range of groceries but there is no difference in quality. I regularly shop at Cosmos (コスモス) and Kirindo- both drug stores offer fresh and frozen ingredients. I can buy a weeks’ worth of groceries for about 3000 JPY- or 7000 JPY at a supermarket.

Next, don’t forget frozen fruit and veg. At Kirindo, they offer a good range of fresh fruit and veg (I have bought a whole pineapple for 100 JPY) but if you’re not going to use it immediately buy frozen. Frozen fruit and veg cooks and taste the same as fresh but usually its cheaper per portion- very much so in the case of fruit.

This is a strange tip but go Japanese. Imported food is expensive no-matter where you buy it from, and this does include making foreign foods from scratch. Follow the expression: as in Rome, do as the Romans do. Does that mean eat Natto and Umeboshi if you detest them- no. Eat what Japanese produced foods you can- they are much cheaper. You can buy tofu for 30 JPY and soba for 18 JPY- which is the protein and carb component of a meal- you just need your greens and you good to go.

Like the look of that bento in the convenience store- forget about it. I was looking at the bentos recently and most of them were overpriced and have too many calories- there was a special bento for the rugby season with 1200 Kcals for just 600 JPY. If you must eat out- try the のり弁当 (nori bento)- it is usually the right size for a meal and has the right number of calories for people either losing or maintaining (bulking on the other hand, look elsewhere).

The final note I have on this topic is to have a general meal plan at the very least. DO I always know what I am going to eat in the evenings- NO! However, I have enough fresh and frozen ingredients to cover all eventualities and if I get back from work very late, a light snack of a kiwi or 2 is enough before sleep.

Healthy living has become much more mainstream in recent years and ignorance on this topic, in the eyes of many, is no longer inexcusable.

Very last thing (I swear), for vegans or vegetarians living or wanting to live in Japan, as a rule of thumb, forget about eating out. All meals (it seems like) contains some sort of animal product or fish/meat. You could just order rice, but it would have been made in a kitchen with cross-contamination and animal products galore- I cannot think of 1 restaurant in Nabari or Iga that is vegetarian (which together is a good size of Mie).

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

EDIT: I have since done further research on this and there is one in Nabari: “Be Happy! Chikyushoku”- I have somewhere new to check out!!!!!!

Dengue feaver drill: a month on

It just takes a bite……

Is this something that Japan and the world should be concerned with?

As the first global health blog this month, we will look at something that policy makers are panicking about internationally.

Overview of the disease

Dengue fever is a vector-borne infectious disease spread through the bite of a female mosquito. It is a viral infection, which is dependant on the bodies own immunity and possible antivirals to treat if infected.

Why that previous line? Simply put, anti-biotics would be as helpful as taking candy- it would do nothing.

The Drill

Why the panic and the drill in Tokyo? The incidence of Dengue has increased and due to poor health-care systems in LDCs (Least developed countries- the modernisation of 3rd world countries)  the actual numbers of victims (incidence) globally has increased bringing with this a higher morbidity and mortality rate (morbidity is the rate of disease in a population while mortality is the death rate).

There are incidence of Dengue in the Philippines and Thailand- whose populations share close political and economic ties with Japan. What has got Japanese policy makers worried is the world converging on Tokyo next year.

If a major outbreak were to occur, the response from Japanese preparations would be underwhelming. There is information in Japanese from the NIID (National institute of infectious diseases 国立感染症研究所 Koku-ritsu-kan-sen-shou-ken-kyuu-jou) about the principles of treatment for dengue (which is treatment of the symptoms with a 1% mortality rate).

The Japanese policy on dengue can best be summed up by:

“予防には流行地域において蚊に刺されないような予防対策をとることが重要である”

It is important to take countermeasures in areas where mosquito bites are common.

Translated by author

Or prevention is better than cure! There are no outbreak plans I have found- just use repellent and treat what we can.

So while nothing has been said on the Dengue fever drill in Tokyo, possible to keep people calm about the possibility of occurance, it is still important to keep in mind the possibility of occurance.

After all, Zika Virus (from the Rio Olympics) is still a major problem but it is no longer in the public’s mind. Out of site, out of mind after all.

Thank you for reading the first of my international health posts and happy exploring.

The best sources I have found for this is Japanese is:

Lifestyle changes: living in Japan

Living in Japan changes you, but how much?

Kanpai- not sake but miso soup (old picture)

As September rolls into October, I remember the ‘Stoptober’ campaign in the UK which is designed to get people to quit smoking. This made me think of the progress I have made since living here.

When I arrived in Japan on the 2nd of January 2019, I smoked, drank regularly and weighed 128 kg, not a nice picture, but since I am tall, I hid it.

It is now October, I no longer smoke nor drink and I weigh 108 kg, and have a much lower percentage body fat. I have lost 20 kg so far this year, but what next?

My original weight loss goal was to get to 110kg this year, goal completed! Next will be the most challenging task while living in Japan (besides trying to have an active social life) sugar.

The problem with sugar in Japan is that it is everywhere and added to everything. Sugar consumption is almost as bad as salt consumption. But that’ll be next.

How else have I changed? I have gained a greater appreciation for the UK. Japan at times is an extremely different country and while the majority of people I have met here have been brilliant, there is always a sense of “the Japanese and the others”.

Japan is slowly diversifying and becoming more open, but it does feel rather isolating at times. In the UK, I have always been part of the crowd and standing out here does feel strange at times.

The final major way I have changed is my perception of myself. I am much more aware of myself. What I am doing, how I am spending/wasting my time and where I want to go?

So the question remains, why Blog such a post? This month’s theme will be self and global improvement, in other words what’s healthy to do in Japan, what you can buy and be healthy in addition to global efforts to improve global health.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring

Japan’s true plague: Alcohol

To drink or to drink, there seems to be no question

The alcohol section at a convince store

Today is the start of the consumption tax increase- which seems to have so many people worried, but I, personally, am wondering will there be an effect on Japan’s systemic drinking culture.

For those of you who were wondering, alcohol addiction is in Japanese (it has a word at least) and it’s: 飲酒癖 in-shu-heki or drink-alcohol-habbit- a 101 of word formation as it were.

The first thing to note about Japan is that it is NOT morally wrong to drink- there has never been a cultural nor religious argument against it, so it is accepted. This can be seen by the myriad of drunks getting on trains, drinking wherever they would like and the common availability of alcohol to those over 20 (we’ll ignore the alcohol vending machines where anyone can by unlike the cigarette vending machines that require a TASPO card).  

Please note, the following information has been taken from the 2016 WHO Alcohol consumption report on Japan with tourist figures removed from the final results.

In terms of pure alcohol Japan consumes the following per capita in drinkers only:

  litres
Males (15+) 19.0
Females (15+) 6.6
Both sexes (15+) 14.1

Please note that most beers in Japan are 5% per 500 ml- so each can has 25ml of pure alcohol. Therefore, if a male were to just drink beer, that equates to 760 beers annually or 63 a month or 16 a week or 2.2 a day. With beer set a about 700 JPY for a 6 pack, that is a massive 88,000 JPY a year or 815 USD.

But the WHO has an even more telling statistic: abstainers- those who have not drunk at all within a set time period. The following table shows the percentages of the entire population who did not drink in 2016:

  Males (%) Females (%) Both sexes (%)
Life Abstainers 4.3 13.7 9.1
Former drinkers* 24.4 42.6 33.8
Total 28.7 56.3 43.0

*’Former drinkers’ was defined by those who have not drunk within the last 12 months.

With a populate on 127 million in 2016, and 48.85% of that being males (world population review),

the total of males who drank alcohol in Japan (out of a male population of 62 million) was just over 44 million males, and 28 million female drinkers which is a total population of 72 million drinkers- more than the entire population of the UK in 2019.

Question 1: does Japan have a drinking problem just based on numbers?

Based on this number alone, it seems to be the case, but what about the numbers of heavy drinkers? There is one more statistic to look at and that is the prevalence of heavy drinking and I will only look at drinkers within the alcohol drinking population not the average for the population.

  Drinkers only (aged 15+) %
Males 53.0
Females 20.3
Both sexes 40.0

But what does this mean- this table looks at the percentage of the drinking population that have drunk more than 60 g of alcohol on at least one occasion in the last month. To use numbers to highlight this further:

Of the 44 million males that drink in Japan, over 23 million have drunk heavily within a month. Of females this is significantly lower at only 5.6 million heavy drinkers. This equates to 28.8 million people regularly drinking excess amounts of alcohol.

Out of the entire Japanese population, this is representative of 23% of the total population drinking excess amounts of alcohol.

What is Japan doing to compact this?

Firstly, drink manufactures like Suntory, Sapporo etc have pages on their websites dedicated to drinking smart. There are taxes on alcohols and government sponsored support available for those who seek it. However, alcohol is readily available and can be drunk wherever one pleases. There is no regal restriction on alcohol advertisement or placing and you can readily but 3 litre sake boxes at the supermarket.

It is a problem that will not disappear anytime time soon.

Thank you for reading and I hope you have a bit more knowledge on another of Japan’s plague.

Happy exploring.

One of the main sources for this article: https://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/global_alcohol_report/profiles/jpn.pdf?ua=1