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.

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!!!!!!

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

Review: Vie de France

A little bit of a treat, at a good price

Like any good coffee addict, I need my coffee to pretend I can act like a normal human. Luckily, Vie de France has by back.

Vie de France is the quintessential Japanese French bakery- that is to say a cherry-picked French cuisine for the Japanese market. They offer a good range of baked goods, all of which are delicious, and I have yet to find a bad product.

But, I have yet to see traditional French bread here- despite its name. But it does have one advantage, they’re always by a train station so there’s always time for a treat on the go.

The bread in the picture is a cheese and apple filled bun- which is my favourite thing to get and very sweet (it goes very well with pure black coffee)- please ignore the milk coffee- DEFINITELY not mine.

If you have the time, or just need your fix, please check it out.

As always, happy exploring and enjoy that coffee.

Opinion: milk bags are fine but yoghurt bags….

When shopping takes a weird turn

When going to a supermarket, you generally know every product in a store and where it’s located. In addition to this, you know the best day and times to buy the products. For me, I have this down to an art.

But occasionally, out of nowhere a weird product comes your way. Introducing the yoghurt bag….

I will say that I did not buy it- the eagle eyed among you would have already seen the price 797 JPY (or 7 USD for 800 g) which is day light robbery.

In addition to this, its in a bag- if dropped the resulting explosion would mean I don’t have to repaint my walls. With this, I personally had 2 problems: a. I travel by bike (trying to beep this in one piece wouldn’t have been fun) and b. I know the Japanese are not keen on reducing plastic waste but having additional plastic to strengthen the product seems like over kill.

Perhaps this is commonplace, and I simply need to get out more.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.  

Hibiki’s bakery, Nabari

A little bread slice of happiness

A lovely baker in Nabari, Mie

As part of my work, I travel around Mie a lot and I live in Nabari city- small town Japan. One thing that many don’t realise is that small town Japan is a different world to ‘tourist’ Japan.

If you have heard of Nabari, perhaps it is because it is the big station before Yamato-Yagi on the Kintetsu line, but regardless of this, Hibiki’s bakery is a little gem located 1.5 km from the train station and down the hill from city hall- near the MOS burger.

Why am I pushing for this place? Because it is delicious, reasonably priced and the best bread I have had in Japan. Additionally, to always seems quite and I want it to stay in business!!

In addition to this, the coffee is really good and they sell fresh sandwiches, cakes, macha muffins, and so much more. If you can and you’re in the area- check it out, its worth both the time and money to get there. Don’t worry it’s not an expensive place either.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Opinion: emergency coffee stat

You forgotten to get coffee, now what?

As with any coffee addict, I need coffee to function in the morning, noon, night, any other time I have missed. But what do you don when the coffee jar is empty?

First: DONT PANIC. Convenience stores in Japan have you back, there is usually a coffee machine or pre-done coffees in a hot fridge- the perfect drinking temperature.

As there are many opinions as to what constitutes a perfect cuppa, there are as many options available in pre-done form- I would always go for fresh though.

What would my recommendation be? I hear you didn’t ask, well it would be the black strong coffee from Family mart- it strong, good tasting and cheap.

The only problem you’ll have now is wanting another one- you’re welcome.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Ise City, cooks kitchen

When coming to Ise city, one thing that most forget is food. I know that this seems like a basic requirement, but it is often overlooked.

Just 700m away from Geku (外宮) is a small curry restaurant, which is unimpressive to look at on entry. With a tired Irrashai (いらっしゃい) a friendly atmosphere is open to you.

There is a reasonable selection of food items from shrimp, chicken, pork curry to plain old rice, the menu is not big but it is good.

In addition to excellent taste, prices are very good as well- 650 yen for Chicken Katsu, miso soup, salad, and rice.

The only problem is the lack of a drinks menu- but there is free water. But when in Rome (or Ise in this case)…

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.