Awareness: a quick look into Japan’s changing climate
I have been thinking about the best way to go into detail about Japan’s changing climate. I do realize that this is a global issue, but sometimes an abstract idea like a global environment is a bit too hard to understand. So instead, please look at the picture below: it says more than I ever could.
The headline simply reads “there’s no snow”.
Japan is an extremely long country starting north of the equator and leading up to the Arctic- it has a vast and varied climate and each prefecture can almost be seen to be its own sub-climate. Hyogo Prefecture is known for snow sports- or should that read was known for snow sports? The long lonely strip of snow is not a ‘freak of nature’, it is an import.
Imported snow- in an effort to keep afloat an economy based on winter sports. Did you also see the ski lift? There’s not much use in that now is there. Imported snow not only moves resources from one place to another, but there are high economical and carbon costs associated with this as well.
The lack of cold temperatures has also been felt in Hokkaido especially in the run up to the Snow festival or Yuki-matsuri. Snow has been imported as well due to the warmer than usual winter. According to the JMA (Japanese metrological agency), Hokkaido has only received 48% of the expected snow fall a fall of 52% from the previous year.
Climate change is indeed happening and it is happening extremely quickly. This change has been reflected in the forthcoming Olympics as well. Due to exceptionally high temperatures in summer 2019, the marathon has been moved to Sapporo City, Hokkaido. On a more anadoctial front, I recorded temperatures as high as 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (ca. 38 degree Celsius) in the shade this summer in Iga- and I was not alone with seeing such temperatures.
Across Japan and even the world, record numbers of people were hospitalized due to heat related problems. Currently, one just needs to look at Australia- where they have at times run out of colours to use on heat charts due to the heat. If you need a bit more, conditions have been perfect for the wildfires which have caused complete devastation in places and the true costs of these fires (socially, environmentally, economically, ecologically etc) will possibly never truly be known.
There is a lot one can do but if business do not reflect personal effort i.e. a person becomes incredibly green but the business they work for either doesn’t change or becomes more environmentally damaging, nothing much will change. According to the wolves of Wall Street “Greed is good”, but what will greed do once the planet is uninhabitable?
Last quick note on this, there is an increasing difference on the amount of rice needing to be produced and the amount of rice being eaten. We are already seeing signs of troubles to come. Please do you part- even if it just a small action, it can and it does add up.
An awareness post on the new Chinese coronavirus nCov-2019
Worries are spreading across not just East-Asia but globally
There are increasing worries spreading across Japan regarding the new Chinese coronavirus (names nCoV-2019) and its ability to infect both animals and humans. Specifically, the worry is about the virus’s ability to become a pandemic.
To highlight the seriousness of this issue, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has stated that “please take every possible precaution,” which has lead to a public awareness campaign on this issue (it has appeared not just on Japanese news but day-time television as well) and a full traveller screening programme at each Japanese airport.
Current estimates suggest that around 400 people are known to have contracted nCov-2019 and the current death-toll is (at time of writing) at 4 deaths- but why is the global community (and indeed Japan) so concerned about this virus? The answer is simple- uncontrollability.
Chinese new year is soon to be upon us, which is the time in which most Chinese people travel- both nationally and internationally- which has the potential to ignite a new global pandemic. Global pandemics are most often caused when: a disease can be easily spread across the world with high movement and when the disease has been shown to cross the species barrier.
These prerequisites have already been met in nCov-2019. Initial cases first appeared in Wuhan, China in a market with high frequency animal contact and since this time, the diseases have been spread from person-to-person.
Chinese authorities are already taking action against this outbreak by ordering the use of facial masks in Beijing hospital, and controlling the number of people entering and leaving Wuhan (where the disease was discovered). Currently, this virus doesn’t appear to have mutated and the CDC and WHO are working on the virus but it is still early days.
Current reports suggest that initial symptoms mimic a common cold with some pneumonia-like symptoms. Initial symptoms include fever, cough, tightness of the chest and shortness of breath- the most concerning of which is the tightness of chest- which initially can be easily misdiagnosed.
Current countries with nCov-2019 patients are China, Japan (the person had just returned from Wuhan), Korea, the USA (a traveller had visited Wuhan), Thailand, and more regionally in China from Beijing, to Taiwan.
The international community is highly aware of the potential for this and infection disease control procedures are underway both in China and around the world to deal with the threat of this virus.
The best advice is to be prepared- use masks in Asia (especially in China) but don’t worry- there is nothing major (currently). Life in Wuhan is ongoing without interruption- life before this virus was discovered. While this virus has the potential to become serious, measures are already underway.
If you have been travelling in China and are experiencing symptoms, please call your doctor- and get their advice. Don’t just turn up in person. While you could just have influenza, they may want to take precautions. There is no data to suggest if some people are more susceptible than others or if it is more damaging to people with compromised immune systems.
Current screening procedures at airports just involve walking in front of a thermal camera. If there is anything wrong- you may be taken to an isolation area until tests are performed. From there, a treatment plan may be started or general health advice given.
Thank you for reading and happy and safe exploring.
An awareness and resolution post, looking into global vaccinations including proving Karens of the world wrong! Also, vaccinaion programs in Japan
While scrolling through social media, there have been several posts suggesting that a pandemic is to occur this decade. There have been major epidemics and thus pandemics in the 1720s, 1820s, 1920s with the 2020s to possibly follow. But what disease if any would be the probable cause?
Firstly: terminology. An epidemic is when a disease affects a great number of people in an area or country. A pandemic is a global epidemic- simple. Previous examples of pandemic diseases are SARS, avian influenza, Ebola, small pox, yellow fever, TB, leprosy, Spanish flu etc.- there are an awful lot of examples.
While many countries are doing a lot to combat this, there is certainly more that can be done. However, not every country is able to prepare to a similar level- which is part of the problem.
In some LMICs (lower to middle income countries), are more prone to starting a pandemic due to very high contact with animals along with poor access to medical facilities. In addition to this, these countries are usually unable to invest large amounts into epidemic preparedness.
There are many challenges facing the global community with regard to pandemics and one of the more worrying examples is increased antibiotic resistance which a disease can develop if, for example, a person does not complete a dose of antibiotics correctly, if antibiotics are over prescribed and if the disease mutates.
I do have to note that antibiotics will NOT work for viruses at all- if you have influenza antibiotics are as useful as tick tacks- but at least tic tacks will freshen your breath.
One thing that increases the risk of an ID (infectious disease) mutating is lack of immunization. Immunization helps protect a population from a disease by introducing them to either a dead or ‘live’ disease via an injection. The body’s immune system then works to counter act the disease and produces antibodies which are then ‘saved’ in the body. Some time later, if a person comes into contact with the actual disease, their body is already ready and prepared to fight off this disease.
Many people suffer or die from preventable diseases because they are not immunized. A 2015 case in Japan featured a 10-month-old boy who caught Japanese encephalitis and although he did live, his arms and legs have been severely paralysed. There are many cases of people catching and dying from measles.
The elephant in the room
Some people (we’ll call the Karens) are against immunization because of several reasons including: possible side effects including the adverse medical reactions, the introduction of harmful chemicals (including aluminium and mercury), and there being “no point” in being immunized because the diseases that people are immunized from are ‘no longer a risk’.
I know that I have set up a straw-man argument against the Karens of the world but I shall enjoy using this argument flaw method regardless.
Number 1: immunizations cause adverse medical effects
Most people will cite the study that “showed” a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Simply put there is NO link between the two- in any way. The review into this study was produced by the WHO (World Health Organization) who’s only bias is the promotion of global health.
Other people may look at the “link” between the DTP vaccine and SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and while it seems to be directly related to one another, this is again false. If there were a true link between the 2 factors, the number of SIDS deaths would be astronomically higher. The SIDS deaths were by chance but people have a need point to a cause of death and the vaccine was chosen.
In fact, several studies have shown that the DTP vaccine actually reduces the chance of SIDS deaths.
Number 2: the introduction of harmful chemicals
Many Karens will also say that “vaccines contain harmful chemicals that will harm me/ my child, so I’m not going to vaccinate. It’s my choice.”
The first question for the Karens of the world is: do you drink from soda cans, or live near a road, or smoke? Yes, you already take in 4 times the aluminium that is allowed in a vaccine.
Other harmful chemicals that may exist within a vaccine usually only exist in trace amounts which help with the bodies autoimmune response and only in certain vaccinations. However, using mercury and formaldehyde as examples- mercury acting as a preservative- in tiny amounts and in a safe compound- and formaldehyde used to render certain viruses such as polio inactive for use in vaccines, more harmful chemicals are ingested in everyday life than via vaccines.
If we look at mercury, and ignoring the fact it has been eliminated from most vaccines since 2001, 69 mcg of mercury is ingested in 1 can of tuna while 25 mcg of mercury is taken in with one influenza injection.
Regarding formaldehyde (the highly carcinogenic, environmentally toxic chemical used in embalming), is extremely common in the environment. Most apples contain more formaldehyde than in the “Hepatitis B, DTaP and polio vaccines together”- a little FYI, this includes organic apples as formaldehyde is a naturally occurring chemical and the human body produces it as part of metabolism which is then converted into carbon dioxide and exhaled.
Pont 3: there is no point in vaccinations as the diseases that are being vaccinated against are no longer a threat
This one is the easiest to disprove to the Karens of the world and can be done with just one world: measles.
Need a bit more? The WHO reports on disease prevalence and outbreaks globally and has reported such trends as the highest measles’ prevalence are in countries with low vaccination rates and there are ongoing out breaks (Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Philippines, South Sudan, Sudan and Thailand). While the data from 2019 is still provisional (to be finalized by July 2020), there were some serious trends that appeared when comparing the first 6 months of 2018 and 2019.
The US reported over 90,000 cases of measles at the start of 2019- the highest in 25 years
From 2018 to 2019 measles prevalence has increased:
900% in the WHO Africa region
120% in the European region
50% in the Eastern Mediterranean region
230% in the western Pacific region
Additionally, the WHO reports that fewer than 10% of measles cases are actually reported.
The final jolly bit will be just one number- the number of people that died from measles in 2018. Please remember the measles is mostly a preventable disease- so most of these deaths if not all were preventable.
So Karens of the world, there is no reason not to be vaccinated- not even ignorance will save you!
Vaccination in Japan
There are 2 types of vaccines in Japan: voluntary and routine vaccinations. Routine vaccinations are free if you take your child to a clinic within the time frame. Some voluntary vaccines may be routine vaccines in some prefectures.
Voluntary vaccinations are paid for out-of-pocket- and there is quite the list (see below). It is also important to note that out of the 15 vaccinations, 5 are ‘live’ vaccines which depending on pre-existing medical conditions, you may not be able to take.
The ministry of health has a vaccination programme in place for children under 1 to be inoculated free of charge, and they’ll receive 19 shots in total (including boosters) but not every family is able to go to a clinic regally and if an appointment is missed, the remaining shots must be paid for by the parent.
An additional problem regarding vaccinations in Japan is the lack of combined vaccinations. In the UK, most children receive the MMR vaccine but in Japan the Mumps vaccine is routine while the MR vaccine (measles and Rubella) is voluntary. One way to increase total vaccination rates would be to have a greater availability to combination vaccines but Japan wants to protect domestic vaccination production rather than import vaccines which are seen by many to be better.
A full vaccination schedule (in English) is available on the further information page.
While living in Japan, it is inevitable that you will pick up some good and some bad habits- it’s just how it goes. One habit that I adore, and will miss, is Hatsumoude or visiting a shrine at the beginning of January.
Hatsumoude is held at most if not all shrines across Japan and each shrine offers a different benefit such as business success, transportation safety, academia etc.
The main shrine in Nabari city is Urufu Shrine, located in the Hirao district of Nabari. The main benefit of performing Hatsumode at this shrine is transportation safety (交通安全) and charms (お守り) can be bought (and were bought) for 500 JPY to help ensure your safety.
Upon arrival, I was greeted with a massive bonfire, which had the delightful job of keeping me warm while I waited for midnight to welcome in the new year. A tent was set up which offered sake, sweet sake and dried fish (all of which were delicious!).
Everyone was enjoying the fine heat and looking at our phones to see when the clock struck midnight. Suddenly many people seemed to quietly erupt with the phrase “あけおめ” or an informal happy new year. There was quite a queue to pray and thank the kami for the previous year and for help with the coming. Naturally, I took lots of photos, but they were terrible- so I had to visit another shrine.
積田神社 or Sekita Shrine
Sekita Shrine is an ancient shrine with a 1250 year-old history and it is dedicated to the Shinto Kami Kashimaookami (鹿島大神). It is said that in ancient times before the opening of the heavens and the earth, Kashimaookami was appointed by Tenso Tenjin and descended from the heavens to earth (or from Takamagahara).
Kashimaookami is particularly known for their protection of the Tohoku region (northern man-land Japan) and has been worshipped as a god of military arts and equal to the god of thunder (war). More modern depictions include the phrase “鹿島立ち” meaning to set off on a journey and as a god who will protect you on your journey- or a perfect kami to ask for protection when travelling back to the UK.
When entering a shrine, you are expected to purify yourself with hand washing (post to come) and when coming up to the shrine, make an offering of saisen (賽銭) or donations into the donation box or offertory box (賽銭箱- the kanji is a bit literal). Luck donation amounts are usually considered to be 5, 50 , or 500 JPY(the ‘best’ donation is 9 5 JPY coins- a good fate from beginning to end). But why 5 yen coins?
5 yen in Japanese is pronounced go-en (五円) and guess what this is the same as? If you guessed Pulmonary aspiration- 誤嚥 (swallowing the wrong way) go try to brilliant medical Japanese skills but I meant ご縁 or luck/ fortune.
After praying or asking a kami for a wish, it is traditional to get an Omikuji or fortune for the year ahead. Fortunes cost 100 JPY and it is either a ‘lucky dip’ or shaking a wooden contained until a wooden rod emerges with a number which corresponds to a fortune.
If your fortune is bad, you have the option of keeping it- it is an option- or tying it to a rope at a shrine to keep the bad fortune enshrined there instead.
Omikuji will give you a complete fortune and advise on matters from academic success, financial success, matters of the heart, travel, health etc- in much more detail than a horoscope (AN I did write “horror scope” but that would be a bit morbid now wouldn’t it).
Finally, I would like to wish you all a very happy new year from Nabari and Japan or in Japanese: 新年あけましておめでとうございます.
Thank you for reading and happy exploring in 2020!
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.