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.

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

Typhoon 101

What to do when there’s a typhoon coming your way

So you have just found out that there is a typhoon heading your way while in Japan. What do you do? Panic? Scream? Wait…why is no-one else around you panicking?

IF you are in Japan for either the rugby world cup or the Olympics, welcome to a very diverse and beautiful country. This is a what if guild, so if here, please note.

Firstly advice, it’s mostly likely nothing to worry about- I’m happy to say that the monstrous devistation you see in movies is usually played up- that’s not to say they can’t happen the same way. You need to be prepared.

Firstly, what type of typhoon is it? On the Japanese meteorological agency website (in English) there are the following categories for typhoons:

  • TY: Typhoon
  • STS: Severe Tropical Storm
  • TS: Tropical Storm
  • TD: Tropical Depression
  • LOW: Extra-tropical Low

My advice is be careful about anything over TS, the others are more than likely not to be cause for concern (they can become stronger).

Additionally, have you ever heard of “PPPPPPP”? It means:

Prior preparation and planning prevents p*** poor performace

There’s a disaster coming so what have you done about it? Do you know where the local refuge areas are? Have you prepaired anything in case it becomes a level 5 emergency? No, well let’s make a start.

The where- Refuge areas

There are different types to be aware of. The most basic is a temporary evacuation site- which is often organised by the local community. It is a good place to meet up for ‘smaller’ disasters in order to assess the situation.

Open evacuation sites are designated places by the ward or city that people will go to if the temporary one is either dangerous or inaccessible. There is often help available here and they are either in Tsumani or earthquake resistant buildings- expect to be here for around a day.

Finally, evacuation shelters- this is for the longer stay. This is used if a persons’ home is unsafe or non-existent.

Please note, in coastal areas there are more specialised Tsunami evacuation areas, please take note of what disaster is heading your way (if for some reason you do not know).

One last thing on the where, mate sure you know where the where is or in other words where is your nearest refuge area and how far do you have to travel on foot/ bike. There is no carparking at emergency facilities and there is a possibility that the roads would be unusable anyways.

The what- belongings

I would recommend preparing a bug out bag and keep it in a safe place. Inside should be 3 days of emergency food and water (think calorie mate for food) and at least 6 l of water per person (which is a lot I know). Additionally, there should be a change of clothes, toiletries , important papers (passport and residence card), a flash light, batteries, a wind up radio, mobile/cell phone charger, a knife, and money at a minimum!

More could be packed (and should be if you have a real need for it) but remember space at a shelter is at a premium and you may have to run while carrying everything you need.

The time- what to do when leaving

So, all the warning signs have proven true- DO NOT PANIC. What to do when leaving?

  • Collect emergency info from JMA/ TV/ radio to see what has been recommended (caution, standby, evacuation etc)

If leaving, please note the following

  • Turn off all gas
  • Protect yourself from falling objects internally and externally
  • Keep away from large objects that may fall on top of you.
  • Gather everyone one in one place with the bug-out bag
  • calmly go to the refuge centre (if needed)

If evacuation has not been recommended

  • fill the bathtub with water
  • have an emergency light source to had
  • keep everyone safe
  • prepare in case of evacuation

The type of warning

Finally, the type of wanrning. You may have noticed that I refer to warnings in English and not Japanese, alas in Japanese it is sightly different. But at the base level, there are: advisory, warnings, and emergency warnings. If there is an emergency warning, there will be a broadcast over the emergency warning system, updates on that ward/cities website declaring an emeergency and usually warning messages sent out by text.

No matter the level, be cautious- they are NOT sent out for the fun of it.

No matter what, please be safe and happy exploring.

For further reading, please check out the JMA website in English at:

https://www.jma.go.jp/jma/indexe.html

The plague of Japan: Tobacco

The old cool pastime is an outdated one- everywhere but Japan?

As an ex-smoker, I do struggle with my old daemon- tobacco. I have parted ways, no longer stay in contact and yet it still bugs me.

My fight had been made easier with most train stations on the Kintetsu lines and the Iga-tetsudo lines now being smoke free but there is but one place that does still haunt me- convenience stores.

In Japan, tobacco is sold out in the open- with even special offers and prices at times- showing you just how cheap it is- the cheapest one being just 350 JPY ( around 3 USD)- which never mind being cheap for Japan, it is cheap full stop. Even with the UN tobacco recommendations, Japan still mostly ignores them.

There are smoking areas inside restaurants (separated from non-smoking areas), smoking areas in train cars, in the street, outside convenience stores, outside clinics and hospitals and inside so many businesses- it hard to escape them and it is still socially acceptable but nor as much as drinking (to be looked into later).

However, there have been more laws brought in especially in Tokyo in the run up to the Olympics next year to become more anti-smoking, but this seems to be confined to places a tourist may see.

So, for those who are anti-smoking or have given up, be vigilant- Japan seems like a smoker’s paradise and is still tempting for those who have quit. For smokers, please respect Japan and be aware of other’s opinions.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring


Smoking in Japan

I do not condone smoking, but if you visit and would like to smoke please note the following:

  • You may only smoke in designated areas or face a fine
  • Not all convenience stores have smoking ash trays
  • Some major cities- Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya etc have districts where smoking is prohibited. If you want to smoke, you need to either exit the district or find an indoor one.
  • There are smoking rooms on limited express trains and on the Shinkansen- all other trains are non-smoking.
  • A pocket ashtray is not a free licence to smoke
  • most tourist places including moutains are completely smoke free