Have you ever seen fat Japanese?

Weight loss – the single most desired goal on everyone’s New Year wish list! Let’s face it, losing weight is as much a mental battle as it is physical. Right from motivating yourself to stick with your gym schedule to ignoring that chocolate cake staring at you from the refrigerator, it is hard work. However, for some reason, the Japanese effortlessly maintain themselves without breaking a sweat: reports claiming obesity rates being a mere 3.5% drive home the point. What secrets can we glean from the Japanese in our fight against fat?

I am a fitness fanatic of sorts, so I did some quick research. Despite a low obesity rate, Japan’s weight loss industry is valued at over $6 Billion (accounting for a third of the Asian market). The industry has its own share of freaks and fads. Continue reading

Hashi II: Chopstick Echiketto

Hashi or chopsticks are a quintessential part of a Japanese meal. Japanese cuisine on the whole has been adapted to incorporate the use of chopsticks effectively. I still remember the first time I got to try a pair was when I was about 12 and my family had gone to an Indo-Chinese (Yes, Indian-Chinese does exist and is a cuisine in its own right) restaurant. So we were provided with a pair that came in a neat paper cover with instructions on how to use them. From that day onwards I tried using chopsticks anywhere I could — from picking up nuts to skewering food I couldn’t pick up — until I became the chopsticks wielding master I am today. Over a period of time I learnt that there was etiquette that governed the usage of these utensils and that I couldn’t use them however I felt. Of course, the best part about using chopsticks was that it earned me street cred; whenever I used a pair it would invite wide eyed gazes (where I live, chopstick use was uncommon until the last 2-3 years) befitting a magic trick.

My chopstick Collection

(L) My favourite pair of plastic Chinese chopsticks from a well know restaurant; (Top R) Japanese chopsticks set, (Bottom R) Japanese Male, Female Chopsticks

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Hashi I: Get your Chopstick fix

Long before chopsticks made their way into Japanese homes they were confined to rituals alone. Offerings to the Gods were not meant to be soiled by mortal hands and hence the ritual use of chopsticks. In many a ritual (usually to thank the Gods for a bountiful harvest) special chopsticks were placed alongside offerings. These special chopsticks were tapered on both end: one end was used to serve the Gods while the other was to serve the one performing the rituals. The chopstick acted as a bridge between the Gods and the humans, hence the name Hashi (It’s metaphoric – Hashi means bridge). Originally from China, chopsticks are believed to have entered Japan around the 7th Century. The dating is based on the references in the Kojiki – a historical record book written around that time. The aristocratic class were the first to use chopsticks, but by the end of the 8th century everybody had a pair in their hand.

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Jisatsu – What drives the Japanese to suicide II

In my previous post I said that the Japanese culture seems to glorify suicide. Surely that cannot be a singularly overwhelming reason to commit suicide? Truth is there are pressures in paradise.

Pressure to perform begins right from school where parents see education as an investment. Failing to get good grades or making it to a prestigious university is seen as a loss of face not just to you but your parents and suicide is seen as the easiest way to escape the shame and humiliation. Bullying is another reason students commit suicide– children as young as 10 have gone on to end their lives. Many a time cries for help are ignored and often asking for help is seen as weak, leaving children with no option but to take the most obvious choice. Continue reading

Jisatsu – What drives the Japanese to suicide I

Continuing from my previous post covering Karoshi and Karojisatsu, I thought I would cover the Jisatsu or suicide element alone. Suicides in Japan are no different from the ones committed anywhere else in the world. But the sheer number in which they are committed, along with the general attitude towards suicide would cause you to take a second look. Japan is not the country with the highest suicide rate (that coveted position goes to Greenland), but it’s still one of the highest — around 20 per 100,000 persons.

Japan has always glorified suicide: from the Seppuku/Hara-Kiri culture of ritual suicides of the Samurai, to novels depicting the beauty of suicide. The novel ‘Norwegian Wood’ by Haruki Murakami is case in point. Another prolific author Yukio Mishima, went on to commit Seppukku (also known as the “Mishima Incident”) to inspire revival of Japan’s imperial system. Countless other authors have dealt with this phenomenon. But there is one notorious little book authored by Wataru Tsurumi titled “Kanzen Jisatsu Manyuaru” roughly translated as complete suicide manual, which changed the game completely. The books neatly categorizes suicide methods followed by effort required, pain severity and body appearance, complete with skull ratings. In fact, the book was so popular, it sold more than a million copies and is still in print. So effective was the book, that the likelihood of finding a copy with someone who committed suicide was very high. Continue reading

Karoshi – Work yourself to death

 Ever heard of the old adage – hard work never hurt anybody? Think again, the Japanese literally work themselves to death. The Japanese have even given a name to this phenomenon – Karoshi or “death from overwork”. Scary as this may sound, the phenomenon is not limited to Japan alone but is quite widespread among many Asian countries. Continue reading