How much do you know about udon?


DSC07069 One of my most favorite food in Japan is udon, no matter in which form (Sanuki udon, houto, kishimen, Goto udon, Yoshida udon…), cold, warm or hot, traditional or fusion style, I simply believe udon is the best soul food available in Japan. Did you know that most likely the oldest version of udon comes from the island Go near Nagasaki? Consequently it is called Goto udon. Can you imagine that the technique to make udon was imported from China most likely in the 8th century? At first udon was only food for the Japanese upper class, because it depended on having access to fine flour, which was made then with mortars. Only the upper class or monks – who drank as well macha – had a need for mortars. These essential mortars for flour making did not become easy available until many centuries later with the spread of wheat farming. If you are curious and love udon as much as I do, I highly recommend you to have a look at the video below. It is in English and shows a good overview why so many Japanese fell in love with udon.

Don’t you have to rush off to get your own bowl of udon now?

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

What are the popular health foods for 2014 in Japan?


Big Site Last week the Health Food exhibition was held again at Big Site exhibition spot in Tokyo. Once a year the major health food providers promote their new health food products. It is the place to gain insights for the expected upcoming trends in the Japanese health food market. Based on my impression unlike earlier years I saw this year a big shift away from the usually promoted vitamins, minerals or then the green vegetables juice powder to much more herbal only remedies. Furthermore unlike last year the yoghurt boom seemed to be over on the development front. This does not mean that you will not see new yoghurt types on the shelf this year, but I guess the consumer response was not as positive as expected and not much further R&D investment occurred. I wonder what this shift to more herbal only products means for the general public. Is the demand for drinks like vitamin water or ionic drinks already fading? Most likely consumers are expected to shift slowly but surely to products from Africa like rooibos tea as a healthy choice or then acai from South America with lots of polyphenols are just examples of products that gain more foothold in Japan recently.
This year during the expo the focus was on products and manufacturing sites in Kyushu and Okinawa. At first Ukon (turmeric) from Okinawa seems the most obvious and got quite some attention, but I have to say a wide variety of herbs from the region was promoted. Kyushu is actually an area with a lot of health food related business. Just have a look at the overview of the manufacturing and research sites in English from the METI site for all the biotech related companies. The amount of different breweries and health food companies is definitely impressive!
Along the same lines when Japanese business is fighting to keep their turnover, the health food industry in Japan was growing 0.6% for 2012 to a total volume of JPY million 2,088,000. Below shows an overview of the top 10 companies in Japan, when Tasly Japan impressed me most from moving within one year from spot 20 to 10. (After the company name their respective sales turnover in million Japanese Yen is listed, plus their growth in percent experienced over one year.)

1. Kyusai, JPY mio 28,985 (6.3%)
2. Eigao, JPY mio 26,233 (2.9%)
3. Media Prais, JPY mio 25,275 (-4.3%)
4. Yasuya, JPY mio 18,327 (n.a.)
5. Everlive, JPY mio 14,094 (n.a.)
6. Asahi, JPY mio 12,637 (-8.8%)
7. Kenkoukazoku, JPY mio 12,615 (-4.5%)
8. HRK, JPY mio 8,098 (43%)
9. Ing, JPY mio 5,499 (-3.7%)
10. Tasly Japan, JPY mio 2,768 (69%)

What is your favorite Japanese health food? I must confess it took me a couple of years until I got used to the taste of “Aojiru” (a vegetable power mixed either with cold or warm water), which I prefer to mix into soymilk, because then it truly tastes marvelous.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

March 11, 2011: Three years later


DSC07032 Although 3 years have passed, I still can easily recall how dramatic I had experienced the earthquake at Narita airport, the challenge to check on family and friends, plus then the man-made disaster in Fukushima. (Those interested can read about my experience on that day on this post). Although I was far away from the real tragedy, that day three years ago taught me a lot. Since then I believe I have completely changed my priorities in life. Most important: Learn to appreciate that I am alive, healthy and I make sure to spend my time worthwhile on this planet so that I can always look back on a fulfilled life.
Japan is a wonderful country and has taught me a lot, especially on March 11, 2011. I came across a marvelous video showing the beauty of Japan. Please enjoy.

I promise for the rest of my life, I will remember to keep my priorities simple: Creating a life worthwhile to be lived.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

The myth of easy money made at Japanese English schools


Shinagawa Tokyo Surprisingly the myth of being able to make easy money as an English teacher in Japan is still alive. Although this seems to have been true during the bubble period in Japan, nowadays it is much more challenging to make a living – I am not even talking about a decent living – in Japan based solely on an English teacher salary. While the situation outside of the big cities might be better with lower costs of living, considering the local cost for daily life, there is not much left at the end of the month. Understand me right, living and working in Japan is a wonderful experience and I recommend it highly to anyone, but I would never recommend it for financial purpose. Many tend to forget that the living costs in Japan are similar for example to Zurich or New York, but the salary ranges are different. Comparing to the salaries that I have experienced and know for example in Switzerland or then the USA, in general the Japanese salaries are much lower here, even at the better paying foreign companies. Furthermore I see quite a gap of the salaries paid in Japan for foreign workers that work within the language teaching business or then specialists that have found their local professional niche. For those interested or potentially even considering the step into a new life as an English teacher in Japan, I highly recommend to consider your motivation for coming over to Japan. Although I am still not a big fan of the newspaper Japan Times, recently I must say the quality of the articles are wonderful. Enjoy the honest insights to the Japanese English teaching business in details here.

I hope you enjoy as much as I did the article by Craig Currie-Robson.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

What does it mean a record high number of foreign workers in Japan?


Japanese office Chances are you have noticed that recently the Japanese media pointed out that now a record number of foreigners are working in Japan. But what does it mean in reality? What kind of percentage of foreigners are truly working in Japan? According to the Asahi Shimbun now a record number of 717,504 foreigners were working in Japan in 2013 (based on data from the labor ministry Jan. 31, 2014). Compared to previous month of October this reflects now an increase of 5 percent. While the number is not small, I have to say I am surprised how small the figure is considering the total working force in Japan of 65.44 millions (Japanese Statistics Bureau). We have now reached a number that is just a bit more than 1 percent (actually 1.10%). This number seems extremely low to me, but let me provide some comparison with other countries.
In general it is said that the ratio of the share of migrants to share of population in industrial countries is 3.3 (industrial countries had a 3.3 higher share of migrants than their share of global population), highlighting the fact that migrants usually move from poorer to richer countries. Personally I perceive still Japan as one of the richer country in Asia and I would basically expect at least the same range or even higher percentage, because the global comparison percentage is focused on a ratio of the total population.
Based on Wikipedia now 14 Million of foreign workers live in the USA, which then reflects a ratio of about 4.4 percent, which I believe is considered rather high, especially as historically the USA was building their economic growth based on the ongoing immigration. Because immigration had been a hot topic in the American media for a while, let me then try to find a more suitable example. Why not relate then as well to the background of this blog as well: Switzerland.
When looking at Switzerland, I end up most likely with the other extreme, when one in four wage earners comes from abroad (Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, or then much more detailed here). Basically I am ending up with another country that seems too far off with the comparison with Japan.
Personally I believe we can see this trend of increasing numbers of foreign workers in Japan, because more and more economical pressure within the country forces companies to try to find a market outside of Japan, most likely South East Asia. This is then reflected in the number of foreign workers, but furthermore in the respective changes. Asahi Shimbun states by nationality, Chinese formed the largest group with 303,886, up 3 percent from a year earlier. They were followed by 95,505 Brazilians, down 6 percent, 80,170 Filipinos, up 10 percent, and 37,537 Vietnamese, up 40 percent. These numbers make even more sense, when looking at the rather high number of Japanese companies that hired foreigner, furthermore the actual size of these companies (Asahi Shimbun).

“The workers were employed by 127,000 enterprises, up 6 percent from a year earlier, another record. More than half of the employers were relatively small, with a work force of less than 30. More than one-third of the workers, 260,000, were employed by manufacturers, while 16,000 worked for construction companies.”

While it is good news to see that there are changes ongoing in Japan to rebuild the economic strength, at the end the speed of the execution of these company strategies is what really can make a difference. Japanese companies are not known for making quick decisions, so I hope by learning to adjust due to financial pressure we can see a new business culture arise.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Japanese guy, western girlfriend: The guide for happiness


signal in Kuala Lumpur Recently I had been asked by a local publisher why I had chosen to write a guide (Japanese Man Looking For A Foreign Girlfriend: 17 Rules For Happiness) about having an international relationship in regard to Japan. In addition the question came up what I personally see as the biggest weakness for a Japanese man in a relationship with a foreign woman. I thought these are reasonable questions and would like to share with you my thoughts.
First of all, let me point out my intention for this guide is very simple: I would like to see more happy local or international couples in Japan or around the world. Unlike in many other countries, I believe Japanese men are facing quite a lot of societal and cultural pressure to be the provider for a girlfriend or a family. Personally I see the difference then in a relationship with a foreign woman that the pressure of being the sole provider falls most likely away. The relationship is much more based on a partnership with equal rights and duties. Considering then that for most Japanese men the dream of having a work life balance is out of reach, I think a different kind of relationship can give Japanese men a new perspective of how much more comfortable and fulfilling their future could be.
Moving on to the second point of the potentially biggest weakness of Japanese men in a relationship: Knowing themselves! I have seldom heard about a man that he is perceived as being secure enough to know how to express and fulfill his dreams, understanding his weak spots whether it is with his personality or lifestyle, plus having made up his mind on how he has planned to spend his future. Most likely Japanese men have not considered this part of self development connected with dating or a successful long term relationship. With the 17 rules my goal is to give some guidance on what can make any Japanese more successful with women. Of course the books covers more than just the mentioned topics above. I believe a fun approach to dating, combined with real advice is the key for success.
Let me point out that I wrote this book not based on stereotyping neither the Japanese nor the foreign side. For those curious to know more, check out the link to Amazon.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Time to celebrate: 150 Years of Diplomatic Relations between Switzerland and Japan!


What a wonderful event! 2014 is a special year for two countries dear to my heart: Japan and Switzerland. We can celebrate that now 150 years ago on February 6, 1864 representatives from the Tokugawa shogunate and the Swiss delegation signed the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce. This is especially noteworthy, when considering this was just the eighth of such an treaty signed by Japan with a foreign country. More details on the history of the friendship between the two countries can be found on the Link of the official site of the Swiss Federal Department for Foreign Affairs.
In order to get you in the mood of the upcoming celebrations in February have a look at the video showing the similarities for both countries

I hope there will be an opportunity to potentially find you at one of the special events organized to celebrate this long friendship of two countries.

Brought to you by a very happy Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)