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)

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)

Have you considered the affects of air polution in the winter in Tokyo?

Tokyo Most likely when you are living or visiting Tokyo the issue of air quality does not come up in daily conversations, nor is it much a concern for anyone in Japan. With the colder season having started, I believe we will see again a rise of pm 2.5 particles in the air. Last year showed that the quality of the air from time to time became a concern in Tokyo and in other parts of Japan. Some of the Japanese media even had picked up on this topic. What I am talking about are the very small particles that are called pm 2.5, which from time to time color the sky slightly orange or then cut our view into the distance short. Based on the information from the United States Environmental Protection Agency pm 2.5 particles are described as:

“Particulate matter, or PM, is the term for particles found in the air, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets.”

Why are this particles a big deal? Again based on the same source:

“Particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter (PM10) pose a health concern because they can be inhaled into and accumulate in the respiratory system. Particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) are referred to as “fine” particles and are believed to pose the greatest health risks. Because of their small size (approximately 1/30th the average width of a human hair), fine particles can lodge deeply into the lungs.”

Personally as I tend to cough easily in not so clean air, these particles became a concern of mine. On one side the discussion goes on in the Japanese media about the origin of this particles, but personally I believe for the moment, it is more important to know about the potential risk, plus having access to continuous measurement data. Only by having information at hand, it is possible to make an informed decision on whether to wear a mask or not to bother about something so small. For me a reliable source is the governmental overview of the results of the measuring spots in Tokyo. Although it is in Japanese, I believe this site is still very helpful, because all what needs to be known is the number (μg/m3). In case you cannot click-through, let me give you the actual URL:


For those concerned about the environmental regulations, let me add the link to the Environmental Quality Standards in Japan in regard to air quality. For me I am focusing on the global standards from WHO, who recommends:

10 μg/m3 annual mean
25 μg/m3 24-hour mean

Personally I do not like to wear masks, because I think I look like someone who prefers hiding their face or even worse like a burglar. On the other hand, I prefer to look strange or stupid and keep this stuff out of my lungs. Let’s hope there will not be many days this winter with a slight orange overcast like today.

Wishing everyone a good breath of air,

Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

3D barcodes as the key for safe shopping

microwave rice Most likely I belong to only a few shoppers who is concerned to know the actual source of the food or beverage I consume. Although it is impossible to control all my intake, I would like to make sure that what I prepare and consume at home comes from a region that I perceive as not affected by the fallout from the Fukushima incident. In a previous article on this blog I had hoped that manufacturer’s declaration on food products become more detailed (actual article). To my surprise some of the goods sold at a major Japanese supermarket Aeon (Japanese company website) have now 3D bar codes that allow to check for the origin of a product in hand. While on the top of the article the actual packaging of easily microwaveable rice is shown, the picture below shows the result of the 3D bar code search.


This additional detailed information is for me a great help and relief. Not only can I find the rice type, but as well the region where the rice grew and the packing site. I can get a true sense of what I am buying and with it I become a loyal customer. I am sure the addition of this small 3D bar code will result in higher sales turnover of this product. I strongly believe that today’s customers want to be informed and given a choice of what they want to buy. Having choices allows me to make a difference to support the products I believe in. Although many Japanese households live these days on a tight budget and limited choices, I believe over time customer choices will show that more information is better. In the meantime Aeon has for sure caught my heart.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Definitely worthwhile to read!

Usually I am not a big fan of Japan Times, because the depth of the topics researched or the professionalism of their journalistic approach seems not sufficient to me, but this time I have to say I am truly impressed about a most recent article: “The eerie silence of Japan’s dying democracy“, which describes very good how over time self-interest rose over the basic aspects of a democracy. What a cosy interconnected world of politics, bureaucracy and the old-established Japanese business?
I guess as long as the pain threshold of the majority of the Japanese society is not reached, only very limited democratic actions will be taken. Consequently without any public outcry everything is fine in Japan, isn’t it? Or maybe I simply misunderstand and dramatize present day Japan…

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

What kind of plant would you like to grow?

200 Japanese kids in the age range of 10 to 14 years had been asked on a recent survey of the Nikkei Shimbun about what kind of plant they would like to grow on their own. I believe this questionnaire originates from a Japanese school habit, when the students are asked as a part the summer holiday homework to take care of a certain plant. Although Hydrangea as shown on the side becomes very popular in Japan during early summer – especially rainy season – the choices made by the children seem very interesting to me.
Number one was strawberry, which was for me very surprising, because I had assumed the children would be trying to let something grow that is in season in Summer. Looking at the product offerings in the stores, the high season for strawberries in Japan is in the winter (vinyl house farming). On the other hand, potentially, because strawberries are not found in the stores in summer, the desire to plant some of their own makes sense. The ranking follows as below:

1. Strawberry
2. Rice
3. Tomato
4. Corn
5. Cucumber
6. Water melon
7. Muscat melon
8. Grape
9. Potato
10. Clementine

I do not know what your favorite might be, but if I had a chance now I would love to have some “tororo” or “nagaimo” (Japanese yam: lit. long yam, 長芋) on my own. Unlike any yams that I had known, this yam when grated creates some sticky, slimy foam like mash. In case this made you curious for some recipe or pictures, don’t hesitate to have a look at the janechannel. I love this yam so much, if I had to be born again as a plant I believe I want to become a Japanese yam 😉

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

My compliment to the Shinagawa ward!

Today I had found out for the first time what actually the height is of the place I am living. Actually I cannot talk much about height or being much above sea level, because we are just 2m above. In the past I had not seen any of this kind of easily understandable signs in the street, like shown in the picture below, but recently the ward I am living in Tokyo Shinagawa had been proactive and signed quite a bit of the Shinagawa area closer to the Ocean. Having all this talks about finding new earthquake faults – especially the one’s connected to Mount Fuji – forces everyone to truly consider the worst case scenario of another bigger earthquake looming in the near future. Instead of panicking, I truly appreciate the Japanese proactive approach of trying to prepare for the unthinkable.

After having moved to Shinagawa almost 3 years ago, I became more aware about the interesting environment I am living in. Few minutes walk away there is the old route to Kyoto: Tokaido (東海道 East Sea Road), which was the major road from old Edo Tokyo to Kyoto. In one of the walks in my neighbourhood I came across the two pictures showing the vast reclaimed land from 1912 as shown in the top small picture and then compared to 1995 below. You can actually see the darker clusters close, but not too to close to the sea, where the Todaido road was heading south towards Kyoto. Contrary nowadays Shinagawa has become a busy place with lots of new land created for offices, homes and some production plants. Just within 80 years it seems to me a completely different world.

Although in the worst case scenario a Tsunami might be reaching the area I am living, still for me it is a truly cosy place to live. Thanks Shinagawa ward to keep us prepared for the non-preparable worst case event!

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)