Receiving a few curious looks from other Japanese women that lasted merely a few seconds (after realizing that I had the same exact body parts as they did), I went safely unnoticed as I submerged myself into a near boiling pool of water at the foot of a Roman statue. The Japanese were pretty tough when it came to hot water, taking plenty of time to simmer themselves while catching up on local gossip with their friends.
I had also grown accustomed to the high temperatures of the hot baths and after a couple of minutes, my body would adjust and my muscles would relax. It was only several minutes later that I would realize that my skin had turned a splotchy red color, which took a couple of hours to disappear.
This time was no different and I decided to head for the sauna to give my skin a break from the water. The sauna of course, was also extremely hot, but in a different way. In America, warnings on sauna walls always suggested staying inside for no more than 10 minutes, as saunas make you release buckets of sweat and you can easily become dehydrated and faint, where some hours later somebody finds you dead and shriveled like a prune inside. I was always painting lovely pictures such as these in my head.
In Japan however, I couldn’t read the signs so I had no idea if there were any warnings or not. However, I often saw women stay inside for 30 minutes or more. Heading inside and greeted by a sudden gust of pure dry heat, I saw that it was only myself and another woman in the sauna. The other women, was laying on her back, with a towel over her face. I wondered how long she had been in there.
I laid down, allowing the heat to penetrate my body and instantly, little beads of sweat poured out of my pores. I think that my ears were even sweating. After a good ten minutes had passed, I sat up. The woman was still there.
Was she breathing??
Tiptoeing gently over to her to make sure she was still alive, I was relieved to see her chest still moving up and down with each breath. Reaching out my hand to tap her on the shoulder to make sure she was okay, she suddenly shifted, grunting, and pulled her towel off her face in one sudden movement. Looking a bit shocked to see me, her eyes widened.
“Anata wa daijobu desuka?” I asked her.
“Hai, daijobu des”, she answered, breaking into a slow smile.
At least she had sensed my concern.
Recently, I went to the pharmacy in Japan and was overwhelmed by the choices of slimming teas and beauty teas which claim that by drinking them, you will lose weight and become more beautiful. Of course, like any other woman (and who says men don’t feel the same way too?), I would love to have a fabulous body and look gorgeous just by drinking a massive amount of tea a day. So I decided to put this to the test.
Du-Zhong tea, which can be found at most pharmacies in Japan, is a kind of green-tea which is made in Japan but originally came from China. Du-Zhong grows in the cold weather and so part of its appeal is that “while the other plans are dying, Du-Zhong tea grows so why not absorb its vitality into our bodies?”
The main components of this tea that speed up weight loss are catechins and Geniposhid acid. Catechins are a component of all green teas and promote fat metabolism and control the fat levels in the body. The Geniposhid acid enhances our blood vessels. I wasn’t exactly sure how enhancing my blood vessels was related to weight loss but I wasn’t going to argue with anyone about it.
Not only did Du-Zhong claim that I would lose weight, it also claimed that the tea would prevent aging, viruses, allergies, and even hangovers! This was exactly what I had been looking for all along, a miracle drink that would fix everything.
All that was needed was to drink 2L a day, the pharmacist explained to me. If I followed this one rule, I would be slim in two weeks.
So I started drinking Du-Zhong tea religiously, 2L each day. I counted my calories each day to make sure that they remained the same as before. Two weeks later, I was exactly the same size. Du-Zhong had done nothing for me.
So, I consulted a Japanese friend who was trying a different product, a carb-blocker pill which you dissolve into water and drink before every meal. She claimed the pill was all natural and was made from herbs.
“Are there any side effects?” I asked, suspicious.
“Just diarrhea,” she answered simply, shrugging her shoulders.
I decided in the end, it just wasn’t worth it.
On the streets of Kansai, we often notice a favorable ratio of beautiful Japanese woman. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say, so what is beauty in the eyes of Japanese people, you ask? Well, I asked a considerable amount of both men and woman about what their ideas of beauty were. An overwhelming proportion said that skin was the most important thing when it came to beauty, especially clear, unblemished or unmarked white skin.
In the hot Kansai summers, we often see woman wearing long, black gloves to cover their hands and arms, long pants, and a hat to ward off the darkening effect that exposure to the sun can bring on. And although they are greatly reducing their risk for skin cancer, that’s not really what these woman are worried about. They’re worried about keeping their skin white and not only white, but also unmarked. Freckled skin, called “kisses from the sun” in some Western countries or “beauty marks” in others, are seen as ugly blemishes in Japan. One girl I spoke to, was so embarrassed by the mole on her cheek, she said it affected her self esteem and felt very self-conscious about it. She wanted to get it removed but the procedure was expensive, so she wanted to wait until she could save enough money to get it removed.
To me, however, her mole was a unique characteristic and something that would be admired as a beauty mark in the West. “Bring on the whitening creams!” the girls in Japan say, at which companies like Shiseido and Kosé rush to produce the next line in whitening creams. And these companies are truly making a killing. Whitening creams can range anywhere from 500 yen to 40,000 yen, and with most females spending in the upper range of these prices, the company presidents are smiling.
Another century-old Japanese beauty treatment to make the skin more youthful and white is a nightingale dropping facial or using products made with the nightingale’s droppings. Some women swear by it. So whatever it is, bird poop or whitening cream, white is definitely in demand.
“You look like you’ve gained some weight,” one of my regular students said to me.
I nearly choked on my piece of ice. I had actually lost a kilo recently because of Billy’s Boot Camp. It must have been all the vegetables I had been eating recently. They always made me feel bloated.
“Umm, thank you,” I replied, smiling.
“You also look like you’ve gained weight,” she commented to the other student, a Japanese girl who had the proportions of a toothpick.
Thank God, I thought to myself. I had been worried about the skinny girl for a long time.
“Actually, I eat all the time,” the skinny girl said. “I eat like six large meals a day but I can never gain any weight. Recently I’ve put on about a kilo because I added another meal. Now I eat seven large meals a day.”
I wondered if she had ringworm. Lucky girl.
I was constantly amazed at how the Japanese could stay so slim. I had read somewhere that the Japanese daily calorie intake was higher than Americans. Americans, however, tended to eat more sugar and refined carbohydrates, which was stored as fat.
I sighed deeply to myself. No amount of Billy's Boot Camp would shrink me that much.
I met a guy today in Osaka who claimed he smoked 60 cigarettes a day. He let me know that he thinks the anti-smoking campaigns in the United States and laws against smoking in restaurants and bars was terrible. He also claimed that the United Airlines fight in the anti-smoking campaign was about money. His explanation was that they just didn’t want to pay people to clean out the ashtrays. He was upset because all this anti-smoking business was influencing Japan and now he said that his boss has begun to get irritated with him because he takes 8 smoke breaks a day. People in Japan were starting to finally understand the effects of cigarettes. “But not all people who smoke get cancer,” he stated. He also told me that all of his teeth had fallen out and had to be replaced at the age of 35. He went for 3 years without teeth.
I am guessing it might have something to do with smoking.
With our thinly insulated apartments in Japan that seem to constantly let chilly drafts in, it’s sometimes difficult to stay nice and toasty through the winter. And although the winter in Osaka is quite mild, the lack of central heating in most apartments makes it seem a lot colder than it really is, leaving us shivering like badly tuned diesel engines next to the space heater and imagining the warm orange of a winter fire. After three winters in Osaka though, I think I’m finally starting to figure out how to keep my body as snug as a bug in a rug. The answers are layers, a hot water bottle, and hot tea. You’ll thank your lucky stars when they come to your rescue.
Luckily, Uniqlo has also come to the rescue recently, a rising star with its Heat Tech innerwear. The material is “woven out of a specially designed hollow fiber thread that captures little pillows of toasty warm air, insulating your body in the same way a heavier wool would and creating a secret weapon against the winter chill. Heat Tech fabric includes a rayon mix that actually absorbs the moisture generated by the body and converts it into heat. Milk protein, containing natural amino acids, has been mixed with the fibers to ensure the fabric is smooth and soft to the touch; making it not only a heat retaining item, but also the perfect layering garment.”
So, Uniqlo Heat Tech innerwear should be your first defense in your titanic effort to battle the cold. The second thing you need in your silent army is a hot water bottle, which can be found at Don Quixote for about 1000 yen. For those who have not experienced the bliss of a hot water bottle, it is a rubber container that you fill with hot water and seal with a stopper. It’s essential for bedtime and will keep your feet warm. It’s also helpful to add an extra blanket on top of your duvet, it makes a world of difference.
The third defense is hot green tea. Not only does it raise your core body temperature, but it is also full of antioxidants and can help prevent against getting the swine flu or a cold.
So don’t be left in the cold this year. Head to your local Uniqlo, your knight in shining armor, and stock up on some Heat Tech. In addition, don’t forget to grab a water bottle from Don Quixote and stock up on the green tea. It’s an eternity until spring.
I often find myself in need of an escape from the chaos of Osaka, the constant nerve-scratching noise and rush of city life. Luckily, a perfect place already exists, and is only an hour bus ride from Osaka. This quiet place is Arima Onsen, a wonderful hot-spring area, where one can soak away the pains and stress that have built up over time.
Arima is in fact, the oldest spa town in Japan, just over the ripe old age of 1,000 years old. It rose to fame 10 centuries ago from a rumor that three injured crows were cured after drinking out of a hot spring in the vicinity. Ever since that time, people have been going there to cure their various ailments, or to just plain relax. Even in the 5th century, the place was popular. One emperor is said to have even bathed for a total of 86 days straight in Arima. It seems he just couldn’t leave. But who could blame him?
Another story claims that a monk was digging a pond in Arima and met a person who was suffering from illness. The person asked if the monk could take him to Arima because he had heard of its magical curing qualities. The monk obliged and then to his own amazement, saw the person turn into a golden Buddha and ride a cloud off into the east. I guess it proves the point that soaking in a hot tub really is heavenly after all.
Of course, in addition to relaxation, going to Arima is also beneficial for your health. Arima’s waters contain a lot of naturally occurring substances, including hydrogen-carbonate, chloride, sulfate, radon, and sulfur. The most famous is the “kinsen” (ferruginous sodium-chloride bath), commonly known as the “golden bath.” Soaking in the “kinsen” can relieve back problems, muscle pain, and skin infections. It also keeps the skin moisturized and protected from harmful environmental toxins by leaving a thin film of salt over it.
Another famous hot spring you’ll hear about in Arima is the “ginsen,” otherwise known as the “silver bath.” This bath apparently does wonders for circulation and improving the appetite. It’s great for when you are recovering from the stomach flu. There are two kinds of “ginsen” baths. One contains radon. By breathing in the radon-infused steam coming off the bath, you can treat joint problems and increase circulation.
When arriving in Arima, you have a choice between public baths (which cost anywhere from five-hundred to 1,500 yen) or hotel baths, which offer rotenburo-style bathing, where you can bathe outside in the open air. Admission to hotel baths is a bit pricier, ranging from 2,000 yen to 5,000 yen. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, the higher price includes a course lunch, usually a beautifully prepared Japanese meal made from local ingredients.
From my own experience, the best priced option seems to be a day ticket to Arima Grand Hotel, which costs a reasonable 3,500 yen and includes access to a variety of baths and lunch, from which you can choose a French, Japanese or Chinese-style course. However, this special is only available on weekdays. If you choose to go on a weekend, the price shoots up to 6,000 yen.
If you’re itching to blow some money, head to Tosen Goshobou, where you can enjoy a Kobe beef “kaiseki ryori” course and bathing from around 10,000 yen. They also offer an artfully prepared Japanese course lunch from around 3,000 yen to 4,700 yen. The course is delicious, healthy, and is followed with rice ice cream and a rare soba-tea. Don’t forget to try the local “tansan sembei,” crackers made with Arima’s natural spring water or Arima cider, Japan’s first carbonated drink.
You can get to Arima one of two ways. From Osaka station, you can take a bus (terminal is near Hankyu Station), which takes an hour and costs 1,330 yen one way. Traffic jams, however, are unpredictable. You can also take the train from Osaka to Sannomiya (JR or Hankyu line) and then take the subway to Tanigami station, where you will change to the Arima Line. Take this train to Arimaguchi station and transfer to a local line, which will then lead you to your destination at Arima Onsen station (total cost around 1,400 yen from Osaka station).
So what are you waiting for? Get on a train or bus and get to Japan’s oldest spa as soon as you can because heavenly Arima is waiting for you!
Has anyone ever noticed that the Japanese women have particularly nice skin? Well, I decided to do a little research myself about how to achieve glowing skin through diet. However, none of the food that is recommended is Japanese but all can be found in Japan so that’s good enough for me. According to Lacy Drayer, MA, RD, who wrote “The Beauty Diet”, there are ten foods that we should eat that will lead to healthy, glowing skin. And luckily, all of these foods are accessible in Japan. The Japanese believe they have the healthiest diet in the world and although many parts of their diet are very healthy, there are also a lot that is not. A lot of Japanese food has a high sodium content (which can lead to stomach cancer (of which Japan has one of the highest rates in the world) and high blood pressure) and things like white rice, have basically no nutrition whatsoever. The high carbohydrate content of white rice will make your blood sugar rise up and then crash not long after you eat it, making you crave another carbohydrate fix. So if you eat white rice, you should pair it with lean protein and vegetables to make it more balanced. Even better, switch your white rice with brown rice. Brown rice is much healthier and contains fiber, which will help to regulate your blood sugar levels. Here are some other things you can add to make your diet healthier and many of them can be found just around the corner, at your local Japanese supermarket.
1. Salmon, preferably wild salmon.A lot of salmon in Japan has been raised on fish farms so it’s not as healthy but it’s still better than not eating any salmon at all. Salmon, is chock full of omega-3 fatty acids, which fight inflammation, keep our cells supple, and help our brains function properly. Think of omega-3s as moisturizing your skin from the inside out.
2. Low-fat yogurt.Meiji brand with the probiotics is good. Of course, we all know that yogurt contains calcium, which keeps our teeth and bones strong. It also contains zinc, which supports skin health.
3. Oysters.These seem to be a bit hard to find in Japan, although I know they exist and are usually pretty expensive. Oysters help create collagen in the skin and also have high levels of zinc.
4. Blueberries.Also seem to be hard to find in Japan although you can buy them frozen at major supermarkets. Frozen is better than nothing. These little babies contain more antioxidants that any other fruit. So there. Antioxidants protect against cellular damage from environment, stress, etc.
5. Kiwifruit.This green fruit stimulates collagen production and is also high in antioxidants, which neutralize free radicals which cause cancer and other terrible diseases. Also packed with Vitamin C.
6. Sweet potatoes.Although the sweet potatoes in Japan differ from the ones we typically find back home in the West, they are still packed with beta-carotene, which the body converts to Vitamin A, which then keeps your skin smooth and healthy.
7. Spinach.Be like Popeye and eat your Spinach. Contains a lot of lutein, which is good for the eyes. It also contains beta-carotene, Vitamin C, B vitamins, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, fiber, and even omega-3 fatty acids. So you can’t go wrong with spinach.
8. Tomatoes.This wonderful food brought to the Europe from the Americas helped make Italian and Mediterranean food what it is today. It is also the food which contains the most of the antioxidant lycopene, which is actually more readily absorbed into your body after it has been processed (think canned tomato paste, juice, or ketchup).
9. Walnuts.These can be found pretty easily at any supermarket in Japan and contain a lot of omega-3 fatty acids and also Vitamin E, which helps protect cells from damage and supports beautiful skin.
10. Dark Chocolate.Yes, it’s finally okay to eat chocolate, dark chocolate that is. It contains as many polyphenols as red wine and has anti-aging properties. So, that’s my list. Add a few or all of these foods into your diet and you will soon be blessed with glowing skin!
Japanese tea is delicate, mild, and can be served hot or cold, depending on the season. Tea has been enjoyed for centuries in Japan and is an important part of the culture. Sado, tea ceremony, is dedicated to the way of serving and preparing green tea. According to the Ippodo Tea Company, which I have been told is the most famous tea company in Kyoto and one who has been specializing in fine tea since 1846, the secret to making delicious tea lies in three elements: tea leaves, water, and time. The amount of tea leaves, the temperature of the water, and how long you wait until you pour the tea all have an effect on the taste of the tea. Also, the best part of the tea is in the bottom of the teapot, so it’s best to make sure you have poured out all the tea that was in the pot.
The most well known Japanese tea is green tea of course, but matcha comes in two varieties, as a thicker koicha, or as a thinner usucha. Usucha is what we often buy at the convenience store or from vending machines on a hot summer day. In order to prepare matcha, we need three things: a bamboo tea whisk (chasen), a matcha tea bowl (matcha-chawan), and a tea ladle (chashaku). We need 1 to 1 ½ heaping tea ladles of matcha powder and about 1/3 of a tea bowl of water which should be at 80 degrees Celsius.
To brew matcha, we must pour the matcha powder into a tea bowl. Second, we gently pour the hot water over the matcha powder. Next, using a quick back and forth motion, we whisk the mixture until it smooth and then serve it in the tea bowl. That’s it. Matcha powder does not actually dissolve into the water so it’s best to drink the matcha before the particles settle at the bottom of the tea bowl.
Matcha is best served with traditional Japanese sweets such as dango, daifuku, or zenzai because the bitter taste of it is gently balanced by the mildly sweet taste of the sweets. Some other teas which are not to be forgotten are gyokuro, sencha, and bancha tea. Gyokuro tea is a very mellow and sweet tea and can be served hot or cold. Sencha is an everyday green tea, and bancha is a course-leaf tea which comes in three varieties: yanagi, hojicha, and genmaicha. Yanagi tea is a course-leaf tea, hojicha is a roastedyanagi, and genmaicha is a blend of yanagi and roasted rice. We often see genmaicha translated into English as brown rice tea.
Depending on the weather, you can drink any of these teas cold (except hojicha because it is a roasted tea). To make cold tea, just put the leaves in cold water instead of hot water and wait for the leaves to unravel inside the teapot. Of course, we have all heard that drinking tea is good for our health, especially green tea. The reason for this lies in the fact that green tea is rich in catechin polyphenols, particularly one called EGCG.
EGCG is a powerful antioxidant and has been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. It also lowers cholesterol, helps arthritis, increases immune function, slows or stops infection, helps burn calories, prevents tooth decay and food poisoning, and reduces skin inflammation. In fact, green tea is to Japan what red wine is to France. Research has proven that although the French have a rich diet high in fat, they have a low rate of heart disease. And although 75 percent of Japanese men are smokers, they also have a low rate of heart disease. Research has also shown that EGCG in green tea is twice as strong as resveratrol, which is the antioxidant found in red wine.
However, not all teas are created equal. Green, oolong, and other black teas all come from the same leaf. The reason green tea keeps the EGCG is because its leaves are steamed, not fermented like the other teas. So while all teas have some health benefits, green is the way to go. Now if that doesn’t convince you to start drinking green tea, I don’t know what will. Go green.