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Japan-China Relations: The Power of Gyoza March 20, 2008

Posted by genchan in Asian, China, Food, Health, Japan, Politics.
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Who would have thought that gyozas can become an issue affecting high level bilateral ties between two nations. Then again, nothing seems too surprising when it comes to Sino-Japanese relationship. For those who are fully aware of the icy thin political relations between the two Asian giants, one can’t help but ponder what next.

The gyoza saga is receiving high level attention simply because proper mechanisms are not in place to handle such incidents at the lower level. Certainly, more of such issues would crop up in the not-so-distant future considering the fact that bilateral trade is on the rise and the demand for cheaper food products is there in Japan.

However, cheaper foods can also mean improper food preparation to cut cost. This is where the gap lies – the stringent requirements of food preparation by the Japanese and the lack of legislation to ensure food safety by the Chinese. Unless the gap can be substantially reduced through mechanisms of understanding and enforcement, incidents such as the gyoza issue will continue to prevent healthy recovery of bilateral ties.

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Tainted ‘gyoza’ poisoning bilateral ties

By Frank Ching (The Japan Times, Monday, March 17, 2008)

HONG KONG — The tainted “gyoza” dumpling scare in Japan has caused the delay of President Hu Jintao’s visit to Tokyo and, if not properly handled, could result in the unraveling of the dramatic improvement in bilateral relations achieved since October 2006, when Shinzo Abe broke the ice by visiting Beijing shortly after he became prime minister, followed by Premier Wen Jiabao’s “ice melting” trip to Japan last spring.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda added to the momentum when he visited Beijing and other cities in China last December and invited President Hu Jintao to visit Japan in the spring, “when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.”

Much hinges on this pending visit, which will be the first Chinese presidential visit to Japan in a decade and will fall on the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Sino-Japanese peace and friendship treaty in 1978.

In the dumpling incident, 10 people were taken ill after eating imported Chinese dumplings tainted with an organo-phosphate insecticide called methamidophos. The subsequent media frenzy resulted in thousands of others reporting that they, too, felt sick after eating imported Chinese dumplings.

Consumption of Chinese food plummeted from 57.9 percent before the incident to 21.6 percent afterward. Kyodo News conducted a telephone survey and found that 75.9 percent of respondents said that they “will not use Chinese food from now on.”

China is Japan’s second-largest source of food imports after the United States and accounts for over half its imported frozen products, so the economic impact can be huge. But even more important is the potential damage to the political relationship between the two countries, which has only started to mend recently.

Although both countries agreed to cooperate in investigations into the dumpling incident, their respective investigative agencies ended up arguing over the origin of the toxins found in the dumplings.

Chinese officials have cleared Tianyang Food, in Shijiazhuang, in Hebei province, which made the dumplings, saying its strict quality-control measures make it almost impossible to introduce toxic substances. Chinese police have said there was little chance the dumplings were contaminated in China, directly contradicting the position taken by Japanese police.

Japanese investigators have noted that methamidophos is banned in Japan and so it is unlikely that the contamination took place in Japan.

China is saying that this is not a case of food safety, but rather of sabotage by someone who wants to harm Japan-China relations.

Well, if that is the case, the saboteur has been incredibly successful, as China and Japan are trading accusations. And now, the Hu visit, originally planned for late March or April, has been pushed back to the middle of May.

Moreover, the two sides have still not reached agreement on the dispute over gas exploration in the East China Sea, where there are overlapping territorial claims. They have agreed on the principle of joint development but, so far, there has been no agreement on the exact location where drilling will take place.

However, China has reportedly agreed to recognize a Japanese-drawn median line in the East China Sea. Even if this median line is acknowledged simply for the purposes of joint exploration and not territorial sovereignty, it is still a major step forward.

China’s ambassador to Japan, Cui Tiankai, has said the issue will be sorted out before President Hu’s trip. This issue, too, could cause a delay of the presidential visit.

What with the Abe-Wen-Fukuda visits, the two countries have been on a roll, and momentum for the improvement of relations has been building up over the last 17 months. However, if the dumpling issue and the East China Sea dispute continue to drag on, this momentum could be lost.

Actually, if need be, the two countries can set aside the dumpling issue and focus on the bigger issue of food safety. On that, it is clear, their interests are identical. China needs to export and Japan needs to import food, and this can only work if steps are taken to ensure that the food is safe from production through its appearance on supermarket shelves.

The disclosure that the Chinese parliament, the National People’s Congress, is considering food safety legislation is an encouraging sign and, one hopes, the saga of tainted Chinese food products may be coming to an end.

A breakthrough on the East China Sea is also vital. The presidential trip cannot be delayed indefinitely. The cherry blossoms, after all, start to bloom in late March and it is a stretch to say that they are still blooming in mid-May. But there can be no further delay.

How’s your brain health? January 4, 2007

Posted by genchan in General, Health, Lifestyle, Social.
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An avid supporter of anything that promotes health, I decided to blog a bit on the ways to stay ‘brain active’.

The Alliance for Aging Research, a non-profit citizen advocacy organization based in Washington, offers ten steps to keep our brains healthy. Below are the ten steps as reported in Yahoo! News (1.1.07):

  1. Eat a Brain-Healthy Diet. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids (commonly found in fish), protein, antioxidants, fruits and vegetables and vitamin B; low in trans fats; and with an appropriate level of carbohydrates will help keep your brain healthy.
  2. Stay Mentally Active. Activities such as learning a new skill or language, working on crossword puzzles, taking classes, and learning how to dance can help challenge and maintain your mental functioning.
  3. Exercise Regularly. Exercising often can increase circulation, improve coordination, and help prevent conditions that increase the risk of dementia such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
  4. Stay Social. Spending time with friends, volunteering, and traveling can keep your mind active and healthy.
  5. Get Plenty of Sleep. Not getting enough sleep can have a negative impact on brain health.
  6. Manage Stress. Participating in yoga, spending time with friends, or doing other stress-relieving activities can help preserve your ability to remember and learn.
  7. Prevent Brain Injury. Wearing protective head gear and seat belts can help you avoid head injury, which has been associated with an increased risk of dementia.
  8. Control Other Health Conditions. Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet, and controlling stress can help reduce your risk of diseases that affect your brain, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and hypertension.
  9. Avoid Unhealthy Habits. Smoking, heavy drinking and use of recreational drugs can increase the risk of dementia and cognitive decline.
  10. Consider Your Genes. If your family history puts you at risk for developing dementia, work with your doctor to find ways to maintain your brain health to help avoid or slow the progression of cognitive decline.

These ten steps are not extraordinary or uncommon. You have probably heard about them over and over again. They are what your parents have been nagging you when you stay up late watching TV, engage in drinking and smoking, lazing on the sofa the whole day while munching on that favorite french fries, or disliking certain types of veges. While most of them are familiar to all of us, its interesting to note that learning something new be it for work or for leisure has positive implications for the health of our brains which is said to decline with age.

Apart from learning, which is mainly an input activity, it is important to balance it with output, i.e. the ability to express ourselves through words and actions by staying social. Having an active circle of friends could help us to unwind, gain feedback and exchange ideas/thoughts thus training our brain to remain vibrant and fresh.

As the steps clearly show, ensuring our brain health cannot be separated from having a fit body. Yet, there is one thing that is beyond our ability to control (at least at present) and that is what we inherited through our genes. So as long as we stay clear of the last point above, lets get working on the remaining nine steps and prevent cognitive decline.  

Leading by example? December 7, 2006

Posted by genchan in General, Health, Japan, Lifestyle.
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02.jpg 01.jpg In Japan, metabolic syndrome has become a buzzword, a hot topic of sort and more and more people are paying attention to it. Its one of those health related issues that tend to plague industrialized countries, often affecting middle-aged people.

It starts with some extra padding around the waist, from a harmless bicycle tyre size to a harmful tractor tyre size bulging. Its not so much about physical appearance but internal effects that could raise one’s blood pressure and sugar level bringing about lifestyle related diseases such as diabetes, stroke and others.

 This has got people all worked up, thanks to the media. Now, the fitness industry is seeing a boom in business as people become more aware of their health risk and seek for ways to change their unhealthy lifestyles. Gradually, there have been a renewed interests in health equipments targeting home users and over-the-counter health food/supplements for those too lazy to sweat out in a local gym.

 Surprisingly, two Vice Ministers of Health, Labor and Welfare are trying to lead by example in a rare attempt of showing off their pot bellies as they are being measured and keeping to a simple health program for 6 months – here. Their goals? One aims to reduce his weight by 5 kg and waistline by 5cm while the other by 6kg and 6cm. Both are currently over 80kgs with a waist circumference of about 100cm.

And their program would be? Taking 10 min walks, avoid using elevators, avoid sweet carbonated drinks, reduce to 1 can of beer a day, reduce oily and fried food to a meal a day, and to take no more than 3 meals a day.

Noble! But how big a deal is loosing 5 or 6kgs over a period of 6 months based on the program above? Not much I would say. That was my first thought when I first read about it. Its hardly a diet and says nothing about metabolic syndrome let alone leading by example.

I guess that’s the best they can do or willing to do. They have until May 2007 before they are being measured again.

Blood flow thickness – a myth November 26, 2006

Posted by genchan in Health, Japan.
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In Japan, there is a widespread believe that the thickness of our blood flow – whether its swift (サラサラ) or sludgy (ドロドロ) – relates to our health – good or bad. In recent years, this believe has taken roots thanks to TV variety shows showing how blood flows in a medical machine where some peoples’ blood flow swiftly while some others get stuck and become sludgy. It feeds on the simple understanding that clean flow represents good health while sludgy flow (as in the image of mud) shows bad health.

This, unfortunately, has led to money making opportunities in capitalist Japan ranging from food items to health gadgets said to correct blood flow imbalance.

Finally, the truth has come out. A group of prominent doctors on a regular TV program decided to correct this misunderstanding. Put simply, its a myth. A bogus idea probably started by someone to earn money off people’s fears.

According to them, blood flow has nothing to do with our health condition. Blood flow can appear swift when we are relaxed and gets sludgy at times when we are stressed or under pressure. In short, our blood flow fluctuates and is capable of correcting itself. This indeed is good news! It is amazing to think how sometimes we can be fooled into believing something by taking things at face value.

While we are on the subject, be aware of bogus claim that shows blood cells overlapping each other or chapped shape of the cell on a microscope as an indication of bad health/disease. The former is due to the thickness of blood sample on the glass slide making the cells appear overlapping while the latter is due to time – a 20 sec exposure to air could cause the blood cell to die off showing chapped shape on the microscope. 

And while we are on the subject of health, let it be known as well that there is no real prove of a link between blood type and personality. This was made clear by the doctors as well. In Japan, young people especially women tend to assign personality/attitude to the four blood types. Some even go as far as choosing their life partner based on this. Just ask yourself if we can easily categorize 6 billion people on this planet into just 4 blood types, life would be a breeze.

Now, have you ever noticed greenish or blue-black veins (静脈) appearing on the surface of your skin, especially around your calf or behind your knee? It normally affects middle-aged women and is considered a disease by the doctors. This is because if left untreated, it could lead to skin disease and even death. Often, it happens to people who stand a lot (e.g. waiter or hairdresser), experienced pregnancy, etc. Its due to blood pressure flowing badly up. You can see it on your hands as well – it will appear/swell when you put your hands down and disappear when you lift them up above your heart level. So, how do you treat it? Either cut it off or kill it with laser or injection.