Hazardous food

The beef on imported US beef is that the US did not uphold their end of the agreement. Just one careless beef plant in the US was enough for Japan to halt all beef imports from the US for a second time. Japan was right in reinstating the beef ban. After all, when you make an agreement and can’t uphold your end of it, there should be consequences. Otherwise, there is no meaning in having an agreement.

Now the US is throwing a temper tantrum and claiming that Japan is being too extreme. Although I would very much like to see US beef in Japanese supermarkets again (instead of only Aussie beef), the damage to the reputation of US beef has been done. We even saw a Japanese TV program interviewing US beef inspectors who say that the beef inspection system in the US is very lax. That something like this was bound to happen, and likely to happen again.

Japan wants to protect its people from hazardous food. This is a noble thing, but the irony is that we in Japan are more likely to suffer ill effects from food already widely approved, available, and consumed. I wonder if anybody in Japan thinks about the level of mercury and other toxic stuff in the countless tons of fish (especially tuna) we eat. I remember some years ago, there was an official government warning that pregnant women should refrain from eating certain kinds of fish due to the mercury levels. I think swordfish was one of the fish on the don’t eat list.

I was pretty shocked by the announcement and for a time avoided eating the fish on the mercury list. It is very risky for the government or any person of influence (such as a high-profile newscaster) to say that any kind of food should not be consumed. The industry subsisting on that product will suffer seriously if the public stops consuming it. A serious backlash can result. So it’s rare to hear any official announcement telling us not to consume any specific thing.

This is unfortunate since there are so many consumables out there harmful to human health. Sugar and tobacco first come to mind. Sugar is in almost everything, in junk food as well as supposedly nutritious food such as breakfast cereal. Sports drinks and tonyu (liquid tofu) drinks also have a lot of sugar. You can get fat drinking too much sports drinks in summer.

As for cigarettes, the system in Japan is geared to encourage people to smoke. Cigarette vending machines abound in Japan. Kids have no problem buying cigarettes. The Japanese government cannot afford to live without the tax income from tobacco. (For non-smokers, the situation is improving as we see more non-smoking train cars and non-smoking areas in cofee shops and restaurants.)

Personally, what worries me the most are the bento boxes. Those ubiquitous bento boxes made of plastic or styrofoam are actually poisonous when heated. When hot food comes into contact with the plastic container, toxic substances leech out of the plastic and enter the food. It seems that the same thing occurs when you heat up the bento in the microwave. The saran wrap used to cover food in microwave ovens also leeches out poison into the food.

One way to minimize this problem is to consume the hot food as soon as possible, before the food gets too contaminated by the container. Or to promptly transfer the food to a non-plastic container.

I don’t know if there’s a connection, but it is a fact that the sperm count of younger Japanese men is lower than in middle-aged men’s gonads. All these hazardous foods are affecting the population slowly but surely. If the government really cares about food quality, I hope that they start paying attention to these less obvious but more harmful things. Coupled with the record low birthrate, hazardous food is a double whammy to Japan’s population.

I can only recommend eating a wide variety of food from a variety of sources. Don’t eat too much of anything. I always alternate between meat and fish. I eat vegetables and fruits every day. I buy my groceries at different supermarkets and not at the same one all the time. My problem is that I have a sweet tooth so I often crave sweets. But I try to minimize my sugar consumption by not buying ice cream or chocolate in a box or case. I buy only one ice cream cone or one bar of chocolate at a time. I try to remind myself that the amount of calories in one little cookie is equivalent to the energy you spend swimming for 30 min. Being a semi-regular swimmer myself, I know that that’s a lot of energy. Hope you all eat healthily.

Leaking personal info

Time and again, we hear in the news that personal info has been leaked on a mass scale in Japan. It occurs in a number of ways. A policeman’s laptop is stolen from his patrol car. A school teacher or policeman’s laptop stuffed with private info about students or crime victims is taken home and a virus carries away the info. Quite a few police departments in Japan have leaked info from laptops. The Self-Defense Force, banks, credit card companies, etc., etc., have been guilty of leaking private personal info inadvertantly or purposely by an insider.

A file-sharing program called Winny has gained notoriety in Japan for its involvement in a number of these personal info leaks. The police in Japan are forced to use their own personal laptops because the force does not provide laptops. However, some government agencies are now beginning to provide official laptops to their staff. Winny of course will be one program that will be prohibited from being in the computer.

A few years ago, my credit card company called DC Card reported that the credit card info of their customers have been leaked. To be on the safe side, they changed the credit card numbers and issued new credit cards to all their customers. I did not suffer any ill effects, but it was worrisome to hear about it and inconvenient to change my credit card number registered at Amazon, etc.

Together with my new credit card from DC Card, was a mass-printed letter of apology and a gift certificate. Ah, that was nice of them I thought. Probably worth at least 5,000 yen or 10,000 yen that I could use at my local super market, I thought. But when I opened the gift certificate envelope, I was shocked. It was worth exactly 500 yen. Yes, a whopping five-zero-zero. Less than $5.

I and another friend who had DC Card felt like fools. I’m surprised that there was no class-action lawsuit taken against the company. They probably have a clause in the contract saying that they are not libel for such things. That we use their service at our own risk. I later quit DC Card and signed up for another credit card at a different company.

Earthquake scandals

Another scandal is surfacing regarding falsified building designs for earthquake resistance. This time it’s an architect in Sapporo, Hokkaido. This does not surprise me at all.

When I first heard of the Aneha scandal, another architect who did the same thing for hotels and condominiums, I knew it was just the tip of the iceberg.

To be sure, laws have been broken and unethical practices have come to light. As a result, some of the defective buildings are slated to be torn down and rebuilt. That’s fine, but the fact remains that most buildings in Japan are still vulnerable to catastrophic earthquakes.

Traditional Japanese homes, temples (except pagodas), and shrines made of wood are death traps during powerful quakes. But ironically, no one is clamoring for them to be torn down and rebuilt. In Jan. 1995, I visited Kobe 10 days after the deadly earthquake that killed over 5,000. (My photos here.)

There was a definite and obvious pattern to how and which buildings collapsed. The traditional Japanese houses made of wood and kawara tile roofs hardly stood a chance withstanding the quake. The 2nd floor collapsed onto the first floor. I was shocked to see such destruction since most of my relatives and friends in Japan live in such homes.

Multi-story apartment buildings and office buildings made of concrete also collapsed, usually on the ground floor or on a floor halfway up the building. The buildings which had a parking space on the ground floor supported by stilt-like columns collapsed on that floor. Such buildings are so common in Japan. Without ample supporting walls, those stilts ain’t strong enough in a strong earthquake. I would avoid living in such buildings. Not only that, damaged columns supporting the bullet train tracks revealed large pieces of wood mixed in the concrete. Somebody tried to reduce the amount of concrete in the pillars with the wood. It obviously weakened the strength of the pillar. Watered-down concrete is also another cost-reduction measure known to exist.

Since it’s near impossible and impractical to tear down and rebuild all of Japan’s vulnerable buildings, there should be a national program to reinforce homes and buildings to at least not collapse on the occupants. Since the Kobe quake, I’ve noticed highways and subway stations being reinforced. The same should be implemented for homes. Although the media attention focuses on the current architect design scandals, they are missing the bigger picture.

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