I left my heart in Tokyo – what you can do to help Japan

As we still reel from our own natural disasters in Australia and New Zealand, our attention turns to Japan.  And as so many of us feel compelled to ‘do something’ this week I’m joining fellow bloggers to raise funds for relief.  Let me show you a few ways you may like to help as I share with you some of the magic of Tokyo and Japan, from a dietitian’s perspective.

Japanese do it better

Now, you probably appreciate that the Japanese do a lot of things right, when it comes to a healthy diet.  Many of us have embraced sushi eating and noodle bars with a passion and teriyaki, sukiyaki and sake are no longer foreign words.  Probably the most remarkable thing about the Japanese diet is the wide variety of foods, just pick up a train station bento box and see.

Then there are the Okinawans.  Residents of an island in Japan that has more than its fair share of healthy, active centenarians.  Okinawans live differently than the Japanese mainland population and very differently to the Western world.  Like mainland Japan they eat mainly a plant based diet with a great variety of vegetables – seaweeds and sea vegetables;  bamboo shoots, lotus root, spinach, eggplant, various mushrooms like shiitake, sweet potato and Chinese cabbage.  Plus a little fish and soy and the right amounts of dietary fats.  Green tea is a staple drink which is rich in antioxidants.  Okinawans however also enjoy their own unique, ancient hero foods like turmeric tea and bitter melon.  But it’s also their distinct lifestyle habits like daily physical activity, maintenance of a lifelong healthy weight, a self-responsibility for health and enjoying strong social and community support, which sets the islanders apart.

Even in urbanised Japan one of the dietary guidelines advises to “Make all activities pertaining to food and eating pleasurable ones”.  Japanese families appreciate home cooking, regularly eat together and use the mealtime as an occasion for family communication.

Dietitian’s Disneyland

The other thing you need to know about Japan is that they have their fair share of expert dietitians.  In Australia we have around 5,000 Accredited Practising Dietitians.  In the USA there are over 70,000 Registered Dietitians.  And Japan? Well on last official count from the International Confederation of Dietetic Associations, 56,941.  What does that tell me? For a country the size of Japan, there is a strong commitment to preserving their health and nutrition status.  I was fortunate to see the fantastic work dietitians do in schools during a visit to Tokyo three years ago.  Part of a media tour to learn about probiotic research and Yakult, we were given a rare treat to dine in a classroom with the dietitian, teachers and students.  Dietitians play a big role in schools.  They work with food service to source the best ingredients and design nutritious menus based on the traditional diet.  They provide food and nutrition education from the classroom to the school’s kitchen garden. They monitor and report on childhood growth, development and health. And they liaise and educate parents and the wider community.  How about that?

Oh my

So how did you first hear about the Japan quake and tsunami? Perhaps you were like me and heard first hand from a little bird called Twitter? I was out to dinner with family when the tweets came flying in and I was so pleased to see my Tokyo Twitter friend, Dietitian Kayo who tweets as @mameo65 pop into the stream.  “Are you ok I tweeted?” And back came a “yes, I’m ok” reply from an office block in stricken Tokyo, minutes after the disaster.  Since then I’ve been sending daily tweets of support to her and also providing some nutrition articles on food and disaster relief that she is circulating.  Many colleagues have joined in and Eucale Stanes APD has used google translator to help.  So if you’re feeling helpless, why not drop a comment of support to @mameo65 on twitter or below.  Believe me, she appreciates it.

The other thing I’m doing is encouraging you to donate funds, if you can. A group of bloggers have put together For Japan With Love and it has a direct link on the website (see the red cross on the top right) to our specific fundraising page for ShelterBox.  ShelterBox was one of the first organisations asked by Japan to help and were on hand on the Saturday after the quake.  Each large, green ShelterBox is tailored to a disaster but typically contains a disaster relief tent for an extended family, blankets, water storage and purification equipment, cooking utensils, a stove, a basic tool kit, a children’s activity pack and other vital items.

So over to you lovely readers, what do you Love About Japan?

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