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?

'I left my heart in Tokyo – what you can do to help Japan' have 14 comments

  1. March 17, 2011 @ 11:39 pm rebecca

    wonderful post we went to Japan a few years ago its such a special country 🙂 thanks for doing this Emma


  2. March 18, 2011 @ 2:26 pm Tara Diversi

    Great post Emma, Growing up in Cairns I’ve always had strong links to Japan and it’s people. They have done a great job with their nutrition and it is no wonder the health of their people is so great. It is hugs and hopes that they can rebuild from this structurally, emotionally and economically. Good job to For Japan with Love.


  3. March 18, 2011 @ 3:01 pm Karen Fittall

    Nice post Em… and fantastic pics from our School Visit! Brings back good memories. So much to love about Japan, but the way the feed their kiddies when they’re at school is definitely a highlight. Thanks for the heads up on For Japan with Love and ShelterBox. xx


  4. March 18, 2011 @ 4:27 pm Karen Inge

    Good on you Emma for working out a way we can all help our Japanese friends. Having spent time with our mutual friend from Yakult last Sunday, we all know how stoic and resilient the Japanese people are. But they need our help now…so let’s get on board and show our support and friendship


  5. March 18, 2011 @ 8:45 pm Emma Stirling

    Thanks everyone. To date $26,000 has been raised so far from over 1,000 bloggers. Updates soon.


  6. March 18, 2011 @ 9:07 pm Kate Cody

    I had an intense city escape to Tokyo for a week 8 years ago with my husband without any kids. Our trip was inspired by the film Lost in Translation so we followed a bit of a trail. There memorable bar food and wine and the amazing cellar at the Park Hyatt Roppingi. And another great night in the dimly lit nightclub Fabrique where we ate Italian style thin crust pizza. Of course there were many lunches of fresh fresh conveyor belt sushi, and ramen and udon and even amazing French pastries and coffee for breakfast on the street. Seemed impossible to put a foot wrong when it came to food, technology or fashion. A truly sensory experience. I do also remember being shocked by the number of homeless people living in the park in cardboard huts. It didn’t fit my notion of Tokyo as a rich city. And now there are many thousands homeless. Thank you Emma for helping us to see we can find a way to help. I hope to go back there soon. They’ll need tourist dollars.


  7. March 19, 2011 @ 9:19 pm Fleur

    Great post.
    Wonderful to see how the blogging community can help those in need.


  8. March 28, 2011 @ 1:11 pm Emma Stirling

    We are now over $59,000 raised. Amazing!


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  14. October 31, 2014 @ 8:26 pm Jonny

    Hi Emma,

    I am a Physiotherapy student with a major passion for Japan and its culture. I have recently considered transferring to Nutrition & Dietetics in a bid to one day consult in Japan, and try to draw the younger generation back to their traditional Japanese diet which you mention in your above article. It is very disheartening how the vast majority of young Japanese people are now gravitating towards westernised/processed foods, with an obsession on energy rather than quality.

    My question to you Emma, if time permits, is whether you came across many foreign nutritionists working over in Japan, or whether you think there is much demand to consult? That would be my dream.

    Thanks Emma – I would be sincerely grateful if you could shed some light on my question.

    Healthy regards,


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