Daily Archives: 2 June 2004

Beriberi, White Rice, and Vitamin B

Danny Yee has posted an interesting review of Beriberi, White Rice, and Vitamin B by Kenneth Carpenter (U. California Press, 2000).

As we now know, beriberi is caused by nutritional deficiency of thiamin (vitamin B1), most commonly associated with reliance on polished white rice. But establishing this, isolating the “vitamin” responsible, and implementing appropriate public health measures was a long and complex process. In Beriberi, White Rice, and Vitamin B Kenneth Carpenter makes of it a fine “medical detective story”….

Regimented groups such as soldiers, sailors, and prisoners were common sufferers; with standardised diets and centralised records, these were also the target of most studies. The Japanese Navy largely eliminated beriberi (kakk&eacute) around 1895; naval doctor Kanehiro Takaki thought protein deficiency was the problem, but the measures he implemented worked anyway. The army, however, was convinced beriberi was an infectious disease and suffered over 90,000 cases in the 1905 war against Russia.

The name “beriberi” originated in Southeast Asia, where it had become widespread with the colonial introduction of machine milling of rice. Work on the disease was done by the Dutch in Java, most notably by Christiaan Eijkman, who shared the 1929 Nobel prize for studies using chickens, and by the British in Malaysia and the Americans in the Philippines. Some kind of consensus was reached at the first meetings of the Far Eastern Association of Tropical Medicine in 1910 and 1912….

There were disagreements over how much thiamin is needed, whether extra amounts had any beneficial effect, and what public health measures should be implemented. There were various modifications to the production and preparation of rice in Japan and Southeast Asia, while the United States and Britain made addition of thiamin to white bread compulsory during WWII. Australia mandated enrichment of bread and flour in 1991, but in 1998 was still considering the compulsory addition of thiamin to beer, to reduce the incidence in alcoholics of Korsakoff’s syndrome.

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Muninn at Chanpon on "Losing the Soul of Japan"

The Muninn blogger has an essay up on the Chanpon site (“Multicultural Japan Online”) entitled Losing the Soul of Japan, in which he examines the tendency in Japan to depict foreigners in the role of preserving traditional Japanese values. It starts with him accompanying two Korean friends to a Shinto shrine to pay respects to the Japanese kami and gain assistance in their studies at Tokyo University. To anyone who knows the history of Korea under Japanese rule, this is as shocking as Koreans voluntarily changing their names to Japanese.

Then he sees a poster of “a Hungarian woman wearing an Aikido hakama … standing in the defensive pose of her martial art.”

In large text to the left, the poster quotes from a letter she has supposedly written which begins, “Dear mom, Japan has the Way of the Kami spirits.” The letter, written in Japanese, is shown in full in one corner of the poster …

The primary message of this poster becomes clear in the body of its text. In addition to describing a bit of Shinto culture, the poster notes, “The heart of Nippon that we Japanese have forgotten is for her a natural part of every day life.” (「私たち日本人が忘れかけたニッポンの心が彼女の毎日には当たり前のように息づいている」) The mechanic used to promote Shinto in this poster is one of shame. The Japanese have forgotten their “soul” or core culture, while it has become a natural part of this Hungarian woman’s life. In other words, this foreigner respects, appreciates, and practices that which we, the Japanese, have forgotten: the soul of Japan….

I believe the message of this poster and the lament over the “vanishing” of Japanese culture (again, nothing unique to this country) to be slowly on its way out. There is a newfound pride amongst a younger generation in Japan’s eminently exportable fashion and pop culture. The time will come when the almost derogatory addition of the word “pop,” will no longer be seen as necessary to distinguish it from something elite, pure, and legitimate. Like Japan’s traditional arts, Japan’s newest cultural exports were not “born pure” Japanese, being a derivation of a combination of influences. Unlike Japan’s traditional arts, however, its bastard origins are recognized and celebrated as such, and few would suggest that it is in anyway tied essentially to their identity as Japanese.

I called my friends over to look at the poster in which I had invested so much thought. They simply shook their heads at me and one said, in her characteristically flawless Japanese, “Yuk, I hate those freaky foreigners who love everything about Japanese culture.” I asked them if the Kami of Learning had given its blessing to their graduate studies. My attempt at a comeback went entirely unnoticed.

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Ukiyoe Animé

This is just too cool: animated Ukiyoe (‘floating world pictures’) –> Ugokie (‘moving pictures’). The latter consists of a gallery with labels crediting the original artist whose work inspired the animation. The labels are only in Japanese, but you don’t have to know a lot to recognize Hiroshige, Hokusai, the 36 views of Mt. Fuji, the 53 stages of the Tokaido, or even Utamaro and Eizen.

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