Tuesday, May 29, 2001

California Raisins

We're down to the last of the red boxes of raisins that we bought in bulk some time ago. About the size of a box of caramels, they came 24 in a package. In about 2 months, we've had them for breakfast, used them in cakes, and gave them to friends. At about 27 yen a box, that means we used about 1/3 of a box per day for a cost of 8 yen/day. It may seem like a lot, but my wife also made a jar of rum raisins which we still have. I'd be interested in knowing just what the raisin consumption is in the United States, the heart of the world's largest producing region.

When she saw the red box of raisins, my 77 year old mother exclaimed, "Oh, this really brings back memories." My mother used to eat these raisins out of the box when she was young. That means, then, that the packaging hasn't changed since the mid 1920's. Although the United States is the world's leader in technology, it also seems to respect time-honored traditions. Raisins are produced in Kingsburg, California, located in the San Joaquin Valley. A huge 9 feet replica of the red raisin box is at the entrance to the 130 acre processing plant. Founded in 1912, the grower-owned cooperative presently consists of 1600 vineyards located within a 25 mile radius of the plant. They decided on the name "Sun-maid" in 1914, using a play on the words "made" and "maid". The picture used on the front of the box has changed slightly three times since then, but the model has always been the same.

Sun-maid raisins are produced from Thompson Seedless Grapes. This thin-skinned, light-green grape, when dried in the sun, becomes the dark purple color, characteristic of raisins. Beginning in the spring, the grape vines are regularly irrigated, a process which continues through the summer. During late August, when the grapes have attained their optimum sweetness, the grape bunches are hand-picked and arranged on rows of clean paper trays next to the vines. They are left to dry naturally in the sun for two to three weeks and then placed in wooden bins and transported to the processing plant. One pound of raisins is equal to approximately 4 pounds of grapes! The size package that I bought was first introduced in 1921. Mothers in the U.S. apparently packed them in lunches for their children to take to school. So, on average, children in the U.S. would eat a box a day--three times what we consume here in Japan!

- MT

Thursday, May 24, 2001

Cabbage Seedlings

My wife bought us a cabbage seedling to grow in a planter. At our house, we already have a planter with lettuce, and two pots of eggplant, and one each of bell peppers, green peppers, mini tomatoes, paprika and parsley, all of which my wife bought. The lettuce is already big enough to eat, so, once every 4-5 days, we take a few leaves from the outside of the plant and use it in salads and such, but since it isn't enough to use everyday, we bought another seedling today. Watching my wife make this purchase, I asked her to buy the cabbage seedling as well.

When young, the leaves of the cabbage plant, like any other type of vegetation, are turned upward. However, as it grows and matures, the leaves begin to curl into a sphere shape. Wanting to see this, I asked my wife to make this purchase. Moreover, cabbage is delicious, can be used in Japanese, Western and Chinese-style cooking, and is also very high in Vitamin C. Although quite hardy, and comparatively resilient against garden pests, it's the worms that hatch from the eggs of the white diamond-back moths that are the most troublesome. These moths come to our yard, but, not too many in number, so I'm optimistic about our "crop."

My wife once read the following story in a book. It seems that a visitor to Japan was surprised at one thing in particular. That is, he could understand the lack of space in this crowded country, but he couldn't get over at how, in Tokyo, and other large cities, the Japanese planted cabbage, right in the middle of the street in the center dividers. The author of the book, being Japanese, couldn't quite understand what this visitor meant, but finally realized that the personwas referring, not to cabbage plants, but to kale. Since hearing this story, I laugh when I drive along the streets of the city and see kale planted in these center dividers. But, since kale is a member of the cabbage family, perhaps this type of mistake isn't all that outlandish. Also in the same category are Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.

Everyone knows the story of how the stork brings babies into the world, but, in England, legend has it that babies come from cabbage patches. Looking at the firm, round cabbage heads, doesn't it seem somehow as though there is, indeed, something very precious inside?

- MT

Wednesday, May 16, 2001

Smoking Kills

The EU today announced a regulation for tobacco companies, stating that the warnings, "Smoking kills", "Smokers will die early", be printed clearly on all cigarette packaging beginning the end of September 2001. Furthermore, starting in September 2003, the use of brand names with wording such as "Mild" or "Light" will be prohibited.

For those, including me, who dislike smoking, this is a welcome move. I would like to see similar measures taken in Japan as soon as possible. However, JT (Japan Tobacco), which makes a great profit from the "Mild Seven" brand, has issued a statement saying that the use of the terms "Mild" and/or "Light" is a trademark right and they "will be taking appropriate measures, including litigation" to contest this decision. From the standpoint of business ethics, I think this is a shameful attitude.

Presently in Japan, the greatest cause for unnatural deaths is lung cancer. Up until a few years ago, the leading cause was stomach cancer, but, as the Boomer Generation reaches their 50's, the number of lung cancer-related deaths has increased dramatically. Behind these deaths is the sad fact that the cigarette-loving Boomers have not been able to give up smoking. In a symposium, "Cancer Prevention in the 21 Century--Learning from the Decline in the U.S.", held on April 27th of this year, the President of the Japan Medical Association, Dr. Eikou Tsuboi, emphasizing that the first and foremost cause for lung cancer is smoking during adolescence, stated that, "Lung cancer is 30 times more prevalent in those who began smoking at age 15 or under than those who did not." "Furthermore, results of a study show that, the lung cancer death rate is 4.5 times higher in smokers than in non-smokers, 32.5 times higher in larynx cancer cases, 2.9 times higher in cancer of the mouth, and 2.2 times higher in cases of cancer of the esophagus."

At Seicho-No-Ie International Headquarters, smoking and non-smoking areas were established some time ago, but it's only recently--this year in fact--that general "No Smoking" regulations have been implemented at my Grand Seminars. With this decision by the EU, Japan should change the vague packaging labels that state, "Smoking may be damaging to your health". In the United States there are warnings on cigarette packs that clearly state, "Surgeon General's Warning: Smoking By Pregnant Women May Result in Fetal Injury, Premature Birth, And Low Birth Weight", or "Surgeon General's Warning: Smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and may complicate pregnancy." Some states even prohibit outdoor advertising for cigarettes within a certain distance from schools. Increasing the cost of cigarettes may be another deterrent. In Canada and/or Northern Europe, a pack of cigarettes costs anywhere from the equivalent of 500 yen to as much as 700 yen. If we, too, (in Japan) take similar measures, as well as outlaw cigarette vending machines, we should, at the very least, be able to significantly reduce the number of middle school-age smokers.

- MT