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We hear the word “superfood” more and more nowadays. Superfood often indicates a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being or a food that may even help some medical conditions due to the particularly high levels of certain nutrients it may have. We often hear of the benefits of acai berries and chia seeds from supermodels and celebrities incorporating these foods in their diet.
Well, in fact there are many superfoods of Japan that are low in calories yet are filled with nutrients! I’m sure most of you have already heard of or tried edamame (soy bean) which you often see at Izakaya. Edamame is a superfood because of the high levels of protein, potassium, Vitamin B1 and iron which makes it a super nutritious yet low calorie food.
The superfoods introduced here are not any premium ingredients but are rather simple foods that can be easily incorporated into your daily diet. Why not incorporate these delicious and accessible ingredients into your diet for a healthy lifestyle?
Natto is not just simply “good for your health”, it’s benefits include, antioxidant, detoxification, water retention, boosting your metabolism, improving your skin tone… the list goes on. It’s good as baby food, and for adults, you can boost its health benefits by eating it with kimchi or egg.
The most standard way of eating it is eating it as a natto-bowl topped on rice. You can also eat it as a sushi-roll, which may be more accessible since you can buy it at the conbini. If you are not really a fan of the slimy texture or the distinct smell, the dried natto snacks may be a crunchy and easier way for you to try it.
In fact, the benefits of natto are not only for eating. Recently, other benefits of natto such as its use in eco-friendly detergents and water-cleansing powers are being studied. Its water retention powers are also being studied for use in cosmetics.
Miso helps to stabilize blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It is said to lower the risks of diabetes and adult-onset diseases and helps improve skin tone, prevent osteoporosis and food poisoning. Studies on the benefit of miso are conducted worldwide!
Miso soup and rice is a standard in the Japanese diet. The Japanese incorporating superfoods in the daily diet must have some correlation to the Japanese being known for longevity. I too drink miso soup every day. The instant miso soup where you pour out the packets of miso and ingredients in a bowl and pour hot water over them is a simple way to enjoy different kinds of miso soup everyday!
Another way to enjoy miso other than soup is to use it as a dip on vegetables. Morokyu, which is “cucumber and miso” is a dish you often see at izakaya too. Related: Try Eating Miso: The Japanese Super Food
3. Green Tea
Immunity booster, fat burner, prevention of memory loss, prevention of diabetes, lowering cholesterol, improving memory, preventing bad breath, relieving stress, preventing the flu… the list goes on and on. Green tea is already a popular drink outside of Japan.
4. Nori -Seaweed
First of all, did you know that nori is about 40% protein? Even meats and fish are around 20% so the amount of protein in nori is astonishing! A low calorie, high protein diet is the basics of weight loss but one sheet of nori has about a fifth of protein of an egg so it is quite an amazing source of protein.
Additionally, you may not think so from its black appearance, but nori is an amazing source of vitamin C. It has about 2.1 times the vitamin C of lemon, about 1.75 that of acerola juice, and about 3 times the amount of kiwi or strawberry.
Other than that, nori has about 3 times the carotene of carrot, about 7 times the fiber of burdock, about 14 times the vitamin B1 of eggs, and about 22 times the vitamin B2 of milk.
Vitamin B1 is a vitamin that is deeply related to the functions of nerves and the brain so it is essential for mental health. It also helps to recover fatigue for those of you who are wracking your brain every day at work.
You often hear “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. In Japan, you could say “2 sheets of nori a day keeps the doctor away”!
5. Umeboshi- Pickled Sour Plum
The sour umeboshi contains a lot of citric acid. The benefits of citric acid include recovery from fatigue, helping your body absorb necessary minerals and preventing hardening of the arteries and some liver diseases. Though there are many health benefits, you want to limit the intake because umeboshi contains a lot of salt. Other than the health benefits, citric acid is also known for its anti-bacterial effect.
The karikari-ume, which is a crunchy type of umeboshi can be eaten like a snack. It was a perfect snack to take for strenuous activities such as mountain climbing. The citric acid and sour taste was very refreshing!
6. Hijiki – Seaweed
The hijiki contains many nutritional minerals such as calcium, magnesium and iron. Nutritious seaweed is not limited to the hijiki. Other seaweed such as konbu and wakame are also high in mineral nutrients. They are effective in preventing anemia and helpful in maintaining digestive health.
The standard recipe where hijiki is used is “nimono” or a stewed dish. It’s also good in salads or mixed in with rice. Perhaps the “furikake” which is a ready-made seasoning that you can buy and sprinkle over rice is easy to incorporate into your diet.
7. Okara- Soy Pulp
Okara is the remaining pulp of the soybean after the soy milk is extracted from it. It is a byproduct that is made in the process of making tofu. It has a lot of fiber and is often eaten cooked. Another name for it is the “u no hana”.
About 50% of the oils in the okara is linoleic (or omega-6) fatty acid; an essential fatty acid that must be consumed for proper health. It is also rich in lecithin which is said to improve memory.
The okara, which is low in calories and high in mineral and fibers can be a nutritious addition to salads and mixed dishes. Because the okara itself can be a little bland, some creative ways that it can used is to cook it into a patty like a hamburg steak or mixed in with cookie dough and baked into okara cookies.
Some of the superfoods that are popular overseas can be difficult to purchase in Japan, may get quite pricey and may be difficult to incorporate into your everyday cooking. But don’t let that prevent you from eating these superfoods on a daily basis. In Japan, these traditional Japanese superfoods are easily accessible and reasonably priced. Enjoy these traditional Japanese ingredients for a healthy and delicious diet!
In part 1, I talked about the preparations that I went through in climbing Mount Fuji. In part 2, we’re going for the actual climb! Check out the story for my trip to Mount Fuji, the climb to the summit and walking down Mount Fuji along with some helpful tips learned from actual experience!
See the previous article for a list of 30 Must Bring Items.
First, we have to get to the mountain. I signed up for a bus tour to get to Mount Fuji. The itinerary was….
Meet at Shinjuku >>
Chartered bus to 5th Station of Mt. Fuji (with a couple of rest stops on the way)>>
Climb Mt Fuji >>
Dinner at the mountain lodge, get some sleep>>
Start heading toward the summit at night
Arrive at summit >>
View the sunrise (around 5:00 AM) >>
Climb down the mountain >>
Go to Onsen (hot springs) >>
Back at Shinjuku in the late afternoon
The meeting time was 7:30 in the morning at Shinjuku station. From there we set out for the 5th Station of Mount Fuji. If you take the bus like me, you will get there close to around lunch time so I recommend getting some rest while you’re on the bus.
Arrival at 5th Station
We had some free time at the 5th Station to eat lunch and get dressed. The 5th station is a tourist spot that people visit even if they’re not necessarily aiming to climb the mountain and there are restaurants and gift shops. If you want to get the kongo-zue (a walking stick that you can get stamped), you can get it here and collect stamps at mountain lodges on your way up to the summit.
FYI, most mountain lodges serve curry for dinner so if you eat curry for lunch, you may end up having to eat curry 2 meals in a row. Lol.
If you want to buy souvenirs, I recommend that you buy them BEFORE your climb up the mountain and stow them away in a locker. We did also have some time after we came down the mountain, but I had no energy or motivation to look around and shop after the climb. lol
I have been told that it is not only important to deeply inhale, but to completely exhale. By completely exhaling and emptying out your lungs, you are able to intake more fresh oxygen in your body. Also, since the elements of water (H20) are 2 parts hydrogen and 1 part oxygen, taking in water helps to circulate oxygen in your body. This isn’t to say you should drink large amounts of water (you have to keep in mind that bathrooms are limited) but it’s best to keep taking small sips of water.
There’s a suggested donation for entering the mountain, which is 1,000 Yen. You want to do your part to preserve Mount Fuji, a registered world heritage site. In return you will get a pin.
You can use the bathroom at the 5th station too. You need to pay to use the bathroom at the 5th station and you will have to pay about 200 Yen at each bathroom you use from the 5th station and upward.
We finally start climbing! There are 4 entryways to the mountain and 5 routes in total to climb up Mount Fuji. This time, we used the Yoshida-guchi entryway, and the Fuji Subaru Line route. This is the route that is most recommended for beginners.
If you do take a tour like me, make sure that you check the meeting time and meeting place for when you come back. Since there are 4 entryways into the mountain, if you end up climbing down the mountain to the wrong meeting place, you will have to take a taxi to the right meeting place. This can end up costing you over 10,000 Yen.
From here, you just climb up and up along the route. When you first start, you still have a lot of energy and you have the urge to get to the summit quickly; you feel like you want to keep climbing rather than stopping when you don’t need to. But the climb of Mount Fuji is a long haul. It’s critical to go slow and to get short breaks in between. If you’re climbing with some friends or family, it’s good to chat while you climb so that you are naturally remembering to breath. You will feel that you get short of breath really quickly. This is because of the thinner air.
Taking a 5 minute break about every 20 to 25 minutes even if you’re not necessarily tired can help you in the long run. By taking it slow you can allow your body the time it needs to get used to the altitude. It’s easy to forget to take these breaks or to remember to take them at the right timing. If you have a timer on your watch, it may help to set a timer to remind you to take breaks.
When you climb, remember to walk up alongside the mountain. If you walk on the side of the cliff, there is the risk of falling and the risk of causing rocks to fall which could be harmful to others who are climbing. The call to signal falling rocks is “raaku”. It sounds similar to the English work “rock”. If you hear someone calling this out, watch out for anything falling from above and be prepared to protect yourself, especially your head.
7th Station: Arrival at the Mountain Lodge
We departed around early afternoon and by the time we arrived at the mountain lodge on the 7th station, it was early evening. We finally get to take off our shoes, stretch our legs and get a moment of relaxation. Here we will have dinner served by the mountain lodge and take a power nap.
There are many mountain lodges around the 7th and 8th stations. They say that this is a good area to take some time to rest and prepare yourself for the summit and get your body accustomed to the altitude. In fact, I too was feeling a little lightheaded by the time I was at the 7th station. If you have brought a can of portable oxygen with you, make sure you know how to use it correctly. I have been told that if it is used incorrectly, you can end up making your condition worse. But as I’ve mentioned before, if you keep taking short breaks taking your time up the mountain, and you remember to breath, you shouldn’t have to use the can of oxygen.
I’ve heard that most mountain lodges serve curry for dinner. The lodge I stayed served hamburg steak. If you are a vegetarian and cannot eat meat, it would probably be better to check with the lodge ahead of time. The vegetarian option they had at this lodge was curry. You can have as many helpings of rice as you want. They also gave us a packed meal for breakfast. If you eat this thinking it is part of the dinner, than you will have to climb down the mountain without any breakfast.
Once we finished dinner, we hurried back to our sleeping area to get some rest. The sleeping space allocated to one person is quite small. It must have been about 50cm to 60cm side (less than 2 feet). And of course there are no walls or partitions between each person. Even when you’re trying to sleep you will hear other people snoring or more people coming in getting shown to their sleeping areas. So it’s not like you will have peace and quiet the entire time. If you think this may bother you, it may help to bring an eye mask or ear plugs. I used a tenugui (Japanese towel-like cloth) over my eyes. Make sure to keep quiet and be respectful of others as well.
After a few hours of sleep, we departed again at 10PM. We left a little early because we had heard that the route to the summit was really crowded. We found that we could have even left a little later. The summit is really crowded so you want to get there in time to find a spot for yourself to sit and watch the sunrise. But the earlier you get to the summit, the longer you have to wait in the cold until the sunrise.
When we left the mountain lodge, it was very dark. The stars in the sky were so bright and beautiful. It was a very unique view because we also saw lightening down below us. When you get dressed, make sure you’re wearing just enough so that you feel a little chilly when you’re standing still. Once you start climbing, you will be sweating. And when you sweat and your clothes get wet, the wet clothes will get cold and end up bringing down your body temperature. Make sure to also have your headlamp and gloves ready. You can put your headlamp on your head, or do like I did and wear it around your neck so you can see your footing.
The Courage to Give Up
On the other hand, if you do not feel comfortable going any further, it is also important to have the courage to give up. You need energy to go down the mountain as well. If you don’t feel you will have any reserve energy after making it up to the summit, then it would also be a good idea to give up here. You can still see the sunrise from the 7th Station mountain lodge. In that case, you can rest at the mountain lodge until the morning and start heading down in the morning. Just do make sure you find the right route down the mountain. The route to climb up the mountain is different from the route down the mountain. It’s really strenuous to try to climb down the road meant to go to the summit.
Once we left the mountain lodge, we immediately came across an area where we had to use our hands to support ourselves and climb up rocks… we had just woken up so it was pretty rough. The altitude increases quite rapidly so you have to remember to keep breathing. When you concentrate too much on climbing, you tend to forget to take deep breaths. Also, there aren’t many places where you can rest so if there’s some open space out of the way of other climbers, make sure you try to get a break. At the same time, remember that if you rest for too long, your body can get too cold so shorter breaks just long enough to catch your breath would be recommended. During our breaks we turned off our headlamps and we were able to gaze at the stars. We saw the Milky Way and some shooting stars!
We were all groggy from the lack of sleep, exhaustion and the thinness of air, but we finally made it! At the summit there was a torii (gate). And it was so so cold! We saw some people wrapped in the heat reflective aluminum sheets to keep warm. I went into the mountain lodge there to have a hot bowl of miso soup to warm myself and then found a good spot to wait outside until the 5:00 AM sunrise. I ate the inari-zushi they packed for us at the mountain lodge while we waited. We were dozing off even though it was super cold…
At the summit, you will be able to buy some things that are exclusive to the summit, such as a certificate of climbing, original stamps, postcards… There’s also a post office at the summit and if you mail your postcard or letter from this post office, the letter will be marked with a special postmark from Mount Fuji. You can send a postcard to your friends and family as a memorabilia of your trip. There’s also a mailbox by the post office so if you bring your own postcard and postage stamp, you can still mail things even if the post office is closed.
Goraiko (The Sunrise)
And finally the sunrise!! It was very mystical and amazing. This was what people were talking about when they said “Climb Mount Fuji at least once in a life time”. And once the sun rises the temperature rises really quickly. The power of the sun is so great. It made sense to me why people from ancient times worshiped the sun or practice sun salutations in yoga.
We’ve seen the sunrise so now we prepare for the climb down. First, we take off most of the layered clothes we put on. You have to remember that as you go back down to the 5th Station, you will be going back into the summer heat. Retighten your shoelaces to secure your ankles, and put on your spats. Most of the route down the mountain is gravel roads so you want to make sure you don’t get small pieces of rock in your shoes which not only can be painful but can also lead to injury. Reapply your sunblock, put on your mask, sunglasses and hat and get your stocks ready. Once you’re all prepared, you just keep walking.
Be careful because compared to the route to the summit, there are less mountain lodges and bathrooms on the route to the foot of the mountain. If you find a mountain lodge, first remember to buy enough water for your entire trip down. I would make sure to have at least 500mL. There is not so much a risk of mountain sickness as there was on the way up, but there is still the risk of dehydration.
The climb up is hard, but the walk down is quite harsh on your body as well. There is a huge strain on your knees. The stocks help, but there’s nothing to do but keep walking. It doesn’t take as much time as the climb up, but by the time we finally reached the 5th station, we were so exhausted. We were limp and even trying to change was an ordeal.
We get on the bus once again and head to the onsen (hot springs)! We relaxed our tired bodies in the hot springs and once we were refreshed, we got back on the bus for Shinjuku.
We slept the entire way back to Shinjuku!!
And now our trip to Mount Fuji was over. But the hard part didn’t end there. From the following day, our muscles were so sore. For about a week, I was walking around like a robot-grandma avoiding any stairs. Lol. But no words can describe the sense of achievement and the beautiful scenery. It has become a memory that I will remember for a lifetime. Mount Fuji is only open to visitors for a limited time of each year, but I definitely recommend that you experience this world heritage site for yourself!