When these days the weather starts to get colder, nothing is as wonderful as having nabe (Japansese hot pot), or a bowl of soba noodles after a long chilling day. Those dishes are not only warm; they are also rich in term of flavor that could ease your stomach and refresh your mind. The secret behind those dishes is dashi, which is Japanese kind of stock that became the main component of many Japanese cuisines.

Stock is the basic preparation that is available in any cuisine around the world. Made in the form of flavored liquid, it is necessary for many different dishes, especially soups and sauces. Different countries have different kinds of stocks depending on their available ingredients. The traditional way of making stock is simmering various ingredients in water such as meat, bones, savory vegetables and herbs. Japanese stock, as mentioned above, is called dashi. Dashi is different from the Western stocks according to the way it is made. While Western stocks often take hours of simmering the ingredients to extract the flavor from them, dashi is cooked in a relatively simple way like steeping because the ingredients are already well executed and highly flavorful.

There are several different kinds of dashi but the most common ones are kombu dashi, katsuobushi dashi, niboshi dashi and shiitake dashi. Kombu dashi is made by soaking kelp in water. Katsuobushi dashi is made from dried bonito flakes. Niboshi dashi stock is made by pinching off the heads and entrails of small dried sardines, to prevent bitterness, and soaking the rest in water. Lastly, shiitake dashi is cooked from dried shiitake mushrooms. The dashi does not require seasoning like soy sauce because the ingredients contain in themselves the umami, a term to determine the fifth flavor. Umami can be translated as “pleasant savory taste”. It has the root from Japan; the term was identified in 1908 by Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda from umai (うまい) “delicious” and mi (味) “taste” attributed to human taste receptors responding to glutamic acid. These days we often find instant or liquid instant dashi in the supermarket that were enhanced by chemical elements to have less subtle flavor. However, the homemade dashi still has its strong position. Each soba shop has its own recipe to combine 3 or 4 types of umami to form their unique dashi taste. Another interesting fact about dashi is that the ingredient could be reused. Leftover katsuobushi can make a stronger dashi that called niban, or secondary dashi. Dried shiitakes used to make shiitake stock can be sliced and added to another dish.

Some people say that dashi in Japan is as important as olive oil in Mediterranean food. It is available in several types of dish, from soups to salad dressing. Dashi shows the harmony between complexity and simplicity: complex ingredients execution along with simple cooking technique; complex flavors in simple dishes. Dashi also proves the importance of savory taste in Japanese cuisine. If food is considered an element of one culture, dashi can be defined as a distinctive feature of Japanese culture. 

Bonsai’s big homecoming could cultivate next generation



May 4, 2016 at 11:15 JST
Masashi Hirao, right, a bonsai artist, performs his show to music played by a disc jockey, background, in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward in February. (Kai Uchida)

With the World Bonsai Convention set to come home to Japan in 2017 for the first time in 28 years, the traditional art form is perfectly positioned for a re-evaluation.

While many Japanese people see growing miniature potted plants as a hobby for elderly men, it’s a different story overseas, where all ages enjoy bonsai in ways specific to each place.

Industry figures in Japan have high expectations for the eighth world convention, to be held in Saitama from April 27-30, 2017.

“Bonsai is a nonverbal art, like music,” said Edoardo Rossi, a bonsai artist from Italy, at the International Bonsai Symposium held this February in Tokyo. “It is a universal language.”

Rossi, who participated as a panelist in the run-up event of the quadrennial convention, has been engaged in bonsai cultivation for 30 years.

The 55-year-old studied at a bonsai school opened by a Japanese in Italy for eight years, and is now teaching 150 students in their teens to their 80s the skills and techniques to grow artistic trees and shrubs.

Rossi said he and his students often use rosemary, olive trees and other plants grown in the Mediterranean region to create their works.

“My focus is on improving my inner self through the process of growing bonsai,” said Rossi.

In the United States and Europe, many young people take care of their own bonsai pieces. Unlike in Japan, those young artists take full advantage of Internet services, such as taking online courses to study how to prune and raise trees, as well as interacting with each other on Facebook.

The culture of bonsai cultivation is said to have spread outside Japan after bonsai works went on display during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the 1970 Osaka Expo.

Artists from the Omiya Bonsai Village in Saitama, which bonsai nurseries formed about 90 years ago, devoted themselves to introducing the Japanese traditional art to other parts of the world.

They welcomed many followers and visitors from overseas, and also traveled outside Japan to offer lessons and training.

Saburo Kato, who died at age 92 in 2008, was the leading light in the efforts to spread bonsai abroad.

His motto of “peace-oriented diplomacy based on bonsai” was embodied by the first World Bonsai Convention, which was held in Omiya (present-day Saitama) in 1989 and drew more than 700 people from 30 countries across the globe.

Through demonstrations and workshops, visitors to the convention forged deep connections, as Kato had hoped.

Kato had also been looking to establish a center to exhibit bonsai works alongside related documents and materials. His dream eventually came true in 2010, when the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum was opened in Saitama.

While only 1,225 people from overseas visited the museum in 2011, the number sharply rose to 4,165 by 2015.

Masashi Hirao, 35, came to the Omiya Bonsai Village in 2003 after being impressed by the beauty of Japanese-style gardens during his school days. Hirao said he is Kato’s “last disciple.”

According to Hirao, his master, then aged 88, frequently said that bonsai art “has to expand to overseas.”

Taking his cue from Kato, Hirao has toured more than 30 countries to provide lessons and demonstrations, and finally came up with the idea of performing with disc jockeys and live music at bars and nightclubs.

His “bonsai performance” combines the art form with music and alcohol, and has attracted interest from many foreigners who have never viewed bonsai before.

In February this year in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward, Hirao performed his first bonsai show in Japan.

About 80 people–many of them in their 20s and 30s–visited the venue to see Hirao’s performance in which he rhythmically planted trees in hollows in a stone, using soil for horticulture and wires, to music played by a disc jockey.

“Even people who had not shown an interest in bonsai enjoyed my show,” said Hirao. “I will make efforts to make the upcoming convention a place where people from Japan and overseas can form bonds with one another and enjoy the experience together.”

The world convention has been held in the United States, Germany and elsewhere, and will eventually return to Saitama.

Kato’s eldest son, Hatsuji, 73, who heads the eighth convention’s executive committee, said he hopes the upcoming event will help boost the popularity of bonsai among the Japanese.

“I hope young people in Japan will change their attitudes to bonsai through exchanges with people from around the world,” he said. “I’m pinning my hopes on this opportunity.”

(This article was written by Aiko Masuda and Kai Uchida.)

The Asahi Shimbun

Look at what’s blowing in the wind at 2 Tokyo landmarks

By RYO IKEDA/ Staff Writer
a2May 4, 2016 at 13:25 JST
Carp streamers in front of Tokyo Tower in the capital’s Minato Ward, right, and those in Higashi-Shirahige Park near Tokyo Skytree, both in Sumida Ward. (Ryo Ikeda)

Hundreds of brightly colored carp-shaped banners are fluttering in the breeze at two Tokyo landmarks to mark Children’s Day on May 5.

The front of the entrance of Tokyo Tower in Minato Ward is adorned with 333 carp streamers, continuing a tradition that began seven years ago to celebrate the national holiday.

Event organizers hoisted 333 streamers to symbolically match the 333-meter-tall Tokyo Tower, the capital’s second highest structure after Tokyo Skytree.

The event will be held until May 8, with illumination offered between 5:30 p.m. and 11 p.m.

In Sumida Ward, spectators are being dazzled by 450 carp streamers not far from Tokyo Skytree, a tourist attraction that rises 634 meters and opened in 2012.

The steamers are located in the Tokyo metropolitan Higashi-Shirahige Park, about 2 kilometers north of Tokyo Skytree.

A volunteer organization started the carp banner event about 20 years ago.

“We are aiming to come up with 634 carp streamers one day to match the height of Tokyo Skytree,” said Koya Sakai, a 73-year-old representative of the organization.

The event will be held through May 20.

The Asahi Shimbun

Time to eat

Public Release: 16-MAR-2016

Weizmann Institute scientists find that our cells’ power plants run on timers
Weizmann Institute of Science

a1When one eats may be as important as what one eats. New research at the Weizmann Institute of Science and in Germany, which recently appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), suggests that the cells’ power plants – the mitochondria – are highly regulated by the body’s biological, or circadian, clocks. This may help explain why people who sleep and eat out of phase with their circadian clocks are at higher risk of developing obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Dr. Gad Asher of the Weizmann Institute’s Biomolecular Sciences Department, who led the study, explains that circadian clocks, which are found in living things from bacteria to flies and humans, control our rhythms of sleep, activity, eating and metabolism. “In a sense,” he says, “it’s like a daily calendar, telling the body what to expect, so it can prepare for the future and operate optimally.”

Dr. Adi Neufeld-Cohen, of Asher’s group, in collaboration with Dr. Maria S. Robles and Prof. Matthias Mann of the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Germany, looked for circadian changes in the mitochondria that, by creating peaks and dips in the cells’ energy levels, would also help regulate their day-night cycles. The group identified and quantified hundreds of mitochondrial proteins, finding that the quantities of a whopping 40% peak once a day. Further research identified the proteins making up the mitochondrial circadian clock that regulates these activities. Surprisingly, most of the circadian proteins in the mitochondria peaked four hours into the daylight part of the cycle (in mice, which are active at night).

Among the essential proteins the researchers uncovered was a key enzyme that determines the rate of sugar use for energy production. This protein reaches its maximal amount four hours into daylight, suggesting that the mitochondria’s capacity for burning sugar peaks around this time, as well. To check, the researchers provided mitochondria with sugar and found that at around hour four, respiration and glucose utilization were indeed at their highest. They also found that the protein responsible for the entry of fatty acids into the mitochondria only peaks at the eighteenth hour and, again, tests showed fat processing was optimal at the same time.

In mice with a genetic mutation that interferes with their overall biological clocks, the amounts of these proteins did not change over the course of the day, and the decomposition activity of fats and sugars was steady throughout.

“These findings support previous findings in our lab in which we showed that if mice eat only at night, when they are active, rather than throughout the day and night, they will eat the same amount of calories but their liver lipid levels will be 50% lower,” says Asher. “In other words, the outcome depends not only on what you eat but also on when you eat it. If we could be more aware of the timing of our cellular activities, we might be able to take advantage of various nutrients in a healthier way.”

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Generating good fat by pushing the right buttons

Public Release: 30-MAR-2016
Study identifies mTORC1 as key regulator of browning white fat
Sanford-Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute


Lake Nona, Fla., March 30, 2016 — Researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) have identified a protein complex that is required for conversion of “bad” white fat to “good” brown fat. The findings, published online in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, could help treat metabolic disorders such as obesity.

“Our study points to mTORC1–a protein complex that senses nutrient levels–as a key regulator of fat browning,” said Sheila Collins, Ph.D., professor in SBP’s Integrative Metabolism Program and senior author of the paper. “Therapies that promote browning, or an increase in brown fat-like cells within the typical white fat tissue, are being actively pursued as a way to help people burn more calories independent of exercise.”

Brown fat burns energy as heat, and scientists believe it evolved as a way to stay warm and survive cold weather. Adults with higher-than-average amounts of brown fat are more likely to maintain a healthy weight and are less likely to develop insulin resistance. In contrast, white fat acts as a thermal insulator that protects internal organs. An excess of white fat is associated with metabolic disease, as well as an increased risk of certain cancers.

The proportion of brown fat-like cells in white fat deposits increases upon prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, which trigger release of the hormone/neurotransmitter noradrenaline. Collins’ team found a new step in the process by which noradrenaline induces fat browning. Previous research had shown that it involves turning on protein kinase A (PKA), and this study shows that PKA activates mTORC1.

“This result came as a surprise because we knew that mTORC1 is a key player in stimulating growth in many tissues, including white fat,” added Collins. “Fat browning is thought to be an opposing process, so the fact that it requires the same protein complex is big news.”

The scientists also found that the way mTORC1 is triggered by PKA is different from how it’s activated by growth-promoting signals, such as insulin.

“Fat regulation isn’t black and white–our results help fill in the color in the picture. Imagine mTORC1 is a machine with multiple capabilities, like a printer/copier/scanner. Energy-storage signaling pushes one set of buttons and gets one outcome (fat storage), while PKA pushes another set to get a different outcome (conversion to brown fat).

“These results add an important detail to the understanding of fat browning, which will help determine which steps could be targeted by future anti-obesity drugs,” Collins concluded.

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Natural Ways to Increase Probiotic Bacteria

Last Updated: Aug 15, 2015 | By Susan Kaye

b2Two yogurt parfaits with fresh raspberries. Photo Credit Piotr Adamowicz/iStock/Getty Images


Probiotics are helpful bacterial “bugs” that live and work in your intestines helping to maintain your health, according to the Dairy Council of California. Often, the level of helpful bacteria is reduced in the gut due to taking antibiotics, which wipe them out, or if you are under great stress or have a virus that wreaks havoc with the bowel. The result is digestive upset that takes the form of diarrhea and other bowel disturbances, like irritable bowel syndrome. Replacing helpful bacteria is easy when you consume foods high in probiotics. Adding probiotics to the diet daily can help reduce and relieve a variety of bowel problems, as well as reduce the effects of lactose intolerance for those who are unable to digest the enzyme lactase. Often found in creamy, white, comfort foods, probiotics are a great option to add to your diet.


One of the best sources of probiotics is yogurt. The pudding-like product has probiotics culture added to it, but not all yogurts are created equal. Those that have the seal saying they contain “live, active cultures” are the ones to look for.

Cultured Milks

Kefir and Acidophilus milks are cultured and have probiotics bacteria added to them. These milks taste somewhat similar to yogurt, having a tangy bite, and are available for purchase in most health food stores.


Fermented cabbage, also known as sauerkraut, is a good source of probiotics, according to the Medical University of South Carolina. The cultures are added and become active in the fermentation process. Choose sauerkraut if yogurt or cultured milks are not to your liking.

Probiotic Supplements

Probiotic bacteria can be found in various supplements containing acidophilus and bifido bacterium. These are excellent choices for replacing the friendly bacteria in the bowel and are available for purchase at health food stores.

 Fermented Products

Eating a little bit of fermented products high in probiotics is advisable if you are able to tolerate them without digestive upset. Some fermented foods are fermented fish, and miso and tempeh, which are made from fermented soy. Buy these soy products from a health food store and not an Asian market. The miso at health food stores is usually naturally aged containing the actual cultures needed.

Original Article: LIVESTRONG.COM Natural Ways to Increase Probiotic Bacteria

What Vitamins Are in Cauliflower?

Posted on LIVESTRON.COM on Jan 24, 2014 | By Frank Whittemore

Cauliflower Photo Credit Oxana Denezhkina/iStock/Getty Images 

Cauliflower, is a cruciferous vegetable, in the same family with broccoli, cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts. As with broccoli, cauliflower is the immature flower head of the plant, picked while still creamy white and tender. Boiled, sauteed, steamed or stir-fried cauliflower is a nutritious vegetable that provides several essential nutrients including significant amounts of vitamin C, vitamin K, folate and several other vitamins in smaller amounts.

Vitamin C

A 1/2-cup measure of cooked cauliflower contains 27.5 milligrams of ascorbic acid, more commonly known as vitamin C. This amount equals almost 50 percent of the daily recommended intake for this vitamin. The University of Maryland Medical Center describes vitamin C as an essential nutrient for the absorption of iron and to maintain and heal tissues within the body, particularly connective tissues, such as tendons and ligaments, as well as teeth and gums. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant that helps to reduce the levels of harmful chemicals within the body that can damage cells within tissues.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is another essential nutrient provided by cauliflower. This vitamin plays a central role in the production of blood clotting factors, according to the Colorado State University Extension. Cauliflower provides 8.5 micrograms of vitamin K per 1/2-cup serving or around 8 percent of the required daily intake for the average adult.


The University of Maryland Medical Center also states that folate works with other B vitamins to help produce healthy red blood cells. Folate is also essential in the development of DNA. The support that folate provides in the production of this genetic material has led to women who are pregnant supplementing their diet with folate to help prevent certain types of congenital birth defects such as spina bifida. A single 1/2-cup serving of cooked cauliflower provides around 27 mcg of folate or around 7 percent of the amount needed per day.

Other Vitamins

Cauliflower also provides several other important nutrients, although in smaller quantities. These include 0.1 mg of vitamin B6 or approximately 4 percent of the daily requirement and around 0.3 milligrams pantothenic acid or around 3 percent of what is needed each day in a 1/2-cup serving.

Trace Amounts

The same 1-cup measure of cooked cauliflower also contains trace amounts of certain vitamins. These include thiamine, riboflavin and niacin, according to the USDA Nutrient Database.

What Vitamins Are in Cauliflower? LIVESTRON.COM