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Tragedy in Japan Threatens Sushi Supply

In the aftermath of the devastation in Japan Israelis fear a shortage in the ingredients of Sushi.

Dudi Afriat of the Rakuto Kasei company:

“There may be a shortage of sushi components, but we are still studying the situation… We’ll be wiser once the situation in Japan stabilizes and the reconstruction begins…I assume we’ll know if there is going to be a shortage in the coming week. The main fear is of a shortage of the Kikkoman soy sauce. One Kikkoman factory in Japan was damaged and there have been delays in the supply, but we hope it won’t stop the regular chain of supply.”

“Most of the containers arrive in Israel from the US, but the entire management is in Japan…At the moment, it’s very difficult communicating with them. There are a lot of disruptions. Yesterday I spoke with our contact in Japan, and he said it took him 10 hours to get to the office from home…So at the moment the situation is unclear, and it all depends on the Japanese. I trust them, because they love the soy sauce more than we do. My only fear is that they’ll have to import Kikkoman from the US, and that will affect the imports to Israel…About 85% of the soy sauce used in Israel is Kikkoman. This is a very unusual figure in the world…Israeli chefs feel very connected to this product. After the tsunami I received phone calls from hysterical people fearing a shortage of Kikkoman.”

Other products that could be affected due to problems in importing or damaged factories are miso (traditional Japanese seasoning), pickled Japanese pumpkin and cabbage, and certain kinds of seaweed. A deficiency could also be felt in the wasabi supply.

Afriat said:

“The Japanese food unit in Israel has grown by some 800% in the past five or six years…Five years ago, there were up to 20 sushi restaurants in Tel Aviv. Today there are more than 130. A survey we conducted recently revealed that sushi is the No. 2 take away food in Israel…Kikkoman, the world’s biggest commercial brand, has an amazing infiltration level. It can be found in one-third of Israeli households, and it’s clearly a Japanese product. Surprisingly, we bring real naturally fermented soy sauce, which costs much more than other types of soy available in stores, and Israelis still appreciate and purchase it…We import 900 kilograms (1,984pounds) of Kikkoman bottles a year, and 54 tons of rice for sushi a month. It’s an amazing amount. Tel Aviv is the fifth city in the world in the consumption of sushi per capita, and fourth in the world in the number of sushi restaurants per capita.”

Japan No Welfare State

The work ethic has always been stronger in some countries than others. But very few countries have a stronger and more rigid work ethic than that found in Japan. This value system, which seems to continue unabated despite a recent recession, may be the reason for the “chrysanthemum country” having one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the world, averaging (until recently) at 2.5% of the employable workforce.

Along with this, however, Japan has one of the toughest social welfare systems in the world, with people “dying” to become accepted for monetary benefits. Actually, they are dying by literally starving to death due by not having money to buy food. A recent NY Times article gave a graphic and somber account of what has been the fate of some people who have simply fallen through the cracks of modern Japanese society and have not been eligible to receive public assistance. One 52 year old man, from Kitakyushu Japan, 800 km southwest of Tokyo, was found dead in his shanty home, apparently from starvation. A diary that he had been keeping gave a sad account of how he had been rejected from the local welfare rolls and had simply wasted away inside his home; apparently too ashamed to ask even his neighbors for help. One of his diary entries read: “I have not eaten anything for 25 days now, and have lost nearly 20 kg . All I want is to eat a rice ball. Just one rice ball! “.

Japan’s rather strict welfare system delegates the responsibility of administration to regional and local offices, some of which, like Kitakyushu, have developed an eligibility policy so rigid that very few people become accepted. And many who do, like the unfortunate man noted here, are later declared ineligible, and thrown out of the system. In fact, many people in Japan believe that persons receiving public assistance are no longer considered as lawful citizens.

The Japanese example is a far cry from other countries, especially European countries like Holland, where a large number of people have been living on the dole for years, even generations. Receiving public aid in some countries with long established social welfare programs is so attractive that in many cases people are penalized if they try to find work, resulting in their continuing to receive weekly or monthly benefits instead of trying to find suitable employment. While Israel is not quite in the same format as these European “welfare states”, particularly in light of recent economic reforms, there are still many people who apply for and receive a monthly grant known as “guaranteed income maintenance” which for an individual runs in the amount of around $400 per month and around $600 for a family of four. In addition to public assistance, there are also a number of private aid sources that people can turn to and receive food, clothing, and other basic needs.

But in Japan, where people are too embarrassed to beg or even look for food in garbage bins or other places, people like the pour soul in Kitakyushu are in dire straits indeed. “If he had just come to me, I would have helped him” one of the dead man’s neighbors remarked afterwards. And as for the rice balls, a favorite Japanese treat resembling popcorn balls in America; hopefully this poor man now has all he wants in the “world above”.

Jonah’s Requim : Saving One of the Earth’s Gentlest Mammals

By Maurice Picow
Israel and Man’s largest Mammal don’t really have much in common; except for the Biblical moral story about a man who, after fleeing from God’s directive, spent three days in the belly of “a great fish” – supposedly a whale. This non-relationship suddenly changed when Israel voted along with other non-whaling nations to limit the amount of international whale hunting that has been partially responsible for severely depleting the world’s whale population. Whaling, or whale hunting for it’s oil, meat, and other products (once nearly all respective women wore corsets reinforced with whale bone) has been an important industry in countries like Russia, Norway, and Japan. America and many other countries either curtailed or completely banned whale hunting after their ‘products’ were no longer being used by their populations.

Israel, as a member of the International Whaling Commission, and due to increase pressure by animal rights activists, cast the deciding vote to limit international whale hunting, much to the chagrin of Japan and Norway. The Japanese still hunt these noble and non-violent creatures, and consume whale meat as part of their diet. As more are more Japanese citizens have discontinued serving this ‘delicacy’ however, it will hopefully not be long until that country joins the anti-whale hunting ‘club’ and gives up hunting them as well. Many of the larger species of whales, including sperm whales, blue whales ( by far the largest of the species), and hump-backed whales have been hunted or decimated by pollution and global warming to the point of some of them being put on the list of endangered species. The fortunes of these great beasts have been further threatened by a severe decrease of certain food supplies, such as marine shrimp-like creatures that many whales consume as their main source of food. Certain forms of algae also important in the whale’s ‘food chain’ are being decimated as well.
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