Saturday, September 23, 2017

Matters of Truth and Fact

Snow is white © Serguei Ouklonski/EyeEm/Getty Images

Truth? It’s not just about the facts

From time to time, not very often, it looks as though the world has given philosophy a job to do. Now is such a moment. At last, a big abstract noun – truth – is at the heart of a cultural crisis and philosophers can be called in to sort it out.

Send them back. Philosophers’ problems with truth are not the same as the world’s. The post-truth debate cannot be readily fixed by a better theory. Most of the time, people are clear enough what makes something true. To use Alfred Tarski’s famous example from the 1930s, “Snow is white” is true if and only if snow is white. If that sounds obvious, that’s the point. A statement is true if and only if it corresponds to a state of affairs or event that obtains in the world.

This and other “correspondence theories of truth” are now out of fashion in philosophy. Pragmatism has long been more influential in America, which in crude terms is the idea that to say something is true is to say that it works to assume it is true. True beliefs took humans to the moon, false ones led to a space shuttle exploding shortly after take-off. Coherence theories see truth as a property of collections of propositions, not of individual ones alone: the truths of 2+2=4 depends on a whole number of assumptions not captured in that simple sum. Redundancy theories more or less do away with the need to talk about truth. You don’t add anything to a statement like “Paris is the capital of France” by prefacing it with “It is true that . . .”.

The merits of these competing theories are of mainly academic concern. When people debate whether there were weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussain’s Iraq, whether global warming is real and anthropogenic, or whether austerity is necessary, their disagreements are not the consequence of competing theories of truth. No witness need ask a judge which theory she has in mind when asked to promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Why then has truth become so problematic in the world outside academic philosophy? One reason is that there is major disagreement and uncertainty concerning what counts as a reliable source of truth. For most of human history, there was some stable combination of trust in religious texts and leaders, learned experts and the enduring folk wisdom called common sense. Now, it seems, virtually nothing is universally taken as an authority. This leaves us having to pick our own experts or simply to trust our guts.

Philosophers do have something to contribute to this debate. Alain Goldman pretty much invented the field of social epistemology, which investigates social contribution to knowledge, while Miranda Fricker’s work on testimony has clear real-world implications. When residents of Grenfell Tower complained that they had not been listened to, they provided a textbook example of how having access to truth is not enough if you do not have the social standing for your views to receive “uptake” from others. But for the most part, philosophers are not the best people to address people’s uncertainty over whom to trust. Greater scientific literacy, for example, would do more to reveal the truth in the climate change debate than a semester on epistemology.

There is yet another reason why truth is not as plain and simple as snow is white. In the witness box, we all pretty much agree on what makes a claim true and why: a statement is true if and only if it correctly describes real events. In other contexts, however, what we take to warrant a truth claim varies. In neither maths nor science, for example, is truth primarily a matter of accurately describing the physical world as mind-independent reality.

In mathematics, truth attains a kind of Platonic purity and certainty. If a formula or proof is correct, then it is necessarily correct. The truth of mathematics holds independently of what facts might obtain in the world. The laws of physics could change but the maths wouldn’t. That’s why Hume distinguished between the truths of mathematics, which he said involved the “relations of ideas”, with “matters of fact”, truths about the world.

In science, matters of fact would seem to be all. What makes a theory true is that it predicts and describes what we observe to happen. But that does not mean what science describes is ultimately true. We may claim that a theory is true or that a scientist is correct, without committing to scientific realism. 

Indeed many scientists are happy to remain agnostic as to whether or not their theoretical entities exactly correspond to ones in the real world. Our final physics might or might not contain quarks or neutrinos. What matters is that the equations work, not that the model the equation uses describes the world as it is in itself.

Truth is rarely, if ever, a simple matter of getting the facts straight. History, for example, certainly demands factual accuracy but that in itself is not enough. There is also the question of which facts are made salient and how they are understood. There is no factual disagreement, for example, about the European colonization of Australia between those who would like to see Captain Cook’s statue taken down and those who wouldn’t. The difference concerns which features of that history are given centre stage and whether they are celebrated, lamented or both. When people complain that official histories are untruthful, they are rarely claiming that brazen lies are being told. Rather they insist that important truths are being ignored or overlooked.

People’s interest in the truth is often a concern not with facts but with their meanings. The truth in a portrait, for example, is not necessarily a matter of realistic fidelity. It is rather about capturing something in the sitter that a more physically accurate picture or photograph could miss. This idea is captured in Picasso’s famous aphorism “Art is a lie that makes us realize truth”. This kind of truth is often explicitly contrasted with the factual variety. “There is a distinction between fact and truth”, claimed Lucian Freud. “Truth has an element of revelation about it. If something is true, it does more than strike one as merely being so.” Freud’s definitions may not match those of philosophers, but his point is clear enough. The kind of truth that concerns him is that which reveals the hidden meaning of things, not facts one could look up in a reference book.

Once we prise open a distinction between truth-as-meaning and truth-as-fact, all sorts of “truths” become possible beyond what can be established by reason and evidence alone. Contemporary religion has been good at exploiting this opportunity. In response to the charge that science has made religion redundant at best, demonstrably false at worst, many believers have retorted that religion is concerned with a different kind of truth from that of science and so cannot be falsified by it. Most famously, Stephen J. Gould argued that while “Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world”, religion  “operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings, and values”.

Many find this idea of “Non-Overlapping Magisteria” of human inquiry attractive but keeping them apart is easier said than done. The religious tend to end up concerned with facts about the world as well as values. With Christians, I find this is usually made clear by the “empty tomb test”. When an articulate, theologically sophisticated believer starts expressing some version of the two magisteria view, one can ask: is it important for your faith that Christ’s tomb was found empty, and not because someone had sneaked his body out? It’s a rare Christian who says this doesn’t matter at all. Central to the faith of most is a supposed fact about a historical event, the everyday kind of truth which we are all concerned with.

In whichever guise we encounter truth, it has the curious property of being everything and nothing to do with us. To say something is true is to say that it is the case whether I want it to be so or not. Nothing can be made true by will alone. It is an all-too common nonsense to say that something is “true for me” but might not be for anyone else. 

At the same time, what is important about the truth is always relative to the knower. The mathematician, the scientist, the artist, the historian and the religious believer are not always concerned with the same truths or the same aspects of truth. Truth is not relative, but we relate to it in innumerable ways.

Julian Baggini’s new book, A Short History of Truth, is published this month

All About Wasabi

Please click to enlarge
The Asahi Shimbun  Sept. 24, 2017

Part 1:Seeking ‘Japan's No.1’


Selected wasabi (Japanese horseradish) are assembled in Tokyo's Tsukiji market from throughout the country. In its vegetable and fruit sales floor, wasabi that line the storefront of long-established intermediate wholesaler Kushiya are especially conspicuous. They are priced at more than 20,000 yen (about $170) per kilogram, which is higher than tuna sold in the adjacent seafood sales floor.

This wasabi attracts customers not only in high-class sushi restaurants in central Tokyo but also overseas.

“If you know the flavors of ‘maguro’ (tuna) and ‘hirame’ (bastard halibut) served with this wasabi, you cannot eat them without it,” said Masahiro Sugimoto, president of Kushiya.

What wasabi elicits such high praise from the professional maven? We visited its producer, Keiichi Tashiro, 43, a farmer in Gotemba, Shizuoka Prefecture.

Exposing it to spring water

Tashiro's wasabi fields are dotted along a river that flows between the mountains. The area has an abundance of spring water, whose temperature ranges between 10 and 13 degrees throughout most of the year. His wasabi fields take in this spring water. The fields are slightly inclined so that the water spreads equally to the entire fields. However, each field differs in size and shape. He slightly changes the field depending on such factors as the amounts of sunlight and the tilt of the land.

There are various cultivation methods, and Tashiro is adopting a method called “ishiue” (stone on). It is called that because a stone is placed on a seedling when wasabi is grown.

“Another method is ‘chon-ue,’ whose word origin is said to be ‘chokon to ueru’ (planting it slightly). In addition, there is a cultivation method of protecting a seedling from outside elements by covering it with pipes,” he said.

In the ishiue method, wasabi is laid on its side, so it grows horizontally. As a result, almost all the parts of wasabi are exposed to spring water and become bright green.


Even a cultivation career of 20 years

Following in the footsteps of his father, Kaoru Tashiro, 78, Keiichi began to cultivate wasabi. His career has spanned about 20 years. However, he fails even now.

In 2016, wasabi grew to only about the size of the tip of a thumb in one field. He is raising a variety called “Mazuma,” which takes about a year and a half to one year and 10 months for the wasabi to grow from seedlings to a size large enough for shipping. The period from planting the seedling to harvesting is lengthy, unlike many other agricultural products.

Because of that, it is painful when wasabi have not grown large enough to be shipped at the time of harvesting.

“I don't know the clear reason for the failure. If my father cultivates it, he does not experience such a failure,” said Keiichi Tashiro.

What his father has that he does not have is intuition resulting from experience, which is important for growing wasabi.


Conquering complete destruction

In September 2010, Tashiro's wasabi fields were completely destroyed by a flood caused by a typhoon. Reminders of those days remain around the area.

“It can't be helped because wasabi cultivation is influenced by nature,” said Kaoru Tashiro.

The Tashiros were forced to start to create wasabi fields from scratch. It took nearly six years to return the fields to their original state though Kaoru also made efforts to do so.

“As long as there are people who are waiting for my wasabi, I cannot stop cultivating it,” Tashiro said with a smile.


video

Scars of a landslide disaster caused by a typhoon remain on the mountain surface. A narrow river, which had been surrounded by greenery, was changed to a concrete-made waterway.

Part 1:Seeking ‘Japan's No.1’

Selected wasabi (Japanese horseradish) are assembled in Tokyo's Tsukiji market from throughout the country. In its vegetable and fruit sales floor, wasabi that line the storefront of long-established intermediate wholesaler Kushiya are especially conspicuous. They are priced at more than 20,000 yen (about $170) per kilogram, which is higher than tuna sold in the adjacent seafood sales floor.
This wasabi attracts customers not only in high-class sushi restaurants in central Tokyo but also overseas.

“If you know the flavors of ‘maguro’ (tuna) and ‘hirame’ (bastard halibut) served with this wasabi, you cannot eat them without it,” said Masahiro Sugimoto, president of Kushiya.

What wasabi elicits such high praise from the professional maven? We visited its producer, Keiichi Tashiro, 43, a farmer in Gotemba, Shizuoka Prefecture.

Exposing it to spring water

Tashiro's wasabi fields are dotted along a river that flows between the mountains. The area has an abundance of spring water, whose temperature ranges between 10 and 13 degrees throughout most of the year. His wasabi fields take in this spring water. The fields are slightly inclined so that the water spreads equally to the entire fields. However, each field differs in size and shape. He slightly changes the field depending on such factors as the amounts of sunlight and the tilt of the land.

There are various cultivation methods, and Tashiro is adopting a method called “ishiue” (stone on). It is called that because a stone is placed on a seedling when wasabi is grown.

“Another method is ‘chon-ue,’ whose word origin is said to be ‘chokon to ueru’ (planting it slightly). In addition, there is a cultivation method of protecting a seedling from outside elements by covering it with pipes,” he said.

In the ishiue method, wasabi is laid on its side, so it grows horizontally. As a result, almost all the parts of wasabi are exposed to spring water and become bright green.

Even a cultivation career of 20 years

Following in the footsteps of his father, Kaoru Tashiro, 78, Keiichi began to cultivate wasabi. His career has spanned about 20 years. However, he fails even now.

In 2016, wasabi grew to only about the size of the tip of a thumb in one field. He is raising a variety called “Mazuma,” which takes about a year and a half to one year and 10 months for the wasabi to grow from seedlings to a size large enough for shipping. The period from planting the seedling to harvesting is lengthy, unlike many other agricultural products.

Because of that, it is painful when wasabi have not grown large enough to be shipped at the time of harvesting.

“I don't know the clear reason for the failure. If my father cultivates it, he does not experience such a failure,” said Keiichi Tashiro.
What his father has that he does not have is intuition resulting from experience, which is important for growing wasabi.


According to Tashiro, three factors are indispensable for wasabi cultivation: abundant spring water, avoiding strong sunlight and soil with good permeability. Seeing the degrees in the growth of wasabi, he changes the amount of water when irrigating them, mixes soil to improve its permeability and covers the plant with black plastic sheets depending on the strength of the sunlight. These works have major influences on the growth of wasabi. And even if he continues to do the same work, wasabi does not necessarily grow as idealistically as hoped.

Conquering complete destruction

In September 2010, Tashiro's wasabi fields were completely destroyed by a flood caused by a typhoon. Reminders of those days remain around the area.

“It can't be helped because wasabi cultivation is influenced by nature,” said Kaoru Tashiro.

The Tashiros were forced to start to create wasabi fields from scratch. It took nearly six years to return the fields to their original state though Kaoru also made efforts to do so.

“As long as there are people who are waiting for my wasabi, I cannot stop cultivating it,” Tashiro said with a smile.


@Tsukiji


Best wasabi are ‘handsome’


Masahiro Sugimoto, president of long-established intermediate wholesaler Kushiya in the Tsukiji market, has continued to purchase the Tashiro's wasabi for more than 20 years since the days of the father, Kaoru.

Sugimoto has tasted the wasabi of almost all the major production areas, such as Izu (Shizuoka Prefecture), Nagano, Akita, Iwate and Okutama (Tokyo).

Among these, Sugimoto “fell in love” with Tashiro's wasabi.

“His wasabi is especially delicious and its appearance is also good.”

Sugimoto doesn't fall in love with wasabi unless it scores nearly complete points in all five categories of hue, aroma, adhesiveness, hot flavor and sweetness.

“Delicious wasabi becomes a fresh green color when it is grated. Its pungent aroma is also distinctive. It also has adhesiveness and has a strong, hot flavor. There is also a delicate sweetness that comes after a while. The biggest difference between Tashiro's wasabi and other wasabi is sweetness,” Sugimoto said.

Even among Tashiro's wasabi, there is a difference in prices shown by Sugimoto. The cheap ones are priced between 6,000 yen and 8,000 yen per kilogram while the best ones are priced at more than 20,000 yen. According to Sugimoto, the best wasabi are different in appearance, and he calls them “handsome.”

The characteristics of the appearances are as follows: They are straight in shape and have few convex or concave portions on their surfaces. The color of their stems is purple. The bumps, which are traces of leaves that fell, are the same. The distances between spiral lines that can be found if seen up close are also equal.

“Handsome wasabi are extremely delicious. If they are not so, I cannot show prices that are four times higher than those of conventional ones,” Sugimoto said.

Wasabi he has purchased from Tashiro are mostly sold out within a week. A chef has even traveled from New York to buy the wasabi from Sugimoto.

The Kushiya president believes that wasabi plays a role in enriching Japanese food culture.

“Wasabi is not a main ingredient in sushi or sashimi (slices of raw fish). In addition, it is free of charge when offered in restaurants, though it is more expensive than most of the main items when purchased. Despite that, there are chefs who recognize its value and buy it. That is because there are customers who seek it out,” he said.

He added, “There were times when customers said, ‘Give me tears’ when they ask for wasabi in sushi restaurants (because wasabi is so pungent that they often shed tears when they eat it). If they say so, chefs would be able to understand that. Such a play on words was born, which promoted communication. I think that wasabi also has such a power.”

 @Akasaka


Falling in love with taste


Takeo Sato, 45, manager of sushi restaurant Tsukiji Sushiko Jin, in Tokyo's Akasaka district, also fell in love with Tashiro's wasabi. He has continued to utilize it since the opening of the restaurant five years ago. He began to buy it under the recommendation of President Masahiro Sugimoto of intermediate wholesaler Kushiya. Recalling when he tasted it for the first time, Sato said, “The adhesiveness, aroma and taste that were produced when the wasabi was grated all harmonized with each other. They were completely different from ones I had tasted.”

Reactions from customers are also good. Some customers ask chefs to serve the wasabi on different plates so that they can adjust the size of the wasabi by themselves.

“When I serve wasabi in that manner, customers first taste the wasabi. At that time, some customers say, ‘Delicious,’ and others say, ‘This is the best among those I have ever eaten,’” Sato said.
To meet the expectations of such customers, Sato has adhered to a method of grating wasabi after receiving an order.

“Wasabi produces a hot flavor and an aroma for the first time only after it is exposed to air. From that moment, however, the hot flavor and aroma begin to be lost,” he said.

The aroma spreads quickly when Sato slowly grates it with a “samekawa-oroshi,” or a grater covered with sharkskin. Customers react immediately, saying, “It has a good aroma.”

Such a reaction is also a pleasure Sato feels when he makes sushi.

Volume depends on ingredients

The aroma of wasabi that was just grated spreads quickly.  It is the chef's skill to grasp the best quantity, depending on the ingredients.  


Sato entered the industry when he was 19, aiming to become a sushi chef.

“Until then, I was not good at tasting wasabi at all,” Sato said. While working as a trainee, he was gradually attracted by wasabi.

“If I eat sushi without wasabi, I cannot be satisfied with it. I am bored with it even if I eat it. But if I experience the wasabi's pungent fresh taste, the sushi becomes a completely different one,” Sato said.

According to Sato, what is important is adjusting the quantity of wasabi. If it is too much, it destroys the flavor of the ingredients. If it is too little, it cannot satisfy customers.

“When the portion of wasabi balances with the ingredients, sushi becomes extremely delicious,” Sato said.




It is a chef's skills to best grasp the quantity needed, depending on the ingredients. Wasabi becomes less effective with items with a lot of fat, such as “otoro” (extremely fatty tuna), and those with a strong flavor, including “anago” (whitespotted conger). Sato slightly increases the quantity of wasabi for those ingredients. On the other hand, he decreases the volume for ingredients with a plain taste, such as “hirame” (bastard halibut) and “ika” (squid), as wasabi becomes more effective.

“Wasabi also plays a role in preventing the ingredients from slipping from the rice,” said Sato.

Ingredients that contain a lot of water and are solid, such as “kazunoko” (herring roe) and “awabi” (abalone), do not easily slide off if wasabi is used. As a result, the ingredients fit better with rice.

They do even more so if the wasabi has adhesiveness.


As the restaurant is located in Akasaka, it has many foreign customers.

“Regardless of whether they are from Asia, Europe or the United States, foreigners like wasabi very much. Most of them ask us to serve wasabi in different plates,” Sato said.

Like “gari” (pickled ginger), wasabi is offered to customers free of charge. In Sato's restaurant, however, it is one of the most expensive items when he buys it.

“In their early period, the prices of wasabi are the second highest following ‘shinko’ (young konoshiro gizzard shad). But I don't care because it is necessary,” Sato said.

Sato always puts wasabi in a case containing ice and displays it in a location that can be seen by customers. The wasabi is also a big appeal of the restaurant.

@Yamanashi

Bio power

The power of nature, such as abundant spring water, is indispensable for wasabi cultivated by Tashiro. But it is also receiving benefits from biotechnology.

It is not easy to grow wasabi to a level that makes it commercially valuable. But it is also difficult to propagate them. Even if farmers raise them from seeds or grow them by division, they cannot stably produce good-quality wasabi partly because the wasabi easily contracts diseases.

Because of that, farmers depend on cloned seedlings. They provide good-quality wasabi to Miyoshi Agri-tech Co., a seed and seedling company in Yamanashi Prefecture, to reproduce same-quality seedlings in large quantities. Like Tashiro, about 100 farmers in major wasabi-producing areas of Shizuoka and Nagano prefectures are asking the company to produce cloned seedlings.

Part 2 ~ Exceed Real Ones

Wasabi (Japanese horseradish) is indispensable when people eat sushi or sashimi (slices of raw fish) at home. Most of that wasabi is processed in tubes or in small packets. It is always kept in refrigerators at home. Processed wasabi that made it possible to taste its Japanese pungency easily is stuffed with the wisdom of long years and various people.


Raw materials

Backseat player

When we see the names of raw materials described on tubes of wasabi, we find western horseradish as well as hon-wasabi (Japanese horseradish) in many cases. This western horseradish is producing the pungent flavors of tubed wasabi.

The pungency of wasabi is gradually lost after peaking several minutes after being grated. Western horseradish has 1.5 times more pungent ingredients than hon-wasabi and therefore is served as a “backseat player.”

Western horseradish originated in Europe and is called “horseradish” or “raifort” there. When we grate creamy white-colored rhizome, we feel the pungency in our noses. Western horseradish was imported to Japan in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) and is called “yama-wasabi” (mountain wasabi) in Hokkaido where it grows in the wild in wide areas.


Much of western horseradish is imported from overseas, but Nagoya-based Kinjirushi Co., which has the largest share of the market of processed wasabi for commercial purposes, sticks to domestically grown western horseradish. The Abashiri region of Hokkaido, whose climate is similar to the land of origin, Europe, has become a big production area. Kinjirushi is also operating a major factory in the region.


Nurturing it in a northern land

We visited Kinjirushi’s farm in late October 2016, the harvesting season of western horseradish. The farm, located in the town of Shari at the base of the Shiretoko Peninsula, is facing the Sea of Okhotsk. The farm is so huge that the ridges are as long as 400 meters.

Western horseradish, whose seedlings were planted in the spring, have become full of green leaves as they have grown, and its rhizome portions have become so large like “daikon” (Japanese radish).



“The temperature drops below zero even in April here. Because of that, seedlings sometimes become frozen. We are nurturing them while thinking about the appropriate earth conditions,” said Kosuke Suzuki, a director of Kinjirushi Agri, a western horseradish production subsidiary of Kinjirushi.



Western horseradishes are harvested with a machine designed for digging them up called “Harvester,” which was revamped by Kinjirushi on its own, and transported to its Okhotsk factory, about 60 kilometers away, by truck.

Farmer Koichi Ueki, who is entrusted with production of western horseradish, said, “The job is heavy work compared with those for potatoes or beets. But I feel pleasure when good ones are produced.”

When we asked him his recommended method of eating western horseradish, he said with a smile, “Sprinkle soy sauce on yama-wasabi (western horseradish) and put it on rice. I also ate it this morning.”

video

History

Along with spread of sashimi

Powdered wasabi, the origin of processed wasabi, was devised in the early Taisho Era (1912-1926). A tea broker in Shizuoka hit upon the idea of drying raw wasabi like tea and selling it as a powder. 

However, there was the drawback that pungency and flavor were lost. 

Because of that, the powdered wasabi was sold after being mixed with western mustard to supplement the pungency.

Sales of powdered wasabi increased not only to “ryotei” restaurants and “ryokan” inns but also to families. As a result, the number of companies that produced powdered wasabi increased, leading to the establishment of the “Zenkoku Kona-wasabi Kyokai” (National powdered wasabi association) in 1955. Powdered wasabi that was not mixed with western mustard was also sold for the first time in 1969.

When mass merchandise outlets such as supermarkets increased, sashimi began to line sales counters in a packed style. Then, development of “neri-wasabi” (wasabi paste), which is powdered wasabi kneaded with water in advance, progressed so that people can eat sashimi immediately.

The first company that sold wasabi paste in tubes was S&B Foods Inc. When powdered wasabi is dissolved in water, the flavor lasts for only two or three days under normal conditions. The company then developed a technology that retained the flavor for several months even in normal temperatures by adding spices secondarily. It also obtained a patent for the technology.

In 1987, S&B sold tubed wasabi that used hon-wasabi (Japanese horseradish). It made the tubed wasabi closer to real hon-wasabi and improved the color and hardness. In 2009, S&B sold “Honnama hon-wasabi,” whose raw materials were 100 percent hon-wasabi.

Technologies

How can the pungency that easily volatilizes be retained? We visited the production sites that are conducting various trials.


Preserving flavor


“This is a container that was cooled with liquid nitrogen,” said Takahiro Okada, head of the Okhotsk factory of Kinjirushi, and pointed to a metal container with a diameter of about two meters. It was covered with a white fog from the cold air. The container is used to grate wasabi at an ultra-low temperature. The production method was developed by Kinjirushi in 1973. By grating wasabi at minus 196 degrees, the container stops enzyme reactions and preserves the flavor.

 The raw material, western horseradish, is diced and washed. There is the know-how on how to wash it to maintain the pungency as much as possible. As for how to grate wasabi, the company also has its own methods to produce the “feel of fibers” favored by consumers.

“By utilizing good points of western horseradish, we are aiming to make products that bring out not only the pungency but also the taste, sweetness and umami (savory taste),” said Okada.



Consumption


Wasabi spreading to the world


When the reputation of Japanese cuisine as being healthy spread in the 1980s, a sushi boom occurred in the United States, and sushi restaurants opened in rapid succession. Wasabi makers set up their sales promotion strongholds in the United States and began to sell processed wasabi.



Regarding hon-wasabi (Japanese horseradish) that originates in Japan, it is difficult to find a climate and land suitable for its overseas cultivation. Because of that, the promulgator of wasabi flavor was processed wasabi. Initially, powdered wasabi accounted for most of the processed wasabi. But neri-wasabi (wasabi paste) came to be used.

Sushi began to spread overseas from the latter half of the 1980s, and exports of wasabi grew. In the 1990s, eating sashimi of seafood, such as salmon, lobster and mirugai clams, was established as a status symbol in Asia, particularly in China, despite the fact that there had been no custom of eating raw fish until then. As a result, considerable demand was produced for tubed wasabi.

 Foreign students make sushi in the Tokyo Sushi Acadamy in 2010. 

In the United States, the word, “wasabi,” took root along with the sushi boom. It is now widely used not only for sushi and sashimi but also for dressings and barbecue sauces as a hidden flavor.
Wasabi in tubes containing 43 grams is commonly sold overseas as well as in Japan. However, tubes containing 310 grams, which are common in Japan for commercial use, are sold to retailers in the United States.

According to the “Nihon Kako-wasabi Kyokai” (Japan processed wasabi association), the production volume of processed wasabi exceeded 17,000 tons in fiscal 2013. Sales in Japan stood at 21.6 billion yen ($197.7 million) while those overseas topped 3 billion yen.


Guide Dogs in Japan

COURTESY OF THE JAPAN GUIDE DOG ASSOCIATION

A ruff guide to Seeing Eye dogs in Japan

The Japan Times  by
Ariel is a devoted labrador. Named after the title character in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” Ariel can’t get enough of her owner, 37-year-old Kanako Suzuki. Ariel rolls on her back, begging to be petted, and when Suzuki joins her on the floor, the animal jumps onto her lap — all 24 kilograms of her.

The 3-year-old labrador looks a little lost when her owner leaves the room for a minute, but becomes animated again when Suzuki reappears.

However, Ariel’s demeanor changes as soon as Suzuki moves toward the entrance. The animal’s face takes on a serious disposition and she stands as if at attention while waiting for her owner to put on her harness.

Once the harness has been fitted, Ariel is ready to start work — as a guide dog.

“Ariel basically goes wherever I go,” Suzuki says. “My life has really changed, as I can enjoy going out these days. Ariel and I are always going out on new adventures together.”

Kanako Suzuki sits with her guide dog, Ariel, in August.
Kanako Suzuki sits with her guide dog, Ariel, in August. | SATOKO KAWASAKI
Suzuki, a trombonist and teacher, was born with poor vision and could see reasonably well until she was in college. She lost her sight gradually, at first thinking that she was just tired. Over the course of a year or two, her vision began to worsen until she eventually couldn’t see anything at all.

“It was hard for me to accept that I had lost my eyesight. I had been told by doctors that my sight would not get better or worse,” Suzuki says. “No one told me that someday I’d be enveloped in complete darkness.”

About two years later, Suzuki stumbled across a blog written by someone who used a guide dog and likened the experience to “being able to walk fast enough to feel the wind.” Suzuki wanted to experience the same thing and so she started to look into finding such a companion.

Suzuki spent a year learning how to use a long cane after discovering that it was an essential part of the process and, finally, submitted an application to receive an animal.

She was on a waiting list for three years before getting her first guide dog, Nancy, in 2008.

“I had read about 50 books on guide dogs to prepare myself and I had done image-training for the day I would meet my dog, but it was nothing like I had imagined,” Suzuki recalls, laughing. “Nancy was so excited and came bounding into the room. Her sprightly personality completely changed the stereotype I had formed about guide dogs.”

Small population

 

Although dogs have lived alongside humans for centuries, the first recognized training system for guide dogs was established 101 years ago in Oldenburg, Germany.

In August 1916, German doctor Gerhard Stalling opened the world’s first guide dog training school after treating soldiers who had been blinded or visually impaired during World War I. The guide dogs were soon exported to other countries, including the United States, Britain, France, Spain and Italy.

And in 1939, four German shepherds were sent to Japan to assist visually impaired soldiers. World War II prevented guide dog training from taking off immediately in Japan but, in 1957, a German shepherd named Champy became the first domestically trained service animal.

As of March this year, there were 951 guide dogs working in Japan. Although German shepherds were the main breed 100 years ago, most guide dogs in Japan these days are labradors, golden retrievers or a mix of the two.

Internationally, in addition to German shepherds, there are other types of guide dogs, including dalmatians, dobermans and even a hybrid breed called labradoodles.

Japan Guide Dog Association employee Mika Anbo says the organization is always looking to try out new breeds.
Japan Guide Dog Association employee Mika Anbo says the organization is always looking to try out new breeds. | SATOKO KAWASAKI
Mika Anbo, a staff member of the Promotion and Education Department of the Japan Guide Dog Association, says that labradors and golden retrievers are typically believed to be the most suitable breeds to handle the responsibilities that come with being a guide dog in Japan. That said, the organization is open to trying out new breeds.

“We examine things such as how easy the dogs are to handle for their users or whether they are suitable in a Japanese environment,” Anbo says. “There is more variety overseas and we are always looking to try out new breeds.”

Established in 1967, the Japan Guide Dog Association is one of 11 independent organizations in Japan that breed and train guide dogs.
On average, the organizations train about 130-140 guide dogs a year, but more than 60 percent of them go to users who need to replace their current animals.

Data compiled by the organization, meanwhile, show that there are about 3,000 people who have expressed an interest in starting to use a guide dog, more than triple the number of existing users.

Compared to overseas, the number of guide dogs in Japan remains very small.

According to the International Guide Dog Federation, with 92 member organizations in more than 30 countries worldwide, about 10,000 guide dogs are registered in the United States, with approximately 4,700 animals in Britain and about 1,500 in Germany.

Mitsuaki Ohta, a professor of animal-facilitated therapy at Tokyo University of Agriculture, says many urban areas haven’t been designed with guide dogs in mind.

“Guide dogs simply weren’t a part of urban planning,” Ohta says. “Whether you’re developing environments such as train platforms or even regular streets, guide dogs were typically left out of the process.”

Guide dogs were included in legislation for the first time in a 1978 revision of the Road Traffic Law stipulating that visually impaired people must either carry a long cane or be accompanied by a service animal in public spaces.

Since then, the government has asked public institutions such as hotels and restaurants to accept visitors with guide dogs. Such requests, however, were not initially legally binding.

In 2002, the government ratified a law on assistance dogs for people with physical disabilities, which both grants people with guide dogs the right of entry to public facilities and outlines the obligations that dog owners must follow. The law does not include any penalties.

Anbo of the Japan Guide Dog Association says that guide dog users regularly file complaints after being barred from entering restaurants, apartments or other establishments.

She says that it’s important to convince such places to understand the issue from the perspective of a guide dog user.

“We want people to understand that these guide dogs are necessary to improve the quality of life of their owners,” Anbo says. “Instead of trying to solve the problem by fining violators, it’s important to convince public facilities to make guide dog users feel welcome at these venues.”

Despite the legislation, tragic accidents do occur. In August last year and January this year, men with guide dogs fell off train platforms in separate incidents and were killed. Neither station had installed platform doors. Guide dog users and experts stress the importance of these doors to prevent such accidents from happening in the future.

Anbo says train stations are extremely disorientating for those suffering from a visual impairment and encourages members of the public to ask if such a person looks like they may need assistance.

“Visually impaired people use various senses to guide them when walking, not only dogs or long canes,” Anbo says. “They listen to sounds, feel the ground with the bottom of their feet and take note of the flow of people. At stations, these pieces of information come at you all at once from various directions. … Platforms are extremely dangerous for blind people or those with visual disabilities.”

Animal welfare

 

The Japan Guide Dog Association has outlined a list of criteria that potential owners of guide dogs must satisfy.

Anyone wishing to adopt a guide dog must be 18 years old or older, and must be physically strong enough to do things such as exercise and wash the animal. An owner’s accommodation must be large enough to create an area that’s big enough for a guide dog to sleep in.

The guide dogs are lent to users. Costs depend on each organization, but at the Japan Guide Dog Association, which receives about 94 percent of its funding from donations, users are only asked to pay for daily ongoing expenses such as dog food and trips to the vet.

To ensure the welfare of the dogs, the organization schedules regular follow-up visits, and it has set up a hotline for owners in case they face any difficulties. In 2012 and 2014, reports appeared in the news about cases of alleged guide-dog abuse, although none of these cases were related to the Japan Guide Dog Association.

Anbo says the association has seen cases where users were unable to take proper care of the animals, although no cases of physical abuse have been recorded.

“We make sure the dogs are treated properly by holding follow-up visits and, although it is extremely rare, we can ask users to return an animal if the environment it is placed in is poor and does not improve,” Anbo says.

Criticism of the guide-dog system has also been aired by prominent figures in recent years. In September 2014, for example, Dewi Sukarno, a TV personality and widow of former Indonesian President Sukarno, wrote that she opposed the guide dog system and considered it a form of “abuse” because the dogs “are robbed of their original life as a dog from a young age … (and) just quietly serve blind people.”
Tokyo University of Agriculture professor Mitsuaki Ohta says many urban spaces haven
Tokyo University of Agriculture professor Mitsuaki Ohta says many urban spaces haven’t been designed with guide dogs in mind. | COURTESY OF MITSUAKI OHTA
Ohta, an expert in the relationship between people and animals, dismisses such allegations outright.

“These people don’t know anything about dogs,” Ohta says. “Dogs love to work. I think being a guide is one of the best jobs for a dog. It is the ultimate honor for them.”

With advances being made in technology, some have proposed that robots or high-tech canes be used instead of guide dogs. While Ohta agrees that such products would be fine in terms of helping visually impaired people get around, he adds that they do not possess the advantages of living with an animal.

“Living with an animal is a unique experience,” Ohta says. “An animal can bring so much joy to people’s lives. … And for blind people, these dogs also become their eyes. No matter how many advances we make in artificial intelligence or robots, I don’t think anything can replace living with a guide dog.”

‘Puppy walkers’

 

So how does a regular canine become a guide dog?

The Japan Guide Dog Association has four centers in Japan, with facilities in Kanagawa, Miyagi, Shizuoka and Shimane prefectures. Born from healthy breeding dogs, the puppies spend the first couple of months with their mother and siblings.

After turning 2 months old, they are placed in a private home until they are a year old with a volunteer called a “puppy walker.” This is an important process, says Naoko Shimada, a 10-year veteran trainer at the Japan Guide Dog Association, noting that the dogs at this stage are effectively learning to live in society.

“Over the course of that year, the dogs are taught the basics of what they need to be a guide dog candidate,” Shimada says. “They play, they eat and they go out with puppy walkers.”

Once the dogs turn 1, they’re brought back to one of the four centers, where they spend another year or so being trained and evaluated as a guide dog.

Guide dogs are required to carry out three basic tasks: alerting users whenever they approach a corner, a flight of stairs or barriers.

Shimada demonstrates part of a training session with a male golden retriever who is 16 months old. When they reach a flight of stairs, the animal stops about 5 centimeters away from the edge. “Good,” Shimada tells the dog.

“We want to educate dogs, not just make them follow orders and do tricks as if they’re in a circus,” Shimada says. “We want to teach them to be able to communicate with people and to think for themselves. Our goal is for visually impaired people to be able to travel to places they’ve never visited before.”
Japan Guide Dog Association trainer Naoko Shimada takes a young dog for a walk in August.
Japan Guide Dog Association trainer Naoko Shimada takes a young dog for a walk in August. | SATOKO KAWASAKI
Shimada says 30-40 percent of candidates ultimately make the cut and become guide dogs, working about seven to eight years before they retire. Not only do the dogs need to be physically healthy and have good eyesight, they can’t get rattled by loud noises and must enjoy being around people.

If a dog fails to become a guide, it could do such things as become a “PR dog” for the organization, accompanying employees from the Japan Guide Dog Association as they travel around the country teaching the general public about guide dogs. Others, including retired guide dogs, become pets.

“I can say with 100 percent conviction that we don’t euthanize any dogs,” Anbo says. “We are fortunate that we actually have so many people waiting for dogs that we never run out of homes for them.”

Once a dog passes the year-long training program, it is paired with an owner. At this stage, adjustment training begins. At the Japan Guide Dog Association, new owners stay with the dogs at the center to simulate life at home and prepare them for their new lives.

Shimada says a very important part of her job is not only to train the animals but to ensure the transition is seamless for the dogs and their new owners. She is also a mobility instructor helping people who are visually impaired learn to utilize guide dogs.

Instructors usually spend about a month with new owners. New owners spend 2½ weeks or so sleeping at the center, being taught how to care for their dogs and going over the basics of feeding, grooming and cleaning.

“We don’t just hand over the guide dog and say, ‘There you go,'” Shimada says. “We teach owners how to walk safely with their dogs in addition to how to take care of them and what sort of personality the dog has. Our job is to ensure that both the dog and its owner start their new life together comfortably, without any stress.”

When Suzuki received her first guide dog, Nancy, in 2008, she stayed at one of the Japan Guide Dog Association’s centers for 2½ weeks. There she learned how to take care of Nancy, how to work with her and how to bond together.

In the last week and a half of the training program, they moved in to Suzuki’s house and an instructor would come and help the two adjust inside her home. The instructor would also accompany the pair to places Suzuki often visited.

Having Nancy changed Suzuki’s life.

“When you use a long cane, you end up spending all of your energy just getting from one place to another,” she says. “But thanks to guide dogs, we are able to enjoy what lies ahead. I can’t begin to imagine how much better my life is now.”

Nancy stayed with Suzuki for 7½ years and the pair went everywhere together, from shopping and lunches with friends to visiting DisneySea.

Suzuki says she spent the final year with Nancy planning things that would ensure she remembered her guide dog. She even organized a special concert in honor of Nancy and dedicated an album to her dog called “Precious Seasons.”

On Feb. 22, 2016, it was time for them to part ways — Nancy was retiring from her role as a guide dog.

Suzuki made sure she didn’t cry in front of Nancy when she was being led away, so that her canine friend didn’t become distressed, and only shed tears once she had said goodbye.
Ariel waits for her owner to take her for a walk outside.
Ariel waits for her owner to take her for a walk outside. | SATOKO KAWASAKI
However, Suzuki didn’t have much time to be sad because the Japan Guide Dog Association had already lined up Nancy’s replacement, delivering Ariel just two hours later. And with that, the story continues.

“Ariel is now a part of my life,” Suzuki says. “She gives me courage, she gives me peace. She is my family and I cannot live without her. She has opened up the world for me.”