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Saturday, Dec. 7, 2002


Japan: Where every day is a diet date

It's the holiday season and on my planet, the United States, that means people are preoccupied with how to stay slim during this season of indulgence. Magazines typically feature articles on how to burn calories by doing ordinary things -- such as walking to the mailbox instead of driving, or by choosing the 500-calorie Chocolate Drummer Boy Mousse over the 600-calorie Maraschino Kwanzaa Double Delight.

But the U.S. could learn a lot from Japan, where even the foreigners are slim. This is because in Japan, every day is a diet. Did you realize, for example, that opening those heavy doors at the Daiei department store burns 100 calories? And that doing "mawasu" for a free gift at the shopping mall uses up to 50 calories each time you crank the wheel? Buying a hot canned drink from the vending machine just to keep your hands warm while you wait for the train uses 129 calories!

Consider the following everyday activities and calorie expenditures:

Running for the train: 500 meters = 100 calories; 1,000 meters = 200 calories; all the way from your front door = 500-plus calories.

Laughing at Japanese English: 500 calories per day.

Assembling wheels on your "o-furo" so you can be mobilely warm: 750 calories.

Reading the "kanji" characters on the flyer that says your bike will be removed if you don't move it. Calories determined according to your Japanese proficiency: Japanese Proficiency Test level 1 = 100 calories; level 2 = 200 calories; Level 3 = 500 calories; Level 4 = 2,000 calories, including the time spent considering all the things the flyer MIGHT say.

Thinking about studying Japanese again: 100 calories.

Seriously considering studying Japanese again: 200 calories.

And don't forget calorie-burning holiday activities:

Making mochi: Wielding the mallet = 2,000 calories. Chewing mochi = 500 calories. Choking on mochi = 800 calories.

Making Christmas dinner: You'll burn lots of calories unwrapping ingredients such as single lemons, individual celery stalks and even bottles of mayonnaise. After you have hauled all the wrappings out to the curb to the designated trash corner, you'll have burned 500 calories before you have even started cooking!

Explaining the meaning of Christmas: 200 calories.

Trying to explain to your parents via an overseas phone call why Buddhists celebrate Christmas with more vigor than Christians: 250 calories.

Singing Christmas carols that have been stuck in your head since early November: 150 calories.

Singing karaoke: 100 calories. Singing bad karaoke: 300 calories. Listening to bad karaoke: 500 calories. Listening to bad street musicians with tambourines: 800 calories.

Complaining about gaudy Christmas lights and illuminations: 150 calories per day. After Dec. 20, add an extra 100 calories a day as the stress builds up to Christmas day.

Looking at the Kobe "Irumination": 200 calories.

Deciding which free calendar to use for the next year, the traffic safety calendar or the Kirin beer calendar, = 250 calories.

Attending "bonenkai" parties. With all the drinking at these end-of-the-year parties, you would think you would gain weight, but the Japanese figured out long ago that mixing beer, sake and "mizu-wari" actually saves calories because the whiskey sets fire to the other calories and burns them up. Thus, you can come back from a bonenkai party having gained zero calories. Unless you get so drunk you throw up. In that case subtract 2,000 calories.

If you don't drink whiskey, it's still easy to find out how many calories you've gained on any specific night out drinking. Simply figure the calorie count using the same formula the Japanese government uses to calculate your national health insurance premium.

Walking home from bonenkai parties = 200 calories. Staggering home = 400 calories.

Another option is to take the bus home. Ryobi bus now offers a "Bonenkai Bus" that runs until 11 p.m. Think of how many calories those people are going to spend trying to find the bus, especially if it's moving.

Check out Amy Chavez's new column, "Parents Do the Strangest Things," at www.amychavez.com.

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