Sake sampling at a local brewery in Chiba, Japan. Photo Credit: Akiko Honda
By Akiko Honda
East Asia Correspondent
Osaka, JP - Japanese traditional sake had a resurgence in 2011, with drinkers consuming 23% more than in 2010. After hitting a peak in the mid-1970s, consumption gradually fell to a third. Last year, though, saw a return of enthusiasm for sake as a way of supporting Tohoku, a region with three major sake-producing prefectures: Miyagi, Fukushima and Iwate. Tohoku is also the site of the major disasters that occurred in March 2011.
Now, sake has become fashionable once again as a way of helping out a disaster-ravaged part of the country and returning to Japanese culture.
As the saying goes, it is an ill wind that does not blow someone some good. Sales for sake from those hard-hit prefectures have gone up by 5 percent for Fukushima, 14 percent for Iwate and 28 percent for Miyagi, according to the National Washoku and Sake Foundation.
Specialty izakaya devoted to the rich variety of sake from the Tohoku region have sprung up in major cities like Tokyo, and it appears almost every drinking spot in the country offers more sake than ever before.
New brands are starting to call themselves fukkoshu, or restoration sake. Suddenly, Japanese seem to have rediscovered a beverage with roots in Japan's earliest recorded history.
It was not too long ago that Japanese-style bars and restaurants started stocking foreign alcohol, and it became acceptable to sip wine at that most traditional of Japanese undertakings: sakami, cherry-blossom viewing parties.
The interest in all things foreign is unlikely to reverse itself entirely, but the Sake and Shochu Makers Association, which tracks sales and consumption, reports that Japanese drinks are making a comeback. Sake lovers call it "drinking revival support".
The affordability of foreign alcohol after import tariffs were reduced in the 1980s was perhaps less a factor in sake's decline than other countries' drinks appearing exotic, sophisticated, and best suited for a trendy meal in a chic restaurant. Sake became tagged as a cheap drink for overworked "salarymen" drinking in low-priced bars. Young people shunned it and older people wanted something new.
Much has changed since then. Nowadays, sake is served at the finest French restaurants in Paris. Women, whose entry to sake breweries was long considered taboo, started to become master brewers and sake sommeliers.
Sophisticated and high-priced varieties were developed, and specialty shops and restaurants throughout the country became more knowledgeable about how to pair sake with French, Mexican, and Southeast Asian cuisine.
New types of sake were developed, even low-calorie sake for the diet-conscious. General knowledge of how sake is made has been better dispensed.
With this new and improved image, Japanese were starting to take notice even before the Tohoku disasters. However, with the additional chance to help out Tohoku, sake now has double value. The Tohoku disasters have drawn attention to the plight of sake makers and triggered interest again in all things Japanese, especially those connected to Tohoku.
The consumption of sake is helping a region of the country desperate for income and attention, and is helping to rehabilitate the image of sake in important ways.
To nondrinkers, that may sound like just another excuse for more tipple. However, according to the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association, 93 of the 114 breweries in the three quake-affected prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima were seriously affected by the earthquake and tsunami.
Most breweries suffered extensive damage to brewing equipment and facilities, others had products and storerooms washed away, while others lost skilled employees.
When faced with such devastation, the sake industry received great support from across the country. Yamasaki Hiro, a supervisor for a local brewery in Chiba, believes both young and old are taking a renewed interest in sake. "All kinds of people are returning to drinking sake from all parts of the country," Yamasaki mentioned to Le Prestige. "Sake festivals last year were crowded with drinkers eager to taste new varieties and raise a cup to their recovery. It's very Japanese."
Investment firms have started to offer shares in Tohoku breweries to help them back on their feet. The revival of sake in Japan is an example of how profoundly the Tohoku earthquake has changed Japanese hearts and minds.
Japanese people are becoming more interested in their culture and how unique Japanese products, like sake, appear to the international community.
In the rush to appear international, Japanese have forgotten their own traditions and some were left aside in favor of the new and different. Sake, though, like rice from which it is made, remains close to the heart of Japanese culture.
Satou Chihiro, a business woman in Osaka, approves of the sake trend. "Sake brewing and consumption is a traditional industry that many feel deserves protection, support and attention," Satou stated. "The rejuvenation of sake will hopefully be the first in a wave of similar renewals."
By Chuck del Valle
Lifestyle and Society Contributor
A stocky white man named Jim describes himself as, “Just a normal guy…Not into Asians.”
A young man with Aryan-like features named Danny is more equal-opportunist in his bias: “No Oriental, No Indian, No Latino, No Black, No Fat, under 30 years old.”
The terms used to symbolize a particular race of people begin making appearances: “NO NATIVE CHOP-STICK USERS,” writes a guy named Sean. Another uses emoticons to send the message: two men, one in a turban and another in a Mandarin hat, followed by a red, negating X.
The comments bubbled up recently from the harsh world of gay online dating, utilizing a variety of sites and smartphone applications. In an endless parade of shirtless, gym-happy men, many state racial biases as openly as other turnoffs, like flab.
“The culture of sexual liberation has been replaced by sexual segregation,” commented Tim Naganishi, lambasting the widespread racism on gay hookup sites. Naganishi, a graduate student of Sociology at U C. Berkeley, notes that racism within the gay community is not atypical. "The things people are more hesitant to say in person are readily available online, it's a bit sad really."
Racial filtering is alive and well on mainstream dating and hookup websites, which give users the option of checking ethnic preferences alongside ideal body types and social habits like smoking and drinking.
As U.S. census numbers consistently show that interracial unions are on the rise, online dating is now the second most popular form of matchmaking, behind meeting through friends. In the digital world, race remains murky territory.
While most critics agree that the ethnicity check-box is vastly preferable to specifying ‘No Asians,’ they disagree about whether the option is a step backward. Some argue it isn't any different than hunting through niche sites like Shaadi, an Indian matrimonial website, or JDate, an online matchmaking service for Jews.
More crucially, can an individual's sexual preferences be deemed racist, or is attraction a matter of personal taste? Is there a need to “prefer” everybody?
In several gay and lesbian magazines, readers and writers have documented the anti-Asian sentiments prevalent within gay online dating websites. “Guys who put 'no Asians, no chocolate' on their profile are not stating a preference,” a reader commented on an online discussion forum for a popular gay magazine. “You’re using the disguise of a semi-socially acceptable way to say you’re a racist and looking to hook up with other racists.”
On generalist dating sites, users are discouraged from narrowing criteria, even though the option is built right into the services.
“Biased people come in all races and great people come in all races. If you stick within one ethnicity, it does seem like you’re potentially cutting yourself off from meeting someone who could be amazing,” said Tiffany Epstein, a dating and relationships expert based in Miami.
“The vagaries of the human heart is what it comes down to,” Epstein acknowledges. “It’s really not for me as an individual or as a representative of a company to judge what’s going on to make someone's juices flow.”
A poll of nearly 2,000 online dating users conducted in the summer of 2011 found that 79 per cent of women surveyed said race affected their dating decisions, compared with 56 per cent of men.
“Women may be more specific about their wants and needs,” Epstein offered.
After organizing some interracial events, Ray Macias was discomforted by client response, particularly when he learned that many men were categorically overlooking African-American women. Macias, a public relations and event-planning professional based in San Diego, commented that black women tend to be some of the most unfavorable for men. “Of all the groups, black women have the worst luck. It’s really quite gut-wrenchingly sad, some of the feedback.”
Macias mentions that he's made other observations in the world of dating. "I've organized events primarily geared towards Asian-Americans that have had a mixed success rate for the attendees," he stated. "Asian-American women are usually attracted to white guys, despite their looks. They hardly notice the Asian guys in the room."
Even as he urges clients to focus on shared interests, such as bar-hopping or exercise, Mr. Macias shies away from criticizing ethnic inclinations: “It’s very hard to point the finger and say that what they’re doing is wrong or racist, but it’s uncomfortable. It’s a grey area.”
Some critics argue that racial filters actually help keep people from getting hurt in person.
“I’m not sure that an online-dating scenario is the best place for people to expand their cultural horizons if they are already predisposed to judge,” said Sara Miller, Chicago-native and student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "In the past, I've used online-dating websites and have definitely filtered race because it's my personal preference."
Miller, whose current boyfriend is Mexican American, believes race filters on dating websites and apps should not be perceived as racism. "I'm Italian, Greek, and German. My mother lived in Venezuela for 8 years and I'm fluent in Spanish and Italian. I don't consider myself a racist because I have a racial preference."
In light of the rise of interracial marriages, it appears “online dating is taking a step in the opposite direction,” argued Harry Reis, a psychology professor at the University of Rochester who co-authored a review of 400 studies on online dating.
“People should be free to have sex or not have sex with anyone they want. But if you categorically rule out an ethnic group, it is by definition racist. One may not be racist in other ways but when it comes to sexual preferences, the person is. And in my estimation, it is fine (although self-limiting) to be racist with regard to sexual preferences.”
The review suggests that online dating reduces “three-dimensional people to two-dimensional displays of information,” fostering a shopping mentality among users who becoming exceedingly picky and judgmental.
“When you exclude people just because you think you don’t like a this or a that, you’re excluding the possibility of finding out that your stereotype is wrong,” Prof. Reis said.
“Throw out the checklist and your preconceived notions,” Ms. Epstein advises. “What you think you want and where you end up finding chemistry are often two very different things.”
Still, the reality is more daunting for some. John, an entry-level accountant in Chicago, states his experience with both online and traditional dating have not been the most positive. "As an Asian-American guy, I find that very few girls, even Asians, are interested in giving me a chance," he commented. "I'm 5'11, go to the gym 4-5 times a week, and have a steady flow of income, yet few girls are willing to go past the initial coffee date. There's something very wrong with that."
By Carlos Ferreira
Inspiration comes from the availability of tech in menswear today and how these fabrics and fabrications have gone past simply sporty to becoming more polished and dressed-up. They also contrast nicely with a rugged, natural landscape that emphasizes a state of solidarity while allowing a viewer to focus on the essence of simply being.
This had originally been intended for print, but we found it befitting to have it published bigger and better—on Le Prestige du Monde.
By Jerry Arroyo
Los Angeles Correspondent
For many, dads are among the first people to teach children about living an active lifestyle: they coach soccer games, encourage others to get moving on the weekends, and even pack healthy snacks (some do).
This is why society is often surprised to see the deluge of unhealthy dad stereotypes clogging up card stores this time of year. Take a look! The local store will inevitably showcase the so-called heartfelt messages about dad's flatulence, couch potato tendencies and bad eating habits (beer and pizza mostly).
Le Prestige's readers rounded up some of the interesting cards around town (and online) and sent them our way.
Happy Father's Day! ¡Feliz día del padre!
By Katherine Amber
I love Doha, Qatar. A few friends recommended it to me but I had no idea how truly welcoming and wonderful this city would be. My preconceptions about Doha-- that it was unwelcoming, prone to religious extremism, third world, hectic and unsophisticated -- were proven wrong on most counts. And on the fashion front, I have observed Doha as an interesting blending of western wear and headscarves.
My boyfriend and I have been in Qatar for a week and I have become charmed by the diversity of headscarves we've seen. I've been engaging in great conversations about what they represent and interviewing many locals on the subject -- including our tour guide, a woman I met on the tram, a white American expat who has lived here for 30 years, and my traveling companions.
This is what I have distilled: Not all headscarves are what they appear to be. They are both more and less than you would expect.
Our tour guide says her mom wears hers only when cooking and cleaning and that is out of habit. She was raised wearing one and so she continues. Her sister does not wear one and it is of no issue. According to her, the link from headscarf to religion is a not an often obvious line.
An international academic, another well-traveled friend, piped in on the topic, saying they are a sign of oppression and her hope is that one day no woman will feel compelled to wear one.
The local Qatari woman on the tram said headscarves are becoming quite the status symbol, and you will see jeweled and colorful designer scarves thoughtfully coordinated and completing outfits.
Our expat friend commented that today, headscarves are highly correlated with fashion here in Istanbul. Times are changing, this is a fast paced city and women's fashions are the barometer of the westernization of this culture.
My tour guide mentioned randomly, "We in Doha love everything Western."
On the extreme end of headscarves, at breakfast I observed a woman in a full burqa, with only the slits of her eyes exposed. She had a lovely designer pocketbook, red sneakers and a full plate of food. Curious as to how she would eat with her thick black cloth covering her from nose to ground, I was surprised when a napkin size square of black cloth was seamlessly shifted away from her chin as she slipped her toast and egg skillfully into her mouth and instantly dropped the draping. It happened so fast that if I had blinked, I surely would have missed it.
These days, when we see headscarves in fashion, there may be some confusion to us Westerners, particularly white people, as to what they "mean." For some, they represent oppression. To others, a choice and the freedom to choose one's own path.
with Benjamin Pond and Annie Lakes
A sex, love, and relationships column for the open-minded and shamelessly unabashed.
Disclaimer: our experts don't have documented degrees in the subject, just some notches on the bedposts and over-used little black books filled with enough stories to confidently put the subject on blast.
I have trouble pinpointing the time in my life that I decided to be sexually open and liberal, but I do remember when I found out that this was seen as “slutty” or “whoreish” by some of my closest friends. The moment was unsettling. I called a friend who lived in another state for our monthly catch-up session. We went through the same niceties as always; our jobs, families, and planning the next get together. Finally, we moved to our latest male drama. Hers hadn’t changed in over a year, much to her dismay. She was stuck in a loveless relationship that she anxiously avoided and openly admitted to not being able to leave in fear of being alone. Not to mention, it gets worse: he hadn’t given her an orgasm in quite some time. We continued with the same back and forth as always: about how being alone for a hot minute is not a bad thing and how she’s independent in everything else in her life, why not this?
This situation might sound familiar to perhaps one of your relationships, or even the relationship that characters Marnie and Charlie have on HBO’s “Girls.” The one exception is that I unfortunately believe my friend will continue to stick out this unsatisfying relationship.
We gingerly moved on to talk about the new aspects of my life. I had a new guy I was dating, I had a lot of fun with him and the sex was good and things were peachy. My friend’s response was glaringly frustrated, even over the phone: “God, you say that every time you start dating someone. You always say how much fun they are and every time I call it’s someone new.”
Her exaggeration aside, why was it so wrong to be happy in a new fling? It’s the freaking honeymoon phase and I deserve to be glowing! I found myself regretting that I divulged this information to her for two reasons: I seemed to upset her by the way I treat my relationships and unfortunately I began questioning my own conquests as too many.
Was I too quick to jump into new situations with guys? Have I had sex with too many of them? Am I a whore? Why is it OK for a woman to stay in an unhappy relationship because she isn’t racking up more notches on her bedpost, but I’m promiscuous because I recognize when I am no longer satisfied in a situation and seek out one where I will be? It’s not just close-minded girls either. Some guys talk openly about their number but can’t handle when a girl counters with hers. They don’t want to hear it or think about it. Should we be ashamed of our number? I think it depends on a lot of things like safety, reasons for having the sex, or getting into relationships. If all our sex is safe, we can sleep sounder at night and if we are sleeping with someone because we love them then we’re OK, correct? I’d be hard pressed to find many to disagree with that statement. It’s those who do not use sexual protection and the ones who are sleeping with someone out of revenge or for malicious reasons that should be ashamed. That’s the rule I follow, and granted it’s not the golden rule, but it’s my life, my body and my number. These things are personal and I know I’m not a whore and much like this column, people’s potential judgments of my actions are not the driving force behind them.
Your number does not define you and we should learn to curb the judgment that inherently crosses our faces when we hear someone has had sex with x-amount of people at whatever age. I hope, for her sake, each one of those notches (if there are any) were mind blowing, safe, and never a culprit for questioning her sexual experience.
I could lie and say that a number is just a number with no meaning behind it other than a mathematical way of counting something. But who would I be, as a man, to not lie about my number. As the classic rule explains, every time you hear a man’s number, you add three and that puts you more in the range of his true amount of sexual partners.
Now do I agree with my counterpart, in that your number should not define you as a female? Yes. But to a degree. I’ve been known to say that I would be happy to throw down on some big breasted porn star that my buddies and I are talking about, but should the situation ever arise (pun whole-heartedly intended), I wouldn’t just go diving into that heavily trampled field of roses without thinking about just how many people have passed by.
Knowing a female’s number is, in fact, a double standard. Guys will throw out big numbers and his boys will give him props for it. A girl—if she’s comfortable enough in the first place—will reveal her number and immediate judgment comes from it. This isn’t because of anything more than females being more judgmental than guys.
Guys don’t care what your number is strictly because in most heterosexual cases, they don’t need to care, because they aren’t planning to have sex with their buddy. If it’s not going to affect the guy himself, then it’s not going to really bother him.
But for girls it’s much different. Judging other girls is as natural for females as is breast feeding. You do it and if you say you don’t, then you’re lying, ladies. Once you hear a friend’s number you think, “is my number too low/high?” While a guy will ask, “I wonder if Becca is one of those he’s counting…” (Crossing swords is a “whole ‘nother ball game.”)
I’ve had some friends that put up Hall of Fame numbers when we talk about it and to be honest, it makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want to think about pulling in Wilt Chamberlain figures in the bedroom. It’s more about quality and less about quantity for me. (Notice I said “more” and “less”, not necessarily “all or nothing.”)
When it comes to my partner, sex is not a numbers game, it’s a game of education and passion. If she has been tested, has the right reasons behind it, and doesn’t hold my skills up to the gamut that she may (or may not have) run of her past, than she’s fine by me.
In general, for both sexes, think of it in the realm of golf. You choose different clubs to get you to your final destination: the green. Sometimes you play it safe with an iron instead of a driver to avoid the hazards, while other times you just shoot for that hole-in-one. Whatever your strategy is, your final amount of strokes gets marked down on the score sheet by you. No one else. Maybe you gave yourself a few mulligans to make you feel better or you failed to add that penalty stroke for that one questionable ruling. In the end, it all is fruitless though, because no one strictly confirms or checks your score card… well that is unless you are Tiger Woods.
Moral of the story: Don't stress on how many strokes it takes for you to complete your round, just play the course.