Category Archives: Features Japan

Study finds eating protein during breakfast is best for muscle growth

Researchers find the best time to consume proteins for building and strengthening muscles is during breakfast.

Proteins are essential for body growth and muscle building. However, protein metabolism varies depending on the body’s internal biological clock. Therefore, it is important to know how distribution of protein intake over the day affects muscles. Researchers from Japan have now found that consumption of proteins at breakfast increases muscle size and function in mice and humans, shedding light on the concept of ‘Chrononutrition’ that deals with the timing of diets to ensure organ health.

Image courtesy Waseda University

Proteins constitute an essential dietary component that help in the growth and repair of the body. Composed of long chains of amino acids, proteins promote the growth of skeletal muscles, the group of muscles that help us move. Humans have been aware of the benefits of proteins for long. However, recent studies have shown that having the right amount of protein at the right time of the day is essential for proper growth. This is called ‘Chrononutrition,’ in which when you eat is as important as what and how you eat.

The reason behind this is the body’s internal biological clock, called the ‘circadian rhythm.’ This rhythm is followed by all cells and controls life functions like metabolism and growth. Interestingly, protein digestion and absorption have been found to fluctuate across day and night according to this clock. Moreover, earlier studies have reported that intake of protein at breakfast and lunch promotes skeletal muscle growth in adults. However, details on the effect of the time of protein intake on muscle growth and function have remained elusive.

Researchers from Waseda University, led by Professor Shigenobu Shibata, recently endeavoured to understand the effect of the distribution of protein intake through the day on muscles. They fed laboratory mice two meals per day containing either high (11.5% by proportion) or low (8.5% by proportion) protein concentrations. The researchers noted that protein intake at breakfast induced an increase in muscle growth, determined by assessing induced hypertrophy of the plantaris muscle in the leg, when compared with the effects of protein intake at dinner. Specifically, the ratio of muscle hypertrophy determined against the growth of the control muscle was 17% higher in mice fed 8.5% protein at breakfast, than that in mice fed 11.5% protein at dinner, despite the former group consuming a low proportion of protein overall. They also found that intake of a type of protein called the BCCA, short for branched-chain amino acids, early in the day increased the size of skeletal muscles specifically.

Infographic provided by Waseda University

To confirm the association of these effects with the workings of the circadian rhythm, the researchers next engineered whole-body mutant ClockΔ19 or muscle-specific Bmal1 knockout mice lacking the genes that control the biological clock. They repeated diet distribution experiments on these mice but did not observe similar muscle change, which confirmed the involvement of the circadian rhythm in muscle growth in the context of protein intake.

Excited about the findings of their study published in a recent issue of the Cell Reports, Prof. Shibata emphasizes, “Protein-rich diet at an early phase of the daily active period, that is at breakfast, is important to maintain skeletal muscle health and enhance muscle volume and grip strength.”

To check if their findings were applicable to humans, the team recruited women in their study and tested if their muscle function, determined by measuring skeletal muscle index (SMI) and grip strength, varied with the timing of the protein-rich diet consumed. Sixty women aged 65 years and above who took protein at breakfast rather than at dinner showed better muscle functions, suggesting the possibility of the findings to be true across species.  Additionally, the researchers also found a strong association between SMI and the proportion of protein intake at breakfast relative to total protein intake through the day.

Prof. Shibata is hopeful that the findings of their study will lead to a widespread modification in the current diet regime of most people across the Western and Asian countries, who traditionally consume low amounts of protein at breakfast.

“For humans, in general, the protein intake at breakfast averages about 15 grams, which is less than what we consume at dinner, which is roughly 28 grams. Our findings strongly support changing this norm and consuming more protein at breakfast or morning snacking time.”

– Professor Shigenobu Shibata

It seems, a simple change in our dietary regime can be our key to ensuring healthy muscles!


Authors: Shinya Aoyama (1,2,5), Hyeon-Ki Kim (1,2), Rina Hirooka (1), Mizuho Tanaka (1), Takeru Shimoda (1), Hanako Chijiki (1), Shuichi Kojima (1), Keisuke Sasaki (1), Kengo Takahashi (1), Saneyuki Makino (1), Miku Takizawa (1), Masaki Takahashi (1), Yu Tahara (1), Shigeki Shimiba (4), Kazuyuki Shinohara (5), Shigenobu Shibata, Ph.D. (1)

Title of original paper: Distribution of dietary protein intake in daily meals influences skeletal muscle hypertrophy via the muscle clock

Journal: Cell Reports



(1) Laboratory of Physiology and Pharmacology, School of Advanced Science and Engineering, Waseda University

(2) Organization for University Research Initiatives, Waseda University

(3) Institute for Liberal Arts, Tokyo Institute of Technology

(4) Department of Health Science, School of Pharmacy, Nihon University

(5) Department of Neurobiology & Behavior, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Nagasaki University

About Waseda University 

Located in the heart of Tokyo, Waseda University is a leading private research university that has long been dedicated to academic excellence, innovative research, and civic engagement at both the local and global levels since 1882. The University ranks number one in Japan in international activities, including the number of international students, with the broadest range of degree programs fully taught in English. To learn more about Waseda University, visit  

This article was written by Waseda University and verified by AFT’s editorial team. Prof. Shibata heads the Department of Electrical Engineering and Bioscience, Faculty of Science and Engineering at Tokyo’s prestigious Waseda University (pictured above). His research focuses on basic and applied studies of biological rhythms for health science and industry. The human biological clock monitors the chronological timing of our body. Disruptive body clock systems have been known to cause various mental diseases such as developmental problems, insomnia, depression and also metabolic diseases such as obesity, hypercholesteremia and alcoholism, and cancer disease. In order to promote good health, Prof. Shibata’s team studies basic and applied sciences of biological clock systems based on chronobiology, chrono-pharmacology, chrono-nutrition and chrono-exercise using animals and humans. They focus on interventions such as functional foods and nutrients, exercises like running and swimming for maintaining healthy circadian rhythm. It is their desire to propose healthy advice for chrono-nutrition and chrono-exercise to enable good health and for industrial products. Learn more:

Nike Japan – You Can’t Stop The Future

Although this advertisement was released in December 2020, team AFT found this an interesting piece to cover.

This two-minute film was selected by Vimeo’s Staff Picks, and highlights “real-life experiences” of three female athletes from different backgrounds in Japan — one is Japanese, one is Korean, and one is of mixed race with an African father and Japanese mother. The film touches on bullying, race sentiments and shows how each girl “overcomes their daily struggles and conflicts to move their future through sports.”

This advertisement raised a few eyebrows in that it became a highly controversial talking point. Have a look at what was reported throughout the international media channels:

“It has about 25 million views on social media and almost 80,000 shares.”

“The video, viewed 14.1 million times on Nike Japan’s Twitter feed by noon Wednesday, had racked up 63,000 likes but also a cascade of critical comments from many who vowed never to buy Nike products again.”

While the film’s message clearly riled members of Japan’s online right – many of whom commented using pseudonyms – more measured critics said it misrepresented modern Japanese society.

This advert is so timely as it happened just at the height of the #StopAsianHate wave. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Japanese art island Chichu

If I could go anywhere: Japanese art island Chichu, a meditation and an education

Time/Timeless/No Time (2004) by Walter De Maria. Todd Lappin/Flickr, CC BY-NC
Julian Meyrick, Griffith University

In this series we pay tribute to the art we wish could visit — and hope to see once travel restrictions are lifted.

The Chichu Art Museum is located on the tiny island of Naoshima, off the southern coast of Japan, in the Kagawa district, reachable only by ferry.

A cross between Buddhist simplicity and Modernist brutalism, from an aerial view Chichu looks like a series of weirdly-shaped concrete pits cut into a gently sloping, grassy hill.

The architect, Tadao Ando, is known for his masterful control of natural light, and to walk through Chichu is to embark on a journey of discovery in which that most ignored element — daylight — is both a mode of transformation and an object of wonder in its own right.

Even before social distancing, Chichu limited the number of tickets sold. Once inside, there are restrictions on how many people can be inside certain rooms and sometimes, how long you can spend there. No photographs are permitted, and quietness is encouraged.

Almost as good as being there … almost. A virtual tour of Chichu.

Read more: Great time to try: travel writing from the home

An epic canvas

There are three artists on display at Chichu, the best-known being Claude Monet and his epic canvas, Water Lilies. The acquisition of this “grand decoration” painted, incredibly, when Monet was in his 70s and suffering from cataracts, was the prime catalyst for establishing the museum.

I had seen paintings from this series years before, in Britain’s morgue-like National Gallery. But in the warm, rounded rooms of Chichu, daylight spilling in from high, oblong windows, the paintings are a miraculous blending of form, colour and reverence for nature. They come alive in ways no viewing technology, however sophisticated, can enhance or emulate.

Claude Monet’s Water Lily Pond at Chichu Art Museum. Wikimedia Commons/Chichu Art Museum

Ando’s building organically relates to the artworks in every way — the colour of the walls, the tiles on the floor, the dark corridors that link rooms where each visual experience is unique not because it is “world class” but because the relationship being cultivated with visitors is a personal one. The Chichu Handbook reads:

To provide a better understanding of Monet’s large decorative work from a contemporary perspective, we selected artists Walter De Maria and James Turrell. Both have been referred to as ‘land artists’ for the work they created in vast desert regions and desolate natural settings … Whether outside, inside a room, or in the surrounding environment, all the works are specifically intended for these spaces … The spatial boundary between the real world and contemporary art is indistinct.

Galleries are gatherings of art organised according to the principles of the people who set them up. More than theatres or concert halls, where rapid changes in repertoire create a spirit of flux, they rarely lose a connection with their founders’ underlying philosophy.

All art is reflective of the moment in which it occurs. But galleries are compass points from which, as a society, we take our bearings. MOMA, GOMA, the Guggenheim, Bilbao, the Powerhouse, the Pompidou Centre, the Hermitage. The meaning of these collections is larger than their real estate.

Visitors at Chichu are almost as carefully placed as the art itself. Chinnian/Flickr, CC BY

Read more: Hikikomori artists – how Japan’s extreme recluses find creativity and self-discovery in isolation

Art amid nature

What has given rise to Chichu’s powerful vision of art? The answer is, of course, a powerful vision of life; of what our lives could be. Ando writes:

Chichu … opened as a museum in pursuit of ‘a site to rethink the relationship between nature and people’ in July 2004. The establishment of the museum was a personal way of answering and realising a question that I withheld myself for many years — ‘what does it mean to live well?’

As suggested by its name, chichu (underground), this museum is built below a slightly elevated hill that was once developed as a saltpan facing the Seto Inland Sea. Without destroying the beautiful natural scenery of the Island and seeking to create a site for dialogues of the mind, the museum is an expression of my belief that ‘art must exist amid nature’.

The view from Naoshima, Kagawa, Japan. Kaori/Unsplash, CC BY

A visit to Chichu is not a prescriptive experience. There is no overriding message, as there is with MONA or the Tate Modern, for which visitors must brace. Instead, there is light, space, and quiet.

There is scope to let the senses unfold, and an expansion of self that permits the mind to occupy a zone of potentially greater understanding. There is nothing clever about Chichu, and a tertiary degree in art history is not required to appreciate what it offers. To walk through the building is education enough.

Minus commentary and cameras, asked to buy a modestly priced ticket ahead of time, to wait, to be silent, the resulting “dialogue of the mind” is structured but open-ended. This is perhaps what artists mean when they talk about “freedom within the form”.

Truth, value and alternative ways of life are related concepts, reliant on each other. There is a truth to visiting the Chichu collection that is expressed also in its wooden furniture made from shioji, a variety of Japanese ash, its strange triangular courtyards, and its breathtaking view of the Seto Inland Sea.

Read more: Why philosophy is an ideal travel companion for adventurous minds

“To get the most enjoyment out of the works, the viewer should take a moment between each gallery to reflect on the lingering sensation before moving on to the next group of works”, says the handbook.

Zen Buddhist awareness of the transience of existence marries with a large scale public building in the Western democratic tradition to produce a purposeful, spiritual encounter not filled with dogmatic content.

If there was a preciousness to the Chichu Art Museum I didn’t feel it. It was a relaxed, well-appointed and functional place, rather like the Japanese Shinkansen train that brought me to the ferry terminal. Leaving, I felt lighter, as if something I did not need had been discretely removed.

Julian Meyrick, Professor of Creative Arts, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Moving with Japan’s Rajio Taiso

Asia Fitness Today x Move8 fitness movement will be conducting Rajio Taiso lessons virtually every Friday starting 19th Feb 2021. Click here to join us for our Facebook Live sessions!

It is commonly known that regular exercise is needed to have a healthy and disease-free life but in the current fast-paced life, it is extremely difficult for a lot of us to exercise daily. 

From commuting to and from work to the long office hours, most of us want to relax and rest once we reach home. So how do we fit exercise into our busy schedules? 

Japan has figured out the answer and it is really simple- exercising at work. In Japan, it is a must to exercise at work.   

When the clock hits 1:00pm, workers jump up from their table and undergo a 10-minute vigorous stretching and bending routine. Companies like Toyota have their own in-house workout space. Sony employees join an exercise drill daily at 3:00 PM and it’s for all levels of floor workers up to management executives. Rakuten installed some 12,000 movable desks so that its employees could switch between sitting and standing positions throughout the day.

Radio Taiso done in Vietnam

In Japan, this morning exercise is referred to as “Rajio Taiso” or “Radio Exercise.” The radio comes on, employees gather together, and the exercise routine begins. Exercise programmes at work are so common in Japan that there is a radio station – Radio Taiso – that plays nothing but music to exercise to, along with instructions for simple, low-impact aerobic exercises to be performed in groups.

Radio-taiso is Japan’s national exercise. It has been a key role in promoting the health of the citizens. These are short exercises that can be done by people of all ages and some can even be done while seated.  

Radio-taiso gymnastic exercises are carried out in schools, workplaces and other community gathering spaces. For Japanese people, these exercises are deeply familiar. Participants carry out thirteen types of exercises in about three minutes to record light piano music.

According to Japan Post Insurance, the first broadcast took place in 1928, and the aim was to improve the health of the general public in Japan. Ever since then, this tradition of Rajio (radio in Japanese) Taiso has been incorporated into a lot of Japanese people’s morning routines.

However, you will be surprised to know that Radio- taiso was invented in the U.S and was brought to Japan from America. Radio calisthenics was invented in the 1920’s to inspire Americans in major cities to start their day with some light, healthy exercise.

Inspired by a similar exercise in the US, Radio Taiso was designed to keep Japanese soldiers as well as women and children at home fit and healthy. Even after nearly 9 decades, Radio Taiso remains a popular morning activity.

Radio-taiso is a radio program that broadcasts a set of warm-up exercise guidelines along with music. In Japan, the public broadcasting company NHK, broadcasts the program at 6:30 am every morning in their channel NHK Radio 1. The program lasts for approximately 10 minutes. 

A gentle but upbeat male voice begins the steady exercises, instructing listeners to jump forwards and backwards, roll their hips and stretch their joints to the beat of a cheerful piano tune. There is even a visual version available through NHK where a seated routine is demonstrated for those who cannot stand.

Radio-taiso exercises are divided into two sections. The first section is for improving the fitness of people at all ages and the second section is designed to improve muscle strength. The second half is mainly aimed at the younger generation.

This effective method of exercising saw an increase in productivity of the employees. One study conducted by Briston University on 200 employees found that employees who exercised had a higher score than those who didn’t.

Consultate General of Japaan in Los Angeles, USA

Participants’ scores were 21% higher for concentration on work, 22% higher for finishing their work on time, 25% higher for working without unscheduled breaks, and an incredible 41% for feeling motivated to work. 

Many other companies around the world have taken inspiration from Japan and incorporated a similar model of movement for their employees. 

Also featured in Mongolia!

For instance- Swedish company Skanska took a note from Japan and encouraged their construction workers to participate in a 10 minute exercise and stretching workout in the morning. As a result, workers reported fewer injuries, better sense of motivation and a feeling of community. 

Honda introduced a similar model in their South Carolina plant. Before every shift, the workers engage in a two minute routine with music. The exercises target hands, shoulders and other muscles that the workers repeatedly use during their shifts. As a result, they were able to reduce health costs and injuries. 

Japan’s radio-taiso shows us how simple exercising can be and how even 5 minutes of exercise can make a huge difference in our productivity.  

This article has been researched, compiled and written by the team at Asia Fitness Today News Network (AFTNN); Sneha Ramesh – Intern, Monash University (Sunway campus), Syuhada Adam – Editorial consultant, Nikki Yeo & Jasmine Low – Director/Producer.


Hall, M. (2020, October 30). Japan’s Historical Radio Taiso Workout. VOYAPON.

How to Increase Your Productivity by 21% with Exercise. (2018, June 3). Productivityist.

Sasaki, T. (2019, October). Rajio Taiso: Japan’s National Exercises | October 2019 | Highlighting Japan. Government of Japan.

The Japanese Morning Exercise Routine – Rajio-Taiso – JAPANKURU. (2019, August 21). Japankuru.

Sonic Cure

This performance by Ryuichi Sakamoto was commissioned by the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art and streamed live via the Kuaishou app, which has over 300million users. Entitled “Voluntary Garden Online Concert: Sonic Cure”, nine musicians were selected to perform. They all had various styles and differences in their art and included Sakamoto (b. 1952) to Liu Yucao (b. 1995), multimedia artist Feng Mengbo to suona master Guo Yazhi, all coming together to give an improvised concert, performing in relay via the Kuaishou app.

The UCCA website shares that this performance on 29 February 2020 featured musicians Feng Mengbo, Huang Jin, “Two Chamber Quarters” Pang Kuan, and Xia Yuyan who are in Beijing; Zhang Meng in Shanghai; Feng Hao in Hefei; Liu Yucao and Guo Yazhi in Boston; and Ryuichi Sakamoto in New York. The seven solo performers and one duo each performed an unprecedented musical conversation broadcast to audiences across the world. In this featured post, we showcase Mr. Sakamoto’s act.

A renowned keyboardist and songwriter attached to the Haruomi Hosono’s Yellow Magic Orchestra, he is a synth pop pioneer and famed for solo experiments that collaborated with global genres and classical impressionism that led to him scoring over 30 films including Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor and The Sheltering Sky, and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant. In the past 20 years alone, he’s written a multimedia opera, turned a glass building into an instrument, and travelled to the Arctic to record the sound of melting snow. That exploratory spirit runs through Sakamoto’s 2017 album, async, which paints an audio portrait of the passing of time informed by his recovery from throat cancer. “Music, work, and life all have a beginning and an ending,” said Sakamoto in early 2019. “What I want to make now is music freed from the constraints of time.”

Mr. Sakamoto wanted to share this with you who are in isolation.

Here is another performance, dedicated to the isolated: and a fan-produced playlist from his album Energy Flow.

Coming up…

Ryuichi Sakamoto:
seeing sound
hearing time

M WOODS is presenting an exhibition devoted to Ryuichi Sakamoto. The exhibition is Sakamoto’s first institutional solo show in China. It includes work in various media from the last thirty years and new outdoor site-specific installations made especially for M WOODS.

Exhibition Dates: 5 March 2021 – August 8, 2021

With collaborative works by Shiro Takatani Daito Manabe Zakkubalan Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Curated by Sachiko Namba, Victor Wang, Zhang Youdai. (Source: Instagram)

Editor’s note: AFT has dedicated 2021 to raising awareness about non-communicable diseases. Diagnosed with stage three throat cancer in 2014, Mr. Sakamoto told Thailand Tatler in an interview that even listening to music was “too hard for me—maybe because music is too important to me. To enjoy it requires a certain amount of energy, and I lost a lot of it during [that time]”. On behalf of AFT, we wish him continuous improvement in his health and deep appreciation for his art. Thank you and take care, Mr. Sakamoto.


Tim is a successful jazz musician from Alberta, Canada and for twenty years, he was immersed in music; from performing with bands, singing at events and in front of prime ministers and royalty and writing this book, How to Ikigai: Lessons for Finding Happiness and Living Your Life’s Purpose.

My cousin Angeline gifted me with a best seller by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles titled, Ikigai The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. Not so secret anymore, it seems, this ideology that originated from Okinawa, Japan. Or not…

Photo credit: Louis Low

The authors interviewed residents of the Japanese village with the highest percentage of 100-year-olds—one of the world’s Blue Zones in Okinawa. How did they eat, how did they move, how they worked, how they fostered collaboration and community, and—their best-kept secret—how did they find the ikigai that brings satisfaction to their lives?

1. Stay active and don’t retire

2. Leave urgency behind and adopt a slower pace of life

3. Only eat until you are 80 per cent full

4. Surround yourself with good friends

5. Get in shape through daily, gentle exercise

6. Smile and acknowledge people around you

7. Reconnect with nature

8. Give thanks to anything that brightens our day and makes us feel alive.

9. Live in the moment

10. Follow your ikigai

So I decided to do a quick check on what others thought of the concept, especially Japanese people (including foreigners who live in Japan).

What is ikigai?

Melbournian editor in Japan, Lucy Dayman wrote about the origin of ikigai in online magazine Savvy Tokyo. Here’s what she wrote:

The origin of the word ikigai goes back to the Heian period (794 to 1185). Clinical psychologist and avid expert of the ikigai evolution, Akihiro Hasegawa released a research paper in 2001 where he wrote that the word “gai” comes from the word “kai” which translates to “shell” in Japanese.

During the Heian period, shells were extremely valuable, so the association of value is still inherently seen in this word. It can also be seen in similar Japanese words like hatarakigai, (働きがい) which means the value of work, or yarigai ~ga aru (やり甲斐がある), meaning “it’s worth doing it.”

Ikigai Tribe podcast

I also found Ikigai Tribe – a podcast by Ikigai coach Nick Kemp. His ikigai, is about what ikigai truly means to the Japanese and how you can find it to make your own life worth living. This first episode features Professor Akihiro Hasegawa of Toyo Eiwa University, one of Japan’s leading researchers and experts on ikigai. Together, they discuss the meaning and origin of the word “ikigai”, his research, the Mother of Ikigai Psychology, Mieko Kamiya, and more.

One of the takeaways from the podcast, was his study in dementia patients. Patients with strong sense of Ikigai, deferred dementia.

A diagram depicted in Garcia and Miralles’ book about the meaning of Ikigai went viral very quickly but it turns out many Japanese people disagreed and didn’t think it was a good representation of the concept. It was a gentrified version, simplified and wrongly inserted a line, “that you can be paid for”, which was something of err to the original ideology. Google Ikigai diagram images and you will see so many versions plagiarised from one to another, but based on the wrong interpretation – a peril of good information that’s wrongly interpreted but gone viral. I found Kyle Kowalski’s SLOWW movement and he described the origin of the diagram in detail, the Ikigai concept.

So what is really the true meaning of Ikigai and how can one achieve it?

“Only staying active will make you want to live a hundred years.”

Japanese proverb
Penguin’s promotional video

In the podcast interview, Hasegawa Sensei shared that Ikigai was a way of life and not so much something you’d do which you can be paid for.

  • Health
  • Intellectual Activeness
  • Social Roles in Communities
  • Family Structure (especially in rural areas)

These were the core areas of Ikigai, as described by Hasegawa Sensei.

Peggy Oki

Peggy Oki talks about flow and motion and it’s clear her ikigai is sharing tales about the ‘Cetacean Nation’. A Surfer, Skateboarder, Artist and Activist, Peggy founded the Origami Whales Project in 2004 to raise awareness about commercial whaling. She has also developed the Whales and Dolphins Ambassador Program and led campaigns such as ‘Let’s Face It’, which petitions to save New Zealand’s critically endangered Maui’s dolphins and Hector’s dolphins.

Follow your heart with vision and actions,

Create your own folds and you will connect with your purpose in life.

Peggy Oki

Thought I’d end this ikigai piece with a real life example like Peggy’s story. I’m sure we’ll each find our way, whichever way that works for us but one thing is true – it’s about having a deep sense of purpose.