The obsession and joy of coffee and cigarettes
Usually, when we write the word coffee using kanji, we use two characters that read ka and hi, respectively. But sometimes, two different kanji that sound the same but mean "positive" (ka) and "negative" (hi) are used. Among the coffee shops that emerged in Tokyo during the Meiji Era (1868-1912) was Kahi Chakan, written using the positive and negative kanji.
After World War II, writer Bunroku Shishi (1893-1969) wrote a newspaper serial novel called "Kohido" (The way of coffee). To learn about the drink, he frequented coffee shops, which apparently eventually gave him stomach trouble. It is wise to go easy on coffee no matter how much you like it, he wrote in his memoirs. Since the old days, the pros and cons of coffee have been hotly debated: Some people love coffee and say it promotes health, while others abhor it and call it poison.
In recent years, the odds have turned somewhat in favor of coffee. Recently, a Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare research group's study found that coffee's effectiveness in protecting the liver from cancer is "nearly certain."
According to the survey, the incidence of liver cancer among those who drink coffee almost every day is about half that of those who don't consume the drink very often. This is apparently the first time the government has ever officially endorsed a single food or drink's effects on the health.
The survey also found that coffee helps prevent diabetes, stimulates the autonomic nervous system and improves blood circulation.
A long time ago in Europe, people detested coffee and called it derogatory names such as "soot syrup" and "extract of old shoes." Those who drank it in defiance of such negative monikers would be happy to hear the recent string of reports about coffee's positive side.
Meanwhile, the tide is increasingly turning against tobacco, another indulgence on which many people are hooked. The same ministry study group recently reported that women whose husbands smoke are twice as likely to develop pulmonary adenocarcinoma, a type of lung cancer, than are wives of nonsmokers. Medical costs to treat health problems caused by tobacco now easily top 1 trillion yen a year in Japan.
Coffee and cigarettes have traditionally been seen as luxurious addictions. But with one now gaining a positive image, and the other a negative slant, the thrill is gone. More people around me have quit smoking and sip their coffee minus the cigarette. Coffee tastes just as good without the smoke, most of them say.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 26(IHT/Asahi: December 27,2007)