STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Japan is worth watching for many reasons: its military policy, its huge economy and its surprising cultural influence. Japanese companies and consumers lead the way in many trends that reach America, from the Sony Walkman to graphic novels. So on a recent trip, NPR's Louisa Lim asked what the Japanese are up to now.
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LOUISA LIM: Tokyo must be one of the most high-stressed, fast-paced cities in the world. It's densely populated, it's noisy and people work incredibly long hours at the office. Now Japanese businesses are cashing in on that stress. Relaxation is a huge industry here, worth about $30 billion a year. Now I'm going to examine some uniquely Japanese ways of relieving that stress.
Now my first stop is down here in the basement of a department store in the ritzy district of Ginza. I've come here to visit that Japanese institution, the oxygen bar.
Hi. I've just been given this little introduction which says oxygen is good for you because it activates your metabolism, it revives your cells, it burns fat so it's good for dieters, helps with hangovers and maintains your beauty. Well, I think I could do with some oxygen here.
So the oxygen is piped through flavored liquid (unintelligible) - more than 20 different flavors of liquid here. This is the most popular one, so I'm going to try this. It's a mixture of lime, bayberry, lavender, tangerine, peppermint and wintergreen.
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LIM: (Unintelligible) so I'm putting this little plastic tube up my nose, and it doesn't look as if it's going to be very comfortable. Wow! The oxygen machine is bubbling away now. But I'm certainly smelling this mixture, and the peppermint is really strong.
Oh, it's over. My machine has stopped bubbling. My ten minutes is up. My check has come and it's about nine dollars. And actually, I have to admit I do feel a little bit relaxed.
Now I'm going to go talk to another customer, a young lady who's been sitting beside me and see why she's come here.
Unidentified Woman #1: (Speaking foreign language)
Unidentified Woman #2 (Translator): Well, the husband is away working all day long and you stay home facing a child face-to-face all day long. And then you get stressed and that accumulates, and there's no way to release the stress. And that's why it's stressful.
LIM: The relaxation and healing industries are some of the fastest growing sectors in Japan today. For example, last year, Japanese spent six-times as much on healing products as they did on flat screen TVs.
Now for my second stop I've come to an animal therapy center. It's in the back of a shop called Cats Livin'(ph). And you have to pay an entrance fee of $8. For that, you get to come through this door here and you get to walk into a model house which is full of cats.
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LIM: Cats up on the shelves. There's cats on the TV There's a cat under the stool there. Another cat on the living room table. There are about 20 to 30 cats there and there's about 10 people in here.
It's quite busy, isn't it? How many people come here in a day?
Unidentified Woman #3: (Through translator) On weekdays at least around a hundred a day, and weekends, Saturdays or Sundays, we get 400 people a day.
LIM: So can you ask her why does she think people come here.
Unidentified Woman #2: (Speaking foreign language) First of all, her customers, they like cats and also they get healed by being with cats. And in the big city sometimes you can't keep your pets, you can't keep a cat.
LIM: So now I'm out of the cat house and I have to say it was very, very hot in there. And not really being a cat person, I didn't find it the most relaxing experience ever. In fact, I'm allergic to cats and I'm beginning to get a little bit itchy, so I'm quite glad to be out of there.
My next stop on this quest for serenity is inside this nondescript brown office building. This is the Napia(ph) Good Sleep Salon which boasts around 1,000 members, inveterate nappers who pay $8 a shot to come here to nap.
Well, I'm going to go inside and see what they get for their $8.
Unidentified Man #1: Hi.
LIM: Can you ask him how long should I sleep to be really, really relaxed.
Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language)
Unidentified Woman #2: Best direction for the nap is 20 to 30 minutes.
Unidentified Man #1: (Through translator) And if you want to have a headphone CD to listen to quiet healing music.
LIM: Healing music would be great. Let's try that.
Unidentified Man: #1: (Through translator) (Unintelligible) coffee will be best.
LIM: Doesn't coffee stop you from sleeping, though?
Unidentified Man #1: (Through translator) But if you have coffee before you go to sleep, your wake-up is very, very crispy.
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LIM: So it seems sort of counter-intuitive that they're actually recommending you have the coffee before you go to sleep so you wake up easily.
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LIM: And now I'm going to the sleep room, where there's a little cubicle partitioned off by a curtain. There's someone sleeping on the other side so I have to be really quiet. Okay? I'm just going to lie down now on the bed and slip on the headphones to listen to this relaxing music.
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INSKEEP: NPR's Louisa Lim in a nap salon in Tokyo. This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.