In one of my previous articles, I discussed the nutritional reasons why Japanese people don’t get fat. In that article, I highlighted the fact that Japanese people don’t get fat because they eat small meals throughout the day, they do not skip their healthy breakfast, they cook very gently, and they do not fancy sweet dessert. Those are the main nutritional reasons. Now in this article, you will learn why Japanese people don’t gain much weight, because their society is simply wired that way. These are the lifestyle reasons Japanese people don’t get fat:
1. There is no fat-blind politeness in Japan
I remember when I traveled home to Togo (West Africa) in 2006, most of my relatives were telling me: Oh you got FAT! That American hamburger is fattening you up boy! I got an earful of the same chorus over and over during the course of my stay. Mind you, I was only about 175 pounds back then, which was not visually too terrible, since I had some muscles. However, as soon as I landed back in New York, the first thing on my mind was how to get rid of 25 pounds as soon as possible. The Japanese society has the same mentality about gaining weight. They will tell another Japanese friend that he or she is getting fat. In fact, they will yell it at her face outright. As a result, there is a significant amount of peer pressure to stay slim, which is one of the reasons Japanese people don’t get fat.
Here in America, people are mostly offended when told that they are gaining weight (even if the observation came from the person’s best friend). This attitude is so widespread in the United States nowadays, that it is almost taboo to comment on someone’s weight. As far as I’m concerned, if I’m getting fat, I would rather someone screams right in my face: Kodjo, you are getting FAT! Trust me; if I hear that, I am getting my butt off to the nearest gym; or better yet, I will fully embrace High Intensity Interval Training, which is an exercise method based on intense workout routines with minimal equipment, designed to shed fat in a very short period of time.
2. Society makes it hard for Japanese people to get fat
So, as you see, friends and families in Japan quickly discourage their siblings from getting fat. But the train doesn’t stop with friends and family members. On a larger scale, the weight gain awareness phenomenon is even more pronounced. For example, at UniqLo (a prominent clothing store in Japan – By the way, they’ve just opened their second store here in New York), T-shirt sizes do NOT exceed LL (which is almost the same as Tight Large here in the US). In fact, many UniqLo stores only stock sizes up to L. If you are overweight, you are out of luck buddy! Cruel? I don’t think so. Instead, I would say it is tough love. Their society wants everyone to be healthy. A healthier population means less government spending on health care.
Now, compare that situation to the US where clothing sizes have ballooned all the way up to Double XL! People here in the US know that no matter how large they get, they would always find clothes that fit them.
3. Exercising is part of the Japanese culture
Japanese people highly favor an active lifestyle. In fact, the concept of Couch Potato that we have here in the US, is rather foreign to the Japanese. This active lifestyle revolves around 3 main themes: work, socializing and recreation.
Japanese Workday: If you want to know why Japanese don’t get fat, look at their workday. The Japanese workday begins early in the morning, and most them have to commute long hours via public transportation (a 2-hour commute is quite typical in Japan). The wait time for the train is usually enduring, as there are typically not enough seats, and everyone has to stand for very long minutes or hours. Once they get off the train, they usually walk another mile and a half on average, from the train station to the office. As soon as the workday ends, they go through the same exact routine again, on their way home. The secret is that these walks generally happen right after a meal. I mentioned in my previous article that Japanese don’t skip their breakfast. A four-kilometer walk is sure to burn some fat after a meal!
Socializing in Japan: This is also another very important aspect that explains why Japanese people don’t get fat. Japanese apartments are built very small, as Japanese people don’t focus on entertaining friends and relatives in their homes. They would rather take the gathering to a public event. This prevents them from having big cookouts and entertainment parties at home, where excess calories would have been on the menu. This is a blatant contrast to the American lifestyle.
Japanese recreational activities: In Japan, it is very common to take trips to the lake, or to go mountain hiking, all of which promote physical activity. In addition, cars don’t have the same purpose as they do here in the US. In Japan, cars are regarded as luxury items. In addition, parking space is very limited and costly. As a result, most recreational activities in Japan are done on foot.
So, in conclusion, be more opened to your friends and relatives’ opinion about your weight. Remember, they only want the best for you. They want you to be healthy. For recreational purposes, engage in activities that involve some type of physical activities (group sports on the weekend, bike riding or mountain climbing, etc). The important thing is to do something that gets your heart rate up. Finally, walk a lot more, and rely less on your car.