4 Ways Living in Japan Can Make You Healthier
By Andrew Smith
With one of the world’s longest-living populations, it’s not much of a surprise that spending time in Japan can have a positive impact on your health. Although people’s bodies (and minds) do react differently when they come to Japan, we’re pretty lucky that our new home generally encourages healthy living. But what exactly is it that makes life here so healthy?
You end up eating lots of seafood
Judging by my bathroom scale after I’ve enjoyed a long holiday back in Texas, there seems to be a correlation between living in Japan and being slimmer. When I was a student, I remember conversations with my classmates laughing and comparing who gained back the most weight over the break in our home countries.
Though times are changing (judging by the massive lines that always appear outside newly opened fast-food chains and bakeries) Japanese meals traditionally contain a large portion of seafood. In fact, Japan consumes around 55.7 kilograms per capita, making it one the top six fish-loving countries on the planet. And we know that including fish in your diet can lower the risk of heart disease (apparently by up to 36 percent, according to a study by Harvard University.)
Happy cat day by the way. (The sound of 2/22 = the same as a cat’s meow)
Whenever I go out with a group of Japanese friends, the majority always ends up agreeing on an izakaya which specializes in seafood, so fortunately my social life has forced me into having a better diet.
Another healthy option that you’ll encounter a lot in Japan is seaweed.
By eating seaweed, you’re getting a good dose of protein, fiber, natural iodine and many more minerals and nutrients. As a Texan, it took some time for me to get used to eating seaweed, but now it’s one of my favorite dishes. When my family visits, I always try to encourage them to try it by telling them about how people in Okinawa, well-known for their longevity, consume the most seaweed of anywhere in the world.
You have to walk a lot
Japanese society participates in a more active lifestyle compared to other developed countries. Men and women aren’t necessarily hitting the gym on a daily basis but the average day in Japan involves a lot more walking.
In contrast to countries like America where over 214 million licensed drivers rely heavily on their cars to get around, Japanese commuters choose public transportation. Mass transit in Japanese cities is extremely convenient and will get you just about anywhere you need to go. However, making it to the train station or bus stop generally requires some walking, climbing stairs (anybody in Tokyo who takes the Oedo line can attest to this! – Ed.), and standing for long stretches. This routine is performed every day as workers go between their homes and offices.
Head to Ginza on Sunday for a spot of “ginbura” (or stroll in Ginza) and exercise when the central street is shut off to cars.
Plus, even metropolises like Tokyo have plenty of places that are great for exercise, like Shinjuku Park, Yoyogi Park and Inokashira Park. And then there’s the beloved “pedestrian paradise”, or hokousha tengoku, on weekends when major streets in the city are closed to vehicles. It all started in Ginza in 1970 presumably to promote businesses in the famous shopping district. However, now along with the shoppers, walkers also enjoy weekend exercising in built up districts like Ginza, Shinjuku, Kagurazaka and Akihabara.
Bikes are really popular
Bicycles are a big part of Japanese culture, on a similar level to somewhere like Holland or Denmark. Everybody and their grandma has a bike (statistics pin the number at above 70 million, with around 10 million sold each year).
The classic model you’ll be dodging on the street is the “mamachari” (the word “mama” plus an informal term for “bicycle”). Baskets are mounted at the front making it a great tool for grocery shopping and other daily errands. The mamachari is a real cultural icon used by everyone from school kids to businessmen, to the mamas taking their toddlers to kindergarten.
Instagrammer mamotoraman has a whole account dedicated to doing tricks on the mamachari.
City dwellers can take advantage of the bike sharing system to get around. Around my area I see many salarymen and women dropping off rented bicycles at special docking areas. The bike sharing system lets commuters take bicycles from point A to B conveniently without much hassle. After registering over mobile or PC in your ward, you can reserve a bicycle wherever you are and receive the passcode to unlock it once you reach the dock. Paying is as easy as waving your IC card over the reader.
Though the official rules say that you should ride on the left-hand side of the road and not on the sidewalk, you’ll notice most cyclists weaving through pedestrian traffic with impressive skill, sometimes texting at the same time. If you see a round blue sign with people and a bike, you can officially ride on the sidewalk. If not, it’s unlikely that you’ll get pulled over but I always prefer not to run the risk of flattening an old lady doing her shopping.
There are health-boosting hot springs
Onsens, or hot springs, are another feature of Japan that happen to be great for personal health. A good soak in natural, mineral-rich hot springs has a number of known benefits including improved blood circulation, pain relief, skin softening and reducing stress. There’s even a name for the healing use of water; it’s called balneotherapy.
There’s no shortage of beautiful natural hot springs in Japan (we’re talking in the thousands) so it’s easy to make regular trips to help manage health problems.
Kusatsu Onsen (above) is one of Japan’s top rated onsen resorts, and holds the record for the highest volume of flowing, natural hot springs in the country. Historically its anti-bacterial water was used by doctors to treat famous leaders such as the Emperor Meiji and Prime Ministers Ito Hirobumi and Yamagata Aritomo.
Traditional ryokans (Japanese inns) in hot spring areas also serve healthy washoku meals morning and night adding to the bathing benefits. Go on a hot spring weekend and you’ll come back refreshed and restored – it really does work!
What do you reckon? Has your health improved since living in Japan? Or have you experienced the opposite? Let us know in the comments!