Today we’re going to talk about a popular topic in Japanese society: Why is the average Japanese person typically so thin? There are a lot of opinions and studies, so we thought we would talk about it from the perspective of a Japanese person.
Before we start, we want to mention that we respect that each country and culture have different diets and opinions of what is considered healthy. And it is different between each person.
In 2016, WHO reported that Japan has the lowest obesity rate among many developed countries around the world. For example, the obesity rate in the United States has 37.3%, European countries average 20%, and Japan has only 4.4%. Why is that?
The first thing we had our eye on was genetics. As for why we started to search genes, one of our foreign friends told us, “Japanese people must have genetically thin genes.” We thought, “Yeah, that might be the case,” because it’s not typical to see many overweight people in Japan. However, according to Professor Eiichiro Ichiishi, the author of “Japanese Genes,” Japanese people actually have many obesity genes. For example, there is a gene that has an effect that makes it difficult to burn fat, called the β3AR gene. Apparently, 8% of Westerners have this gene, but 34% of Japanese have it. There is also the PPARγ gene, which slows metabolism. Apparently, 60% of Westerners have it, but 92% of Japanese have it. If Japanese have many of these obesity genes, why is the obesity rate lower here in Japan? Professor Eiichiro says “That’s because individual effects of obesity genes are said to be insignificant, and it is difficult to predict whether or not a person will become obese.”
So what is it that actually makes Japanese people so skinny? Some people said it’s because of exercise. But honestly, we don’t think Japanese people are as fond of exercise as Westerners, and they don’t have the same habit of exercising on a regular basis. For example, when we lived in Canada, we saw many people going to the gym every day and exercising, and we felt that exercise culture is not as deeply rooted in Japan as it is in the West. According to a survey by a medical journal, The Lancet, on the countries that disliked exercise, Japan ranked 11th, with more than 60% of people having a negative attitude toward exercise.
After further investigation, we finally found three answers. Japanese eating habits, walking daily, and societal pressure.
Japanese Eating Habits
From our own experience and data, we found 5 eating habits that Japanese people have.
① Low-fat and low-salt diet
It is typically very low in fat, containing rice, miso soup, fish, beans, and seasonal vegetables. It’s so healthy. Also, Japanese people use dashi, which produces a rich umami taste. It provides a lot of flavor to dishes without using a lot of ingredients, such as salt and other things. As a result, we think Japanese people consume fewer calories than Westerners, if compared to a traditional average meal in Japan.
② Eat fermented foods often
In Japan, there are many types of fermented foods such as pickles, miso, soy sauce, sake, and natto. Fermented foods contain a lot of great benefits for your body such as good bacteria (lactic acid bacteria, probiotics, koji, etc.). Eating fermented foods increases the number of good bacteria in your gut and aids in digestion. As a result, the body’s metabolism improves, so it helps the body to lose weight. Also, fermented foods are rich in KOSO, so they help supplement your body with such health benefits.
③ Incorporating KOSO into daily diet
Koso is very popular with Japanese people, but foreigners don’t know much about it. What is Koso? KOSO is an enzyme and it has probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotics. Postbiotics are created by probiotics consuming prebiotics during fermentation. And then, that’s one of the keys to a healthy body. Simply put, if you ingest a lot of probiotics in your diet, it can help your body with good digestion and metabolism. That’s why drinks that can efficiently incorporate probiotics into the body have become popular among Japanese people.
Many people drink a smoothie containing koso every morning to consume these healthy probiotics daily. Actually, many people asked us about these drinks, so we’d like to introduce one that we have been using lately..
We used only this product every morning for a month, and we will tell you three benefits that we felt during that time.
① It will make your stomach feel better.
The main benefit of these probiotic drinks is that it helps with gut health. You can go to the bathroom so regularly. To be honest, we haven’t had any constipation since we started drinking koso drink.
② Lose weight
During the month, honestly we lost some weight. We went from 63kg to 60kg. We even felt surprised. We ate a lot, but we kept losing weight during that period. Maybe it was because we were so busy with work during that time. But we think it is partially because of R’s KOSO.
③ It is easy to drink
When it comes to health drinks. Even if it has guaranteed health benefits, you wouldn’t like it if it tasted bad. But no worries at all! It’s really tasty! It has a more ginger-like taste compared to other probiotic drinks. We basically put it in our morning smoothies. However, we can drink it with water or soda water as well.
④ Small portion sizes
We think this is the main reason why Japanese are typically so thin. Japanese don’t typically eat a lot. To give an easy-to-understand example, at McDonald’s, the medium size drink in Japan is about the same as a size small drink in the US. When we lived in Australia, we were surprised at the difference in the quantity of each meal. Calories would be more than Japan too. We loved it, so we ate a lot, but we gained 5kg during our time there. When we returned to Japan and switched to a Japanese diet, we naturally lost weight. We learned that portion size is an important factor when it comes to maintaining body weight.
⑤ Eat small portions
Japanese food consists of various ingredients in small portions. For example, the meal at the ryokan we went to recently had a lot of small dishes like this. The portions are small, also Japanese people use chopsticks, the amount of food they put in their mouths at one time is limited. That way, you have to take your time while eating each time you take a bite. According to Professor Naoyuki Hayashi of the Tokyo Institute of Technology, people who chew their food a lot and eat slowly tend to have lower body fat percentages.
The next reason why Japanese are typically so thin is walking daily.
Japanese people walk a lot daily compared to other countries. For example, when we were in junior high school, it took us 30 minutes to walk to school with our friends every day. When we lived in Tokyo, we saw most adults commuting on foot. We heard that in western countries, using a car or taxi is a more common means of transportation, but in Japan, they rarely use them when it comes to commuting, especially in the city. Actually, many people use trains to commute. They walk to the station, walk up and down the many flights of stairs, change trains, and then walk to their destination. People commute like this through all hours of the day. Also, Japan is known for having a low crime rate, so it is easy to walk anywhere anytime, even at night. Such a background is probably one of the reasons why Japanese people walk so much.
“I see! That’s why Japanese people can burn so many calories on a daily basis without going to the gym.”
The final reason why Japanese people are typically so thin is societal pressure
Japanese people are typically perfectionists when it comes to many things. This also includes wanting to have the “perfect” or “perfectly healthy” body. This idea of perfectionism is what motivates and stresses out many Japanese, especially for women. Ads, social media, and shopping also contribute to this pressure to look a certain way. This also expands to work-life culture as well. It is normal in Japanese culture to have yearly health checks at work. They check your height, weight, and sometimes abdominal circumference. This is to ensure that employees are healthy and not overweight. If an employee is found to be overweight, they may be given advice on how to lose weight.
In conclusion, we have discussed several factors that contribute to the average thinness of Japanese people. Genetics, exercise, and societal pressure all play a role, but we believe that the Japanese diet and lifestyle are the most significant factors. Japanese people typically eat a low-fat and low-salt diet, eat fermented foods often, incorporate KOSO into their daily diet, and eat small portions. They also walk a lot daily and have societal pressure to maintain a healthy body weight. We hope that this article has shed some light on this interesting topic and has provided you with some insights into the secrets of the Japanese diet and lifestyle that contribute to their overall health and thinness.