Living a Healthier Life through Japanese Culture
Japanese people have the longest life expectancy in the world: 84 years as opposed to America’s 78. The quality of life and health is also much better, with the average Japanese citizen expected to live until about 73 “without any major illness or disability” whereas, in America, we can expect to confront a major illness by age 65.
One of my favorite things about travel is that it gives us other cultures live and allow us the chance to incorporate good things into our own lives. This was a big thing that I noticed on a recent visit to Japan.
So, how does Japan do it? It’s true that some of it has to do with access to modern medicine and preventive care in the country, but for the most part, it’s just a matter of lifestyle. In the end, Japanese longevity is largely attributed to an active lifestyle, healthy eating, and intelligent stress management.
1: Rice over wheat
At first glance, it doesn’t seem like rice should be a healthy alternative staple food to wheat. After all, it’s very calorie-heavy. However, rice contains fewer carbs per serving and more vitamins and minerals than wheat does. A rice-heavy diet is associated with a lower risk of heart disease than a wheat-heavy one, and rice doesn’t come with the common gut irritation that the general population has in reaction to wheat.
So, next time it’s your turn for an easy dinner, choose stir fry over spaghetti.
2: Portion control
Japan doesn’t shun junk food by any means, which you’ll notice if you ever travel there. The corner stores are full of exciting candy, ice cream, and salty snacks. They like their treats just as much as any other country. However, all things are enjoyed in moderation.
Japanese people are much more likely to enjoy their treats when they go out, rather than digging through a pint of Ben and Jerry’s at home. And you’ll notice that even though there are plenty of fast food options and burger joints out there, the portions are much smaller than what you’ll get at an American restaurant.
Traditionally, Japanese food is served in a set of small dishes, to keep all the different components separate. This means that what looks like a vast spread of food will still be smaller than the huge plate that we load up during a potluck or an all-you-can-eat buffet. So, enjoy your treats in moderation and use smaller plates in order to eat only what you need.
3: Loving health foods
Sure, there are plenty of us who have tried in the past to adopt a morning routine of green smoothies. But how much do you actually enjoy that liquid kale? For the most part, we just plug our noses and down it, telling ourselves it’ll pay off eventually.
And maybe it will. But it’s much harder to set a pattern of eating this way when we’re just gritting our teeth. To contrast with this, most people in Japan have a passionate appetite for healthy foods that are off-putting to the average American. For example, many Japanese people enjoy a serving of natto in the morning, a dish made of fermented soybeans that are definitely an acquired taste but could have a superfood-level power to reduce heart disease.
Green tea (and matcha, it’s super-concentrated cousin) is packed with nutrients and antioxidants. However, instead of drinking it as a supplement, Japanese people eat it as a treat, and enjoy matcha-flavored… well, everything. And then there, sashimi, which is a special dining-out experience, and yet it’s one of the leanest and healthy meals that you could eat.
4: Sustainable living
A number of laws in Japan regulate environmental impact and strive to keep the natural world healthy and accessible. In a way, green living in Japan has to do with communal cooperation, a hallmark of Japanese culture. It’s a necessity when so many people live crowded together in cities. That’s why you’ll find people in Japan conscientiously sorting their trash, and doing their part to recycle. Not only does this reduce waste and help local ecosystems, but it also reflects an awareness of community and connection with the whole, a mentality that can greatly increase well-being and longevity.
5: Walking… everywhere
Japan’s major cities are simply not made to be driven around in. The Japanese public transportation system is second to none and the vast majority of people rely on buses and trains to commute. And although this system is great, it still requires a good amount of walking and standing, which means that most Japanese individuals get in an hour of exercise a day without ever stepping foot in a gym because an active lifestyle is a norm in Japan.
6: Zen living
We can’t say that everyone in Japan practices Zen meditation regularly, but it is the birthplace of Zen Buddhism and all the mental health practices and philosophy that began there. For the most part, this simply means practicing mental wellness, along with physical. The characteristics of Zen philosophy include avoiding the rush and instead living with mindfulness in the moment.
In fact, that’s why Zen meditation isn’t just done by sitting and humming on a rock. Zen meditation can occur while weeding the garden, cooking a meal, or repairing a bike. Meditation and mindfulness practices reduce stress, which, as we all know, is a killer.
I would love to hear from you on how have you used other cultures to live a healthier lifestyle? If you need cost cutting travel tips click here.
Christine is a professional writer and an avid reader who’s passionate about storytelling in all its forms. At any given moment, she’s in the middle of at least three books on anything from human psychology to ninjas. Although she’s a marathon swimmer and enjoys camping in the mountains, she believes there’s nothing better than a carton of ice cream and a Dawson’s Creek marathon.