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5 Things Americans Can Learn From the Japanese About Health

Japan Lifestyle
by Turner Wright Oct 19, 2017

It’s no secret that every time a centenarian appears in the news, a lot of viewers instinctively assume he’s from Japan. In a country where many men and women look 10-20 years younger than they actually are, and the average lifespan is 84 years –- surpassed only by Hong Kong -– there are many aspects of living in Japan that are conducive to one’s health.

1. Tea

Let’s be clear: nearly every country on Earth has tea and tea drinkers, and the practice has been going on for centuries if not millennia. However, not many countries outside of Asia consistently keep their tea pure: chai in the Middle East is delicious, but it’s filled with condensed milk; English tea often wouldn’t be tea without cream and sugar.

It’s not as though the Japanese people are immune from these effects; there are plenty of coffee drinkers who go to Starbucks every day and load up their cups with everything from the self-service station. Still, the worst green tea in Japan is still better than the average cup in the US, giving drinkers more incentive to keep it pure.

2. Keeping Fit

There are obese and larger people in Japan, but they are few and far between, even with the plethora of sugary snacks, energy drinks, and fast food places infiltrating the country. There are a few reasons for this (see below), but it helps to have doctors with higher standards in terms of body fat and sugar consumption who will outright tell their patients they need to cut back. In addition, many white-collar companies still offer exercise sessions in the morning or during lunch to help workers stay active.

3. Commuting

For a country that has some of the best trains in the world, you would think no one in Japan would need a car or bike, right? Even with trains around almost every corner in Tokyo, this form of transportation is better for one’s health than driving a car, simply because many people need to ride a bike or walk to a train station.

When the 2011 earthquake and tsunami hit and trains were temporarily shut down in Tokyo, bicycle sales grew sharply. Japanese people generally have more options in their commute if their favorite one goes south, and one of these is having legs.

4. Eating together

Sharing dishes is very common around countries in Asia, especially in restaurants. While the US model is typically “maybe we’ll split some appetizers, but the main dish is ALL MINE”, the Japanese one is “what does everyone want to have?” Sometimes you miss out if no one is willing to share with you, but there’s also less pressure for you to finish everything when you only have what you’re willing to load onto your plate. Even when meals are designed to be ordered individually, the portion sizes are significantly smaller than those in the US.

5. Avoiding germs

Though the Japanese have an incredible work ethic, this often results in them showing up to the office when they really shouldn’t be: injured, sick, or unproductive. The flip side is more people are self-conscious about the way they show their illness in public; at any time of year, you can spot someone in any corner of Japan wearing a mask to protect others from their sore throat or cough. The first time my coworker showed up without one, I didn’t recognize him; he had been wearing it for weeks.

In addition, there are easy ways to stay clean. Oshibori (cleaning cloths) are freely offered in every restaurant to sanitize your hands before a meal. Public bathhouses are cheap and widely available, and also serve as a good deterrent for stress -– a hot bath you don’t even have to prepare at the end of a long day.

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