If you’ve read some of my previous articles, you’ll know that one of the things I love most about Japan is the food. To paraphrase something one of my Chinese friends once said about people from her country: “If it flies and it’s not an airplane; if it swims and it’s not a boat; if it walks and it’s not a man,” I’ve probably eaten it!
Nowhere is the temptation to overeat more prevalent than in Japan. Such a unique culture brings with it a huge diversity of foods and snacks just waiting to be savored. However, despite the prevailing stereotype that all Japanese food is innately healthier than western food this is often not the case. Such culinary treats as Okonomiyaki, Yakisoba and Gyudon are enjoyed by many Japanese on an almost daily basis. Whilst these dishes are undoubtedly delicious, they are your waistline’s worst nightmare.
I’ll admit, I did eat far too much when I first moved to Osaka 2 years ago. By last autumn, my weight had ballooned to almost 140 kgs. Something needed to be done. But as I mentioned before, Japan has so much great food. Not only that but they also have a strong drinking culture. If you work at a Japanese public school like I do, or any other Japanese-owned firm, you can expect to be attending regular get-togethers with your colleagues on an almost weekly basis. Again, whilst such an active social life is undoubtedly fun, it’s not exactly conducive to a healthy lifestyle.
So, with that being said, what can we do to get the most out of life in Japan whilst also striving to get in shape?
Photo: MilitaryHealth on Flickr
This may surprise you but since last November I have managed to lose more than 40kgs. I now weigh in at 97 kgs. I hope in a few months to reach my eventual target of 85kgs.
So, how did I manage to shed over 30% of my body weight in just over 4 months, whilst still making the most of all that Osaka has to offer?
Please allow me to explain.
Anyone who has ever tried to lose a lot of weight in a short space of time will tell you that a multi-pronged approach is necessary to see any kind of decent results. Diet, exercise and a variety of lifestyle changes are required in equal measure. Not easy when you don’t speak the native language fluently, there’s seemingly a convenience store on every corner and it seems like every night of the week one Japanese friend or another wants to invite you to yet another “drinking party”.
Step one, is to join a gym.
Photo: Health Gauge on Flickr
Like a number of things in Japan joining a gym is actually a lot more complicated than it needs to be. Even with a Japanese friend translating everything for me the whole registration process took more than an hour. As with many countries around the modern world, health and safety is a massive concern, so there are all kinds of rules, regulations and guidelines that need to be read, understood and signed. I definitely recommend having a Japanese friend with you to help with this process. Also, make sure you have your bank card with you and all the details at the ready. Most gyms will set up a monthly payment system, which will then be debited direct from your bank account. Some gyms charge a joining fee, however you can in some cases negotiate your way out of this. Also, if you join in April, which is when most Japanese either move house or start new jobs, you may well get a better deal, such as no joining fees or free membership for one or two months. In April, gyms, health clubs and other such facilities are all vying for new members and as such it’s a great time to pick up a bargain. However as I said before, make sure you fully understand all the small print before you commit.
Photo: Sascha Kohlmann on Flickr
So how much should you pay?
Again this very much depends on the area you live in, the size of the gym and the type of membership they offer. Gyms are always eager to try and avoid over-crowding at peak times. To aid this, membership are often time based. For example a membership that allows access only on weekday mornings would be cheaper than an evening and weekend membership. In my case however, I took a full, anytime access membership, as my fluctuating work schedule means I often want to work out at different times each day.
This cost me 8,000 yen per month, and includes a 1,000 yen towel rental fee, meaning I get unlimited free towels every time I visit.
Please remember though, my gym is in Osaka, a gym in Tokyo or Yokohama may cost a lot more. You could expect to pay up to 10,000 yen per month for something similar in Tokyo.
At the gym, I love to ride the exercise bike, which is somewhat ironic as I never learned to ride a conventional bicycle. The great thing about gyms in Japan is that most bikes and treadmills have integrated entertainment systems. If you bring along your own headphones, you can listen to music or watch TV while you train.
My daily workout goes something like this:
Exercise bike cross country course 45 mins or 15kms.
25lb dumbbell lifts, 3 sets of 30 for each arm
Photo: ladyb on Flickr
Chest and waist resistance exercises, 3 sets of 30 (6 sets for waist exercises)
Pectoral weights machine (3 sets of 30)
Sit ups (3 sets of 30)
Photo: Penn State on Flickr
After this workout, I usually do 15 minutes in the massage chair, followed by 10-20 mins in the sauna, depending on how tired I feel.
Of course the gym is only part of the routine, as I have already said. It’s also important to watch your diet.
Now, first a preemptive warning. I am not a doctor, I am in no way qualified to dispense dietary advice and I take no responsibility for any potential trouble this diet may bring you. That being said, here’s what I did.
I went to a local electronics store and bought a juicer. A good juicer could set you back ¥20-30,000, but you really don’t need that. The basic ¥5,000 model will work just fine. Once you have your juicer, you can start to make fresh juices for breakfast and lunch.
The diet plan I follow is the juicing diet. For this diet, I have a juice for breakfast and lunch and then a smaller than usual dinner.
For the juice you can use any fruits or vegetables that you like, however it is important that your juice is at least 70% vegetables and no more than 30% fruits. For quick and easy juicing, I recommend the following fruits and veggies:
Vegetables: Cucumber, asparagus, tomato, carrot, cress.
Photo: Francesca Longo on Flickr
Fruits: Apple, orange, pear, grapefruit, grapes
Photo: Meal Makeover Moms on Flickr
Have one 500ml cup for breakfast and the same again for lunch.
Fresh fruit and vegetables can be very expensive in supermarkets in Japan, so I recommend that you go to the market when you can. Local markets are a staple of most communities in Japan, so I am sure you can find one that’s not too far away from you.
For dinner, I recommend going to Aeon Mall and buying some of their ready meals. These meals are very cheap (around ¥200 - ¥400 each) and have the number of calories clearly marked on the front. For example, one of my favourites is the bouillabaisse which has only 280 calories and is a hefty 400 gram serving.
As a general rule, try to keep dinner under 600 calories.
You may often feel tired at the start of this diet. So always keep a banana handy for a little energy boost when you need it. Tofu is also an excellent low calorie protein source.
Some additional rules:
No alcohol. Alcohol free beer and chu-hi is ok, provided it is the zero calorie variety.
Drink as much tea or coffee as you want, but no milk and no sugar.
Don’t eat anything within 3 hours of going to bed.
No fried foods, sorry guys convenience store chicken is a definite no-no.
Once per week give yourself a break. Have a big lunch or dinner, have a little dessert or chocolate. Be good to yourself, but don’t go crazy with it.
Photo: oklanica on Flickr
By following this routine, you will soon start to see amazing results. I lost 9 kgs in the first month alone. It isn’t easy, but stay the course and you will get there.