Healthy Eating and Staying Fit in Japan

Posted on Mar. 12, 2021

I’m sure you’ve all heard it before – the Japanese diet is healthier than the Western diet. In most cases, yes, almost anything you get in Japan is probably healthier than a large pizza or a burger, fries, and a shake. But some poor choices may lead you to putting on more than a couple extra pounds before you know it.

Traditional Meals

Classic homemade dishes like fish, rice, natto, green tea, and miso soup are all excellent ideas for a standard, well-balanced diet in my opinion. These foods are jam-packed with essential nutrients and will help you with living a happy, healthy lifestyle. However, as a foreigner living abroad, how often are you really having home cooked traditional Japanese meals?

Are You Making Healthy Choices?

A few years ago, I went down the wrong path. I took advantage of the ease and convenience of prepackaged meals. Mornings would consist of bread and sandwiches contained in little plastics bags from the convenience store. After work and weekends would always be spent with friends or colleagues. One thing about Japan is after work, someone is very likely to invite you out for a couple drinks. While it may not seem like a lot, those things really add up. While out for a drink, you are probably not making the best food choices either. I definitely wasn’t. Who can turn down some kaarage or ramen when you are out with a few close friends?

Then on the way home, I would often swing by the supermarket and pick up a bento, snack, or dessert. Sometimes all three! Bentos usually consist of a few slices of meat and vegetables combined with a huge mountain of rice. Repeat this for a couple a months and you’re bound to see some huge changes for the worse.

What Worked For Me

 I finally decided that I could not continue like this and wanted to make some healthier choices. I think nutrition is the most important factor. I completely changed my eating habits. No more eating out or buying prepackaged heavily processed foods. I began cooking almost every meal by myself. I am not the greatest chef in the world but these days you can learn anything from YouTube. I bought myself a frying pan, a large pot, and a toaster oven off Amazon and started spending more time in the kitchen.

 What To Eat?

 This is really based on personal preference and I will not try to persuade you in any direction. I can tell you what I prefer eating. My go-to meals are nabe (especially in the winter to keep me warm) and oven roasted fish and vegetables The main thing is, I began reducing the amount of meat, rice, and noodles in my diet while increasing vegetables and fruits. Luckily, I am not a picky eater when it comes to taste so I am able to enjoy pretty much anything they sell at the supermarket.

Fruits and Vegetables are Too Expensive in Japan?

 Depending on where you come from, this may or may not be the case. For me, I found things to be more expensive here and was sometimes hesitant to buy certain foods. I quickly discovered that if you go to different supermarkets at different times of the day – usually at night before they close – they will offer steep discounts. Sometimes up to half off the original price. I often purchase these products and never have any issue with quality.

Also, like I mentioned earlier, I am not particularly picky with food, so I will often choose items that are in season and grown in Japan. These items can usually be found much cheaper instead of those that need to be imported.


How To Get More Exercise

 One great thing about Japan is that they love their extra-curricular activities. You can find groups of people who are passionate about anything and they will meet up weekly to enjoy that hobby together. I am a huge fan of basketball and continue to love playing it to this day. Find something that you are truly interested in – whether it be running, playing tennis, hiking, or anything you can imagine – and as around. You’ll eventually find people with the same hobby and they are usually more than happy to invite you along.

Another tip I have for people who want to be physically active is to train at a local park. Gym memberships in Japan tend to be a little on the expensive side. The reasoning for this, from what I hear, is they have trained professionals who are available to assist you individually. But, if you are not a serious body-builder or you already know what you’re doing, the park is a great alternative. There are many “exercise parks” scattered all across Japan with equipment such as pull-up and parallel dip bars free for you to use.

Another option is to go to a public gym or sports center. You can find these all across Japan. They often have excellent training facilities at very affordable prices. They often allow you to sign up for a one-day pass for roughly 200 yen.

I hope these tips help you out. Please stay safe and healthy!

Michael Lam – JHS ALT