Women’s magazines, always ready to sell us the miracle diet, (re) discovered those last few years, the « Japanese diet » as a great weight loss method. Brandishing konjac (konnyaku) and tofu as the greatest diet food ever, pages and pages were written about the so called « Japanese lifestyle ». After reading the article written by Sonia on eating disorders in Japan, which made a buzz on the Huffington Post, I got interested by this issue. While the anti obesity law – « metabo-law » passed in 2008 is being assessed, let’s take a look backstage.
Note: I am assuming that you are an informed reader. Obesity is a complex subject, too often reduced to the diet as one cause while eating disorders are often psychological disorders. For more information, I invite you to learn more on the website of G.R.O.S (French), a thinktank about obesity.
Fish, tofu and rice … but shoyu, frying oil and more rice !
Okay. We will not deny the Japaneses are very thin and even skinny. In stores, it’s hell to find beyond the size M, and XXS tends to be the norm. Magazines and movies depict unrealistic young women and men, so tall and slim that I can easily put three of their legs in my thighs. This is largely explained by the traditional diet based on marine products, vegetables, rice (in big amount today) and tofu. Maybe even genetic plays a part in the balance. After all, human body is not the same everywhere in the damn world. Unless you are planning to remove your hips, a French/American/ English woman could hardly look like a Japanese.
If the country prides itself on having one of the lowest obesity rates in the world (3.5%), however, Japan is becoming a new competitor in the matter, a phenomenon explained by the influence of the Western diet (especially American). This point tends to confirm that the traditional diet is the key to weight loss in the archipelago.
Back to our women magazins. They probably interviewed a microcosm of trendy Japanese women living in Tokyo, thereby ignoring food habits of the majority. The cruel reality? Junk food, industrial sauces, fast food, food swallowed in a hurry, the excessive size of dishes, are quick to replace delicious and light menus from the past.
Considering the weight and size of the usual Japanese, obesity is now spreading rapidly, especially among the youth and in the countryside. Restaurants offering L size menu, junk food (including Japanese type) are becoming more and more popular, Japanese have a sweet tooth for pancakes, cakes and other sweets that historically were not so frequent in their habits.
Japan is a dictatorship obsessed … by your waistline
When I hear daily municipal announcements tirelessly repeated on public megaphones, I cannot deny an unreal feeling of living in a delusional country with similarities to a dictatorship. So far, Japan controls your thinking (media censorship), your right to vote (ghostly political pluralism), behavior (on everything and anything). Since 2008, he ALSO control your waistline.
The metabo law (ism) for « Standard Concerning Implementation Special Health Examinations and Special Public Health Guidance », established a waist control during the annuel medical examination. Beyond 85 cm for men and 90 for women, they are considered at risk and have the obligation to … consult health professionals and get a follow up by e-mail, phone and mail, and a sprinkling of emotional support. If there is no personal punishment, however, employers and compagnies may be imposed … fines.
Perceived as difficult to live and righlty so, humiliating, employees, after complaints were granted the right to keep their clothes (in which case, 1.5 cm will be deducted from the measure). Yey !
The goal? Reduce the obesity rate of 10% for 2012 and 20% for 2015. Are concerned 50 million of Japanese.
Huge issues resulted from this (insane?) law. On one hand, uncertainty on legal termination due to overweight – or discrimination in hiring. On the other hand, it pushes the Japanese to do violent and fast diets as well as to abuse pharmaceutical pills supposedly miraculous. Roughly speaking, a rather violent disturbance of your food habits. Worse, some companies are willing to create mandatory weight loss programs for their employees.
And the individual in all this?
As the young blogger Sonia, after my arrival in Japan, I experienced some king of unease due to my body shape – without being obese, or even really fat, clearly, I am far from the Japanese shape. Maybe is this the case with many tourists and / or expats?. However Sonia was exposed to (a cruel and violent) reality that I was lucky not to be facing: Japanese frank criticism. Yep, Japanese may have a sharp tongue on the weight issue.
« Indeed, as Japanese can be very polite, especially between relatives, remarks attacking the physics can be quite uninhibited. And here at school, at work, or with friends, I received regularly disparaging thoughts by the male as « You eat chocolate? You’d better rather go on a diet, watch the belly. « , » You’re belly and buttocks, you should exercise more « , and so on. Right in self-esteem (…) the jokes about women’s weight were not uncommon in Japan. »
It’s always a matter of will, in this society where the mind imposes its rule to the body. Where one needs to control himself constantly. So yes, in a clear ignorance of Westerners body shape, Japanese are truly sharp toward « fatty westerner » (that lazy and yet not ashamed, eater). Whether in public areas, stores , transportations, chubby people can sometimes feel excluded, even rejected.
The statistics are striking. Since the 2000s, young women are increasingly dieting. More and more young people buy drugs, laxatives and meal replacement frequently.
At an H & M, in the changing room next door, two Japanese slim as a sheet of paper (native English speak, feel free to advise me on a better idiom) were in a deep and meaningful conversation (yay, I understand the Japanese!)
– « Oh isn’t too small? You should try the size above maybe? »
– « Yes, but I’m going on a diet, that’s fine »
– « Oh really? Great ! Which diet? »
– « Diet & @ $ (ç. I’m already down 5 kg! »
– « Waah !! Keep up the good work ! »
– « I’d like to lose ten, especially for my health. »
The conversation went on for about ten minutes, interspersed with giggles and comments on their fittings. Upon leaving, I take a look at two young women size 34.
The metabo-law also created a hostile work environment
The first week of work went well (…), they organized an integration party (…). I’m sitting in the middle of the row since the evening is in my honor, surrounded by all my new colleagues and my new boss. (…) But in the middle of the festivities, everything went wrong.
The colleague sitting next to me (…) called me with a drunk booming voice, strong enough for everybody to turn head on our side and shouted in the whole restaurant « Hey Sonia! Why are you shaped like that. But look at yourself ! You got a beautiful face, you might be cute, but what with this body? Why are you fat? Moreover, your face is so slim, when everything is fat from the neck, it really ruins everything! Everything below the chin is to throw! It’s really a mess, you should go on a diet! « (…).
Everyone looked a little embarrassed, but it is Japan. Then smiled shyly, and and nobody intimates him to shut up. They all look like it is perfectly normal for me to endure such speech. The problem is that he did not stop. He continued to humiliate me in front of everyone (…) « Why won’t you admit it ? Why don’t you make an effort to lose weight? It’s not hard to stop eating and to exercise! You are not living far, why do you come by train ? You have to come by bike, that way you’ll lose weight and you will not be as big as that! Because now, a beautiful face on top of that, it’s disgusting (kimochi warui added). «
It’s too much. I burst into tears in front of everyone, it is uncontrollable (…) A friend wants to calm me down. « Do not cry ! I , too, have been often told that I should lose weight and I eat too much, but I never cried! « .