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Japan’s Healthy and Unhealthy Habits

Dieting while studying abroad in a country with some of the best food in the world is hard as hell, but all it takes is baby steps! It’s tough being in a country where a size 2 is considered big, but let’s consider some of the factors that may contribute to that.

What to do like the Japanese:

1. The Japanese Diet:

The traditional Japanese diet consists of rice, fish, lots of soy based products (tofu, nattou, edamame), as well as tons of raw food. Raw fish may be the first thing that comes to mind, but raw eggs and raw horse meat are some other examples. A clean diet that’s not overly processed is a huge factor in the long Japanese life span, but let’s not forget that people don’t necessarily eat as well as this anymore.

2. Walk

Compared to when I lived in the States, the amount of time I walk per day is probably 3 to 5 times as much as before. For my weight and height, walking for an hour at an average pace burns 183 calories! 

3. Only Buy What You Need

I’ve noticed that a lot of Japanese families tend to buy only what they need for the week, or even just for that night’s dinner, rather than stocking up with Costco sized portions. This was particularly helpful for me since I burned extra calories dragging my butt over to the grocery store, but it also encouraged me to buy fresh food, and saved me some money. The only problem with this is that it’s only possible due to the relatively slow pace of things here. Back at home there would be no space in my schedule for extra trips to the grocery store.

4. Ofuro

Perhaps one of the reasons people don’t put on weight as easily here is that they take time to relax every night in the tub. Stress increases cortisol levels which leads to weight gain, right? Taking 15-20 minutes to wind down every night seems like a great idea.

5. Drink Tea

So apparently green tea increases your life span, wards off cancer and heart disease, relaxes you, gives you supernatural powers, blah blah blah. But I found it interesting that they give you green tea at sushi places to counteract the oiliness of the fish. Genius. Perhaps our artery clogged nation should follow suit.

6. Smaller Portion Sizes

While portions here aren’t drastically smaller, there are always options for smaller meals and the concept of bringing food home in a doggy bag is completely foreign. But on the other hand, not being able to bring food home is what may cause me to overeat in the first place.

What not to do like the Japanese:

1. Fad Diets

They are so crazy popular here and they don’t make any sense. It seems as though Japanese women prefer to follow fad diets instead of decreasing calorie intake or exercising. If a fad diet directing you to eat nothing but bananas for breakfast comes out, you can bet that bananas will be all sold out the next day.

2. Aversion to Exercise

There are all sorts of techniques as products women use to try to slim down, cellulite massages, slimming socks, face slimming rollers, calorie burning shoes, the list goes on and on and on. However, people don’t really seem to be too keen on running, jump roping, or going to the gym. I can’t generalize and say all people hate it, but take my dance group for example. Whenever someone says “let’s do exercises that help us lose weight!” instead of cardio, we just stand there twisting our hips from side to side for 15 minutes. It makes absolutely no sense.

3. White Grain

Although the traditional Japanese diet is very healthy, the whole grain options are very limited here. I haven’t found much brown rice, whole wheat bread or pasta the entire time I’ve been here. In fact, most of the bread they sell here in the supermarket is just for making toast, so one slice is about an inch thick and just feels super processed.

4. Vending Machines

They are impossible to ignore, especially on a scorching hot day. I think Japan may be the only country almost on par with the States with the about of soda they drink. Did I mention that the soda here tastes SO GOOD?!?! It takes an incredible amount of will power to buy tea instead. =[

5. Tabehoudai/Nomihoudai

These words mean “all you can eat’ and “all you can drink,” respectively. Since parties in people’s apartments are pretty rare, most social gatherings organized by Japanese students are held at “Izakaya,” which are special restaurants just for drinking that serve tapas intended for everyone to share. Not only are these ubiquitous and expensive, they also encourage binge eating. Even though college students always claim to be broke, they spend about $30 a pop on these. And the food is not necessarily top notch, so you really feel like you need to eat and drink a LOT to get your money’s worth. I do not understand how Japanese people stay so slim eating to their hearts content and drinking so much alcohol every week.

6. Obsess!

I’ve heard too many skinny girls complaining about how they need to lose weight, even girls who don’t weigh more than 100 pounds. I’ve seen size 0 girls grab their stomach fat and grimace during practice and I’ve seen what I’d consider an average sized girl be bullied by several friends about her weight constantly. They don’t care at all about being healthy, all they want is to be skinny, no matter what it takes. This mindset is so unhealthy and I can’t wait to escape from it in a month.

Filed under Japan health diet

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Japanese Education

Don’t expect anything out of Japanese education because it expects almost nothing from you. Maybe it’s just a cultural difference. It’s said that Japanese universities are incredibly hard to get into, but easy to graduate from. In fact, all you really have to do is graduate with enough units.

I was really shocked with the attendance being 50% of the grade and how little we actually learn (it depends on the class/teacher).

For example, my Advanced Composition class. It’s called “Watching Videos and Writing Compositions.” If it were Berkeley, we would probably have to write at least a page or two in response to the video every week. Instead, we watched videos every week and at the end of the semester, our big “report” was one page (400 characters) on whichever of the videos we liked the best, or an introduction of a famous person from our country.

Or, for another class, our big project for the semester took about half of the time my weekly Linguistics assignments at Berkeley took. This is from the same hypocritical teacher who said “The worst foreign language teachers are the ones who talk the whole time and don’t let the students get a word in.” I have two classes with her in a row. It’s like she takes a giant breath and talks for 3 hours straight.

Another one of my professors said, “Don’t worry about the final too much. It’s just about grades. You’ll all get the units that you want from this class” -____-

My other friend at Waseda mentioned that she had a professor who said “I know this is really challenging, but get used to this workload if you’re preparing to study abroad in America” as he assigned 12 pages of reading. 12 pages!!

Side note: your orientation guides will tell you never to be late to class, but some of your professors will never come until 10-15 minutes after class starts, so don’t worry too much.

I honestly believe that my Japanese would’ve improved more if I’d stayed at home because the classes are much more rigorous. Nothing is going to happen if you don’t go out and try to improve. You have to study on your own. Especially for the JLPT. I’ve learned more from hanging out with my Japanese friends, joining a dance circle, and my part-time job (teaching English -___- but in Japanese) then from my actual courses. In a way it’s nice. But on the other hand, it’s kind of disappointing that I pay so much to go here and I still learn so much more from my drinking buddies than my professors.

Filed under japan study abroad education

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Rude Japan

You have to experience Japan for yourself instead of relying on what your teachers and guidebooks tell you. As well intended as professors, blogs, and textbooks are, you really can’t generalize like that. “Japanese people can’t drink much.” “Japanese girls are not as headstrong as American girls.” “Japanese people won’t say what they mean upfront.” “Japanese people are bad at English.”

These statements many apply to many people, but do not expect them to be true for everybody.

I’ve noticed that some of my Japanese professors are especially prone to talking in hyperbole. “Japan is the only country that _______”, “Japanese is the only language where  _______”, “You will only find _______ in Japan, nowhere else.” And it’s not always true.

All of my professors say, “You will never find a Japanese person eating or talking on the phone in the train.” And  yet, those people are out there. I see them almost every day. There are also very few people around willing to give up their seats for the elderly or disabled, even if they’re already sitting in the priority seats. Japan guides also dictate that Japanese people do not talk on trains, and if they do it is in very hushed tones, but if you’ve ever had the misfortune of riding with a gaggle of high school girls, you will stop believing in these sources.

Teachers, guidebooks blogs, and orientations will all tell you to never make a Japanese person wait. Make sure you’re on time. Japanese people value punctuality. Ok? I’m not encouraging you to come late, you should value punctuality. You should show up on time. But your friends in Japan might come 30 minutes late, just like some of your friends in the States. 

By all means, look up Japanese customs before coming. Prepare yourself. But just remember, even if you do everything “right”, it doesn’t mean you should expect actual Japanese people to. I know nobody wants to believe it, but rude Japanese people exist too! But it doesn’t mean we can act like them. As foreigners, we should probably try to be even more polite, as to not further the stigma.

The only thing that’s always true is that the train will probably never come late. That you can pretty much count on.

Filed under japan study abroad