Getting Healthy in Japan

Read all the exciting things our scholars have been up to!

Japan has been known all around the world as a very healthy society. With drinking green tea daily, smaller portion sizes and with the majority of society walking to and from work or the train station, it is rightfully so to see Japan and its citizens as such. And with coming to Japan, I too, hoped to drop a few pounds thinking all Japanese food was probably healthier than that of America. I was very mistaken. Over the past few months in Japan, I was surprised I had gained weight when I ate mostly, what seemed like, healthy Japanese food. Onigiris(rice balls with different fish or vegetables in the side), all the cheap sushi I can eat, miso soup and my host mom is truly a wiz in the kitchen. And yet, I was still gaining more weight than I liked.

In the beginning it didn’t bother me as much, after all I was in a different country, and I wanted to enjoy Japan as much as I could. So if that meant eating salty, delicious ramen swimming in pork fat broth once or twice, I was going to. But when you eat okonomiyaki (seafood pancake), takoyaki (Octopus fried dough balls) and my favorite coco curry with fried chicken, spicy pork curry and cheese melted on top, I started to realize where I was going wrong and tried to combat my unhealthy eating.


I decided I wanted to lose weight, and thought this be relatively easy in Japan again. Losing weight is so very simple, having a deficient of calories every day and somehow that fact is unbelievable hard while being painfully slow. And yet I still had a plan, I was going to buy more fruits and vegetable, eat out less, drink more water and eat less rice. All of this was again easier said than done. Fruits are ridiculously expensive in Japan, I’m talking five dollars for six strawberries expensive. For four avocados, another five dollars. Vegetables are a little nicer with sweet potatoes being a dollar each, but I come from California, where I’m spoiled with cheap fruits and vegetables, YEAR AROUND. Japan is a very seasonal society, everything is done in season and once it’s gone, it’s gone. I’m also still a college student, so in my eyes, buying fruits and vegetables was out. Lucky my host mom buys me bananas and apples for breakfast, bless her soul.

As for drinking more water, you’d think this one would be easy to do. Here’s the thing, Japanese people actually hardly drink water, let alone drink during meals. They drink plenty of barley tea, but not necessarily water. If you go out and you just want a glass of water, it’ll come in the smallest cup imaginable. Most restaurants will leave a jug of water for refills, but again, some don’t thinking a sip of water is all you need for a whole meal. Since I wasn’t eating out as much, this didn’t phase me. What did was the lack of drinking fountains in Japan and reusable water bottles. On my campus, there are drinking fountains everywhere and everyone is carrying around water. On my campus in Japan, I literally have to go on a hunt. I will climb up and down stairs, inside buildings I’ve never been into and more just to refill my water bottle. I guess what I can say is it helps with moving around more, but as really hard to have a good water intake when there’s just no water source around.

So now I had a very limited amount of vegetables and fruits, water was sacred and I was wonder if I should give in to the fact getting healthy was just going to be super expensive or should I just give up. Although the latter was easier and enticing, I really wanted to give it a true shot. So if you’re trying to lose weight while you’re studying abroad and it’s harder than what it seemed, here are my tips.


  1. Ask a teacher or another native citizen how they shop

This is a little intimidating I know, but I learned so much by asking my host mom about how to shop smart in Japan. She told me what the cheapest vegetables usually are, after that I used my good ole pinterest to find healthy recipes using those cheap vegetables. A plethora of results came up, good ole pinterest won’t let you down. I also found out that in each grocery store in Japan there’s usually a “After sell” produce cart, where Japan’s “seemingly” unwanted produce is marked down at a cheaper price. These fruits and vegetables are absolutely fine, but Japan is very strict of sell by dates. This was a lifesaver, I go in almost every night to see what they have. Last time I found a good amount of blueberries for only a dollar fifty.


  1. Experiment

One of the quotes I love when it comes to weight loss is: “Be strict on your diet, but loose on your method.” Meaning you need to try new things and see what works for you. You could try that meal plan that someone else made that worked for them, buy those expensive ingredients and see if it works. Or you can take what you already know about your body, listen to what it needs and customize a perfect plan for yourself, design for you by you. For me, one of Japan’s cheapest vegetables is sweet potatoes. I hate sweet potatoes, or at least I thought I remembered I hated sweet potatoes. I looked up sweet potato recipes on pinterest and found a great recipe on for a sweet potato pancake. I tried and it was okay. It wasn’t the best, but it tasted alright and kept me full. It things like this you have to do in order to lose weight cheaply but effectively.


The list could go on in trying to make a healthier you while studying abroad. Like try to make an ingredient homemade before you try buying it. For example, for an all-natural peanut butter, just grab some peanuts, put it in a food processors and you got some healthy peanut butter without all the add chemicals in store bought, and it’s cheaper. It get creative, try everything and ask for help when needed. Use every resource you have.


-One pound at a time,


Temperance Talley