One aspect of Japan is that their people are significantly thinner than most other countries, especially the United States. Just 3.6% of Japanese have a body mass index of 30 or higher, compared to more than 32% in the U.S. While most Westerners would think of the average Japanese as “not fat,” the Japanese themselves would often disagree, and there are probably as many people here struggling on diets as everywhere else. Sometimes in anime, an episode centers around a character desperately trying to keep from gaining weight, which is usually cute and adorable. Can anime girls get fat? Let’s look at the topic of weight in Japan.
I’m enjoying the surprise hit harem anime Bokutachi wa Benkyo Dekinai, aka BokuBen, aka We Never Learn, about a boy named Yuina who’s tasked with tutoring literature genius Fumino, math whiz Rizu and sports girl Uruka in order to get a scholarship to university. In a recent episode, Fumino realizes she’s put on a bit of weight thanks to constantly snacking on foods the other girls bring to school. Watching her trying to concentrate on her studies while being tempted with exotic and fattening foods is super cute.
Why is weight in Japan so different from the U.S.? Here are some reasons…
- It’s because the Japanese eat simple diets of fish and rice, right? While they do more fish than Americans, they have a varied diet that includes everything from pasta to “hamburg” steak to the national food of Japan, curry rice. Japanese dishes are often thought of as healthy, but many are far from it, like my beloved katsudon, fried pork cutlet over a huge bowl of rice, which can easily contain 1200 calories or more.
- Is it the lack of fast food culture? The Japanese have access to every fast food restaurant you could think of, from McDonald’s to KFC to “Freshness Burger,” along with the most popular on-the-good food here, gyudon or beef bowl. But they’re eaten more rarely, and in smaller portions.
- Is it the lack of Coca Cola? You can get Coke or Pepsi in any vending machine, but the vast majority of Japanese would reach for unsweetened oolong, green or black tea instead. When I’m in the U.S. it’s quite common to find that the only unsweetened drink option available to me in shops is water, so I started bringing brewed iced tea with me wherever I go. There’s nothing approaching a “Big Gulp” in Japan.
- Is it more physical activity? This is a factor, yes. One reason my wife and I moved to Tokyo on the weekends is that we knew life there involved walking 2-4 km on a regular basis, climbing stairs to get to train platforms and generally being more active. It’s a healthier lifestyle than in Gunma, where you’re more likely to drive everywhere.
- Finally, the biggest reason why weight in Japan is so different might be the idea of 人の目 hito no me, meaning “the eyes of others.” We’re all affected by how we’re viewed from those around us, and in a country where fewer are overweight, that puts quiet pressure on everyone to conform. I decided to lose weight, dropping 22 kg/50 lbs over a couple years, when people started asking if I was a famous professional wrestler and if they could have my autograph. Social pressure isn’t always a good thing, but I used it in a positive way to get serious about my own health. So it’s not always bad, either.
You may remember about a decade ago reading that Japan had “outlawed” being fat. What they really did was pass a “Metabo law” requiring companies to pay for medical check-ups for employees between the ages of 45 and 74 during which their waistlines were measured, and health guidance given if they were above a certain number. While bothersome, the law did promote awareness of the dangers of metabolic syndrome, and probably had a net positive effect on the health of many. It’s another example of how Japan gets a lot of things right in trying to build a good society.
What do you think about weight in Japan? Do the Japanese take things too far? Tell us on Twitter!
Do you love super sexy bunny girls? What about zombie idols, or naughty “gals” who let you be sexy with them? We’ve gotten in a ton of new doujinshi from Japan’s top doujin artists, and you should browse them all now, since the stock is limited and we can’t reorder once sold out.