A Focus on Japan and their Way of Life

Note: I don’t know how this post disappeared but I’m re-posting it.

As you may well know, I love traveling.

If you are a world traveler, it might do you some good to read the following list of 20 Things I’ve Learned From Traveling Around the World for Three Years.

It is a spot on article, and backs up many of my previous initial observations of Paris, although Mr. Andt articulates my thoughts a lot more succinctly.

You can also check out this flash infographic from Newsweek about each country’s rankings in healthcare, economic dynamism and so on.

Now, onto Japan, the country that I found and still find the most fascinating out of all the ones I’ve ever visited.

Just the other day, I came across this article: 20 Eye Opening Cultural Norms in Japan which made me want to go back and revisit Japan.

It is truly a country that is like no other, and you really feel like you’ve landed on an entirely different planet.

I’ve always had a little bit of a crush on Japan, ever since I was a little girl who was first introduced to manga (Japanese comic books).

I read and still read titles such as Lone Wolf & Cub, Usagi Yojimbo, anything by Rumiko Takahashi, Fruits Basket and Full Metal Panic regularly.

Oh and a fun article to read: Sociological Images answers “Why the Japanese draw themselves as white” in anime and manga.

It is also no secret that Japanese cuisine is by far my favourite, and I can’t seem to read enough upon their history, culture and customs.

In modern day Japan, I still remain in awe with how they are so technologically advanced, but yet so eco-friendly and efficient — have you seen these following videos?

Office Paper to Toilet Paper

Converting Plastic back into Oil

The other part about Japan that amazes me (or perhaps not!) is how long they seem to live.

There was a special focus placed upon Okinawans who live the longest out of all the Japanese:

They eat remarkably healthy food. The traditional Okinawan diet is heavy on grains, fish and vegetables, and light on meat, eggs and dairy food.

The Okinawans are especially enthusiastic eaters of tofu. Ogimi villagers like to mix it with seaweed in a concoction called “mooi tofu.” Eating tofu and other soy products works wonders because soybeans are loaded with flavonoids — nutrients known to fight breast and prostate cancer and believed to combat heart disease.

Okinawans also consume lots of fish. Fish — particularly cold-water varieties such as tuna, mackerel and salmon — contains high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce the risk of heart disease and breast cancer.

They steer clear of artery-clogging meats and dairy products. Results are astounding: Compared with the USA, death rates are 82% lower for coronary heart disease, 86% lower for prostate cancer, 57% lower for ovarian cancer and 82% lower for breast cancer.

“Simply put,” write Program authors, “if Americans lived more like the Okinawans, we would have to close down 80% of the coronary care units and one-third of the cancer wards in the United States, and a lot of nursing homes would be out of business.”

Japanese women have one of the longest life expectancies in the world.

Experts attribute Japan’s extraordinary longevity statistics to a traditional diet of fish, rice and simmered vegetables, easy access to healthcare and a comparatively high standard of living in old age.

Japanese women will continue to outlive the rest of us (and their men aren’t doing too shabbily either!)

“I never eat meat and avoid fried food … with the occasional exception,” Maeda says as she nods, a little guiltily, at her lunch of rice and a pair of tempura prawns.

“I eat lots of oily fish, like mackerel and sardines, I’ve never smoked and I hardly ever drink,” she adds between mouthfuls at a restaurant in the elderly shopping and entertainment neighbourhood of Sugamo, in Tokyo.

Diet aside, Maeda, who lives with her son and his family, attributes her impeccable health, and the prospect of easily outliving her male peers, to a lifestyle that would shame people at least 30 years her junior.

“I get up at 4:30, do the washing and the rest of the housework,” she says. “I make a Japanese-style dinner for me and usually something western for my son’s family, and I’m in bed well before 9 pm.”

…and life expectancy for men and women in Japan has doubled in 80 years.

So what is behind the phenomenon of Japanese life expectancy? Most theories have centred on the low-fat diet of fish, rice and soy products such as tofu. But diet is just one of the factors that combine to make for a longer, healthier life. While few scientific studies point to definite explanations for Japan’s long-living population, there is no shortage of possibilities. Universal health insurance, achieved in the early 1960s, undoubtedly has an impact, as does the generous state pension scheme. In Japan, poverty in old age is rare.

Education also plays a role. “There is no illiteracy, even among people aged 70 and over,” says Takao Suzuki, vice-director of the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology. “They are very sensitive about information on health problems, so I would say education is one of the important factors.”

Elderly Japanese appear just as gregarious as the urban young. According to government figures, a quarter of all over-65s socialise regularly with neighbours, with 20% preferring daily contact.

But there is another side to his life that has little to do with sensible lifestyle choices or government health policy. “Look at what I have,” Saito says as his great-granddaughter crawls into the room. “I’m living here among four generations of my family. We are all healthy and have lots of fun together. Whenever I see the children playing around the house, I think how nice it would be to be able to enjoy at least another year of this.”

Everything I’ve read about the Japanese living longer, all ties back to not being caught up in the pace of life, and it’s all in your daily habits and routines, rather than how many pills you can pop, or how many surgeries you can have on your face and body to look younger.

I know this is all wishy-washy for those of you who want hard scientific evidence, but sometimes you can’t put your finger on it.

Top 10 Takeaways to Living Longer (like the Japanese)

1. Eat very little fried, fast and processed foods without a lot of salt
2. Eat lots of fruits & veggies and less red meat
3. Stress less and let your anger & frustration go
4. Start becoming financially secure — it will help greatly with stress
5. Don’t smoke
6. Drink in moderation
7. Stay active and fit, both mentally and physically
8. Connect with your friends, family and/or community on a regular basis
9. Educate yourself on health risks and benefits
10. Go for regular health check-ups — I know this can be tough in a country like the States, as it costs $$$

These are all changes that are possible for everyone.

I’d have the hardest time with stressing less, and connecting with my community on a regular basis, but I think joking with my co-workers and regularly visiting my family and friends helps with that.

I can definitely say that while genetics also plays a part in whether or not you look and feel younger, I think lifestyle changes make a big difference as well.

I for one, have noticed that ever since I started committing more to doing yoga seriously in the mornings, sticking to my 6 a.m. wakeup schedule even on weekends, and changing my eating habits, I feel more awake, more energetic and less annoyed than I used to be.

The biggest problem for most of us will be managing our stress, I think. Work, family, money, friends.. they all come with great benefits, but with a risk for stress as well if you let it get to you.

Everything I’ve written above makes me want to go back to Japan, and it’s the #1 country on my list to re-visit.

What about you? Do you have a favourite country?

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About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.