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5 differences between Japanese and Western diet approaches

By Katheryn Gronauer

Recently, I had the opportunity to ask a large group of foreign women living in Tokyo if they research their health information in English (or their native language), Japanese, or both. It was almost unanimous that they research health tips in English, even if they have a good understanding of Japanese.

I found this to be interesting because Japan has such a different culture around food that it seems tricky to tailor western advice to an Asian lifestyle. Reading an article from someone living in the United States while living in Japan makes me feel like I have to search for uncommon western ingredients like quinoa and kale, scout out a green juice shop that opens before breakfast hours, or figure out a way to bake foods when it’s not that common in Japan to even own an oven.

So, I felt inspired to share with you some differences in the Japanese and Western diet approaches to show you a new perspective and raise your confidence in the Eastern methods.

1. The Japanese diet is broad, while the Western diet is detailed

There was a point in time when we didn’t have diet science to help us explain what was nutritionally sound for our bodies. So in the East (countries like Japan, China, and India), people developed a way of looking at nature for clues on how to stay healthy, and how to rebalance ailments in the body.

The most obvious one would be to eat according to the seasons because the idea is that the earth offers us exactly what we need to acclimate our bodies to our climate. You’ll notice in a Japanese teishoku (set meals) that while the main setup of the meal is the same throughout the year with some kind of animal or vegetarian protein, vegetables, rice, soup, and pickles, the vegetables are always interchanged as the seasons change.

Other attributes would be how fast or slow foods digest in our body, whether they make us feel uplifted or relaxed, and if the foods cause our body to contract or to expand. In other words, they look at properties you can understand with your senses.

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© Savvy Tokyo

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All food depends upon every individual. Some Super healthy food won't make any good to some people.

If u visit South Asian countries and eat street food or at small cheap restaurants, most outsiders will have problem with their digestive system but won't be for the locals and same locals will have problem with their digestive system if they eat super healthy food.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Eat what you want, change based on what you feel and see.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

LOL the 'western diet'

Imagine what you might possibly mean if you said the 'Eastern Diet'. Stop it.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

A bit of a Broad Sweep of an article.

What exactly is "Western Diet"? Is it some monolithic thing that encompasses all "western countries"?

For example, does the Cajun cuisine of the US, the Mediterranean cuisines of Italy, Greece, France, Turkey and the Dutch cuisine, all share the same style, approach, cooking, seasoning etc etc? Hardly.

Do the good folk of Tuscanny or Provence count calories, proteins, carbs etc? Do these same people use seasonally available ingredients in their preparations? Such questions are self-answering.

And the modern Japanese diet is far removed from the Traditional diet. Yes - balanced seasonal dishes are still very common, but they no longer make up the mainstays of 2020 Japanese cuisine.

Recent surveys put Curry rice as the most popular dish in Japan. Meat - beef, pork, chicken - have become staples on tables here as have cheese & dairy products.

As for water not being drunk with meals here - well try finding a restaurant that doesn't serve water (O-mizu)when customers are seated. And the water is endless in most cases, without even the necessity to ask for a re-fill.

Comparative articles need to be focussed and not generalized. eg comparing the dishes of a region to a region makes greater sense. Even within a country there is enormous variation - Okinawan and Nagano cuisines are different.

And finally the use of the term Western in general, while having a convenience of use, is as misleading as using the term Asian (Eastern). No one would suggest that ethnicities such as Japanese and Indonesians belong to one cultural group.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

And yet despite some people's cynicism, Japanese women continue to live longer lives han anyone else in the world, and Japanese men among the Top 10 longest lives - and the expert opinon is that the Japanese diet is a significant (although not the only) factor in that.

Here's an article on the possible reasons for Japanese longevity:

I'll just quote one statistic from that article.

(Despite an increasing obesity rate, due to increasing adoption of Western-style foods including fast foods)... "obesity rates in Japan are still very low, with around 3.8% of men classed as obese and 3.4% of women, compared to 24..4% of men in the UK and 25.1% of women."

That's an astounding disparity, and one that has everything to do with diet.

0 ( +2 / -2 )


There is a long list of reasons why Japanese (women) live long lives (not the longest, though). Right now both men and women from Hong Kong lead the charge in longest life spans with Switzerland and Singapore beating them in just the mens category. All of these places of fundamentally different diets and lifestyles than Japan and one another. In general, short stature leads to a longer life - mostly because your heart doesn't work as hard to pump blood. Also fish consumption, a culture that includes a lot of walking and socialized healthcare. None of these things are restricted to just Japan.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

here is a long list of reasons why Japanese (women) live long lives (not the longest, though). Right now both men and women from Hong Kong lead the charge in longest life spans

It seems to depend which source you look at. I found your Hong Kong reference - 87.6 to 87.5 years for women. A photo-finish, you might say - but a full two years ahead of anyone else. I've also seen the No.1 claim made for South Korea. The link I gave above says Japan.

Also fish consumption, a culture that includes a lot of walking and socialized healthcare.

The factors given in the article I quoted are: 1) Diet. 2) Universal healthcare system (the only way to go). 3) Social cohesion (feelings of belonging).

I'm not claiming it's diet alone. But it is partly diet, and that is the purpose of this article - to compare the effect of diet on health.

In general, short stature leads to a longer life - mostly because your heart doesn't work as hard to pump blood.

My 150cm tall mother-in-law lived to same age (94) as my 185cm father, so I'm hoping the qualifier "in general" holds for me and my almost 190cm.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Western countries are very diverse so wouldn't a western diet be pretty much every kind of food?

7 ( +7 / -0 )

hydrating soups

.... like, miso soup?

Ow big difference that I find rather annoying is that in Japan, a dish is “healthy” as long as there is vegetable, or meat, fish, etc in it. It doesn’t matter if it’s coated in sugar, soaked in salt or triple deep fried.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Big Yen - interesting link.

IMO one of the most ovelooked facts is that it is the elderly who live the longest.

Duh - you say! But all of the people creating that top of the world longevity stat (esp in Japan) probably did/do eat simple traditional foods, avoid heavy saturated fats dishes, ate small to moderate amounts, avoid high levels of sugar, keep active as possible, enjoy family and friends and above all are taken care of by a highly developed medical welfare system.

How many of today's younger citizens ( kids ~ 50years) eat simple traditional, low fat, low sugar, small serving size meals while being actively involved and engaged with community & family?

A big decline I'd suggest. If we accept that, then longevity is not a magic bullet bestowed uniformly by miracle DNA, but rather a consequence of circumstances that are rapidly changing. Even the hallowed health care system will be put under immense strain in this "aging era", which in turn may or may not be able to offer the same level of care.

If we look at the Blue Zones of the world - the longest living people in good health - we find that their lifestyles and life philosophies are far removed from what is becoming the norm in modern day Japan.

To continue living long lives the now younger generations will have to do some serious reflecting in preparation and relying solely on advanced medical systems is not the wisest of moves.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This fascination with longevity? live a happy life that's what matters spending thirty years fearing chocking on Mucha not a happy ending. National pride for longevity not really working out for Japan. (I'm not a food person so take that into consideration when reading my thoughts.) I think the JA sponsor these articles as the variation of foods available in Japan would fail to fill one isle in a "Western Country" ( whatever that actually is). Supermarket. Personally I avoid Japanese foods, family go to a resturant I wander to a convenience store and cook when we go home. It's bland and unpalatable for me. Boiled vegetables and meat not my cup of tea. When we travel outside of Japan visit Asia it's toast and cheese.

But id eat cardboard with sauce if it kept me alive, and probably enjoy it more.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Diet ? You're not surely talking about the difference between Japanese Weight-loss diets & Western ones are you ?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Regardless where you live the food you consume depends upon a number of factors - availability, affordability, dietary restrictions, desire, and effort.

For example, in some places, bat soup may be a highly sought after delicacy, though I have absolutely no desire for it. Likewise, for the purported National dish of Japan - Whale meat, no desire for it nor Dolphin meat.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Western diet means nothing!

Most of the Mediterranean diet is pretty close to Japan.

USA, .... not sure !

1 ( +1 / -0 )

What on earth is a 'Western diet'? Utter nonsense.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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