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How well founded is Japan's gastronomic pride?

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By Andrew Evans

Succulent sushi, light-as-air tempura, super-fresh sashimi, handmade soba… it’s hard to describe Japanese food without using elegant terms. In guidebooks and magazines, on cooking shows and in cookbooks, the virtues of the heavenly Japanese diet are extolled far and wide.

It’s not only Western literature and programming that spreads the message. Many Japanese take great pride in their food, claiming it to be tastier and healthier than any of their neighbors’ cuisines. Oily Chinese stir-fries and all those Korean spices don’t hold a candle to any Japanese delicacy. And don’t even think about comparing greasy American hamburgers or oily fish and chips from the UK to anything from Japan. Japanese food and ingredients are all fresh and delicious, homegrown and healthy.

But how well founded is this gastronomic pride?

To find out if “Japanese food” really is healthy, we must first consider what Japanese food really is. Sushi seems to be synonymous with Japan, but for most Japanese (and Westerners), this is an occasional treat and not a mainstay of the diet. Much more common are high-sodium, high-fat meals like ramen, gyudon, curry rice and processed convenience store foods. Sure, it can be argued that ramen is Chinese and curry rice is Indian, and thus their unhealthiness is not Japanese. But in reality, these dishes and many others have been Japanized.

It’s not only Asian cuisine that has been absorbed into the Japanese diet. Western foods, including the aforementioned greasy burger, are consumed more than ever in Japan. Boasting more McDonald’s than Canada, the UK and Germany combined, Japan seems intent on making the burger its official national dish. In fact, Burger King’s recent 13-cm-tall, seven-patty Whopper introduced to mark the release of Microsoft’s Windows 7 OS was available only in Japan.

The Windows 7 Whopper also puts to bed another myth of Japanese food: portion size. My Japanese friends and coworkers who have visited Western countries always seem to come back complaining about the size of the meals. The mounds of meat and potatoes are always wildly overwhelming… portions like that are never found in Japan! Except, that is, in the country’s ubiquitous family restaurants and innumerable gyudon eateries that surround every train station. And in ramen shops, of course. But ramen is Chinese, let’s not forget.

If the real Japanese diet consists of things like fatty burgers and oily ramen, and the portion sizes are closer to LL than XS, then what can be the real reason for the nation’s relative health and slimness?

Japan’s healthiness is almost as well-known as its food – the country’s obesity rates are among the lowest in the world: in 2003 only 3.2% of the population was considered obese, compared to 9.4% in France, 14.3% in Canada and 30.6% in the U.S. What’s more, while the problem seems to be getting worse in the West, the situation is improving in Japan – since 2002, the rate of obesity among 12-17 year-olds has actually fallen. So, if it’s not the Japanese diet that’s keeping the nation trim, it must be the eating culture.

While Western and Japanese diets may have become entwined in recent years, the food culture and style of eating has remained worlds apart. In many restaurants in Western countries, food is ordered for the person, not the table. The opposite is true in Japan -- food is ordered for everyone to share, which means there’s not such an onus on clearing your plate and eating all that’s in front of you. The Japanese have made moderation a tradition: "enryo no katamari" (literally: lump of restraint) is the name given to the last piece of food on a shared plate which nobody has the gumption to finish.

Shared dishes almost seem designed to inspire conversation and enhance the eating experience. The same goes for portion size. For many Japanese diners, "tabehodai" (buffet) is a chance to sample a wide variety of flavors and tastes; it’s not an eating competition. The buffet restaurant is a theater of contest for some non-Japanese, and the time limit imposed by many restaurants only serves to encourage competition.

Every year, Japanese food becomes more and more international. Last February, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said at a culinary exhibition in Tokyo that “Japanese food is the most closely watched in the world.” Perhaps this is true, and while there is great merit in Japanese food, what should really be watched is the behavior of the diners, not the food itself.

This commentary originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Many Japanese take great pride in their food, claiming it to be tastier and healthier than any of their neighbors’ cuisines. Oily Chinese stir-fries and all those Korean spices don’t hold a candle to any Japanese delicacy.

Really? First I've heard of this. The Japanese people I come across are more than happy to enjoy all these Chinese style stir-fries any time and rarely eat sushi. Tempura healthy? No more healthy than British fried fish in equal proportions. The batter gets most of the grease, so if you can remove the batter more easily from the British fried fish then theoretically you can make it far more healthy than tempura.

Anyway, when my Japanese hubby makes tempura it certainly doesn't qualify as light-as-air. He makes the batter far too thick and it really sits heavy in the belly. And this is the same man who told me almost 20 years ago that good tempura had to have very light, thin batter, in a very thin, crispy layer on the food. Now he claims it needs to be as thick as his skin and very difficult to enjoy. Pain in the neck. ;)

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None of the items criticized here are traditional Japanese foods. Ramen, gyudon, and curry were popularized 150 years ago from China, the West, and India respectively. Processed foods far more recently of course.

What does any of this have to do with gastronomic pride? When we're talking about Japanese food being healthy, we're talking real traditional Japanese food like miso, grilled fish, pickles, and so on.

Sushi, while a luxury today, has been enjoyed by coastal Japanese for over a thousand years. Like bouillabaisse, it started out as the lowliest of foods for fishermen.

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Fat doesn't make you fat. It's carbs--processed food, starches etc. People need to get this down.

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Japanese curry is copied from late Victotian early 20th Century British curries which had been adapted to be massed produced by the armed forces.

Similar curries were still served in schools and workplaces until the 80`s in Britain until people wanted the "auhentic" taste.

Japanese fod is indeed interesting, varied butr often pricey. The processed foods i find are low quality and there is a lack of decent refrigerated and frozen ready meals.

From family and friends i have in Japan, the elderly pretty much still eat traditional food, but teh young are turning to burgers, pizzas and pastas.

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Of course many traditional Japanese foods are some of the healthiest in the world. I think many people are confusing the modern diet and the traditional food. If we were all eating what the average pensioner farmer up in the hills is eating, that would be healthy, and delicious.

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you are forgetting one thing - how they eat. Japanese sit down and scoff down their food in 10 minutes with slurping and squelching noises.

The Europeans have the joie de vivre in their eating with laughter, bonhomie, humour and camaraderie. I'd far rather sit around a table with the French or Italians and actually enjoy the experience rather than just be surrounded by a sea of "oishii" "sugoi!" over and over again

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concrete, the slurping always gets to me as well, really irritates.

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they treat food as almost pornographic content -

it's sustenance, remember.

And millions of Japanese eating raw fish everyday comes at a price, i.e the pillage of the world's oceans and the buying of fishing rights in poor countries like Fiji etc.

U.S. = beef and meat extravagance Japan = fish extravagance.

Wait till China and India get hold of these tastes and see what happens !!

gotta love Japanese food but I think the Greeks had it right - bread, vegetables, wine and of course a pack of malboro for breakfast

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Whatever article you read about "Western" food, they unfortunately seem to harp on the "greasy" hamburger. Rarely any talk about other food you can get.

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Japanese food is nice, yes. sometimes.

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IMO its the combination of foods that we eat, a hamburger is terrible because the overcooked meat in a stodgy bun takes the body so long to digest before the body can even start to clean itself, japanese foods work alot more in synch with each other. Its not, what were eating its how were eating. EG having a salad before a rear steak is great the acids from the lettuce help breakdown the meat faster. Food shouldnt be over cooked, rarer foods are again more easily absorbed by the body.

Western food has lost its origins and combines too many things into one making it hard to digest and making the body work harder not allowing the organs time to do what they do best which is clean toxins from the body

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By and large Japanese with their food are like that guy everybody knows. You know, the one who's forever bragging about how smokin' hot his girlfriend is, and she's just the most beautiful thing that ever walked on two legs and if Paris himself were forced to include her in the judgment, well, the Iliad would have been, at minimum, three times as long, etc., etc., etc. Then you meet her and you're thinking "She's all right. Definitely a solid 7, but that's as far as I go." You know that guy?

That's what I think of every time Japanese people tell me how amazing their food is -- that guy. Japanese talking about their food are like that guy.

And their food?

It's a solid 7.

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my personal opinion as to why Japanese people are so skinny (other than genetics) is the amount of iodine they all consume on a daily basis. Nori, Kelp and Wakame are all super high in iodine which naturally speeds up the thyroid and (in many cases) over consumption can make the thyroid overfunction.

Also the portions are not bad either, a little of everything compared to alot of one thing seems sensible.

Added to the amount of cycling/walking the Japanese do every day = a skinny salaryman.

Its very sad the author of this post has concentrated on such a narrow range of Japanese (and western) food.

Im agreeing that the greeks had it right.

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It's not what they eat,it's the amount which keeps them relativley healthy.

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while many people describe the taste of japanese food as subtle, i actually find most of it to be quite bland ...

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If you're cooking it yourself or eating somewhere like a kaiseki restaurant or a decent sushi joint, Japanese food is fantastic.

Gyudon, cold soggy tenpura bentos or the udon and mini curry set at your local salaryman feeding station - not so flash.

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This article is opinionated drivel.

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In fact there is very little fresh fish in Japan: it is nearly all frozen. If you want fresh fish, go to South East Asia and visit the fish restaurants where the fish swim in tanks. For crab go to Kep in Cambodia where it goes straight from the sea to your plate via a wok or grill.

Most tempura is oily. Most soba is factory made. There are a few exceptions. Where I live, most restaurant food is so salty that I cannot eat it. In a few I can get them to reduce the salt content so that the food becomes edible.

Good food is a rarity here and it is becoming rarer as small family-run restaurants are being replaced by chains and family restaurants which produce standardised food which is substandard.

Also, the "fresh" vegetables are usually either imported or grown in greenhouses. Use of agricultural chemicals here is generous, too.

There are too many myths about Japan.

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what is point of this article? bashing japanese food and culture?

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concrete, the slurping always gets to me as well, really irritates.

It's even worse when accompanying the consumption of western foods. Especially in Italian restaurants.

I've even seen a woman slurping a pizza once. In a relatively up-market restaurant. Extraordinary.

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Food in Japan is easily the best in the world. It comes down to the quality of ingredients and the meticulous preparation of the food. Chefs in Japan are often the owner of the restaurant and therefore take great pride and care in their offerings. Many are as passionate as Gordon Ramsay. I worked in a ramenya for 3 years and the passion and hygiene consideration was inspiring.

In my opinion: Best Italian food: Japan. Best Chinese food I ever had was in Osaka. Best hamburger in the world: Tokyo, and yes, it had bacon. Best Korean food: Japan. Best Indian curry: Japan. Best Japanese curry: COCOichi. Best pizza: Japanese izakaya in Nagoya, close tie with Escape from NY in San Francisco. Best bread: Japan. Best tea: Japan. Best poured beer: Japan's Asahi Super Dry (not only the beer, but the way its poured and glass chilled).

However, best burrito: San Francisco. Best steak: Sydney, even though it was Wagyu. Best Thai food: Sydney. Freshest seafood: Phuket, Thailand. Best chilli cheese burger: LA

Just my opinion.

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What gets me ... on japanese television...is how they exclaim how good the food is before it even passes their lips. And shovelling massive amounts of rediculously hot food in their mouths and trying to say "Oishii" at the same time.

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Why is the incidence of cancer rising so fast here. The food may look and taste good but is not serving the nutritional needs of the people like before. Diet needs to be altered a lot because there so many less minerals in the soil nowadays.Fish and meat are full of toxins. And I think everyone knows that brown rice is better than white

my 2 yens worth

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In many restaurants in Western countries, food is ordered for the person, not the table. The opposite is true in Japan—food is ordered for everyone to share, which means there’s not such an onus on clearing your plate and eating all that’s in front of you.

Wow, happy to know this. Next time at my local Ramen Shop, I am going to go down the counter one by one and slurp a bit of everyone's bowl.

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ha ha best italian food Japan ?

you have to be joking. everything here is created like an exhibit.

you can just imagine the chef in a french restaurant going

"France pan to iu no ha" and measuring the slices of bread with a ruler

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Next time at my local Ramen Shop, I am going to go down the counter one by one and slurp a bit of everyone's bowl

LOL....... goddog, you owe me a keyboard.

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Average Japanese family is sitting down every night for dinner with what,hamburger or curry,maybe pasta right ? Perhaps those classy fried noodles ? Very Japanese for sure...

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Look there are some very nice traditional Japanese foods but to compare Japan to places like France, Italy or China is absurd!

The variety available in Japan compared to these places is minute, the regional quality controls and certification of origin in France and Italy (wine, cheese, prosciutto, pasta etc..) have no equal in Japan!

The regional differences in the food from one area of France, Italy or China is immeasurable, in Japan the differences are minute.

The variety of ingredients used in Japan pale in comparison to those of these countries, all you need to do is go into the Spice section of any store in Japan and then do the same in any of these 3 countries and you will see what I mean!

Your standard Japanese cooking uses 4 things Soy sauce, salt, sugar and Sake ( and in many homes and restaurants MSG).

I do not want to sound like I'm bashing Japanese food, there are some great dishes here ( and that I just adore) but let get real comparing Japan to these 3 would be ludicrous!

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What the heck is this article trying to say?

I don't think Japanese food is very tasty at all. I'd much rather have Italian or Indian! Of course in any country, food that you get at at restaurant is likely to be greasier and saltier than the way you would normally cook it at home.

I think the biggest change in my diet since I came to Japan has been eating less sweets. Also I have probably adopted the behavior of eating smaller portions. I suppose those could be reasons why many Japanese people tend to be slim.

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Why dont we all stop being pretentious and spare a thought for people who dont have anything to eat!

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Patrick Smash; What you wrote about the TV thing is so true!

But I think my favorite misconception about the Japanese and food is that they keep claiming that they are a fish eating and loving nation, but cook a piece of fish with just a light butter sauce or salt, pepper and a little lemon and watch their faces when they actually taste the fish (without soy sauce or marinating it in sake,miso or something else that overpowers the fish taste)!

But my best example of how many Japanese don't even know what things taste like is: Ask a Japanese if they eat "shira" and they will look at you like you are nuts and say something like " you can't eat it, it's a garbage fish oishi-kunai". Then ask them if they have ever eaten "MahiMahi" either at an Hawaiian restaurant or in Hawaii and if they have they will tell you how delicious it was (BTW "shira" is the actual name in Japanese for MahiMahi or "dolphin-fish")

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Not that I've travelled that extensively, but nowhere I've been has come close to the south of France for cuisine - whether it's from a restaurant, homemade or ready meals - just incredible. The food out the university canteen was better than most restaurants I've been to elsewhere, and cost about 30 francs.

I can appreciate the care that goes into Japanese food, but like some posters above, find it to be a bit bland and unsatisfying.

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For many Japanese diners, “tabehodai” (buffet) is a chance to sample a wide variety of flavors and tastes;

Tabehodai doesnt mean buffet.

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True, dat. Buffet is "baikin" (style) in Japanese. :)

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Once a Japanese girl said to me "We Japanese do not need sauce with our vegetables because we Japanese cab appreciate the individual taste of broccoli and carrot".

I asked "and you eat your semi boiled veggies with raw fish, or fried meat right?"

"Yes" she said.

I said "we its not that you don't want a nice sauce with the meat or veggies its just that you Japanese cannot cook. Raw fish? fired meat? half boiled veggies? any fool can serve up that but to create from base a beautiful sauce for pasta, meat, or vegetables? French and Italian food kicks Japans can all over the place.

As for Asian fare, Thai or Vietnamese food kicks Japans can all over the place.

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Ah, the cuisine that gave us cup o noodle. dried chemicals in a styrofoam cup is about as bad as "food" gets. sushi and sashimi are fantastic, most of everything else in Japan is greatly overrated.

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to create from base a beautiful sauce for pasta, meat, or vegetables? French and Italian food kicks Japans can all over the place. As for Asian fare, Thai or Vietnamese food kicks Japans can all over the place.

completely agree with bobbafett. I suppose you are a good cook and your skill will match my preferences. Please invite me for dinner but you cook.

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You got it love. No raw fish and semi boiled broccoli and never any soy sauce at my house. I start from base and build a beautiful dish. I never eat out unless its Thai or Indian. I cook Italian.

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Bobbafet, I am so glad! How wonderful taoday is! I smile imagining good food. Soy sauce is my least favourite sauce. I do not know why it is the base for all the sauces in Japanese cuisine.

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Sure, it can be argued that ramen is Chinese and curry rice is Indian, and thus their unhealthiness is not Japanese.

Include Sushi, as its origion is Chinese.

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What the heck is this article trying to say? I don't think Japanese food is very tasty at all. I'd much rather have Italian or Indian!

You answered your question yoursef. Japanese -as well as you- do eat Italian or Indian more often than "real" Japanese food.

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Seriously, the report is misdirected. The higher obesity rate in the West and Amerika is due to less exercise.

Example: the obesity rate in New York is much lower than in the rest of the US as the people walk much more, often do not even own a car. Same as in Japan.

Back in my hometown in Europe, I was commuting, shopping, even going for jogging by car. Here I do not even own one.

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If anyone wonders why obesity in Japan is lower than the USA, it's almost entirely due to the predominance of high fructose corn syrup that's found in almost every single processed food that requires a sweetner. HFCS simply does not exist in any food produced in Japan, it is an entirely American phenomenon. The arrival of HFCS in the American food supply corresponds directly with the spike in American obesity in the 1970s. Thai food and French food kick the swimming-in-MSG offerings of Japanese food anytime.

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"If anyone wonders why obesity in Japan is lower than the USA"

First, I don't think anyone is really wondering, after all the Australians have a higher rate of obesity than the Americans. But if you put it to task I'd say;

The lifestyle in Japan is much more difficult than in the US. There are stairs to climb with bags of junk. Managing crowds require a lot of push and shove. Summers are blistering hot- I used to lose a good 5-10 pounds every summer.

Genetics plays a large part. Ive never seen large numbers of overweight asians here in the US. Also, the measure of "overweight/obesity" has come into question over the years. Things like the BMI don't take into account bone structure. I've seen plenty of metabol flabby armed saggy butt japanese in my days there- trust me, them people aint in shape !

As for your fructose corn sugar, you do realize this is a Japanese invention ? As is "instant ramen" ! Enjoy.

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MSG, my mother-in-law is always proud to announce, is a Japanese invention as well.

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All the comments here prove that everyone is biased towards liking their own country's food. I, for one, can appreciate food from all over the world, except very spicy food. That's pain, that's not "taste." Anyway, I suppose not too many posters have dished out more than 20,000 yen for really good Japanese food. There is a lot that goes into it (time, ingredients, effort) and it is not bland - it's delicate.

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MSG, my mother-in-law is always proud to announce, is a Japanese invention as well.

Japanese cooking tastes monosodium glutemgreat!

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HFCS simply does not exist in any food produced in Japan, it is an entirely American phenomenon.

Im not gonna call bullshit on this, but let's just say I find it hard to believe.

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I always find it hilarious when I tell my Japanese friends what I cooked. Snap peas, for example. They always say, "Nani aji?" I say "snap pea flavor." They say, "no, no; what FLAVOR." This goes on for a while until they say "salt or soy sauce?"

I always find this mental bifurcation a bit unnatural.

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the situation is improving in Japan – since 2002, the rate of obesity among 12-17 year-olds has actually fallen. So, if it’s not the Japanese diet that’s keeping the nation trim, it must be the eating culture

more due to economic hardships rather than cultural values.

Anyway, if you think japanese food is good fine so long you don't impose on others.

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The first time I was in Japan, I gained a lot of weight. I went from 88 kg to 100 kg! When I came back to the US, I controlled my diet, ate wheat bread and avoided HFCS, and tried keep my portions in check. I got all the way down to 84 kg. Now I'm back in Japan, and back to 95 kg. I'm not going to totally blame Japan for this, as I could workout more, but this is kind of messed up. I started eating granola in the morning, but my school lunches are not that great. I walk a ton more here, eat the same dinners like the US, but have gained weight. They like to fry everything here and include large amounts of rice and salt in all their food. And then I can't take home leftovers. Pretty frustrating for me :(

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By the way, "healthy" Japanese food is expensive

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yokomoc, i lived a French woman in France for a while in my younger days. The mother made dinner for the whole family daily, and the food was outsatnding, real restaurant grub with so many variations. Japan does have many variations, but not enough of a variety of tastes. The use of one type of rice for all meals is idiotic. If my missus makes a Japanese curry then we eat Thai rice with it, much nicer.

About 505 of my food in Britain was organic, lack of availabilty and high prices have cut that to about 15% in Japan. Japanese food is not as healthy as many think, especially that packet noodle and curry stuff.

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You can't really blame the cooks for the dumbing down of the consumer. If the consumer doesn't put pressure on the cooks to give 100% effort on a constant basis the food becomes worse like McDonald's.

It is more a matter of quantity over quality now = Win7 Burger. Frozen (many microwave) over fresh.

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I'm not from a small city by my countries standards but compared to here in Tokyo it's about one fourth the size but if I go to the local farmers market (I use this term loosely as most things are imported in the winter) or even the supermarket I can fine every vegetable and fruit that I finds in Tokyo and then at least two dozen more and I wouldn't even try to guess on the number of cheeses!

My big question is why does "daikon" have to be in EVERY meal???

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Japanese cuisine will never come better than fresh sashimi. No other country can beat Japanese Sashimi. The rest of Japanese cuisine is decent, no-frills and no-fuss - but sashimi is unbeatable!

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Japanese cuisine will never come better than fresh sashimi. No other country can beat

Yes, Japanese know what to look for and how to cut it for the most enjoyable taste.

Japanese Sashimi. The rest of Japanese cuisine is decent, no-frills and no-fuss - but sashimi is unbeatable!

Almost anyone can learn to find fesh fish sources and learn to cut fish.

Japanese side dishes are sometimes the best part, but, usually perfectly small.

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i often think that the "healthy" stereotype of japanese food is purely based on that fact that it is low fact in comparison with western diets. on the other hand it's clearly much higher in sodium....

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Reality: Most 3rd world nations use fresher food than the Freezer/Fridge nations. =They can't store it forever so they must buy fresh.

=They look at a Windows 7 burger and don't even recognize it as food. It doesn't even look like food to them, but thru advertisements/media it becomes to look like "food" to us.

Same for any pre-packaged months on the shelf store food. These people would come to a big city and literally starve mentally/physically because their idea of food is drastically different from what the media has programmed us to eat.

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In my opinion: Best Italian food: Japan. Best Chinese food I ever had was in Osaka. Best hamburger in the world: Tokyo, and yes, it had bacon. Best Korean food: Japan. Best Indian curry: Japan. Best Japanese curry: COCOichi. Best pizza: Japanese izakaya in Nagoya, close tie with Escape from NY in San Francisco. Best bread: Japan. Best tea: Japan. Best poured beer: Japan's Asahi Super Dry (not only the beer, but the way its poured and glass chilled).

C'mon, let's be real here. Japan has some of the WORST pizza I have ever eaten, and they don't imitate a lot of foreign foods very well unless the "chef" is school trained. The best Korean food I have ever had was in Korea. The average Italian restaurant in New York City or north Boston is better than anything I've experienced in Japan.

Traditional Japanese food is great and it's prepared and presented better here than anywhere else in the world. I don't eat sushi or sashimi anywhere else, I simply don't trust the quality. The best food experience I had here was a kaiseki breakfast at an onsen ryokan in Hakone.

As far as beer goes, anybody can dip a glass mug in water and put it in the freezer to have a really cold beer, but some of the best beers in the world are served room temperature. I really like Kirin Shibori, but it pales in comparison to German beers or English ales, as do almost all of the American beers. And it doesn't take much skill or practice to be able to pour a beer from bottle or tap to either have no head at all or a lot.

My lasting impression of Japanese food is that without shoyu to dip it in it is pretty bland. It is true that Americans eat WAY too much saturated fat and HFCS and our health statistics reflect this in the amount of cardiovascular disease; the Japanese eat WAY too much salt and their health statistics reflect it also - stroke city.

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I've been eating out in Japan for about 3 years now--Ohsho, Sukiya, McD's, Jolly Pasta, you name it--didn't have much of a problem maintaining my weight. But now that I cook at home a lot more, I seem to have developed a tire round my belly..

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Honestly, this food gets pretty boring after a couple of months. If you're from a country where access to a wide variety of authentic ethnic food is available (like any major metro US), you'll start to crave spicy, or salty, or crunchy, or texmex or Vietnamese...the list goes on.

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Some observations on food after eight years living in Japan:

Japanese food in restaurants is usually good and often outstanding. It's rare to be served food which is poor for its price range. Obviously the more you pay, the better the food - Tokyo has more Michelin restaurants than Paris. Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima all have thriving and enjoyable culinary scenes.

Japanese are justifiably proud of their food. You can usually get a great izakaya dinner wherever you go and often it's very good value. Naturally sushi is outstanding and the selection of izakaya food is far more varied than the first time visitor might expect.

Having said that, the category where the Japanese often fail, I think, is in the area of foreign food. Once you exclude the higher price ranges, it compares very poorly with what is available in China, Thailand and Vietnam. It's very hard to find authentic foreign food since they do tend to 'Japanify' everything to satisfy bland Japanese tastes. Also the Japanese tendency toward protectionism means it's often difficult to obtain foreign ingredients at reasonable prices.

It's more or less impossible to find good Indian or Mexican food here, and Italian food in most places (I'm talking about the median price range) is the usual predictable fare with the same old piddly, characterless salad to accompany it. Come to think of it, creative, satisfying salads are fairly rare in Japan, and try getting a decent sandwich - close to impossible outside Tokyo!

However there are exceptions - here in Kyoto there are a few very decent Italian places and the pizza scene has improved vastly in recent years. The Japanese love fads and the present one seems to be Spanish - you can track down passable though not entirely authentic tapas and paella. The Japanese seem never to have heard of good olives!

Considering how close we are to Asia, decent Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese food is surprisingly rare though not impossible to find.

Someone on this thread mentioned beer - there have been recent signs of a mini microbrew scene which are encouraging. It's pretty easy to get good wine at completive prices in the major cities.

In terms of service, Japanese restaurants compare favorably. Waiters are polite and helpful, food is usually served up quite quickly. However you generally don't get the cosmopolitan service you'll encounter in Shanghai or Bangkok. This reflects the famous Japanese reserve and the mild xenophobia which characterizes Japanese society (as a default setting, though this is by no means universal).

You're unlikely ever to be invited to a Japanese person's home for a meal, which is probably just as well. In my experience Japanese home cooking is overwhelmingly bland and dreary, though I have encountered one exception to this in eight years - an artist couple who served superb 'shojin ryori'!

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I agree with much of what you are saying except this part needs a little bit of context. "Tokyo has more Michelin restaurants than Paris"

This maybe so but it has nothing to do with the food being any better, it has to do with Michelin magazine not being popular any more in Europe and that their standing has fallen greatly (except Japan). Most high end or even medium end restaurants don't care or don't want Michelin in their establishments anymore .

BTW just had lunch and again there was "DAIKON" in 2 out of 3 dishes! Again can anyone explain to me why there must be "DAIKON" in every meal!

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"Tokyo has more Michelin restaurants than Paris"

That is because the Michelin editors have figured out that the Japanese will actually buy this guide- what a cash cow that has turned out to be.

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No one here has mentioned Oden. It is healthy and wonderful. Also all the Nabe dishes are excellent too. I have a feeling a lot of the comments here are from people that are not open minded enough to seek out better food, rather then search for their own tastes from back home. You are missing out.

Daikon in every meal? Well you can get it for Oden if you want, and it is actually with most Nabe too. Muah. So funny. And I am definitely going to share everyone's Ramen at the next Ramen shop I go to eat.

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HFCS is not used in Japan, because there is no economic advantage to using it over real sugar, which is highly taxed in the USA (whereas corn is subsidized). It's cheaper to use HFCS over sugar in the USA, and that's why it's in everything. Not sure if it was invented in Japan, but the Japanese corn industry isn't huge, so I'm guessing Japan doesn't use HFCS at all.

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@limboinjapan; daikon is awesome! Vitamin C is quite high. Humans do not produce Vitamin C internally at all, but animals do and do not suffer easily from heart attacks like humans. Given the amount of salt in Japanese food, you need this!

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This article hit the nail on the head when it mentioned "portions" as the main factor in health. I am sure that if you ate Japanese food like 30% of Americans eat any of our food, it'd be just as bad.

Remember, America doesn't have a traditional food. Parts of America do, but not the country as a whole. Think Tex-Mex in Texas or Cajun in Louisiana or Florida sea food or the MANY styles of food in New York. Those greasy burgers aren't as common as one would think.

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Japanese gastronomic pride is very well-founded so long as you don't expect food to taste of anything.

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