By JUDD MATSUNAGA, Esq.
Want to live longer? Japan has the highest number of people per capita over the age of 100 than anywhere else in the world. Although there may be some genetics at play, there are also (1) diet; and (2) lifestyle practices that are known to lead to longer lifespans with fewer of the chronic illnesses that are common in the U.S., such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
One thing that makes the Japanese diet so healthy is its focus on seafood. Fish is high in Omega-3 fatty acids and has been proven to help prevent heart disease and cancer. Japan has among the world’s lowest levels of heart disease and compared to their white American counterparts, have much less cholesterol built up in their arteries, which is attributed to their high seafood consumption.
Green tea is arguably one of the healthiest beverages and drinking it is a daily habit in Japan. Green tea is rich in polyphenol antioxidants that reduce inflammation, protects cells from the type of damage that can promote chronic diseases, and that feed the friendly bacteria in your gut, where the majority of your immune cells and mood-boosting neurochemicals are produced.
In contrast, as a Sansei growing up in the ’60s, I was raised on McDonald’s. Although delicious, a Big Mac and fries are high in calories, saturated fat, sugar, and sodium, which can contribute to weight gain, high blood pressure, and other health problems. Nobody told me that washing down a cheeseburger and fries with an ice-cold Coke was not healthy. No wonder I had a heart attack at 59.
As far as lifestyle practices, people in Japan typically act in a way that improves life – not only for themselves but also for the people around them. Although I’m no expert in Japanese culture, this article is a summary of some simple Japanese habits that I found online. Although they are simple and small habits, they are powerful enough to have a big impact on your life.
1) Organize Your Shoes
If you want to incorporate a part of the Japanese daily routine into your home, this is an easy place to start. Removing your shoes upon entering a house is simply part of the Japanese way of life. It isn’t something the host has to ask of their guests either. People in Japan do this voluntarily. When you take off your shoes, you have to put your shoes together nice and neatly. Seeing shoes organized neatly makes you feel better. Keeping this habit is connected to self-affirmation.
(2) Improve Your Posture
As an ancient Japanese way of thinking, correcting the posture of the body could also correct the way you think. Appearance is important in the Japanese lifestyle. Your appearance sends a strong message to others without you ever saying a word. The message many of us are sending by slouching and wearing our gym clothes everywhere is that we are indifferent and don’t care.
(3) Eat Until You’re 80% Full
There’s a common saying in Japan, “hara hachi bun me,” which means to eat until you’re 80% full. It’s thought to be a Confucian teaching that roughly translates to “eat until you are eight parts full.” In essence, it’s a form of mindful eating and it makes it possible to eat enough to meet your body’s needs without overdoing it.
It usually takes at least 20 minutes for the brain to recognize you’re full, so Japanese people use “hara hachi bun me” as a reminder to stop eating. According to www.trafalgar.com,
smaller portions and slower eating are also secrets of the long lifespan of the Japanese. At mealtimes, they serve the food onto lots of smaller plates, making the whole eating process a lot slower, which aids digestion.
(4) Say “Itadakimasu”
Itadakimasu is a way of saying thank you and giving respect and appreciation to everyone involved in the preparation of your meal – from the cook who prepared it, to the farmer who grew the produce, to the actual pig, wheat and mushrooms. While it’s often translated before meals as something similar to the French “Bon appétit,” itadakimasu is actually the polite and humble form of the verb “to receive,” so in a literal sense, it means, “I humbly receive.”
Giving omiyage is deeply ingrained in Japanese society. It goes back centuries to when people made long journeys to pray at Shinto shrines. They would always bring back religious objects for their families. Local shopkeepers near the shrines started selling local products as gifts.
Today, these gifts play a significant part in maintaining pleasant and harmonious relationships, which is extremely important in Japanese society. Remembering to bring back omiyage is a show of respect, thought and appreciation for those you left behind while you were on your trip. It can be frowned upon to return from a trip without gifts in hand.
In a work setting, bringing back omiyage is also a show of gratitude for your colleagues to thank them for covering for you while you were away. It’s also common to take omiyage to business partners, especially when meeting partners that are located far away. It’s a way to show appreciation for the business relationship.
The Mottainai Spirit is taught to Japanese children at a young age to install a sense of responsibility and conservation. Because Japanese have been hearing the word “mottainai” so often since childhood, they are naturally cautious about not wasting resources, e.g., turn off lights when not in use.
However, mottainai is not just about avoiding waste; it’s also about appreciating what one has and taking care of one’s possessions. By practicing mottainai in daily life, individuals can make a positive impact on the environment and contribute to a more sustainable future.
Stress is a part of everyday life. But too much stress can take a toll on your mind and body. Feeling stressed for long periods of time can lead to depression, increased anxiety, and even physical symptoms, like body aches. One simple way to manage stress in Japan is the practice of shinrin-yoku, which translates to “forest bathing” or “absorbing the forest atmosphere.”
No forest nearby? No problem! Any natural setting will do. The practice encourages people to simply spend time in nature — no actual bathing required. According to recent study, feelings of well-being and life satisfaction improved after spending just 20 minutes in a city park.
Studies have shown that spending time in nature can reduce stress, lower blood pressure and heart rate and boost the immune system. Can also have a positive effect on mental health.
In fact, one study on forest bathing found that when compared to being in a city setting, being in a forest setting was linked with lower blood pressure, lower concentrations of the stress hormone, cortisol and an increase in parasympathetic nervous system activity, which are all indicative of feeling more calm. (Source: www.healthy.kaiserpermanente.org/what-is-forest-bathing)
Wabi-sabi is an elegant philosophy that celebrates the beauty of imperfection. Taken individually, wabi and sabi are two separate concepts:
Wabi is about recognizing beauty in humble simplicity. It invites us to open our heart and detach from the vanity of materialism so we can experience spiritual richness instead.
Sabi is concerned with the passage of time, the way all things grow, age, and decay, and how it manifests itself beautifully in objects. It suggests that beauty is hidden beneath the surface of what we actually see, even in what we initially perceive as broken.
Together, these two concepts create an overarching philosophy for approaching life: Accept what is, stay in the present moment, and appreciate the simple, transient stages of life. It is a reminder that everything in life is transient, and that imperfection is a natural and essential part of the world around us. Encourages us to find meaning and beauty in the imperfect and incomplete natural world and every day. It encourages gratefulness for what one has.
Kaizen is a compound of two Japanese words that together translate as “good change” or “improvement.” Kaizen is a philosophy of continual improvement through small, incremental changes is more effective than large, drastic changes. Applies to personal and professional areas of life.
Kaizen has come to mean “continuous improvement” through its association with lean methodology and principles. Kaizen is the alternative to the feelings of defeat and failure we experience after setting overly ambitious resolutions or goals, only to abandon them a few weeks later. And while kaizen won’t change your life overnight, it can set significant change into motion — bit by bit.
(10) Maintain Strong Social Circles
Staying socially connected is built into Japanese culture, and it’s a reason why Japanese people enjoy better physical and emotional well-being into old age. In Japan, social integration may take place in several ways. For example, adults may live in multi-generational households and in villages, it’s not uncommon to work past retirement age.
If you’re feeling isolated or lonely, seek out ways to connect with friends, family, and your community. Carve out time to see one another in person, talk on the phone (or over Zoom), or make new friends by joining Facebook groups or other online communities of people with similar interests. Church groups are another way to connect with your community, combat loneliness and enjoy better health and well-being.
In conclusion, as a Japanese American, I spent most of my life trying to be accepted into the “American” mainstream. I watched the same TV shows, laughed at the same jokes, sang the same songs as my white friends. My lifestyle and diet has been the American part of me. However, as I grow older, I am beginning to realize that the Japanese parts of me (things that my parents tried to pass down to me), have always been the best parts of me. Happy Father’s Day!!!
Judd Matsunaga, Esq., is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Matsunaga & Associates, specializing in estate/Medi-Cal planning, probate, personal injury and real estate law. With offices in Torrance, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and Fountain Valley, he can be reached at (800) 411-0546. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.