Coping With Weight Gain In Japan

Does This Yukata Make My Hips Look Big?

By Anisa Kazemi
July 14, 2021
Health & Beauty, Lifestyle

This is not your typical body-positive rant. This one’s Japan-specific.

For most of us non-Japanese women, moving to Japan and transitioning to life here can be a huge weight. So what to do when you find your body suddenly changing without warning? How do you cope in a foreign country when you become foreign to yourself? And where the heck can a gal find brown bread in this country?

Know that change is gonna come

So you’ve acquired an unwelcome muffin top. Or your skin has exploded. Or your hair has taken on an electrocuted frizz and… you. Loathe. It.

Guess what? It’s completely okay to feel that way but just remember that it is expected. It’s what our bodies do. They change. Especially when our lives have taken a 360-degree turn. I came to Japan on JET (the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program) where I was randomly placed in the most inaka (countryside) location ever.

I mean, this place didn’t even have a 7-Eleven.

Which meant the health foods I was used to back home—whole wheat crackers, brown bread, quinoa, nuts and seeds to name a beautiful few—were as alien to my environment as I was myself. Plus, the nearest sports facility was an hour’s drive away and I felt uncomfortable exercising outside because everyone stared.

Anisa's hometown

Spot the 7-Eleven.

Accept that living in an unaccustomed place, breathing in different air, eating exotic foods, working an unfamiliar job and engaging in new daily habits instinctively have a big impact on our health.

See your body for what it is: a miracle in motion

Turns out Japanese food isn’t as healthy as I had expected. During my first months here, eating the school lunch (white rice and white bread) every day, dining out and eating over at my Japanese friends’, my weight dramatically changed. Suddenly, my decisions, my temperament, my self-esteem, my everything depended on how I felt about my weight. I stopped enjoying my life here. I blamed Japan and it’s lack of sugar-free cake.

Miracle in motion

In the words of author and inspirational speaker Ken Robinson, “Life is organic, not linear.”

When our body changes from what it used to be in the comfort of our home country to something foreign and unfamiliar, naturally we instantly become uncomfortable, unattractive or big (to ourselves). But change is normal. In fact, it would be unusual if we were to stay the same.

Whenever you’re hating on your body, it really means you’re looking at it in the wrong way. Author Lynn Shattuck has these magical words:

They [our bodies] start as a microscopic, a flicker of cells. They weave bones and blood, the essential blossom of the heart. They grow and grow, muscle and fat, hair and bones, eyes and fingers. They grow until they are done growing, and even then they continue to replace themselves. Our bodies are miracles in motion.

Wow! When was the last time you viewed your body as a miracle in motion?

Give it time

Looking back, now I can see that all I needed was to be more patient with myself. Because eventually, I sourced the oats, the raw almonds and the brown bread and I even made friends with the starers. I just needed a little patience.

As much as we try, we can’t beat nature. So be kind to yourself and make time for the enjoyable things in life, breathe deeply and let your “miracle in motion” heal itself. I assure you that stressing out will further the problem.

By the way, you’re not alone

For most Japanese women, to be thin is to be everything. Skinny is the ultimate aspiration. There have been countless articles and documentaries on it and it’s my Japanese female friends’ and colleagues’ favorite topic of conversation.

It doesn’t help that the majority of Japanese women are smaller than us ex-pat ladies. Yes, we all know comparison is unhealthy, but we’re also only human. If you occasionally feel like the literal elephant in the room—girl, you’re not alone.

Living in the capital of our image-obsessed, fat-phobic world then, to not be affected, you’d have to be made of stone. Particularly as Japanese people can sometimes be blunt when it comes to discussing weight gain.

“Anisa-sensei, you’ve been eating too much Japanese food. It’s delicious isn’t it?” Then out of nowhere: “You look fat today.”

Gee, thanks!

Go and love yourself

The best thing to do? Listen to Justin Bieber: love yo-self.

Girl holding a donut

Enjoy that ramen/sushi/Pocky/donut to the fullest.

Strive day by day to create an unconditional relationship with you. With the muffin-top, the pizza-face, the candy-floss hair and your current burdens of pain. At the end of the day, you are and will always be, your number one mate. So be a joker and laugh at such comments, knowing what actually matters.

How do you stop criticizing yourself?

By engaging in the exact opposite of negativity; enjoying yourself and enjoying all that life (and Japan) has to offer. And if that comes in the form of a bowl of ramen the size of your head with an extra soft-boiled egg, then so be it!

I invite you to view your body and its changes with a different lens. You are living, working and surviving in a foreign country where almost everything is different to how you remember it so be proud of yourself, all that you are, all that you have achieved and all that you are yet to conquer—including that sweet, sweet Kyoto parfait…


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