Every country has its overweight and obese people. Some countries glorify obesity and “curviness”, while others shun and criticize it. Japan is one of the latter.
Being overweight in Japan can be especially difficult on the psyche because most of the population is small-framed, meaning they still look small even when they are carrying extra weight. The average weight of a Japanese woman is about 53 kilograms, and the weight of a man is about 62-63 kilograms. Let’s compare those numbers with Americans. The average American woman weighs 75 kilograms, while the average man weighs just under 90 kilograms. Japanese people are short, but surprisingly not that much shorter than Americans on average, so this disparity in weight will lead to huge differences in BMI, and obviously, bigger people will stand out.
People in Japan are open about their weight issues and while they may not tell you their exact weight, many people will constantly talk about how they desire to lose weight. People will let you know if you have gained weight, and company employees are constantly encouraged by coworkers to keep their weight down. Apparently, if a woman in the workplace gains too much weight, she will be “talked to” by her superior. It’s pretty brutal and sexist.
In America, people get extremely offended at any comments about weight other than an earnest, “Did you lose weight?” Recently there is also a trend that includes and admires all body types.
But in Japan there is a constant battle to stay thin. Women are especially under pressure. Diet regimes and supplements are always marketed towards them, and there is an unspoken belief that she was asking for being cheated on if she puts on weight during a relationship.
There is a saying in Japanese that literally translates to “You have good style” (スタイルがいい), and it has nothing to do with clothes or fashion, as it may imply. It actually means that one is very slim, and it’s considered a great compliment if you are told this.
While living in Japan helps keep me on my tippy toes with my weight and makes healthy living relatively easy, I think most Americans would find the scrutiny of their bodies hard to bear.