Japan Can Be Deceptively Unhealthy


The Japanese are a fascinating people. Almost inhumanly beautiful, they are unlike any other nation. When they’re not busy ousting a prime minister every year, or inspiring the fashion choices of blonde pop-stars, they’re pushing their way through all kinds of barriers: technological, cultural, geographical. When faced with disaster, they assume an automatic fight face, ready to rebuild. And then they bow.

When I moved to Japan, I had pretty shiny visions of my Japanese self. I’d be demure, technologically savvy, adept at sushi-rolling and so so thin. I’d wear short sassy skirts with long socks and clunky heels; my hair would be thick and to my waist, and I’d eat raw eel and raw eggs with aplomb. I’d read manga on the subway, standing, without holding on to the handles. I’d wear false eyelashes every day. I’d never sweat. Don’t stereotypes exist for a reason? Shouldn’t they be true?  Doesn’t living in a foreign country allow for automatic assimilation?

One year later, the vision has changed. The thing is, Japan is designed for Japanese people. I guess that’s why so many of them live here. It’s their optimum environment, the locale for which they’re genetically predisposed. I, however, am best designed for an antipodean environment, where I can shear things at will.

I like it here. I plan to stay. But, for any foreigner planning forays into the rice paddies of Japan, here are some things to avoid, or at least be wary of.

Rice: Healthy on paper, dangerous when consumed routinely for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Face it; anything you can eat a thousand of and not feel full is not a safe foodstuff. Also, once the digestive process takes hold, it’s pretty much glue. Go ahead, eat as much as you like, it’ll be in there forever.

Beer: It’s watery, non-descript and it flows like… water. The concept of drinking in moderation is not something that made it past the Sea of Japan. In fact, typical methods of drinking involve party plans, where a set (small) amount of money buys you all-you-can-drink for a set period of time not less than three hours. We’re talking pitchers and pitchers of beer lined up along the tables, being poured by angular Japanese men, until suddenly it’s 4 o’clock in the morning and the sun is rising and the crows are attacking the garbage and you’re careening down the streets of the red light district on someone else’s bicycle.

Crows: Oh my god, the crows. Daphne du Maurier was clearly Japanese (you can tell by her last name). This is what inspired the novella. They’re huge, like vicious, black, flying, dive-bombing beagles. And they like hair, particularly red hair, wrapped around their claws and borne aloft to line their nests.

Host Boys: It’s the hair that gives them away, bleached and spiked, gravity-defying, less coiffure, more elegant weaponry. They loiter on street corners, slouchy and smug and alluring. They take you by the elbow and into a tiny lift that smells of smoke, and then they seat you at a table and smile and bring you champagne; and then two hours later they turf you back onto the street, sans $300, dignity and several years of your life.

Disasters: Earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear power plants: not nearly as tourist-friendly as you might imagine.

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image – Danny Chapman