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Guide to well-being in Japan

Living in Japan doesn’t come without risks, such as earthquakes, but as you’ll read below, you’ll also benefit from the nutritious Japanese diet.

Natural disasters

Japan suffers many natural disasters, including earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, typhoons and landslides. As such, Japan has established robust public warning systems and evacuation procedures. If you live/work in a shared or public building you can ask for information about natural disasters and the procedures in place for such an event. In certain areas it is advisable to keep an eye on the weather reports to make sure you’re not putting yourself at risk, especially when travelling. For example, the north-east is more likely to encounter earthquakes, and Okinawa, Hokkaidō and Kyūshū are more prone to typhoons.

Japan has 1,500 earthquakes a year (2011), so there is an early warning system and The Japan National Tourism Organisation has online safety tips on how to react during an earthquake.

Following the 2011 earthquake, the Fukushima power plant went into meltdown and radioactive material was released. There is still a radiation exclusion zone in place surrounding the nuclear power plant. Hiroshima and Nagasaki do not have radiation warnings in place and are safe to visit.


You do not need any specific vaccinations for Japan, just the routine ones, including measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot.

Check with your doctor as you may need some of the following based on your trip: Hep A, Hep B, Japanese encephalitis and rabies.

Healthy eating

According to the World Health Organisation (2014), Japanese women can expect to live longer than anyone else on the planet. Japanese life expectancies at birth are 87 (in 2014) for women and 81 for men.

A 2016 study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), found that those who stuck closer to the Japanese dietary guidelines had a reduced risk of dying early and from heart disease or stroke. The guidelines were first published in 2005 (revised in 2010) and describe a traditional diet of small portions of plant-based, nutrient-rich food. They recommend a diet high in grains and vegetables, with moderate amounts of animal products and soy, but minimal dairy and fruit. The Japanese diet is also traditionally high in soy and fish, which may play a significant role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Other diet staples include rice, vegetables and small amounts of fresh, omega-3-packed, heart- and brain-healthy fish.

Many Japanese meals start with miso soup, made from probiotic-rich miso paste and topped with seaweed, which contains high amounts of vitamins and minerals such as iodine and calcium.

Okinawa, in southernmost Japan, has the highest number of people over 100 years old. Its inhabitants also have the lowest risk of age-related diseases such as diabetes, cancer, arthritis and Alzheimer’s. This has partly been attributed to a very traditional Japanese diet, less influenced by dietary changes imported from western culture, which have been seen in more urban Japan. The Okinawa diet is low in calories and saturated fat yet high in nutrients such as phytonutrients (antioxidants and flavonoids).

The great thing about healthy Japanese food is that it can still be exciting, rich, tasty and varied.

What to eat and why:

  • Tofu

•    This versatile staple of Asian cuisine is high in protein and low in calories. It’s a great meat substitute, many dishes containing a combination to reduce dependence on meat.

  • Edamame

•    These baby soybeans are high in fibre and protein, so fill you up more than many other food types. They’re best consumed fresh and raw as stir-fried edamame will usually have been cooked with oil.

  • Seaweed

•    Seaweed is a great source of nutrition, especially minerals, including zinc, selenium, iodine, and vitamin B12. Seaweed also helps to lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

  • Sashimi

•    Many sushi rolls include mayonnaise, cream cheese and/or sugary sauces, but sashimi simply consists of plain, thinly sliced pieces of fish.

  • Soba noodles

•    Japan’s soba noodles are made of buckwheat flour, which provides vitamins B1 and B2, the bioflavanoid rutin, several minerals, and nearly twice the amount of proteins found in rice.

  • Hiyayakko

•    This cold and refreshing tofu appetiser includes toppings such as daikon, grated ginger or mustard.

  • Nigiri

•    Cuts of raw fish on top of mouthful-sized cubes of rice with pieces of seaweed.

  • Spinach ohitashi

•    Spinach is low in fat and even lower in cholesterol. It’s high in niacin and zinc, as well as protein, fibre, vitamins A, C, E and K, thiamin, vitamin B6, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese. It’s a great way of delivering lots of nutrients.

  • Green Tea

•    Green tea assists your body with relaxation, weight loss and contributes to maintaining normal cholesterol levels.

  • Miso soup

•    While miso soup is high in salt, it is also high in isoflavones which have anti-carcinogenic properties. Several studies show that they prevent your body from over-producing fat cells.

Less healthy dishes to eat in moderation:

  • Tonkatsu

•    Fried pork cutlets with breadcrumbs, topped with katsu sauce.

  • Spicy rolls

•    Spicy sushi roll sauce is invariably mayonnaise-based, so the calories add up quickly.

•    Even vegetables can be unhealthy if they’re deep fried.

  • Udon

•    Udon soup has a lot of salt as the broth is made from soy sauce and udon noodles are made from refined flour, making them less healthy than some other Asian noodles.

Other popular Japanese foods:

Egg noodles in a salty broth with vegetables and/or meat. The four main types are: tonkotsu (pork bone), miso, soy sauce and salt. 

  • Ramen
  • Kaiseki
  • Teriyaki
  • Yakitori

•    Kaiseki is Japan’s haute cuisine, originating centuries ago alongside the tea ceremony, and comprises a procession of small, intricately assembled courses.

•    This sauce/flavour is a mixture of soy sauce, sake, ginger, and other flavourings, used in Japanese cooking as a marinade or glaze for fish or meat dishes.

•    Charcoal-grilled chicken on skewers seasoned with either shio (salt) or tare (a sweet soy sauce-based sauce.)

Learn more about Japan’s high life expectancy.

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