Gym’ll fix it

My body is bi-polar. I have been fat and thin in almost regularly alternating periods throughout my life. Sometimes it has been imperceptible; suddenly finding it took a lot more effort to tie my shoe laces than it used to be, sometimes extreme, like the time I lost 25 kilos in 3 months because I was working myself too hard on my graduation projects. These days I am of the size where my pelvic bones are clearly visible again but when I first came to Japan I was, as my so-called “friends” like to point out, a porker. I have a good excuse though; I had quit smoking back in England as a successful money-saving measure and used food as substitute cigarettes. As tobacco is much more affordable here I have started again, but my recent weight loss has more to do with my patent-pending “don’t eat so much crap, you disgusting pig” diet than any appetite suppressant addictions I have.

But how, you may ask, is it possible to be fat in Japan, with its notoriously healthy diet and outrageous life expectancy? This may have been the case for the current crop of old fogies and their predecessors, but I fear for today’s young. More and more do you see processed foods, American fast “food” chains, changing diets, etc. Though morbid obesity is usually only found in isolated cases amongst programmers, fat ankles, belt awnings and general wobbliness are slowly becoming the norm. It has a long way to go yet but it seems Japan has entered the race for obesity that America and England are spearheading. Changing diets may also be responsible for the sudden appearance of incredibly tall Japanese people that have quite literally popped up around Tokyo, often towering over me, a supposedly tall gaijin.

My own blobby shape for the first few years of my life in Japan is less of a mystery. Apart from the sedentary lifestyle that comes with being a developer and lazy bastard it was mostly my indiscriminate appetite for snacks and my new-found love for Japanese beers, which are delicious on the whole. The latter, combined with the hot and humid summers, lead to a habit of drinking a few cans a day (!). Drinking sugary fruit and vegetable juices for lunch and breakfast didn’t help, nor did the fact my office at the time was near a bakery where I’d often buy some rolls for breakfast.

Being a fat gaijin in Japan is not really an issue. You’re still considered cool by a lot of people and young girls will want to hang you off their arm as a fashion accessory. Any trip into town of a weekend is a good opportunity to gaze at hideous and fat foreigners with vapid but cute Japanese girlfriends. And of course the married man has little impetus to keep in shape as he is no longer required to participate in mating rituals.
But when I finally became tired of my whole body moving when brushing my teeth and gasping for air after a short jog, and not in the good “smoke too much” way, something had to be done. There are plenty of gyms around Tokyo, all of varying costs. I have it on good authority that employees of Konami or Konami owned businesses get discounts at Konami gyms. For the rest of us there are the local gymnasiums and the occasional brand one. Quite near our house was a Tipness, a fairly large and hilariously Engrish named chain of gyms that seems to be fairly popular, though it isn’t that cheap. It was only a 3 minute walk from our home but I had never made the effort because it was mostly uphill. When the die was cast though I got an unlimited membership for a whopping 14,000 Yen a month (US$ 116, EUR 90) which allowed me unlimited access to the facilities, save for the few afternoons set aside for granny yoga or elementary school swimming.

On my first visit a hatefully chipper trainer girl put me on the electronic scales and guffawed in mirth at the little “bodyfat” bar on the display which just kept on inching upwards for several humiliating minutes. She then felt it necessary to give a reproachful look and a tut. This always struck me as silly, as who else would go through the torture of physical exercise if not the people that needed it? No, apparently only the incredibly fit and muscular are allowed to train without fear of castigation. And indeed, the gym was filled with such people. Nothing quite as annoying as waiting on machines while some muscular Adonis with a neck the girth of a tree trunk is toning his body for half an hour. But eventually I got to work on the machines.

And boy, did I hate it. Exercising is the most boring activity one can imagine. It wasn’t helped that all the televisions on the walls, meant to keep us occupied as we burned the calories, were all showing Japanese television channels. Not only is this boring but as you may have gathered from previous posts, Japanese television is obsessed with food. So you’re on the treadmill watching some talentos eating gyoza and telling us how delicious it is. I found it all rather tortuous.
I kept it up for a few weeks but in the end let it slip. There are better ways to numb the brain and lose weight. Ideally I would have liked to swim, as that is the one thing I really did enjoy in my more physical years. Sadly I was plagued by the British prudish streak, not wanting to use the dressing room where Japanese men walk around naked with childish abandon waving their prudentia around for all to see, and the fact pools in Japan are tiny. By the time you’re in the swing of a good crawl you’re already on dry land on the other side of the pool. It’s made worse by the fact half of the pool is always cordoned off for the aquayoga classes. In all my searches I have not found a decent sized pool yet. That is, at least, my excuse for not exercising.

So there was nothing else for it. I had to change my diet. No more snacks, healthy lunches, preferably home-cooked and beer only when I go out. At home my drink of choice is sparkling water and though I do occasionally partake in a bar of chocolate, because after all I don’t hate myself quite enough to deprive myself of chocolate, I hardly ever eat snacks anymore. No more cheap and nasty dinners outside the house but home-cooked healthy meals of the Japanese variety; rice, miso soup, vegetables. And it all tastes great; why the Japanese flock to places like McDonalds, KFC or their own First Kitchen while they have all this gorgeous food at home is beyond me.

Though my stomach still resembles the rolling hills of rural England more than the ubiquitous six-pack at least I’m not a porker anymore. Not for the moment, at least. I’d still like to shave off a few pounds, preferably a kilo or 5, but the fact I’m fairly stable right now is heartening. Most noticeably I can now fit into Japanese clothes of the M or L variety, giving me much more choice to shop at home, here in Japan, rather than having to do bulk shopping on my trips abroad. If only my arms were shorter. As for exercise, until Japan builds some decent sized pools I doubt it will ever happen Unless, of course, you count Wii sports. But let's not go there again.


  1. What did me in was the instant curry. After a paradoxically dull and exhausting day at my Junior high school, I'd go home and prepare a dish not quite big enough for two meals, but easily too much for one, then just eat the whole damned thing rather than go through the trouble of refrigerating it.

    Taiwan's probably just as dangerous; bread shops and night markets abound. Fortunately, we've got access to enough fresh tropical fruit to keep us sated, and the ubiquity of chou doufu* is an effective appetite suppressant for most waiguoren.

    * A small square of soybean curd deep-fried in some unthinkable liquid, whose odor strongly resembles that of an overpopulated chicken farm.

  2. I've always wondered, how do the Japanese regard gaijin women? Are they repulsed and horrified? Bemused? Other?

  3. re: Anon.
    I believe the term is usually "ボインボイン" boin-boin.

  4. lol@Chris. No, anon, western women excite Japanese men to the point of harassment!They'll grab your chest, allude to your sexuality, all that. But if you want to date you're out of luck. They're apparently way too shy to approach western women seriously; I heard a lot of girls that come over here end up quite lonely.
    On the flip side, all western women are quickly regarded as gorgeous so a lucrative modelling career awaits you! I've seen some very average girls become models, and sadly they quicky acquire the arrogance that profession seems to bring out in people. You see them strutting around Shibuya looking down their noses at everybody.

  5. Vaguely related; I once concocted a scheme where I would go to Japan pretending to be a famous Western tv-star, so I could land a horribly overpaid role in a hilarious commercial for Japanese ham or something. Or Suntory whiskey. It may seem a ludicrous idea, but I've never stopped believing I could actually pull it off if I put in the effort.

  6. Hehe, Adam & Joe did that in their excellent "Adam & Joe go Tokyo" series. And it really works! All you need is a few people, preferably Japanese, to go "Oh my God! It's HIM! You know, from that thing." And a lot of curious bystanders will make assumptions and start photographing you.

  7. you'll always be a fat pommy bastard to me.

  8. I think the reason the Japanese flock to Macdonalds, KFC etc is because it's different and it has that dangerous allure of grease, salt and sweetness that seems to catch everyone at some time or other. Which is kind of funny since the west has been going ga ga (radio gaga movement!) over Japanese food for the last 20 years, especially sushi. Other foods are becoming more and more popular as well and it's always being touted as the healthy alternative.

    I wonder if we'll see the west embrace Japanese food and at the same time the Japanese do away with it and then having to go the west to eat traditional Japanese food...

  9. Wow that's amazing, but could be a body really bipolar ? I guess that can affect strongly the development of the body and everything.

  10. I can say the this information is amazing, I would like to have the opportunity to change many of this things, I love the way how to explain it!