Fat in Japan

So, here’s the thing. I was never fat in Japan. Each time I disembark from the hikōki after landing in Japan, it is like my karada says, “Oh, we’re in Japan. Let’s immediately lose ten pounds or more.”

It might be a body memory thing due to my first trip to Japan where I became ill with natsubate and ended up in the hospital unable to eat. And then there were all the unfamiliar foods that took awhile to like. (Luckily I did know how to use ohashi, so that wasn’t the issue.)

I do hate to exercise and only once in Japan did I join a class for that purpose. It was a jazz exercise class. We’d go out to lunch afterwards and virtuously eat sarada. And feel really really hungry. So, that didn’t last.

But what did last was the lifestyle. Here are some examples:

  1. In Japan I had a washing machine, but no kansōki. That meant hanging the clothes out to dry as opposed to shifting them into a dryer.
  2. The futon we slept on also had to be regularly carted over to the window and hung out in the sun to air. They also had to be beaten with a futontataki and flipped over and beaten again. This as opposed to either making a bed or … not.
  3. I didn’t have a kuruma in Japan. This covers a LOT, including grocery shopping by bicycle and looping the bags over the handlebars to cycle home. It also covers taking my kids on the jitensha to cart them anywhere we were going and daily trips to daycare.
  4. In Tokyo there were the subways that could be way down deep underground. Esukareetaa? Who had the time and they weren’t a given.
  5. Sightseeing. Obviously Japan is charming and hilltop temples and shrines especially so. If the old grannies were climbing, so were we.
This is the tool we used to beat the futon. And when you lived in an apartment building you wanted to be sure to get your futon outside early in the morning to appear more virtuous than your neighbors.

So even though I never watched what I ate, I was always slimmer in Japan. However, it is the curse of the gaijin woman to never feel that way next to the lithe Japanese women. But that’s a whole other story.

  • hikōki 飛行機 – airplane
  • karada 体 – body
  • natsubate 夏バテ – A special word used to describe suffering in the summer due to the oppressive heat. When you get natsubate you don’t feel like eating and you can quickly succumb to the heat. Natsu means summer and the bate comes from the verb bateru which means to be exhausted.
  • ohashi お箸 – chopsticks
  • sarada サラダ – salad
  • kansōki 乾燥機 – clothes dryer
  • futon 布団 – not a sofa. REAL Traditional Japanese futon are mats that you sleep on. You put them down at night on a tatami surface and then fold them up in the daytime.
  • futontataki 布団叩き – the tool that you use to beat the futon when you are airing them out. You can see puffs of dust arise when you do this. Necessary? Not sure. Traditional? Hell, yes.
  • kuruma 車 – automobile
  • jitensha 自転車 – bicycle
  • Esukareetaa – エスカレーター – escalator
  • gaijin 外人 – foreigner. This is the short form of gaikokujin. Some foreigners take offense at being called this and would prefer the longer and more polite form. Your mileage may vary.

An Inauspicious Beginning

Your first year in a new place, you’re bound to get sick. New environment, new baikin, more exposure in some cases. In my case, I spent my second week in Japan being byōki. Let me explain.

I had arrived in Japan along with my 20 odd cohorts for a year of study abroad. It was hachigatsu and we landed at Haneda Airport a little too late to catch our connecting flight. So, we took a basu into the city to stay at a huge modern hoteru. For me, the problem was the erebētā. It was one of those swift and silent types that immediately makes me feel nauseous. Not an auspicious beginning.

The next day, we flew to Osaka and took another basu to Kyoto, to the youth hostel that would be our first home in Kyoto before we met our host families. I remember passing gasorin sutando that looked like something out of outer space to me. Possibly a space shuttle would fly in to fuel up!

This style was prevalent when I lived in Japan. I always found it so New Age-ish

Though I was coming from Kansas, which also has hot summers, this heat was more oppressive. I lost my appetite what with the heat and the unfamiliar food. And that led to a whopping episode of natsubate. I lost ten pounds in ten days and ended up with a visit to the Kyoto Baptist Hospital where Dr. Alice Cary, the savior of foreign women in Kyoto, admitted me to the heavenly air-conditioned patient ward. The hospital itself looked like something out of the fifties, but it did the trick and I was restored to health.

One view of the hospital

I ended up living just around the corner from the Cary family and appreciated the chance to get to know them. They played no small role in Kyoto history. You can read about Otis Cary here.

  • baikin – バイキン germs
  • byōki – 病気 sickness
  • hachigatsu – 8月 August, literally 8th month
  • basu – バス bus
  • hoteru – ホテル hotel
  • erebētā – エレベーター elevator
  • gasorin sutando – ガソリンスタンド gas station, or gasoline stand
  • natsubate – 夏バテ A special word used to describe suffering in the summer due to the oppressive heat. When you get natsubate you don’t feel like eating and you can quickly succumb to the heat. Natsu means summer and the bate comes from the verb bateru which means to be exhausted.