Just when you thought that I was gone, surprise! Stephanie back again!
I just came back a three-week trip and suffering terribly from jet lag. I went to Japan for two weeks for a cultural exchange program and then met up with my parents in Korea where I stayed for a week.
As much as travel is travel, attending a cultural exchange program really allowed me to become immersed into the culture. And of course, the foodie I am, while I was in Japan, I was hyper-aware of the food and the attitude around food.
In the 14 days I was there, I learned for myself why Japan is so well-known for its healthy and slim population.
ONE // portion size
First off, portion size. Even before I went to Japan, I knew from the numerous articles I read on the internet, that Japanese (and French and pretty much the rest of the world) eat much less than us in the States. Those sites weren’t kidding – I don’t know what I was expecting for smaller portion size but I don’t think anything would have gotten me prepared for the ridiculously small portion sizes!
It really may depend on the family, but my host family (oh my gosh, they were the sweetest!) did eat very little. And while it was hard to adjust at first, that adjustment and change was all part of the experience.
To put it in perspective, a meal that looks like it could be served to one person in the States, was shared by four people (two adults and two high schoolers) while I was in Japan. Eating in such a way for two weeks, my stomach and appetite has definitely shrunk.
The other day, I was eating my classic avocado toast meal and I felt so full even though I was only halfway into the meal! Usually I still feel hungry after two pieces of toast, but the other day, I already felt full only after finishing the first piece!
TWO// three square meals, no snacks
Another big thing I learned is that they eat very little if not no snacks. For my host family, we ate three square meals – but usually when we say square, we mean a big meal, but if you look at number one, square meals in Japan are like the quarter of the size of a square meal in America haha. I think the two weeks I was there, my host family’s mom offered snacks around three times. And the after-school snack was three pieces of watermelon with three pieces of melon. Not your usual mini-meal.
Also, because I was there as a cultural exchange, my host skipped her basketball practice and instead just went home with me. However, on usual days, my host and the rest of the student body have clubs from 3:30-6:30. These clubs range from sports (basketball, soccer, volleyball, tennis, etc) to music activities (orchestra, band). And the average commute time is 90 minutes! So when these students come back home, they eat dinner at around 8pm (when lunch was at 12:30pm!) I was alarmed at how little these Japanese students ate compared to their activity levels.
THREE// they just eat.
One night in my second week staying in Japan, my host family and I started talking about the different cuisine and lifestyles between Japan and the States. My host said that while Japan is known to be healthy from other countries, she claimed that not a lot of Japanese people actually think that they eat healthy. Japanese people don’t make a conscious effort or decision to eat healthy. Unlike a lot of “healthy” people here in the States (I’m putting healthy in quotes because of this blog post) who eat salads everyday and go to SoulCycle, Japanese people just eat what they are given. They just eat. Their cuisine in itself is just healthier. In the two weeks I was there, I think I had red meat once if not at all. However, despite not eating a lot of red meat compared to back home, I didn’t feel like I was nutritionally deficient. They eat the feared carbs – they eat rice every meal – yet, they are still slim. Why? Because they eat everything in moderation and smaller proportion.
I have much more to share about what I learned while in my two weeks in Japan. But the other tidbits are more personal and specific to my body image and self-love. I’ll be sharing tomorrow 🙂
But in all, I never expected to learn so much while traveling. Most of my traveling after 8th grade has been to Korea to visit my grandparents. Going to Korea is kind of like going to Nantucket/Cape Cod for some in the States. I don’t go to explore and discover new places in Korea, but more to just spend time with family and friends and doing the mundane things – eating, shopping, and some R&R. So going to Japan this summer was such a mindblowing and amazing experience. Of course, other than food I learned other things, but I decided to share the food aspects on the blog today.
Have you learned something from your travels before?