Incorporating Japanese Habits into American Living

Lately, I’ve given thought as to ways I could strive to regain some control over my health, and revisiting stages in my life when I felt my healthiest. When I lived in Japan, I lost 40 pounds within the first six months there. I went from 185 to 145 quickly, but without hard workouts or starving myself. With the winter holidays ahead, I’ve been giving serious thought to how I managed to survive five bitterly cold winters in Japan without building up that hibernation layer!

My first spring tea ceremony and I fell in love.

It has been a while since I’ve given sincere thought to my time in Japan. I went there when I was 23, and returned when I was 28. When I look back on my twenties, I deem my time in Japan as the best five years of that decade. I learned a great deal about who I was and more importantly, gave great thought to the type of adult I wanted to become. One of the biggest things I developed was a penchant for cooking meals, especially ones that could be parleyed into a quick lunch solution the following day.

Mindful, Frequent Food Shopping
When I moved to Japan, my one room apartment had a kitchenette in the hallway connecting the room to the front door. I had a petite sink, a single electric burner, a convection/microwave oven, and a fridge/freezer one-third the size of any American standard. I had to be very selective of what I purchased, stored, and cooked because space was at a premium. Unlike Americans who tend to stock up for a week’s worth of grocery (minimum) at a time, the Japanese tend to shop several times a day if not daily!  Unlike U.S. grocery stores, one can readily find individual portions in the deli, bakery, and butcher counters. The upswing was that I was able to buy a small but diverse menu, minimizing waste.

With a modest fridge and a compact freezer, I was tasked with efficiently shopping, adhering to my shopping list, which turned into less money wasted and contributed to my weight loss. Being back in the U.S., I’ve become lazy because I can take a giant shopping cart and stock up for two weeks at a time. Why? I’m not any busier than when I lived in Japan, so why I am I letting the bad habits creep in?

Habits I Want to Resurrect

  • Plan out meals prior to food shopping
  • Adhere to the shopping list
  • Shop two or three times weekly for perishable items; talk to the butcher/fishmonger about making smaller portions
  • Maintain an inventory of non-perishables so as to avoid over-shopping

Kitchen Appliances

Aside from my compact Japanese kitchen, I had a couple of appliances which became part of my repertoire.

  • Rice Cooker – I inherited one from a Japanese colleague when I was moving out of my apartment in New York. It’s in Japanese, so it pushes me to keep my skills sharp.
  • Electric Kettle – While I miss my high-tech Japanese one, my beautiful sister gifted one to me for Christmas a few years back. I keep it handy on the counter because I never know when I’ll desire a hot cuppa.

 Man, I miss making sushi at home!!

Wish List Items

Unfortunately, when I returned from Japan I couldn’t bring back all the fancy gadgets which became part of my day-to-day living. Recently, I picked up Naomi Moriyama’s Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat, and simply reading about Japanese cooking made my penchant for home cooking from my second hometown return full force.

  • Sushi Kit – a colleague of mine taught me how to prepare and roll my own sushi. The implements necessary to make sushi are easy to acquire, but my biggest challenge has been finding the right rice to cook with. Even Americanized “sushi rice” doesn’t seem to have the same stickiness and texture which I love. I would love to host a sushi party, but I have to get my rolling skills back before I attempt to entertain.
  • Donabe – In the winter time, “hot pot” meals become quick and easy dining solution and quite the social dining experience. With a clay pot on a gas burner, one can dump in broth, chopped vegetables, and meats of choice. One of my favorite social experiences was huddling around a large nabe with friends over winter vacation watching movies and drinking under a large kotatsu  (heated table). Personally, I always enjoyed using a tabletop gas burner, taking the hot pot out of the kitchen and bringing it into the living area to share.
  • Kotatsu – Contrary to recent reports, the heated table concept is not a new one. Yes, a heated table isn’t a kitchen appliance, but in Japan, it was part of my cooking routine. Many older Japanese homes are not insulated or have the modern conveniences of central heat and air, so the heated table is a place where family can gather around to stay warm without launching energy costs through the roof. This was the only thing I wish I could have brought home from Japan. I am interested in this DIY version, but I worry about the potential for disaster.


On a recent shopping excursion, I finally visited one of the local Asian grocery stores in Orlando, and I was pleased not only to find a diverse array of products, but many shelf mainstays from when I lived in Japan. Naturally, the hardest part was by passing all the cookies I passed many a long winter with, but I exercised my will power and avoided buying every single thing in the market.

Unlike Florida living, Japan celebrates all four seasons, and it is something I truly miss. I am hoping that making a concerted effort to return to my cooking roots (hey, I paid residency taxes, so I can claim it) will serve as a spring board for a healthier relationship with food. Kitchen time was part of my daily routine across the Pacific, and I believe I am return to return to taking up my apron, rolling up my sleeves, and experimenting.

Answer me, these questions three:

  1. What is your favorite healthy autumn/winter recipes?
  2. What shopping/cooking habits do you feel assist you in achieving your wellness goals?
  3. What is your favorite holiday meal? Send me the recipe!

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