Overweight in Japan

pixabay / mojzagrebinfo

pixabay / mojzagrebinfo

I have to admit I barely have any concerns about our move to Japan. Of course it will be different and it will take some time to adjust, of course I will miss my family and friends and not knowing where I will work makes me a bit uneasy, but I’m confident I will find something. The one thing that makes me sweat and keeps me thinking is just one thing: my weight.

I’m overweight and have been struggling with my weight my whole life. I can’t think of a time that I wasn’t on a diet and I started caring about it when I was only 11 years old. I am insecure in this regard and it is probably a result of a distorted self image (but that’s another discussion). Writing this on the internet makes me uncomfortable as well, because it is so very personal to me. Yet it is definitely a big concern and does factor in to my thought about moving to Japan.

From my earlier experience in Japan I am certain that I won’t find clothes that fit my size (or shoes for that matter – damn you big feet). unless I order them online or buy them in one of the few – and very expensive – special stores. Though if you are prepared and plan to visit your home country more than once a year I think that in itself is not that big of a problem. I’ll bring a lot of clothes and shoes with me and in the worst case scenario I can ask my sisters or my mom to send me something.

What I cannot really prepare for though is how people in Japan will think about me/my weight and how I will react to that.

The backdrop: When I was in Japan for a year I had about half a year during which I felt really good about myself. At that time my weight would still have been considered overweight, yet I was comfortable with it and did not think about it constantly. Then I started my internship and things took a turn for the worse. Sitting there 9 hours a day having little to nothing to do had only one result: me going constantly to the little shop next to the cafeteria (to get away and have at least the feeling of doing something) and buying chocolates and sweets. During the 6 months I was at my internship I gained about 30 (!!) pounds. Sitting around all day and eating junk food combined with only 4 hours of sleep per night had horrible effects not only on my health but also on my mood. The same thing happened again when I got promoted at my current work while still writing my thesis. I was (and am) constantly stressed and compensated with food. That added another 30 pounds…

So what’s the problem here?

The reason I am so worried about the whole thing is, that I am so very self-conscious about my weight. I know there are also chubby or obese people in Japan, yet I will be definitely bigger. Being quite tall, a foreigner and big, I know I will be looked at, wherever I go. Though most people probably will only be curious and not think about it much I know I will feel like they are thinking stuff like “She’s so fat and ugly.”

Granted, that is more a problem of my thinking than a problem of other people, and it’s not so different now in Germany, but it will feel so much more intense in Japan, surrounded by all those cute, tiny and stylish Japanese women. Especially when you have a look at the sizes that in Japan are considered “chubby”.

I just read the “Yeah, it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no size two” post from Bernie Low over at the gaijinpot blog about being obese in Japan. Though only one persons opinion, the included video from Rachel & Jun shows a “Chubbiness” Range that has only one picture I would consider slightly chubby.

Yet there is hope that even though the beginning might be rough I will be feeling better eventually. Rachel & Jun posted a video about “How to lose weight in Japan 日本でダイエット” and I could only agree with the comments. Tough I ultimately gained a lot of weight in Japan, while I was at the university I actually lost a few pounds. On my first trip to Japan for a three week exploration of the city I actually lost about 17 pounds without even noticing it. I didn’t try losing weight, I was just walking so much and ate differently than at home.

Though I will never be considered skinny I think if I could get to the weight I had when I went to university I would feel at least at ease with myself and not be so self-conscious when meeting other people.

For all that are interested, here’s the video “What’s overweight in Japan?” from Rachel & Jun:

16 thoughts on “Overweight in Japan

  1. 1. While not quite in your position, I am definitely considered overweight by Japanese standards. The only comments I’ve ever gotten were from junior high boys who told me I have big hips. My retort to them is always, “I know, I will give birth easily.” Other people? They don’t say anything.
    2. For athletic shoes, I just buy from the men’s department. For cute shoes at a reasonable price, try Shimamura: http://www.shimamura.gr.jp/
    3. Based on what you said, one of the main problems was that when you needed to get out of the office for a minute, you walked to the store and bought snacks. What might work is choosing a new alternative. Like, what if you walked around the block, or walked stairs for five minutes? It would take effort, but it might work.
    4. I don’t know how your body works, but my body really rebels against all of the salt in Japanese food, and I find myself compensating with a lot of sugar. Once I found ways to cut a lot of the sodium out of my diet, I stopped eating as much sugar.

    I hope it works out! I know how excited you are to be in Japan, and it’s a bummer that this worry goes along with it.


    • Thank you very much for your comment 🙂

      I think I know that I am my worst enemy by just assuming someone will say something and I am working hard to relax a bit more and concentrate on myself.
      Shimamura is actually the only place I ever bought clothes in Japan though I didn’t even look at the shoes because I thought they wouldn’t fit either way (womens size 11… -.-)
      The Problem at work was that I wasn’t able to leave for long or leave the building, but I know now that it would have still be better to walk the stairs up and down as you suggested. It’s something I will definitely look out for at my next job. Also to not get so stressed out about everything.
      I recently tried to stop eating so much sugar, or at least be more conscious about it as sugar is added to everything these days.
      I really am looking forward to our move and I hope that I will rather enjoy my time there together with my husband instead of just worrying the whole time.


      • Stress is really endemic here. I hope you’ll be able to relax and enjoy everything.

        A coworker of mine who wears 10.5 regularly found shoes at Shimamura. I would suggest you at least try. I wear 8.5 and sometimes in Japan that is LL and sometimes it is LLL. LLs are much easier to find, and I’ve learned that if I like the shoe, just try it on and see. I’ve seen some 5L shoes at Shimamura, a size which is at least worth a try.


  2. Hallo Fujiko,

    Ich kenne natürlich deine Figur nicht, aber Shimamura hat eine extra Abteilung für große Größen und ist recht billig.

    Ich habe in Japan über 20kg abgenommen ohne es wiklich zu merken. Jetzt habe ich das umgekehrte Problem. Ich stehe am Rand zu Untergewich und komme da nicht weg.
    Ich bin natürlich viel gelaufen und habe einen körperlich anstrengenden Job gemacht. Außerdem habe ich nur noch Wasser und Tee getrunken.
    Dazu kam, dass ich kaum Geld für Essen hatte.
    Ich würde dir empfehlen dein Geld zu rationieren. Ich hatte jeden Monat 40.000yen und habe davon alles bezahlt. Ausflüge, Zugtickets und Essen. Für Schokolade blieb da nichts mehr…


    • Hallo Anika,

      Shimamura werde ich auf jeden Fall mal durchstöbern wenn ich da bin 🙂

      Untergewicht ist natürlich auch nicht gut und ich hoffe du kommst bald zu dem Gewicht das du haben möchtest.
      Bewegung ist auf jeden Fall ein wichtiger Punkt den ich schon eingeplant habe und ich versuche jetzt schon so gut es geht auf süße Getränke zu verzichten (was mir hier teilweise schwerfällt weil überall im Büro riesige Kühlschränke mit Zuckerzeug stehen…).
      Da bei uns auch Anfangs sicherlich das Geld knapp sein wird nehme ich das dann jetzt einfach mal als etwas positives 😉


  3. This was a concern to me when I lived in Japan too, and still is a concern when I go back. I’m a 16-18 UK size with size 7 feet, and just felt like a giant heffalump most of the time in Japan. I often felt awkward going into small cafes, as not only did I stand out as a foreign, I was a giant one. Being in Japan didn’t help me feel any better about my size as I had hoped it might. I naively thought I would lose weight in Japan because everyone’s so slim there (which isn’t even true anyway) but I actually put on weight.

    I also found that Japanese people don’t necessarily realise it’s rude to point out someone’s size or shape. When I returned to Japan after 3 years this year I met my best friend and she told me (in Japanese) I had put on weight. (>_<) It was true, but I didn't want to be told it!

    I'm not saying you should lose weight for Japan – I certainly didn't – but I think I would have felt more comfortable if I had. As for shoes… good luck! There are some stores in Tokyo that have a better selection though – I found a great one in Harajuku once but I'm afraid I don't remember the name.

    Good luck with everything!! 🙂


    • Thank you 🙂
      Well, I’m definitely larger than you so I already expect this heffalump feeling ^^”
      I’ll deginitely try to lose some weight before I go and hope that the change of environment will help me keep it up. The only other thing I can do is grow a thicker skin so it doesn’t bother me as much, but that is not very likely to happen fast enough.
      Either way i hope to somehow get to a place where I at least are content with my weight so that I can fully enjoy our Japan experience 🙂


  4. I definitely experienced this while living in Japan as well. By north american standards I’m fairly average – Japanese standards…..overweight :(. I found that when it came to shopping I had to go to chain stores like Zara, H&M and Forever21 to purchase clothes/shoes in my size. The insane amounts of sodium in Japanese foods definitely didn’t help with water retention so I had to be extra careful with my diet. I literally walked everywhere as well in hopes of shedding some weight, even in the middle of summer when Tokyo was a concrete jungle of stagnant heat. My friends (both japanese & non japanese) thought I was insane because I would walk from Higashi-Nakano all the way to Shimokitazawa for work. After that, I’d walk from Shimokita to Shibuya to my second (of four) job. When I was done work, I’d usually walk home from Shibuya back to Higashi-Nakano. I don’t even know how many miles I day I was walking, didn’t really see much of a difference weight wise because food out there is way too delicious and the Izakaya was always so inviting haha. C’est la vie!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll definitely do a lot of walking, which is one reason I talked my husband into also looking for apartments that are more than 5 minutes away from the station 😉
      I know that I will always be overweight and that’s okay. I just want to get to a place (again) where I feel good about myself and feel fit.
      The 8-10 hours at my desk in the office in front of the computer really doesn’t do me any good…


  5. I lived in Japan for two and a half years working at Disney and most of my coworkers were native Japanese girls…they never had any problem feigning surprise at how much I had eaten, poking/rubbing my belly, or proclaiming how bad my acne was that day. My boyfriend, too, would joke about my weight and play with/poke at/pinch my belly fat, but on the same hand he was very honest about his own self-percieved physical shortcomings and talked openly about them. People there are less concerned with being politically correct or sensitive, but you really can’t take it personally or it will just wear you down. As far as shopping goes, I’m tall and definitely not built like a typical Japanese girl, but I found I could find clothes relatively easily at Uniglo. Not the most exciting or high-fashion store ever, but for basics and staples it’s great!


    • Thank you for your comment 🙂
      I know it is (in most Cases) nothing personal, but I was afraid what effects it might have on me.
      After being here over six months, I have to say, I don’t notice anything. Of course I have my “I’m self-conscious and everything is dreadful” days, but in general I haven’t had anyone staring at all. Which I think is partly due to the fact, that I just don’t notice the people around me that much, because I’m usually out with my husband or Friends and quite literally have better things to do (^_^)
      I’ll definitely try Uniqlo for more clothes and I think I actually Bought a pair of Shorts there in the summer.
      Do you still live in Japan?


      • I moved back to the US last year, but I hope to visit Japan again sometime next year 🙂 One thing I was glad of is that I didn’t really get any of those comments from strangers, so no random person on the street ever made me feel attacked or anything. Most people are too busy going about their own business to pay that much attention or care :3 I’m glad you’ve found it a relative non-issue!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Marina,
    That’s gotta be tough, being overweight in Japan. Although they have heavy people, everywhere does, the stereotype is thinner.
    I am going to Japan this summer on a cruise.
    Thank you for dropping by my site today. I am glad you liked my new post about hook writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I had a bit of back lash for writing about this one from a few people living in Japan about the Metabo law (I wrote it before coming over)… guess America picked up the story and blew out of proportion a bit, then a whole bunch of bloggers followed suite. I’ve not seen any HUGE people here though since being here, but, there is some bigger people for sure, but nothing at all like America.

    But I guess it’s more so for corporations and not really for individuals (metabo), and I guess most people don’t even use the services offered when they do end up being weighed. I’m still very much a Japan newb, but I’m finding out there are stories from Japan that get scewed a bit more then they should to make a story. *shrug*


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.