Every time I come to Japan, I put on weight. (Last year was no exception.) Every time other people come to Japan, they magically lose weight.
Why is that?
Japan has developed a reputation for having really healthy food and drinks. Green tea, lots of fish, tofu, vegetables, etc. I don't get it. From my perspective, Japan's full of junk food, snacks, fat, and sugar. Where did this 'healthy' image come from?
It's time I debunked the most common assumptions you'll hear/read about food in Japan.
LIE: it's really easy to lose weight in Japan (by eating Japanese food)
The truth is... it depends what you eat.
Japanese food isn't always the most healthy option. Think about the number of dishes that contain white rice, for starters. Donburi (rice bowls), sushi, onigiri... If you order a 'teishoku' set meal, it'll have a bowl of rice on the side as well. Such calories, very carbs.
Then there's ramen. You have to be careful which type you order. The broth's full of oil, salt, and probably pork fat. A 'standard' bowl of kotteri ramen at the Tenka Ippin chain is 949 calories. The lighter assari ramen clocks in at only 380.
(Have I ever seen anyone order assari ramen? Nope. Kotteri for life.)
If your food doesn't contain rice or noodles, it might well be deep fried and/or cooked in batter instead. Kushikatsu skewers, tempura, katsu curry, fried chicken, okonomiyaki, gyoza, takoyaki, ebi fry, kaki fry, croquettes, menchi katsu... I could go on.
All 'Japanese food', all supremely calorific.
LIE: portion sizes in Japan are tiny
The truth is... you've been misinformed, and/or portions in your country are huge.
Portion sizing in Japan can be quite generous. Going back to those Tenka Ippin ramen bowls, they weigh half a kilo each. At gyudon (beef bowl) joints like Sukiya, Matsuya and Yoshinoya, you can order up to 'mega' size. Sukiya's mega serving is over 1,000 calories.
That said, if you still feel like you're eating less than you would at home, no wonder you're losing weight...
There are also plenty of restaurants that let you decide your own serving sizes.
Japan is in love with the 'all-you-can-eat' concept. With one important distinction: they're timed. You get up to 90 minutes to stuff your face - busy places give you just an hour. Not only do you feel obligated to get your money's worth, it's actually a race.
LIE: it's really easy to be a vegetarian in Japan
The truth is... if you don't eat seafood, you're going to struggle.
A quick glance at my food reviews should prove I'm not vegetarian. But I have friends who are, and trying to find a suitable restaurant is always a challenge.
(True story: we ordered a 'Mega Vegetarian' pizza from Dominos. One of the toppings was cubed pancetta... won't be doing that again.)
The first hurdle is finding somewhere that serves vegetables as a main dish. Japan has loads of restaurants dedicated to meat, seafood, and sushi. Yakitori and yakiniku places specialise in grilled chicken and beef, respectively. You'll find spring onion and asparagus... mixed in with those, somewhere.
The side dishes could also be an issue. Order a plate of tofu, and it'll probably come with bonito fish flake sprinkles. Order anything else, and you can't guarantee it wasn't cooked with dashi fish stock.
Heck, vegetarians can't even have most of the cake here, as it's often made with gelatin.
The only upside I can see is that vegetarians should find it easier to lose weight here in Japan. Not just because the dining options are limited. By the time you find a place to have dinner, you've probably walked off lunch.