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Topic section: Leisure
Picture: japfoods2embed.jpg
Plastic food outside Tokyo restaurant, 1998.
Credit: Nick Wyatt
The Japanese holistic approach to life has helped the country to retain much of its unique culture in the face of western pressures. Yet despite this it has still assimilated many western leisure pursuits. Western sports including football, golf and skiing are all popular while fast food outlets have proliferated – but are now associated with ill health.

The Japanese traditional diet is very healthy – full of vegetables, fish and rice. Many associate Japanese cuisine with raw fish (sashimi), although sushi is now lunchtime fare for many. The macrobiotic lifestyle originated in nineteenth-century Japan. Based on Taoist philosophy, it promotes harmony with nature through a balanced wholefood diet, an active lifestyle and respect for the environment.

Many have linked a changing diet and the spread of fast food to the rise in obesity

McDonald’s opened its first outlet in Japan in 1971. Today, it has more than 2,400 restaurants there. Many have linked a changing diet and the spread of fast food to the rise in obesity in Japan. By 1987, 25 per cent of energy intake came from fat, compared with seven per cent in 1949. At the same time the population has become more urbanised and is exercising less. Inevitably, diets have become popular, as a quarter of the population is now considered obese.

Picture: 10437753s2embed.jpg
Serving sake, Japan, c 1863-1864.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
Of course, these developments were part of a two-way process. In the late 1990s Japanese restaurants spread throughout Britain. Some have Japanese bars attached. Although saké is rarely drunk in Europe, the Japanese have adopted whisky and beer and now produce and export their own brands. Drinking is a popular pastime in Japan. Most bars in Japan also have karaoke machines – considered an essential part of business etiquette.

Healthiness is promoted through exercise. Japanese martial arts such as Judo, Karate, Kendo and Aikido emphasise different ‘ways’ of training mind, body and spirit. They stress preparation, calmness and control, especially when under pressure – qualities that help us to understand how the Japanese have protected their unique culture.
Picture: 1990-5036_6031_0026s2embed.jpg
Sumo wrestling, about 1925.
Credit: NMPFT

The Japanese have also embraced many western sports. Football’s World Cup was successfully co-hosted there in 2002. The Japanese have also built major facilities for the urban sports fan – Tokyo can boast over 90 golf courses and the world’s largest indoor artificial ski slope.

The period since the Second World War has seen a trade-off between two cultures, with the Japanese swapping sushi bars and karaoke for McDonald’s and football. Just which culture got the better deal is still open to debate.

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Topic section: Homelife
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There are strong traditions associated with Japanese homes, but Western influences, such as using dining tables and chairs, have had an impact. Western homeowners adopted Japanese ceramics and prints, and are now also likely to own Japanese electronic goods.  > more

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Topic section: Looking at you, looking at me
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Despite many ideas and technologies exchanged between Japan and the West, mutual understanding has lagged behind. Western ideas about the Japanese and their way of life have always been strongly influenced by stereotypes in the popular media.  > more
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