Japan has the longest life expectancy and the longest health expectancy in the world. There are reasons for this beyond genetics that have to do with simple lifestyle choices. Two such factors are what we’re told by Dr. Mom everyday: eat a proper balanced breakfast–the most important meal of the day–and exercise.
Breakfast in Okinawa
A traditional Japanese breakfast emphasizes variety in taste, texture, temperature, colour and food groups. It is visually stimulating; respects the available local and seasonal ingredients; encourages a slower pace of eating and an appreciation for the ingredients and their preparation. It’s not about satisfying hunger–it’s about providing nutrition and energy. Compare that to a quick stop at IHOP, and you’ll see why, right from the get-go, the energy and enthusiasm of the Japanese people is significantly higher. At breakfast in Okinawa, I enjoyed steamed vegetables, tofu, rice, miso soup, pickled vegetables, steamed fish, poached egg, seaweed, fruit juice and tea. This is neither typical nor easy to prepare on a daily basis. However it is a traditional concept, and one that does not include oil, salt, butter, bread, sugar, cream or even caffeine. None of the ingredients weigh a person down, but rather combine for a clean-energy, turbo kick-start to the day.
One Step at a Time
Maybe it’s because 70% of Japan is mountainous, and so many of the spiritual sites like temples and shrines are perched on high in natural settings that require countless steps, constructed before escalators and elevators were invented; but the Japanese people are walkers. When we walk to work, we burn calories; but when we walk in the park, surrounded by nature, we also reduce stress. Stress is the number one factor in so many of our modern ailments. It’s easy to go for a walk in the park, and it has so many beneficial physiological effects. Walking: for the sake of “being”, as opposed to “going” or “getting” somewhere. There is one place in Japan where people go simply to walk. It’s unlike any other walk in the world.
Registered as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, the Kumano Kodo in Wakayama is a mountain range of “divine trees” in which a “walk” is considered “forest bathing”. There are quantifiable human effects on immersing ourselves in this region of highly concentrated phytoncides. After one day walking here, I felt the energy that I had as a kid. It was astonishing! Breathing in this air relaxes the heart rate, decreases levels of the stress-produced hormone, cortisol, and increases “immunoglobulin-A” antibodies that enhance human immune functions.
When we visit Japan we indulge in breakfast and the opportunity to walk through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. When we come home, we remember to appreciate eating a balanced breakfast and a good long walk in the park.
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.