Causes of Lifestyle Disease in Japan

I’ve been given the opportunity to interpret for two different clients in their research for lifestyle disease in Japan.It was like being paid well for attending an intense one month crash course.The topic was on lifestyle disease (called seikatsu shukan byo, life habit disease, in Japan), but it made me think of why Japanese people living in Japan are in such state now.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in Japan defines lifestyle disease as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, hyperlipidemi and obesity. I personally think in addition to these, mental depression should be added, because much of it is caused by lifestyle too. There are wide variety of information about them available through the Internet and books, and all sorts of treatments are available today.

I thought of my own life experience that spans over half a century, and what I have been thinking about history of Japan in general of family structure, education system, employment and food availability.Everyone agrees that for thousands of years living on this island called Japan never had abundance of variety of foods.Eating meagerly and working hard has been the case, and Japanese body became accustomed to that.Members of families and communities had to live and work closely to obtain food (mostly farming) and prepare and react for all sorts of natural disasters that ranges from earthquake, tsunami, torrential rain, snow storm, typhoon, fire.  Only over the past 50 years, were food became so abundant and people did not need to live and work closely together to survive.And I feel it is this change which was not felt by Japanese but nevertheless dramatic to the body of Japanese and communication style brought about the lifestyle disease.

Causes are quite simple.There were formerly no structural teaching method, because there were no need for them.People just watched and learned naturally.  Over the past 50 years, because all sorts of things could be just bought, and people did not have to live in one space together, it wiped out all the teaching that were interwoven into the fabric of daily living among other members of family and community.  This includes wisdom of cooking, eating, communicating.

So this is what happens when things seem to become dramatically “better” for people’s lives.All sorts of delicious foods are available, any time of the day, anywhere, at reasonable price.People do not have to work hard physically to make a living.People do not have to be bothered with other people.And at such place, people has to be very disciplined to stay healthy.


Japan Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare



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