This time last year I was fortunate enough to be stood in front of Mount Fuji in Japan. Fortunate because 4oo years earlier the country isolated itself from much of the world during a period known as Sakoku (1639 to 1853). Japanese people were forbidden to leave the country and foreign entry was granted only under severe restrictions. As I stood amongst locals and tourists alike, it was not lost on me how far the land of the rising sun had come. But aside from its notable political advancements, Japan is known for something else equally impressive:
Longevity. The Japanese people boast the oldest population in the world, averaging 87 years for women and 80 years for men. So what’s their secret?
Study after study continues to support the notion that you just can’t beat a Japanese diet when it comes to longevity. Staples such as fermented vegetables, oily fish and rice rank high in a typical Japanese food protocol. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics which create an environment conducive to the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. A healthy gut is essential to the functioning of a healthy immune system. Oily fish, known for its high concentration of Omega 3 (good fat) and vitamin D has long been linked to reducing cardiovascular disease and promoting good heart health. Grains, however are an interesting one, not least because of what we now know about the dangers of high carb diets and the insulin response. A topic for another day.
The Japanese dietary guidelines can be found below. In a study carried out over 15 years, participants were asked to follow these guidelines so that researchers could determine all cause mortality rates. Over the course of the 15 year study, participants whose adherence to the guidelines was higher, had a 15% lower mortality rate than those whose adherence was lower. Overall adherence was found to be high amongst the population, compared to the US where vegetable consumption remains a key challenge.
Respect & Kindness
It is one of the cleanest countries you will ever visit, yet there are virtually no public trash cans in Japan. Based on a respect for each other and the land they live in, the Japanese take their trash with them and dispose of it in their own home.
There is a line when boarding the train and you will never see anyone jump it – overtly or covertly.
Kindness here is overwhelming. We were helped by two locals who did not speak a word of English but stayed with us for over fifteen minutes trying to help us buy a subway ticket.
Respect, kindness and care are positive behavioral traits which correlate to good health and wellbeing. On a macro level, this collective energy has been hypothesized by Princeton scientists to have an impact on the environment we live in. Researchers at the university studied the link between coherent thoughts and human consciousness (our minds’ awareness of the world in which we exist) based on the aftermath of 9/11. The study’s director Roger Nelson summed up the findings as follows:
“I think the data are pretty much indisputably in support of that we do interconnect, we interact, we’re not isolated.” My consciousness, inside my skull, and yours, extend out into the world, and they intermix. We’re a little like neurons, in a giant brain, that we know nothing about.”
This would certainly explain why one feels a sense of calm in the middle of a bustling intersection like that of Shibuya Crossing in the headline photo of this post.
Meditation and Prayer
Japan is a spiritual land, full of temples and shrines. Buddhism and Shinto are the two major religions, coexisting harmoniously for centuries. Shintoism was born in Japan and based on a principle that the world was inhabited by gods and spirits, leaving a sense of awe and fascination amongst Japanese people for the land they live in. Buddhism was imported from China and provided a framework of morals that Shintoism lacked. Hundreds of years later and religion is still an evident part of everyday life. You do not have to search far and wide for a temple in Japan. Whilst in Kyoto we visited several temples, meditated with a buddhist monk and prayed with locals. As the west starts to take note of the benefits of meditation, the Japanese are a prime example of a life better lived through a daily practice.
A healthy diet combined with respect, kindness and meditation are working for the Japanese. If we want to live longer, I suggest we take a leaf out of their book.
As always, pushing for health.