Flowers in Japan

Exercise Naturally Everyday

spedapayungNaomi Moriyama wrote on Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat:

Talking about living so long and so healthy for most Japanese, food is not the only answer. Another factor is the automatic workout they get in their everyday lives. ‘The Japanese are in good health and in excellent shape’, announce Time Magazine in 2004 cover story, ‘How to LIve to be 100′. The reason is that they are in active people who incorporate plenty of incindental exercise into their days.

The older people of Japan are escpecially active. Makoto Suzuki, a professor at Okinawa International University, said, ‘As apposed to America, seniors in Japan do not have to purposedly go out and seek exercise –everyday life makes them more slim and heathy’. Along with nutritious eating habits, he noted, ‘It’s a winning combination’.

Take my family, for instance. Not only does my mother, Chizuko, crisscross the streets of Tokyo on foot all day, often dashing up and down flights of stairs, but at weekends she goes hiking in the mountains with her friends. Last summer, my parents took Billy and me on a hike up Mt. Takao, a 600-meter hill in a national park west of Tokyo. When we got 600-metre hill in nantional park west of Tokyo. When we got to the summit after a ninety-minute climb, my mother announced matter-of-factly, ‘I’m not tired at all!’

Like tens of millions of Japanese, my father, Shigeo, who is in his early seventies, gets around the neighbourhood on a basic old-fashioned bicycle. It’s not exactly a Lance Armstrong high-tech bike : in fact it’s a one-speed. He regularly bikes over to my sister’s house twenty blocks away to babysit his grandchildren. In turn, my sister, Miki, rides her bicycle all around town, sometimes with groceries in the front basket and one of my nieces, four-year-old Kasumi, or two-year-old Ayaka, riding in the child seat behind her. She often picks up my six-year-old nephew, Kazuma, from school in the same way – on the bike. Miki’s husband, Shiko, is even more active, because he’s in an exercise-intense line of work: he’s a leading instructor of classical Japanese dance and conducts dance classes around the country.

On narrow streets and pavements all over Tokyo, you’ll see businessmen doing their rounds on bicycles and women on bikes running errands and going grocery shopping. And what happens in Tokyo holds true thorughout the nation.

Lined up outside every train station in Japan, you’ll notice row upon row of parked bicycles that belong to commuters. One of them belongs to my uncle Kazuo, who is in his early seventies and commutes to Tokyo from a suburb. Rain or shine, every weekday you’ll see him leaving home and pedalling over to the station to park his bike and board the train, a dapper figure in his suit and tie. ‘What happens when it rains?’ I asked him. He gives me a broad grin : ‘Why, then I just hold the umbrella in one hand and the bike with the other!’

His wife, Yoshiko, swims everyday and is a scuba-diving buff. The simple act of taking the tube in Tokyo is itself a workout. The stations are sprawling, maze-like affairs, requiring lots of stair-climbing and walking between the different tube lines for transfer. In addition to ‘incidental’ everyday exercise, lots of Japanese are getting out there and deliberately working up a sweat.

Every morning in Tokyo at the crack of dawn, you’ll see a lean hundred-year-old man named Keizo Miura pounding the pavement for a power walk, before a breakfast of eggs and seaweed. At age ninty nine, he skied down Mont Blanc in the Italian Alps. “Older Japanese are remarkably healthy, doing things at their age that most youngsters couldn’t do,” the younger Mr. Miura told a visiting reporter doing a story on Japanese longevity. “People over sixty five here are climbing mountains, going to China to plant trees, travelling abroad to teach Japanese. It’s about diet, it’s about exercise, it’s about making the most out of long life.” ###

Is sumo truly the Japanese national sport?

Special to The Japan Times Online

For the 140 or so years non-Japanese have known of the existence of sumo, many have referred to it as Japan’s national sport. But are they correct about the status of this ancient form of wrestling found only in these islands, misinformed entirely, or just partly right?

Wherever opinions stand surrounding this ongoing debate, several facts cannot be ignored when considering the status that sumo so often has heaped on its shoulders by the well intentioned:

Sumo is often called “kokugi” in the Japanese media and by the population at large, and kokugi is a phrase most dictionaries translate as “national sport.” Likewise, sumo is performed at a stadium known as the Kokugikan — with “kan” meaning hall or stadium.
Continue reading