Weight Watching

Posted by on Sep 16, 2011 in Toyama, Travel Volunteer Journey | 7 Comments
Weight Watching

Despite the laughing scepticism of the of the Travel Volunteer Project Office, we came to Japan sincerely believing that by simply following a Japanese diet, we’d be able to lose a bit of weight. Even withtheir doubt, we’re reasonably hopeful (for the record, my starting weight was a shameful 82.5kg).

Earlier in the year, we were fortunate to stay a few weeks in America. It was a great trip, but again and again, we’d leave the dinner table feeling like we’d just eaten Jabba The Hut. Deep fried in cheese. With ice cream. Any pleasure there was from it, lasted about the time it took for the greasy morsels to splash down in our bellies, before we began to feel slimy, lethargic and guilty.

Now we’re in Japan, things could hardly be more different. The rarity of white bread and dairy probably helps, as does the fact that at almost every meal so far, we’ve been treated to a wide range of tiny dishes, like Japanese tapas (Japas?). Eating a handful of these seems to leave us feeling very full at the time, but then hungry for more a few hours later. The ups and downs, rather than the gassy bloated sensation, have left us feeling, well, healthy.

Much of what we’re eating is guesswork, but in a way, it’s better like that. Eating mystery dishes gives us the chance to try things without any preconceptions. It might be sea snail, fermented squid or sea urchin, but without actually knowing that*, we can at least give it a go. It’s also been worth trying to ignore what something looks like and just try it – in truth many of the worst things have looked totally innocuous.

Best of all, when we do find something we don’t like, there’s no shame in just leaving it. And, if we manage to discretely transport it back from our mouths to whence it came, then all the better. If the same thing happened in the West, you’d be expected to manfully struggle on with whatever gloop was in front of you; or order something else altogether.

But for every one thing we’ve found that we didn’t love/made us gag, there have been eight or nine delicious surprises. Take today in Toyama for example. Having already had a breakfast of fruit and rice and soup and tea and half a dozen unknown treats, Mieko-san took us to Ikedaya Yasubei for lunch. While a lot of the other meals we’ve had haven’t had to advertise themselves as being particularly nutritious, here the restaurant literally sat on top of an old apothecary. All kinds of herbal remedies were available downstairs (Toyama has a long history with pharmaceuticals) while upstairs the belief in the natural world was carried through to the menu. Seven courses rolled out in front of us: tofu paste with salad (Katy’s favourite); grated mountain potato with walnuts and pumpkin (weird, but apparently good for stamina); shrimp hotpot with saffron (great, “warms you up”); ancient rice with mountain vegetables (fantastic “good for the blood”) and so on. None a bit of it was processed.

We washed it down with green tea and water, feeling virtuous indeed.

*One thing about Westerners - and I’m making an enormous and probably inaccurate generalisation here – is that we don’t like our food to still look like an animal when it arrives on the plate. Eyes are a problem for us. We prefer not to know how it looked when it was alive – and we especially don’t want to know how it died.


Our time in Toyama was made possible by:

The lovely Ms Mieko Takeguchi, who taught us more Japanese than we could remember and some important rules on etiquette.

The Hotel Kurobe, which hangs over the Kurobe Gorge and has staff who make up for their lack of English with raw Japanese enthusiasm.

And the wonderful Niemonya ryokan, where we tried our first ever onsen, and where we got a complimentary beer simply for being Scottish.










2日目は魚津の『元祖 仁衛門家』さんにお世話になりました。人生初の温泉体験をさせていただき心から感謝しております。ありがとうございました。


  1. jacqui
    September 16, 2011

    you WILL lose weight :) not all the food in japan is uber healthy (wait until you get to things like okonomiyaki, which i’m sure they will be having you try lol), but it’s all the WALKING you will be doing that will help you out with weight loss :)

    enjoying the blog so far! wish there were more photos though! i love photos, and i was so excited hearing that you guys were photographers! more pics please, if you could! :D your descriptive writing is amazing so far though. really happy you guys won it :)

  2. Eric
    September 16, 2011


    #pillows : Bearings in pillows ensure a heavy, heavy sleep ;-)

    Two more possible (and potentially more serious) explanation:

    1) Japanese do not use feathers in pillows… (it’s too humid here and it would go mouldy…)

    2) Bearings help avoiding perspiration

    Anyway, consider yourself lucky this time: some Ryokans have “rice-straw filled pillows” & they’re very hard!

    Good night though!


    • aidan
      September 16, 2011

      Japas -laffers you are a genius


  3. Joe Lafferty
    September 16, 2011

    Jamie-San and Katie-San, I am extremely jealous. How I would love to eat healthily rather than buy pills as supplements for the the goodness I am missing out on with my normal diet. Reference Eric’s comment about the humidity – how are you coping with it?

  4. Ami
    September 16, 2011

    Oh woow…. this plate sure looks interesting :D

  5. Beth Hird
    September 19, 2011

    yum yum
    wish I were there with you
    we could drink sake and celebrate your new adventure!

  6. Yosh
    March 5, 2012

    A rarity of white bread and dairy? Really? Did you go to the grocery store or see all of the sandwiches in cafes?