December 2, 2023
Old Japanese couple on a walk

Japanese secrets to happy, healthy, long life. Based on diet, principles, discipline.

Photo : iStock


  • What is the secret of the long life that Japanese people are blessed with? What is the secret to the healthy longevity the Japanese enjoy?
  • Japan was brutalised by the conflict and damages that happened due to WWII. Yet it rose to be a giant on the global level.
  • Is it the food, the tea they drink, the attitude, or some other factor X that helps Japan’s citizens gain extreme longevity?
The current life expectancy for Japan in 2022 is 84.91 years, a 0.14% increase from 2021. as per the United Nations projections till 2100. The life expectancy for Japan in 2021 was 84.79 years, a 0.14% increase from 2020. The life expectancy for Japan in 2020 was 84.67 years, a 0.14% increase from 2019.
In an international comparison of recent mortality statistics among G7 countries, Japan had the longest average life expectancy, primarily due to remarkably low mortality rates from ischemic heart disease and cancer (particularly breast and prostate), observes Shoichiro Tsugane of the Center for Public Health Sciences, Tokyo.
In the report that appeared in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition and, researchers said that Japanese life expectancy has only increased over the years. The low mortality rates from ischemic heart disease and cancer are thought to reflect the low prevalence of obesity in Japan; low intake of red meat, specifically saturated fatty acids; and high intakes of fish, specifically n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, plant foods such as soybeans, and non-sugar-sweetened beverages such as green tea.
The typical Japanese diet as characterized by plant food and fish, as well as modest Westernized diets such as meat, milk and dairy products, might be associated with longevity in Japan.

Key factors that help the Japanese lead a life of good health, mobility, and good cognitive skills.

  1. Ikigai, Japan’s equivalent to ‘joie de vivre’: The Japanese live with ‘ikigai’ – an ancient philosophy that preaches that one must seek some joy and purpose in life instead of merely existing. It’s about having a practice that guides you towards fulfilment. It is not about instant gratification but surely about defining your purpose in life, your personal mission, and discovering your full potential. The aim is to define what you can best contribute to the world, what you’re good at, and what you enjoy doing. Psychologists explain that this leads to a sense of higher self-esteem and puts us in sync with our capabilities.
  2. It’s coded in the genes: Apart from good healthcare and a great diet, the Japanese also have a genetic advantage due to two genes in particular – DNA 5178 and ND2-237Met genotype – that are prevalent among the Japanese population. Not every Japanese person will have this gene type, but this is common mostly among those with a longer lifespan. These genes seem to enhance the lifespan by blocking age-related diseases like type 2 diabetes, strokes, heart attacks, and cerebrovascular and cardiovascular diseases.
  3. Ditch the car and walk: Don’t be fooled by some of the best cars and motorcycles in the world coming from Japan. An average Japanese person loves to stay active, walk, take the stairs, and squat. Remember the Seiza — the traditional socialising position of kneeling that involves resting on one’s shins and tucking the feet underneath one’s bottom? Or Shuudan Koudou — the Japanese art of synchronized precision walking? Only Japan could have crafted something like that. Their toilets too are designed for squatting, not sitting, thus ensuring that the core stays engaged – also healthier for the bowels and your muscles! An average Japanese would rather take the train or walk to work.
  4. “Hara Hach Bun Me”: It means the Japanese concept that dictates that one must eat only until you are 80 per cent (8 out of 10 parts) full. It usually takes at least 20 minutes for the brain to get the signal from the body that it needs to stop eating as it has had its fill of nutrients. This practice is the Japanese “clock and reminder to stop eating” that averts overheating. The Japanese serve smaller portions and encourage a slower eating style. Portions are served on smaller plates.
  5. Cleaner surroundings and good Health Care setups: The Japanese have an advanced healthcare system. Regular health campaigns that guide people to incorporate healthy lifestyles like reducing salt consumption, and free treatment for TB are a norm. Japan’s investment in public health in the 1950s and 1960s in creating a health and hygiene conscious culture is paying off, says a research paper in Lancet. The Japanese are fastidious about hygiene-related practices. Landfill sites are not a menace but are turned into eco-friendly parks.
  6. Mealtime principles: In Japan, families eat together by sitting on the floor and using chopsticks, making the eating process a lot slower. The Japanese diet is lean and balanced, with staple foods like seaweed seasonal fruits, omega-rich fish, rice, whole grains, tofu, soy, miso, and green and raw vegetables. Low amounts of saturated fats and sugars and are loaded with vitamins and minerals — amply seen in how the obesity rate is impressively low in Japan.
  7. The tradition of drinking tea: Who has not heard of the Japanese tea ceremony? Japan’s ancient drink is rich in antioxidants that boost the immune system, help fight cancer, aid digestion, boost energy levels and regulate blood pressure. Some say the elements in the tea brew enhance cell health and help neurons fight age-related deterioration.
  8. The elderly and ageing are taken care of: Indians may identify well with the way Japan treats its Dada-Dadi, Nana-Nani population. No segregating or discarding the ageing members of the family. Much like in India, most grandparents in Japan too get a life amidst family members — and families prefer to have them at home rather than sending them to care homes as is the norm in many western countries. It is normal for grandparents to spend time with grandchildren and impart some traditional wisdom to them. The sense of security that this staying together brings, benefits both — the elderly and the young ones.

Disclaimer: Tips and suggestions mentioned in the article are for general information purposes only and should not be construed as professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor or a professional healthcare provider if you have any specific questions about any medical matter.