Welcome to my first installment of the “Comfortable In Your Own Skin” Culture Glean series. I begin our wellness culture glean with Japan, a country often associated with beauty and aesthetics. There has been so much advancement in the areas of bio-individuality and gene mapping and it is exciting as we keep learning more, especially when it comes to understanding predisposition to disease. Yet beyond identifying faulty genes we also have learned a lot about preventive health practices through studying other cultures and their lifestyles. Researchers keep discovering in richer detail how culture, environment, lifestyle and daily rituals contribute greatly to our overall health for better and for worse. Japan is a perfect focus for my first installment as their “culture, customs and rituals” elevate ideals for wellness culture” and we can apply their secrets to our own lifestyle wherever we may be. World Wise Beauty is all about cultural fusion!
When we think of iconic Japanese Beauty we think of the Japanese Geisha which often is confused with courtesans when, in fact, they are actually respected artists dedicated to preserving time-honored arts including classical dance, playing musical instruments, hosting select clientele and supporting religious ceremonies for local temples. Artistry, yes–but comfortable in your own skin, maybe not so much! But did you know that underneath the “white mask” they have gorgeous skin. How do they keep their skin so beautiful with layers of makeup put on and removed every day?
Their beauty secret is in the cleansing “ritual” and use of a natural oil called camellia derived from the Camellia Japonica tree. Camellia japonica seeds are cold-pressed to produce the clear pale yellow edible oil with a light sweet scent. Amazing how the Japanese Geisha somehow has beautiful skin despite harsh treatment and extreme sweating ( under 40 lbs of costume!) and all because of careful rituals using ingredients from nature. Is beauty in their genes? Today, many scientists eschew this debate by emphasizing “nature x nurture.” In this context, nature and nurture are inseparable. Some genes, for example, cannot be activated without certain environmental inputs. All the more reason to encourage wellness culture don’t you think? But don’t feel bad, the Japanese are not exempt from wanting to “bottle” whatever they can to nurture everlasting beauty, in fact they are leaders in skin care product development and big consumers of cosmetics and nutraceuticals. Japan has become one of the largest LOHAS markets in the world and they really lean in when it comes to sourcing natural based ingredients.
Moving beneath the surface which I always like to do at World Wise Beauty, Japan is an exemplary culture to learn from when it comes to beauty, health and wellness. This is not to be taken lightly as the first book to really bring the subject of health, wellness and longevity to the forefront is based on an impressive twenty-five year long Okinawan Centurian Study. Okinawa is the second largest city in Japan and the book is called the Okinawa Program. The book reveals how the Okinawan’s particular diet, exercise and lifestyle practices made them the healthiest and longest lived population not just in Japan but in the world! This is possibly one of the best books I have read on wellness culture–never mind longevity. The book illuminates and details a break through study and much of what we know today about health and longevity stems from this landmark study.
There is no mention of age-defying magic potions in this book –just an excellent comprehensive overview of what an ideal health and wellness lifestyle looks like backed by solid research and science. Nutrition is of course a main contributing factor to their longevity and when you are on the other end of the spectrum (like our western diet) the Okinawans did almost seem magical to us. Suddenly there was a “fish craze” and the move away from meat in the U.S! Yes, a very healthy transition for us but fish oil is just one of the factors for living a long life in Okinawa. But we Americans like our magic bullets! So here are two Okinawan longevity secrets. Are you ready? One is they spend time cultivating health and wellness from the inside out through daily rituals and two there is this little bugger called STRESS they simply do not have. I guess a little Tai Chi goes a long way! Do we need to live in Japan to live long? Of course not but we can learn from their culture, values and rituals. All about the fusion ladies…
Speaking of fusion, how incredible is it to live in a melting pot like America with such an eclectic mix of cultures and end up with a Fast Food Nation! Do we blame industry? Or did our love for agricultural industry perhaps blind us to the unhealthy road we were taking slowly but surely over the last forty years? It’s complicated but we KNOW for sure now that cultural values matter when it comes to nurturing healthy societies.
Before we fall madly in love with Japan let’s have a little chuckle with this link Japan’s Questionable Beauty Trends. The Beauty Bottom Butt Shaper? All I can say, isn’t going for a walk much easier than pronouncing this tongue twister?!
Back to lovely Japan. Naomi Moriyama was born and raised in Tokyo, and spent childhood summers on her grandparents’ hillside farm in the Japanese countryside, eating tangerines from the trees and fresh vegetables from the family garden. Ahh paradise…until she attended college in Illinois, where she gained 25 pounds eating pizza, burgers and banana splits before moving back to Japan and re-discovering the secrets of her mother Chizuko’s Tokyo kitchen. Her book Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat is a play on the book title “French Woman Don’t Get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano who I also interviewed right here at World Wise Beauty! Visit the Healthy Epicurean department for Mireille’s French perspective because for now we are still in Japan.
Naomi’s story stands on another important fact about the benefits of Japanese culture. Japan has the lowest obesity rate in the developed world! 3% compared to 11% for the French Women and a “whopping” 34% for Americans. Should we feel bad about our standing here in the U.S? Yes–but we should also get fed up (no pun intended) if our food industry continues to market fat inducing processed chemical laden foods! What are Japan’s healthy secrets? In a nutshell–fabulous tasting home cooked meals using fresh nutritional ingredients ( mainly plants) presented beautifully on your plate. And psst…another big secret you think you never heard before–they exercise and walk a lot!
Back on American soil we love industry and continue to eat processed foods and then fork over our money to diet books, diet programs and chain food restaurants! Come on my American peeps when are we going to wake up and smell the tea leaves? Green tea? Did anyone say Green Tea? You know the tea the Japanese drink daily and is packed with anti-aging polyphenols found naturally in plants. I’m suddenly channeling Kernel Sanders from Kentucky Fried Chicken right now. “There are “dem” pesty plants again! They don’t seem to sell well in drive through food chains and they don’t fry up well either!
Phew! Ok, I’m back from the possession by Kernel Sanders. What a world wise whirl! Japan was a great start to this series. I didn’t give you quick sound-bites because I think the above mentioned books are far better sources to give you real context and help you understand the rituals and practices of wellness cultures like Japan. I saw a great quote the other day ” If you don’t take good care of your body, where are you going to live?”. Whether it be Japan or America being comfortable in you own skin all comes down to you! No matter where you go…there you are.
Be wise and be well,
P.S After all this talk of Japan, maybe you are planning a trip there. If you are, here are great travel tips plus do’s and don’ts when you get there from our friends over at the Lonely Planet. Whatever you do DON”T blow your nose in public! Slurping your food ok though! 😉