I’ve Never Seen a Fat Japanese Person

… and that goes for cinema and anime alike.

For some reason, though, Japan thinks it’s getting a little chubby around the waist, so they’ve enacted some reforms. By law, Japanese citizens must now stay at a healthy weight.

Under a national law that came into effect two months ago, companies and local governments must now measure the waistlines of Japanese people between the ages of 40 and 74 as part of their annual checkups. That represents more than 56 million waistlines, or about 44 percent of the entire population.

Those exceeding government limits — 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women, which are identical to thresholds established in 2005 for Japan by the International Diabetes Federation as an easy guideline for identifying health risks — and having a weight-related ailment will be given dieting guidance if after three months they do not lose weight. If necessary, those people will be steered toward further re-education after six more months.

To reach its goals of shrinking the overweight population by 10 percent over the next four years and 25 percent over the next seven years, the government will impose financial penalties on companies and local governments that fail to meet specific targets. The country’s Ministry of Health argues that the campaign will keep the spread of diseases like diabetes and strokes in check.

Not that it’s easy to litigate rules on health.

Summoned by the city of Amagasaki one recent morning, Minoru Nogiri, 45, a flower shop owner, found himself lining up to have his waistline measured. With no visible paunch, he seemed to run little risk of being classified as overweight, or metabo, the preferred word in Japan these days.

But because the new state-prescribed limit for male waistlines is a strict 33.5 inches, he had anxiously measured himself at home a couple of days earlier. “I’m on the border,” he said. …

When his turn came, Mr. Nogiri, the flower shop owner, entered a booth where he bared his midriff, exposing a flat stomach with barely discernible love handles. A nurse wrapped a tape measure around his waist across his belly button: 33.6 inches, or 0.1 inch over the limit.

“Strikeout,” he said, defeat spreading across his face.

Given the consistently high concern over childhood obesity here in the United States, I can’t help but wonder whether or not this would work over here, even on a smaller scale.

Not that it would ever pass, or should, but as they say in the movies, “It’s just crazy enough to make half of the population hate the government.”


  1. In theory, I think it’s a good idea. I think it will give adults who are at risk for weight-related illnesses a chance to look at how they are eating and give them healthy diet options. The law doesn’t say they’ll be imprisoned for being overweight, just that their health-care providers will have to give them diet plans. I think that’s pretty smart.

  2. Alex

    You could easily argue that employers *ought* to do this [give free lifestyle advice to overweight staff] anyway, on a non-compulsory basis – simply because healthy staff are more productive. That said, I suspect they’d lay themselves open to charges of discrimination if they did so… it would at least be a worry.

    Perhaps the best course of action, without being as heavy-handed as writing it into law, would be for a regulator to issue a statement supporting such schemes, and the government/legal profession to emphasise that when sensitively applied, they’re not a legal danger.

    Then, having created the conditions, let the ‘free market’ do the rest. That seems to be the modus operandi in the West.

  3. Ms. Smiles: Take a look at this, though:

    … the government will impose financial penalties on companies and local governments that fail to meet specific targets.

    The subtext here is a little less forgiving: Lose weight, or lose your job. Alex’s free market will do that.

    Mr. Davies: Japan has larger issues of discrimination, most notably the issues of the native Ainu. Over there, it hasn’t boiled down to sillier discrimination arguments like weight.

    For over here, though, you’re right — discrimination would be a huge factor.

    In the free market, government suggestion amounts to nothing, unless a significant employer decides takes the suggestion, and sets the example, creating a demand within the working population for this goal.

    Something tells me that the workforce wouldn’t appreciate being forced to lose weight, even if it is for their own good. It’s hard enough to do lose weight when you want to.

    Reminds me of Liberal Fascism, that book that came out a while ago. Essentially, the premise is that the government knows what’s best for you and will do it, whether you want it to or not. The theory is that you’ll live a better life, at least quantitatively.

    I’m not open to that idea.

  4. It seems a little drastic, but perhaps that’s what us western countries need to shock people into taking their health seriously. The only thing that would worry me would be the amount of people at the other end of the spectrum who are already on the verge of eating disorders due to all the size zero celebrities – would this not affect THEM negatively?

  5. I believe that personal health should be a matter of personal choice, and I believe that the government’s job shouldn’t be to scare or shock its citizens into taking anything seriously.

    … would this not affect them negatively?

    It might — that certainly seems plausible. That’s about as far as we can go in that direction, given that there’s no study I know of that directly measures such a situation, or even comes close.

  6. john d.


  7. Ben

    I’m assuming Sumo wrestlers get exemptions? Or is the sport of Sumo now illegal?

  8. Christina

    The popular anime Paprika features a very overweight main character, who despite the tendency to represent fat people as stupid is actually a genius.

    Though I would agree that is the exception rather than the rule.

  9. “I’ve Never Seen a Fat Japanese Person”

    Then you’ve never been to Japan, have you?

  10. Mr. John: Glad to see you have your priorities straight.

    Mr. Wildeboer: My guess on sumo is that because they aren’t employed by a company, per se, that they’re exempt. That’s just a barebones guess — I can’t imagine

    Ms. Claun: Never seen Paprika. Any good?

    I’d start a list of smart fat people in American media, movies and television, but now that Tim Russert’s dead, the list looks a little like this:


    Any other suggestions? Anyone?

    Mr. Black: Nope, I’ve never been to Japan. Not that that throwaway line was the point of what I was writing, here.

    I thought you’d actually react favorably to the whole “intrusive government” spiel.

  11. ionestar

    Although I understand the good intention for this law I think it is horrible. People already have enough problems to now risk their jobs because of a few inches. There are many factors that contribute to weight gain. There are too many people with eating disorders who deserve to have a job. I’m not talking about those eating disorders that we all normally hear about, I’m talking about food addiction, especially to carbs. Most addicts don’t even know about their problem and people who are not, know less. By the way, at least in this country, eating healthy is expensive.

  12. Eating healthy is expensive? I’m not sure about that. Maybe eating green, planet-friendly food is expensive, but eating a few vegetables ostensibly chock-full of pesticides is a hell of a lot cheaper than stuffing one’s face with the eternal basket of fries at the Red Robin.

  13. “I’d start a list of smart fat people in American media, movies and television, but now that Tim Russert’s dead, the list looks a little like this:


    You need to broaden your knowledge considerably, Baxter.

    Roger Ailes
    Harvey Weinstein
    Rush Limbaugh
    Mario Batali
    Emeril Legasse
    Martha Stewart
    to name a few …

  14. ionestar

    Actually I’m not going to agree with you on this one. If you buy groceries for yourself only then it’s ok. But when you have a family and are living on a small income it is much cheaper to buy a bag of rice than to buy “vegetables ostensibly chock-full of pesticides”. It’s much cheaper to buy white bread than a healthier option… just naming a few. Yes, it is more convenient for a poor family to stuff on fries at McD. It is easy to judge overweight people and make them feel guilty for being overweight.

  15. Baxter is the college student with only a tiny grip on reality. This inability to grasp the common sense dynamic of how certain families must budget their earnings is just the latest example. The academic boondoggle extensively detailed in this blog was just the first indication.

    Baxter needs a lot of tough life lessons.

  16. Mr. Black: Martha Stewart’s smart? More surprisingly, you took me seriously on that list of fat people? Having such a short list was purposeful hyperbole, and wasn’t worth getting all bent out of shape for.

    Rush Limbaugh? Sure, he’s fat, but he doesn’t really qualify for my list. Most of the rest don’t qualify for the spirit of the list, either: Fat people who appear on the big screen or the small screen without catering to one of many fat-boy stereotypes. In the spirit of the list, Emeril is probably the worst candidate possible. He’s loud, boorish and hosts a cooking show.

    I’ve already, on several occasions, agreed that I need a lot of tough life lessons. That’s hardly new territory.

    Ms. Star: First things first: I’m fat. I’m not judgmental of fat people — I simply describe myself. I don’t eat healthy because I don’t want to. I’m not rolling in the dough, but I do saunter through the FoodMaxx produce section every now and then. Veggies there are pretty cheap, and if I were going to have eat an amount of bananas equivalent to that generic-brand frozen personal-sized pizza I had for dinner last night, it would cost me a lot less.

    My use of the word “cost” was not in the economic sense of something cost: You give something up to get another thing, as in preparation time for food. Cost here means strictly money, for an unmarried, lazy 20-something.

    That’s as far as I took the example.

  17. Baxter, what you don’t know could fill an ocean.

    Lagasse is also the owner and operator of four hugely successful restaurants, on of which is Mobil rated four stars (Commander’s Palace in N.O.)

    Limbaugh has the largest audience of any radio host in America and has attracted for at least ten years.

    Martha Stewart brand products sell in the hundreds of millions of dollars in total sales.

    All the aforementioned are very smart and very very wealthy. Stupid people do not earn that kind of dough.

  18. “More surprisingly, you took me seriously on that list of fat people?”

    Why post if you aren’t being serious?

    Leave the frivolity to children.

  19. Baxter, what you don’t know could fill an ocean.

    Again, I’ve made this admission before. We’ve come to an agreement — let’s move on.

    Oh, and Martha Stewart still isn’t fat.

  20. I forgot to add Oprah Winfrey to the list. How could I forget her?

    “The spirit of the list,” is this some kind of joke? Shifting the criteria at will to evade criticism for its slapdash nature?

    “Again, I’ve made this admission before.”

    Then research your topic before making statements like “he just hosts a cooking show” and I won’t have to say anything.

    “Oh, and Martha Stewart still isn’t fat.”

    What is your criteria for being fat? You thought Tim Russert was fat. I don’t recall seeing any view of him that was not a medium close up.

    Do you compare someone to yourself to determine level of fatness? Please explain.

    Martha Stewart had a very visible weight gain issue after she got out of jail. I read about it and saw the pictures about four years ago. Whether or not she was able to shed those pounds since then is unknown to me.

  21. You’re still arguing about this? Really, it was a throwaway line. It isn’t worth getting mad about.

    Do you compare someone to yourself to determine level of fatness? Please explain.

    My self-obsession doesn’t extend that far, but if I were to make a comparison between myself and celebrities, I’d have to say that I’m between Sydney Greenstreet and a slightly skinnier John Goodman, removing a tad of their shared paunch and adding it to their height.

    The only serious point anyone could possibly extrapolate from my so-called childish levity is that the selection of smart fat people in the media, but mostly the movies and television shows, are medium-fat figures like Tim Russert.

    Point being, any larger, and fat people tend to become buffoons, or worse. Rush Limbaugh is an excellent example of that much, come to think of it. Heh.

    Remove news from the equation, and most entertainment harbors deep caricatures of the unfat-challenged. Roseanne, anyone? Or Homer Simpson, or Peter Griffin, or Archie Bunker? Sure, you could blame it on the theatrical tradition of the fat buffoon character from back during the peak of the commedia dell’arte, but it exists all the more.

    You know what I like, though? Star Trek: The Next Generation. That was a good show.

  22. I’m not mad, Baxter. I require precision and clarity of thought or expression.

    I’m a Curb Your Enthusiasm fan. Larry David and I share lots of commonalities.

    Limbaugh is only a buffoon to you because you obviously disagree with his points of view.

  23. 大田も きき

    WOW. Simply irrational~
    Have you been to Japan?
    There are overweight people in every culture….
    バカのですの。 乀( ・ ▲ ‘・;)ヽ

  24. i think most flower shops these days use plant food to extend the life of cut flowers’-*

  25. government jobs are still the best when it comes to job security `.*

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