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Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat

Secrets of My Mother’s Tokyo Kitchen

By Naomi Moriyama

It is common knowledge that the longevity of the average Japanese citizen is unparalleled in the world today, with men living 80 years and women 86 years. In the United States those statistics are 75 years for men and 80 years for women on average. Over and above that, obesity is practically out of control in America, with heart disease and diabetes striking numbers of people here that are unprecedented. These are serious problems and they only seem to be getting worse. Perhaps we can learn something from the Japanese about these matters.


Naomi Moriyama has written a down-to-earth about her experiences in regards to diet and health. She came to the US from Japan where she was born, to fulfill a lifelong dream to study in America. She had received a scholarship to go to Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois.

I landed at O’Hare Airport at 6 A.M. The drive from Chicago astonished me. I had never seen such huge highways, not to mention the flat land and the limitless horizon, with the sky that seemed to go on forever…

Suddenly I was dropped into a culture and a daily life where the food was completely different and the portions seemed to me to be almost freakishly huge. Breakfast in the school cafeteria was piles of waffles soaked in oceans of syrup, flanked by boatloads of eggs and bacon. Lunch was giant cheeseburgers, fries, and soda, and dinner was mountains of meat and potatoes, heaps of pasta, and pizzas so big I could skate on them…

And soon I started to eat like my American friends too.

The result: within a few months of arriving in America, I had gained 25 pounds.

After two years Moriyama returned to Japan.

With my now fluent English, I found a job as an English-Japanese translator at Tokyo Disneyland.

Then, in a matter of weeks, something incredible happened.

Between the walking-intensive Tokyo lifestyle and my mother’s home cooking, the extra 25 pounds began to miraculously melt away. I didn’t do anything conscious to lose the weight; I simply went back to my mother’s Tokyo kitchen and the Japanese urban way of life.

This was the impetus for Moriyama to write the book, Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat. She teamed with her husband, William Doyle, who is a writer mostly of political books and articles, to research the subject thoroughly. The first part of the book details the frightening statistics regarding the obesity crisis in the US and throughout the world. For instance, 34% of American women are obese. This is compared to 3% of Japanese women. The ramifications of an unhealthy lifestyle cost the US an estimated $117 billion a year in added health care expenses and lost productivity and wages. Japanese enjoy better health while spending less on health care costs than in America: $2,839 per person per year in Japan versus $5,707 in the US. The introduction of the book delves into these figures and more in a focused and concise way.

But the heart of the book is Japanese cuisine, and Moriyama explains how much Japanese love to eat. She examines the Japanese market and restaurant scene. She writes about vendors selling food on the street. She explains all of the choices the Japanese have in regards to eating. Most of all, Moriyama writes of her mother’s Japanese kitchen.

The book contains 36 recipes of basic Japanese cuisine. That includes even the simplest matters, such as how to cook Japanese short-grain rice, or brewing Japanese tea or dashi bonito-based broth used for miso soup and other dishes. There are recipes for tofu dishes, gyōza dumplings, teriyaki fish, tempura, salmon rolls and much more. One of the most delicious dishes featured is the “Perfect Bowl of Soba Noodles.”

Chapter 3 offers “Seven Secrets from My Mother’s Tokyo Kitchen.”

Secret 1

The Japanese diet is based on fish, soy, rice, vegetables, and fruit.

In this chapter Moriyama not only reveals the secrets and explains them in detail, but includes statistics and recipes. For instance, besides the analysis of Secret 1, the daily calorie intake per person is given: 3,774 in the US versus 2,761 in Japan. The recipe selected is for “Pan-Fried Atlantic Mackerel” with a variation as well.

The book also includes kitchen tips, a glossary of Japanese ingredients, lists of Japanese kitchen equipment and utensils fully described, tableware and advice on how to use everything and where to buy it. Sidebars throughout the book supplement the material with interesting quotes and other information. An appendix contains source notes and there is another appendix for resources. This includes websites for Japanese vendors of equipment and food. First on the list is the “Yellow Pages Japan in USA” at http://www.ypj.com/en/ where the reader is told to enter the keyword “markets” and select one’s own city and state.

The Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat website is also given:


On a personal note, I must relate the fact that I bought this book when it was first published in 2005. It was featured in the Kinokuniya Bookstore in the Little Tokyo district of Los Angeles along with the latest books on Japanese culture in English. There were perhaps a half a dozen copies on a table there. A few weeks later I found myself in the bookstore again, and not only was Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat still occupying a prominent place on the new books table, but another table had been set up nearby solely devoted to this work, with four piles of books there containing dozens of books! That shows you how popular it was among aficionados of Japanese cuisine.

If one wants to learn how to follow a healthy lifestyle while enjoying one of the great cuisines of the world, Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat is highly recommended.

Robert J. Terry

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