Eating Disorders In Japan

Eating disorders in Japan

A common misconception about eating disorders is that they are predominantly a disease of Western culture. That Disney, Barbie, shaving cream commercials and other forms of exploitation of the color pink have led to the disease of white, upper-middle class, self absorbed girls and women. These statements are far from the true. Not only are eating disorders found all over the world, they plague the East and third world nations. Over the next four weeks The Victorian Recovery Blog will be exploring eating disorders in Japan, Israel, India and Jamaica. Today we are en route to the east and visiting Japan.

In the past decade eating disorders in Japan have been on the rise. The notice started between 1988 and 1992, when the number of identified cases of anorexia and bulimia increased by four times.  (Nadaoka et al. 1996). Though the behaviors of eating disorders in the East and the West are similar including starving,binging and purging the causes for the behaviors are quite different. Western causes are typically rooted in the tension resulting from the striving for achievement and career. To be a successful woman in the West is to be noted as a powerful, thin and beautiful. However, in the East a successful woman is one who is a manicured, doting, wife and mother. The pressure to fit into this cookie cutter mold of a wife and mother is the predicted root of eating disorders in Japan.

As a nation Japan has historically valued the work of wives and mothers to be the primary nurtures of children and to maintain the domestic needs of a house hold. Making marriage and mother hood the primary avenue for women’s economic stability and social participation.

Researchers believe that in the West women “fear fatness” because being fat jeopardizes their ability to succeed. Where women in the east don’t fear being fat, they “fear a loss of control” of themselves. Because they are expected to take on a roll of a mother or wife, when they are presumably not ready for the responsibility, they try to regress to be small and child like. This is where the eating disorder steps in.


Japanese Anime

It is also believed that the eating disorder is triggered by Japan’s approach to the transition from girl hood to woman hood. The approach being there isn’t one. Japan is known for its idyllic graphic images of characters created in comic strip anime and toys from Hello Kitty. All infantile and innocent creatures that are lovable heroines. Take these images consumed by a teenage Japanese girl and parallel them with her mandatory home-ec classes in high school where they are taught the appropriate etiquette on being a good wife including, cleaning, cooking, decorating, sewing and raising children.

Eating Disorders in Japan


The issue Japanese women are wrestling with seems to be the time to grow between their “innocence” (and dependency) and into their role in marriage eventually coupled with motherhood. The problem is that we know from psychology that when a person has not self –actualized and instead take on the roles that they believe as expected of them they walk through life angry, self-destructive and prone to depression and eating disorders.

So what is the solution? Some might think feminisim. I would say not. I believe the solution is for the Japanese culture to be a tad more laid back on the way women are presented with their “role” of being a wife and mother. Maybe if there was less pressure to fulfill these roles women would 1.) Appreciate them more when they do so choose to fulfill them 2.) Women might go out an explore who they are outside of who they are expected to be.

My personal belief is that no two people are alike and that’s an awesome thing. Women need to be encouraged to explore, create and find the people they were put on earth to be. I would encourage women to find themselves during their adolesence and 20’s and return home with what they have discovered and be embraced.

To sum up the differences between the West and the East, Western eating disorders form out of the concept associated with thinness providing power and control that will, in turn, convey happiness. The Japanese pursuit of thinness is more reminiscent of eating disorders as a strategy for delaying maturation and responsibilities.

If you enjoyed this post today from The Victorian Eating Disorder Recovery Blog I ask that you share it with your friends and family. The more education we provide to people on what eating disorders are, how they manifest and what they look like we will make this topic less taboo and prevent this disease from taking down another generation of women.

A special thanks to Kathleen M. Pike and Amy Borovoy of Princeton University for their studies on eating disorders in Japan. Their thesis was referenced for this article. As well, a big thank you to The Victorian of Newport Beach for sponsoring this blog and providing recovery 365 days of the year.

Happy Recovery,



Eating Disorders in Japan




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