Growing up in Japan, I never paid attention to certain cultural teachings around me that I only now, as a grown-up living outside my home country, realise are super valuable insights into a long and healthy living.
In my conversation with Martin Kremmer, he reminded me of one of these biohacks that kids growing up in Japan naturally internalise as a part of their cultural upbringing: “Harahachibu” = literally meaning eating only 80 % full or not eating oneself full, a popular Japanese expression.
The wisdoms below may not sound completely novel per se; yet, I find that having them as well as many other cultural health adages as a part of my natural vocabulary helps me to make better and healthier choices in life. I hope that you find interesting as well as helpful lessons from my childhood from Japan when optimizing your own health wherever you live!
Harahachibu: Harahachibu is a shortened form, and the health wisdom in its entirety goes as “harahachibume ni isha irazu”, which literally means that if you habitually eat only 80 % full, you won’t need a doctor. It was coined by Japanese philosopher Ekken Kaibara (1630 – 1714) and today commonly used in everyday conversations to remind someone with a seemingly grand appetite not to stuff themselves with foods. It’s interesting that the longevity benefit of moderate eating was already known such a long time ago that modern science now demonstrates through caloric restriction experiments!
Naru hara ni tatari nashi: Can roughly be translated as “let your stomach rumble”, the adage tells that it’s important to eat not only moderately at one sitting, like harahachibu does, but also infrequently so that the stomach gets an idle time when it’s empty of food. Modern researches of fasting have proven spot-on this ancient observation, demonstrating that fasting improves metabolic and many other aspects of health. Additionally, it appears that the squirming movements that accompany the rumbling may help to clean the stomach and small intestine, moving forward anything left in these organs.
Yamai wa ki kara: The expression means that your frame of mind can make the course of an illness better or worse and is commonly used to encourage someone to keep a positive outlook for and/or not to excessively stress about their illness. The more knowledge I gain about stress, autonomous nervous system and their impacts on our health, the more appreciable I become of this ancient wisdom, which strikingly illustrated the importance of body’s psycho-somatic dynamics a long time before our modern understanding of neurosciences, psychology and the connection between mind and body.
Kusuri yori youjyou: There are multiple expressions in Japan that highlight the virtue of prevention of disease over treatment, this one being probably the most often used in everyday conversations. The expression literally means “better to take a good care of oneself than to take a medicine” and often said to remind someone that it’s better to prevent an illness and/or recover from one by a proper selfcare, such as healthy eating, exercises, regular raising and bed times etc., rather than relying on medications alone. Today, I’ve became increasingly aware that the teaching of the proverb is applicable not only for physical but also mental illness; In my interview with Paris Prynkiewicz at CrookedIllness, we discuss the importance of good selfcare for mental and emotional health.
Hayane hayaoki yamai shirazu: Often shorted into just “hayane hayaoki”, it means that “one who goes to bed early and rises early knows no illness”; Go up with the sunrise. Go to bed shortly after the sunset. Living in this way ensures that we follow the body’s natural circadian rhythm, making sure that we are exposed to the right kind of light at the right time of the day. For many of us however, this seemingly simple teaching can be tricky to implement in practice for various reasons. Additionally, most of us live in today’s world that is mal-illuminated, giving the body wrong signals for what it’s supposed to do. Can we do something about it? In my interview with Tord Wingren, founder of BrainLit, he discusses the importance of optimal indoor lighting that considers our body’s circadian rhythm.
Warai wa hito no kusuri: “Laughter is medicine”. It sounds intuitive that laughter makes us feel great and is healthy. Sciences validate these intuitive feelings by demonstrating that laughter has quantifiable positive physiological impacts . Studies show that both spontaneous and self-induced laughter are effective to reduce stress, decreasing blood pressure and cortisol level as well as increasing serotonin. How much do you laugh every day? Give yourself a 30-day challenge to laugh 30 minutes each day and see how it improves not only your psychological but also physiological wellbeing!