Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict

Weekend Cooking #2: ‘Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat’ by Naomi Moriyama and W. Doyle

Weekend Cooking is a bookish/foodie meme hosted by Beth Fish Reads

I have absolutely no idea where I first saw/heard about this book and can’t remember where I bought it from.  What I do know, however, is that it’s flipping brilliant.


There is a land where women live longer than everyone else on Earth.  It is a place where obesity is the lowest in the developed world.  Where forty-year-old women look like they are twenty.  

It is a land where women enjoy some of the world’s most delicious food, yet they have obesity rates of only 3 per cent – less than one-third that of French women…and less then one-tenth that of American women…

The country is Japan.

[Pages 1-2 in my edition]

Having spent my first year at university in catered halls indulging a little too much, I spent my next couple of years living with friends in one rather grim student house and one rather nice student house, learning more about cooking and food and trying to repair the damage.  Ever since, I’ve been interested in attitudes to food and how losing weight is often about little more than changing the way we think about eating.  Despite being described as containing “delicious slimming and anti-ageing secrets”, Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat is about more about just that: it’s about cultivating a certain way of thinking about food and eating and changing your habits.

I have read a lot of books about food but this remains one of my favourites.  Recounting Moriyama’s own experiences of growing up in Japan on wholesome home-cooked meals to living in New York and relying on fast food to re-discovering Japanese food in her own homes, this is the kind of book that you’ll pick up to dig out a recipe from and you’ll wind up reading a story about the author’s mother’s despair at finding out that her daugher owned a microwave, a snippet on the scientific reason why you should start the day with a healthy breakfast and drooling over a recipe for Teriyaki Fish [Page 154].  The recipes aren’t grouped together in a discrete section but are spread out in amongst anecdotes and foodie facts – there’s an index at the back so that you can always find your favourites but it means this isn’t as much a recipe book as it is a book about food.  

There’s also a section on the “secrets” of Tokyo women’s kitchens, ranging from the more obvious, like eating smaller portions (albeit on smaller plates, so that your brain doesn’t get sad from looking at a vast expanse of empty crockery), to the slightly more scientific, like making changes to the types of carbohydrates that you eat and shuffling the balance of when you eat certain food groups.  You can go right back to basics and completely overhaul your life or you can just mix the simple recipes into your repertoire.  Once you have the ingredients, the recipes really aren’t complicated and you won’t need a Michelin star to enjoy them.

Fortunately, for all that this book is about healthy eating and changing your lifestyle, it isn’t in the least bit preachy or sanctimonious.  There are some really practical sections on how to set up your own Tokyo kitchen without completely refurbishing your house or spending a fortune and where to buy Japanese ingredients in the US/UK or online (bonus points to the UK publishers for updating the book to include sources in the UK and for providing statistics in UK £!)  I’d recommend Japan Centre, personally, particularly if you live in the UK.

There are only a couple of downsides to this.  One is a ‘problem’ that will be familiar to  any foodie with a stash of more “exotic” books about food – the ingredients for the recipes tend not to be things that you will already have in your cupboards unless you’ve previously done some oriental cooking.  The other is a matter of personal preference:  there are no pictures of delicious food at all in the book.  The parts where Moriyama is writing about food are incredibly well-written and so sensual that I almost felt as though I could smell the miso paste; if you aren’t familiar with Japanese food, however, and want ideas about presentation and the like, this might not be the book for you.

Overall:  A perfect blend of family stories, foodie anecdotes, delicious and healthy recipes and practical tips that makes this the ideal companion for any Japanese food lover.  I have read this over and over and my copy is stuffed full of bits of paper that I’ve scribbled notes on while cooking my favourite recipes or when I’ve been looking for ingredients: a sure fire sign of enjoyment.