How Japanese People Stay Fit for Life, Without Ever Visiting a Gym

For people stressed or intimidated by fitness culture

Kaki Okumura
4 min readNov 6, 2020


Illustrations by Kaki Okumura

In the United States, I’m often bombarded with images and ads of fitness culture. Athleisure is the craze, and it seems that the majority of people are members of gyms like Anytime Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness, or LA Fitness. Any decent hotel or typical college campus has free access to a gym, sometimes even offering workout clothes for rental. It’s the land of Alo Yoga and the birthplace to Crossfit. The most successful online influencers write about fitness, and it’s not uncommon to see someone share their workout on social media as they would their food.

But in contrast to that, for a country that is a leader in longevity and has very low rates of obesity — the least among high-income developed nations at 4.3% — you might be surprised to find that there is not much of a workout culture in Japan. Athleisure is not a big thing, and not many people have a membership to a gym. People would rarely use their lunch break for a gym session, and those who do are probably seen as exercise zealots.

In a recent Rakuten Insight survey of 1000 Japanese citizens ages 20 to their 60s, about half of those questioned revealed that they barely exercised, about once a month or not at all. Citing not enough time or simply that they don’t like exercising that much, most people just didn’t see working out as part of their lifestyle.

What’s going on here?

What Exercise Looks Like in Japan

If you take a closer look as to what exercise means to Japanese people, you’ll find that exercise equates working out. But perhaps exercise can take on forms that aren’t necessarily about going to a gym and lifting weights, or going on 10km runs. Namely, perhaps the exercise we need is…



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Kaki Okumura

Born in Dallas, raised in New York and Tokyo. I care about helping others learn to live a better, healthier life. My site: 🌱