What Is Considered Fat in Japan?

Did you know that Japanese women are 22.3 kg (49 pounds) lighter than American women on average? It’s true. Japan has one of the lowest obesity rates in the world, with only about 1 in 23 adults being obese.

But today, we’re looking at what is considered “fat” in Japan. Obviously, opinions will vary—but by referencing enough quotes and data points, we can get a pretty good picture.

In street interviews, various Japanese people have said that, for Japanese women, 40 to 45 kg (88 to 99 lbs) is considered ideal, while 50 to 60 kg (110 to 132 lbs) is “a little fat” or just “normal,” and over 60 kg is chubby or fat. However, the ideal body weight depends on height, of course. More discussion below.

In addition to quotes from Japanese people, we’ll look at statistics about average weights in Japan, average Body Mass Index, and the obesity rate. We’ll also look at the reasons for why Japanese people are so thin on average.

What Is “Fat” in Japan?

Let’s start by referring to some street interviews in Japan about what is considered fat, skinny, and the “ideal weight” in Japan. This way, we can hear direct quotes from Japanese people about specific body weights.

“What’s the ideal body weight of a SKINNY Japanese woman?”

Most street interviews focus on the weight of women in Japan. Here are some of the specific female body weights mentioned in these videos:

  • In an interview with Japanese YouTubers Pocha Home, one member said a Japanese woman who’s ~160 cm tall (5’3″) would have an ideal weight of 40 kg (88 pounds), but they’d really start dieting if they get above 55 kg (121 pounds).
  • In a street interview, a Japanese man initially said 50 kg (110 pounds) is “fat” for women (although he later changed his answer to 60+ kg). He said the best range is 40 kg (88 pounds) to 45 kg (99 pounds).
  • A woman living in Japan said the ideal weight range for women in Japan goes up to 45 kg (99 pounds) maximum. (source)
  • However, another woman said that, for Japanese women who are ~160 cm (5’3″) tall, 48 kg (106 lbs) is maybe too skinny, or only for models.
  • One Japanese women said that 50 kg to 60 kg (110 to 132 pounds) is “a little fat” for women in Japan. (source)
  • Two other Japanese women said that above 60 kg (132 pounds) is “chubby.”
  • Another Japanese man said that above 60 kg (132 pounds) is “fat.”

If you’d like to watch more videos on this topic, you can check out all these:

But now, let’s also take a look at some statistics for body weight in Japan.

What Is Japan’s Normal Weight?

The average weight in Japan is 69.5 kg (~153 pounds) for men, and 54.8 kg (~121 pounds) for women. This data is sourced from a study published by the NCD Risk Factor Collaboration.

For a quick comparison, this means Japanese men are 21.1 kg (46 pounds) lighter than American men on average. And Japanese women are 22.3 kg (49 pounds) lighter than American women on average.

If you look at waist size, this matches up. Japanese men have an average waist of 34.3″, which is 5.9″ thinner than US men. Japanese women have an average waist of 31.1″, which is 7.5″ thinner than American women. (source)

However, waist sizes and body weights also depend on your height, and Japanese people are shorter than Americans on average. So let’s take a look at Body Mass Index (BMI) scores in Japan.

What Is the Average BMI in Japan?

The average adult Body Mass Index (BMI) in Japan is 22.6. Broken down by gender, it is 23.7 for males and 21.6 for females. These averages are all in the “Healthy BMI” range.

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measurement of a person’s weight-to-height ratio. It doesn’t distinguish between fat and lean mass, so it can’t tell you exactly how much fat you have. But it’s a simple tool used to diagnose overweight and obesity.

We’ll talk more about BMI and obesity in Japan below. But for now, let’s see how Japan’s average BMI compares to some other countries around the world:

CountryAverage Adult BMI
United States28.8
South Korea23.9
Average adult BMI by country, 2015. (Source: World Health Organization)

As you can see, Japan is a relatively “thin” country. It’s not the thinnest in the world, but it’s certainly on that end of the spectrum.

In fact, America’s average BMI is in the overweight range—and the same applies to Mexico, Canada, Australia, and quite a few other countries. But not Japan. The average Japanese person has a healthy BMI.

What BMI Is “Obese” in Japan?

A Body Mass Index (BMI) of 28 or higher is generally considered obese in Japan. This is actually a lower cut-off point than in most countries. Why is that?

Worldwide, a BMI of 25+ is considered overweight, and 30+ is obese. However, as explained on the Harvard website, “China and Japan define overweight as a BMI of 24 or higher and obesity a BMI of 28 or higher.” So, the cut-offs are lower in Japan.

(And interestingly, the cut-offs in India are even lower yet: 23+ BMI for overweight, 27+ BMI for obese.)

What’s the reason? It’s not just some kind of fat-phobia. Research actually shows that Asians (and Asian Americans) have sharper increases in diseases like type-2 diabetes risk with added body fat. (source)

That is, the consequence of adding 10 pounds of body fat, for example, seems to be worse for Asians than other ethnicities. And so, accordingly, the targets for “healthy body weight” are sometimes set lower for these countries.

However, this is still a debated issue, and some studies and organizations do not acknowledge the lower BMI cut-offs for Asian countries. (source)

Is Obesity Common in Japan?

The adult obesity rate in Japan is only 4.3% according to the CIA World Factbook. Only about 1 in 23 Japanese adults are obese. This makes obesity somewhat rare in Japan.

In general, Asian countries have a lot less obesity than North America, Europe, and other regions. But even within Asia, Japan is one of the countries with the least obesity.

Here you can see how Japan compares to other countries in East Asia and Southeast Asia. The least obese countries are at the top of the list:

CountryObesity Rate
South Korea4.7%
Adult obesity rates in East Asia and Southeast Asia, 2016 est. (Source: CIA World Factbook)

Related Questions:

  • Is Japan a thin country? Japan is a relatively thin country. The average BMI and obesity rate in Japan both illustrate this. The average Japanese person has a healthy body weight.

Why Do Japanese People Weigh Less?

What explains why Japanese people are generally thin and healthy? Let’s look at some of the possible reasons.

First, do Japanese people exercise much? Well, not really. At least, not in terms of actually “working out” at a gym. A Rakuten survey revealed that about half of Japanese people aged 20 to 70 “barely” exercise at all (once a month or not at all).

However, Japanese people do walk a lot. They often have long commutes that involve walking or cycling for part of the distance. So, that’s one possible explanation.

There also may be cultural factors. Compared to Americans, Japanese may feel more negatively judged for being overweight. Also, shopping for large clothes can be inconvenient in Japan, according to Yumi Nakata from Gaijin Pot.

Why Is It So Easy to Be Thin in Japan?” Hint: Japan has pretty good access to healthy foods!

However, the biggest factor is likely the Japanese diet. As NPR’s Yuki Noguchi explains, the Japanese diet “consists mostly of vegetables, seaweed and seafood, making it high in fiber, nutrition and good fats.”

Even at convenience stores like 7-Eleven, you can find healthy meals in Japan. Compare that to America—there’s almost nothing healthy in a convenience store.

Japanese restaurants and stores also tend to have smaller portion sizes. So, you also tend to eat less just because of that.

Interested in more similar blog posts about Japan? Check out these ones: