Treading a healthy path — whichever road you take

by Jun Hongo

Staff Writer

In the mid-19th century, a British undertaker by the name of William Banting was struggling to shed some pounds despite having tried every diet known at the time.

He tried fasting, exercise and cutting back on his meals without much success — until he came across a method involving limiting his starch and carbohydrate intake.

“Of all the parasites that affect humanity I do not know of, nor can I imagine, any more distressing than that of Obesity,” Banting, who went from about 92 kg to 72 kg in a year, wrote in his 1863 book titled “Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public.”

Exactly 150 years since the publication of what is considered the first low-carb diet manual in history, an event taking place this month for the first-time might have left Banting stunned about modern-day obesity if he were alive today.

“The market for diet products is expanding every year, introducing new diet food, beverages, supplements, exercise machines and other services,” says Yoshiharu Kuraishi, an executive at Tokyo-based TSO Innovent Inc.

The dieting industry in Japan is evolving so quickly with new weight-loss theories, food products and innovative fasting methods that consumers are left with too many options to choose from when it comes to shifting some pounds, he explains.

Seeing a business opportunity in connecting supply with demand, Kuraishi’s company is organizing the Tokyo Yaseru Festa 2013 on Dec. 14 and 15, an event showcasing the latest in dieting products and methods.

“This is the first Yaseru (weight-loss) Festa and we are expecting at least 30 companies to participate,” Kuraishi says. Up to 10,000 people are likely to turn up at Tokyo Big Sight to experience the latest trends in dieting, according to his company.

On display at Yaseru Festa will be low-calorie food supplements that help weight-watchers remain healthy regardless of the limited food intake, digestive enzyme drinks that boost calorie burning and exercise machines created for efficient training.

Seminars on proper fasting will also be on offer, with workshops by fitness club instructors from gyms including the Rizap, Renaissance and Central Sports groups also on the schedule.

The event will approach weight-loss methods from four angles: dietary food, exercise, effective use of machinery and other treatments, including acupuncture.

“This will be an opportunity to find what works best for each person,” Kuraishi says. “One can find ways to lose weight in a healthy manner and while having fun.”

Meanwhile, 150 years since Banting published his book, Harumi Kon is countering the Briton’s arguments with the publication of a fashion magazine that defies industry rules.

“We don’t promote losing weight or gaining weight, because there are women that look gorgeous regardless of what they weigh,” Kon, editor in chief of La Farfa magazine, tells The Japan Times. “Our view is that people should not be defined by the size of the clothes they wear.”

La Farfa magazine, believed to be the first one in Japan aimed at generously proportioned women, features models that weigh between 60 and 120 kg. A distinctive feature of the fashion magazine is that it provides the weight, the height and the body measurements of each model on the page since, according to Kon, “it is more convenient for the readers.”

The creation of the magazine stems from Kon’s own experience. She says regular fashion magazines featuring slim models were of no practical use to her, but she enjoyed checking the latest trends anyway.

Then came the recent expansion of overseas retail clothing companies in Japan — including H&M and Forever 21 — that allowed women to enjoy stylish clothing for a reasonable price, and in bigger sizes.

The media has also started to embrace plump female celebrities in the past few years, with comedians such as Naomi Watanabe and Kanako Yanagihara being popular. Terms such as puniko and pochako, which can be roughly translated to “squishy girl” and “pudgy girl,” have gained ground this year, with some mainstream fashion magazines such as CanCam publishing stories on the movement.

“There was demand for our kind of fashion magazine,” Kon says, as she gives her take on the trend. “Personally I feel that men are looking at women differently than before.” She adds that while dating a slender woman was considered the ideal not too long ago, men now appear to be seeking partners who can provide iyashi (healing).

“There have also been changes in how women see men as well,” she continues, pointing out that the height, income and academic background of men may not be the prized qualities they were a decade ago.

Initially unable to find any agency with plump models, Kon says her team recruited candidates straight from the streets. Many of the fashion brands were also reluctant to provide sample clothing for La Farfa “since they couldn’t tell what our publication was going to look like at first.”

But that changed quickly after their inaugural issue in March sold out its 80,000 copies. La Farfa was first intended as a bi-annual publication, but the publishers quickly agreed to make it a bi-monthly instead. The fifth volume is scheduled to hit newsstands on Jan. 20.

La Farfa says it does not use digital methods to make its models look slimmer, but will take advantage of their body features to display the models’ “glamorous” side. Make-up pages are filled with advice for round-faced women, instead of teaching readers how to use cosmetics to look thinner.

“Initially there was feedback from readers saying our models weren’t pretty, and that dressing them up doesn’t change the fact they are overweight,” Kon says. But she adds that responses from the readers have become more positive recently.

Kon is aware that losing weight remains a vexing issue for many people today. She is not critical of those trying to shed some pounds, but she has her own take on it.

“Whether you want to lose weight or not,” she says, “you must begin with accepting and being happy with who you are now.” She adds that trying to lose weight because you aren’t content with who you are “won’t change the situation.”

True to the spirit of La Farfa, Yaseru Festa isn’t out to pressure people in to being thin, just to be happy and healthy, Kuraishi says.

“We just want people to find the best service or product that is suited to them.”

The Tokyo Yaseru Festa 2013 will take place at Tokyo Big Sight in Ariake, Koto Ward, from 11:30 a.m. till 7 p.m. on Dec. 14 and from 11 a.m. till 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 15. For more information, visit www.bridal-festa.com/yasefes. The November issue of La Farfa is available now in bookstores and online. The next issue will hit newsstands on Jan. 20. For more information, visit www.bunkasha.co.jp/book/b108401.html.