Eating disorders are a growing concern in Japan

Inside & Out

Eating disorders are becoming a serious concern in Japan—something not many Japanese are aware of.

Many young Japanese are suffering from various eating disorders, sometimes without the knowledge of their friends or families and some without proper treatment.

CGTN’s Terrence Terashima reports from Tokyo.


Doctors fear that the problem is getting more widespread as many who are suffering from the symptom are reluctant to say something about it.

“According to the Health Labour and Welfare Ministry survey there are about 25,000 to 26,000 people are receiving treatments with Doctors, however some researchers say the actually number are closer to One million people suffering from this illness,” said Toshio Ishikawa, the President of Japan Society of Eating Disorders.

Japan is culture of conformity, where people are expected to fit in to the norm, and where there are social stigmas surrounding mental illness.

“Japanese are educated to fit in to the society than building individual characters. There are people who have no problem adjusting to a group. But there are those that feel stressed in having to suppress oneself. Those are the people with high risk of developing eating disorders,” said Aya Hasegawa, an Eating Disorders Counselor.

Doctors also agree that young people with certain traits have high risk of having an eating disorder.

“In Japan people who are most likely to develop eating disorders are those whom we refer to as a good children. Quiet and well behaved, someone who likely to be thorough things they do, and who lacks confidence in oneself. Young people with those qualities have high risk of developing eating disorders,” Ishikawa said.

A more serious matter is that Japan is lacking doctors that specialize in eating disorders. It requires complex specialized and general treatments. It is said that there are many patients who end treatment without being cured.

“It is true that we are lacking doctors in Psychiatry overall. But even fewer doctors who can treat eating disorders. Many doctors in Psychiatry department do not specialise is this field and we need more doctors who specialise in this illness,” Ishikawa said.

From her own experience, Hasewaga said there is no specific right way to treat eating disorders.

“People suffering from eating disorders wants to overcome the illness, but at the same time there is a part of you that do not want to be treated. Because you may look better, it is painful but there is a part where you want to remain as it is. It is a very complex illness one has to face,” Hasegawa said.

Surveys show that the average weight of women in their 20s has decreased by 10 percent in recent years. Experts warn that awareness should be raised to discourage excessive dieting.

Elissa Matulis Myers discusses eating disorders 

For more on what’s happening in Japan and globally regarding eating disorders, CGTN’s Rachelle Akuffo spoke with  Elissa Matulis Myers, who is the Executive Director of the Academy for Eating Disorders.