Second Week at HekaBio – Thinking about Health

I spend most of my days in the HekaBio office on Google. I look for published clinical trials, injury and disease incidence statistics, and attempt to assess the market size for different projects HekaBio is working on. Business and medical professionals surround me, all of whom make efforts to involve me in important meetings and discussions from which I gain new insight into the inner workings of a health venture.

As a result, population-level health is always on my mind. After work, I have taken to running along the river near my apartment in an attempt to counter my relatively sedentary cubicle lifestyle, and I am not the only one. The park along the river seems to stretch forever in both directions. Trees arch over the water and benches line the path. It is the season for hydrangeas and roses to bloom and their colors break up the gray and green. In a single mile, I may pass, or perhaps more often be passed by, ten or more other runners. Walkers also crowd the path. Moms chase after their kids on the play structures. Exercise equipment, a pair of rings here, a chin-up bar there, is mixed in with the slides and sandboxes. Women, hunched over by age, make their way slowly cane in one hand, grocery bag in the other. Since my arrival in Japan, but especially Tokyo, I have been impressed by how active the population is.

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If there is one thing I heard from others more than anything else about Japan before I left, it was, “Oh, you will be living healthy over there.” Japan, is known, in part, for their high average lifespan and healthy diet (lots of rice and fish being the go-to example for most people whether or not they know why that is healthier). Since my arrival, the reality seems a little more complex than that. I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer number of people out exercising every evening.  I was also surprised by the availability of green space, even in a city as densely populated as Tokyo. On the other hand, I was shocked by the number of convenience stores and the incredibly small produce section in the supermarkets. Although I have no doubt plenty of people work to eat well, in Tokyo and many of the other cities I have visited thus far, it is a lot easier to grab a premade fried chicken sandwich for 200 yen (just under $2) in the konbini on every corner than spend 500 yen on a single apple. This is especially true in a culture that emphasizes long, hard work days. Obesity rates are still some of the lowest globally but notably on the rise.

Health in Japan is evolving, and I am looking forward to thinking about, researching, and talking to others more on this topic. I am curious how the average diet may be changing and how that impacts public health issues. As someone who loves spending time in nature, I also hope to discover more about the relationship between the average Tokyo resident and nature, both in parks and in a wilderness setting, and how that may be a factor in their overall health. One thing is for certain, I have plenty to think about on my runs along the river.