What’s in a Typical Japanese Breakfast?

What's in a typical Japanese breakfast
Traditional: Fish, miso soup, tofu, egg custard, and rice

Breakfast is known around the world by many names, but it remains simply the first meal of the day wherever you are. In Western culture, the egg, bacon, and a piece of toasted bread are common. In the eastern part of the world, Japan, for instance, breakfast has its differences, although is still recognizable.

Although there are some regional variances, a typical traditional breakfast in Japan consists of a bowl of rice that serves as the staple of the meal. Usually, the rice is accompanied by a protein, such as fish. Added to these two dishes are pickled vegetables, nori seaweed, and miso soup.

Breakfast in Japan is referred to as either choushoku or asa gohan. The only difference is that choushoku is used more formally. In this article, we will discuss more of the typical Japanese breakfast and the pressures placed upon it by a changing Japanese culture.

What is the Breakdown of The Typical Japanese Breakfast?

The typical Japanese breakfast takes time to prepare. Let’s go through each step and familiarize ourselves with the Japanese breakfast.

  • A base of rice: Cooking rice each morning for breakfast may sound a bit intimidating in Western culture, but in Japan, most homes use rice makers as frequently as other citizens of the world use microwaves. This is because rice is not only a staple for a Japanese breakfast but all meals.
  • Grilled fish: Two favorite fish, the Japanese love for breakfast, are salmon and mackerel. These fish are usually salted and then pan-grilled. Although other proteins can be used for breakfast, such as pork, fish dominate across the country as the chosen protein source.
  • Japanese pickles or pickled vegetables: These pickled items are almost already prepared and eaten during more meals than breakfast.
  • Miso soup: is a preparation of soybeans that have been fermented, with sea salt and rice that is first made into a paste. The paste is added to a soup to make the Miso flavor.  Other items, such as vegetables and even tofu, can be added. Miso soup also acts as the meal’s drink instead of coffee or orange juice as in the West.

Changing Cultures

As with all cultures around the world, the Japanese have not been immune to outside influence. The typical Japanese breakfast is much like a standard American breakfast, as it can take time to prepare. The typical U.S. breakfast is rarely found in homes anymore, due to the fast-paced environment that has emerged as employees work long hours and dedicate themselves to careers.

Over the last few decades, Japanese culture has shifted into a faster-paced society just like the U.S. More instant, and on-the-go foods have become popular in Japan as the work-life balance has changed over the years. The typical breakfast is sometimes exchanged for a deli breakfast snack while boarding a train to commute to work. When time allows, the traditional and typical breakfast is still the choice of many, but the reality is grabbing a rice cake and eating as you walk may be the only time available for breakfast.

Is a Typical Japanese Breakfast Healthy?

The health benefits of the overall Japanese diet have been proven over time. Below is an example comparing the health of the Japanese to people of the U.S. from the World Health Organization. 

Japanese Life
Expectancy at Birth
81 Years Old/Men
87 Years Old/Women
The U.S. Life Expectancy at Birth76 Years Old/Men
81 Years Old Women

As you can see, the average life expectancy of a person living in Japan is substantially higher than that of the U.S. Although other attributes affect life expectancy, the belief is that food plays a large role. Six or seven years may not seem a lot, but remember these are averages. Some Japanese have been known to live well past one hundred years old.

Another consideration is the quality of life one leads at an older age. While medicine can keep older citizens alive in the U.S., older persons in Japan live a more mobile and vigorous life.

The Health Benefits a Japanese Breakfast

  1. The protein provided by the salmon, mackerel, and other fatty fish is known to contain high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy oils have been shown to promote good heart health. In comparison, the saturated fats produced in the U.S. breakfast protein have been declared harmful to heart health. Another benefit of the types of fish used in the Japanese breakfast is a low content of mercury present in them.
  1. The rice served in the Japanese breakfast is considered healthy with its high protein levels and is a good energy source from its carbohydrates.
  1. The fermentation of pickled foods provides a source of probiotics that aid in digestion. Most Western diets would never think to have pickled products for breakfast. It is not a bad idea, though, as eating foods that help with digestion early in the day has overall health benefits. Give them a try; you may even appreciate the taste early in the morning.
  1. The miso soup that is common in the Japanese breakfast is not only flavorful but provides health benefits. One is that the liquid in the soup helps hydrate the body after being starved during the night. It also impacts gut health like the pickled products mentioned, due to the fermentation of the soybeans. With the addition of tofu and vegetables, several other vitamins and minerals will be provided in the soup to promote overall health.

Consequently, the typical Japanese breakfast is a powerhouse of nutrients and goodness not found in most Western diets. The balance of each dish for breakfast appears to serve its own purpose on the health of its consumers.

Maybe the best thing about the typical Japanese breakfast compared to the Western diet is its lack of sugar content. Although rice is high in carbs, they are more complex than sugar carbohydrates. The Western diet, filled with sugary cereals and donuts, is a leading cause of diabetes, as the U.S. leads the world in the disease.

How Can Someone in the West, Share in the Benefits of the Typical Japanese Breakfast?

Now that we have covered the typical Japanese breakfast for its wonderful flavor and health benefits, you must want to know how you can share the experience. The best way is to fly to Japan and try it yourself, but most people don’t have the funds or opportunity for a breakfast trip in the East. Let’s have a go at different ways to enjoy this great breakfast.

  • A quick search online will provide dozens of different recipes for the typical Japanese breakfast. You should have no issue finding the various ingredients in stores.
  • It may be challenging to find a Japanese restaurant that serves breakfast in the U.S., but the next time you are in a restaurant, you will find most of the dishes on a menu, lunch, and dinner time.
  •  If you do not have the time to make your Japanese breakfast at home from scratch, most grocery stores in the U.S. have an international food area where you can purchase these dishes already prepared. The quality of these foods can be quite good and saves you time in the end.
  • One must-have if you are going to switch to a Japanese breakfast is to purchase a rice cooker. The amount of rice you will be making every day to meet this diet can be astounding. Rice cookers are not only fast but make the perfect texture every time.

As we have seen, the typical Japanese breakfast is very different from breakfast in Western culture. The health benefits of this Japanese meal has helped extend life expectancy in Japan. With simple ingredients making up this tasty breakfast, others around the world can easily enjoy its benefits.

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