The idea of ‘indulgent food’ in Japan is different from what you might expect in the US. It helped me finally become healthy.

The idea of ‘indulgent food’ in Japan is different from what you might expect in the US. It helped me finally become healthy.

  • Kaki Okumura is a Japanese wellness writer who grew up in the US and Japan.
  • In the US, she associated indulgent food with things like chocolate cake and juicy burgers.
  • Living in Japan, she learned that indulgent food doesn’t always need to be associated with unhealthy food.



These days, I write and educate on Japanese health practices, but growing up in the US, I struggled with my weight. I think a big part of what contributed to my complicated relationship with food was how I understood indulgent food. I never even questioned it, believing that indulgence was viewed similarly worldwide — that is, until I moved to Japan.

What do you imagine when you think of indulgent food? For many people, we imagine thick slices of chocolate cake, juicy burgers, big sizzling steaks, or piles of fries. Ads for fast-food chains or ice cream brands often describe their products as indulgent, and a quick Google search for indulgent food will also confirm that indulgence is often measured in terms of calories and size.

But this began to change for me one day when my Japanese grandmother came home, excitedly telling my siblings and me that she had brought back something so delicious and that we were in for a treat. She didn’t let us see it until after dinner. In my anticipation, I let myself imagine a strawberry shortcake, cream puffs, or perhaps it would be a box of luxury chocolates.

Only once she opened the fridge and brought it out did I realize what she brought home was a melon. One fresh melon.



My disappointment didn’t last long, however, as my grandmother sliced open the fruit, and I caught a whiff of the melon’s sweet, almost perfumy smell. I watched in amazement as she handed us each a perfectly juicy and ripe piece. It melted in my mouth as soon as I took a bite.

In Japan, fresh produce is often seen as an indulgence

Artisanally-grown grapes from Japan in hand

Artisanally-grown grapes from Japan.
Kaki Okumura

Living in Japan, I soon realized that indulgence was not simply viewed through calories or how “unhealthy” something might be for us. Instead, indulgence is often viewed through seasonality, freshness, locality, or even the technique to how it was grown or produced. It was common to receive boxes of fruit, vegetables, and seafood as luxury food gifts. We would also celebrate holidays with a special cut of fresh sashimi from the market, or a particularly sweet variety of artisanally-grown grapes for dessert.

This difference in indulgence helped me embody an important understanding of what it means to eat well. While there is nothing inherently wrong about enjoying cakes, burgers, and fries, there seems to be a narrative in the US, and maybe other Western countries, that indulgent food is not just tasty food, but it’s often food we view as unhealthy.

When large amounts of calorie-dense foods become our idea of “treating ourselves,” we see anything else as an act of deprivation. To eat fruit rather than cake, or to enjoy steamed fish rather than a steak, is restricting ourselves. I’ve found that depriving ourselves is not just unsustainable, but it can lead to stress and shame, making us believe that we did something wrong when we enjoy something else.



This doesn’t mean sugary or calorie-dense foods can’t be a part of our healthy lifestyle, but when we can view indulgence through the lens of quality and taste, it expands our view of what eating well means — indulgent food and healthy food aren’t mutually exclusive, and treating ourselves doesn’t need to be an act of shame.

It’s how we can go from feeling like we’re always on a diet, to just healthy living.

Kaki Okumura is the author of “Wa – The Art of Balance: Live Healthier, Happier and Longer the Japanese Way.” To sign up for her weekly newsletter Kakikata, go to:


Kerri Waldron

My name is Kerri Waldron and I am an avid healthy lifestyle participant who lives by proper nutrition and keeping active. One of the things I love best is to get to where I am going by walking every chance I get. If you want to feel great with renewed energy, you have to practice good nutrition and stay active.

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