Fat Fines: Japan’s New Law

July 8, 2008 / Culture, Opinion / 24 Comments

Japan has recently instituted a new law that fines employers that hire ‘obese’ employees or employees with ‘obese’ relatives. Men are required to have waistlines slimmer than 33.5 inches and women 35.4 inches.

As I read that from the newspaper headlines last month, my first reaction was stunned silence.

What happens to those who are tall? One of my best friends, who is Japanese, is a little more than 6’3″ (193cm) tall. There’s no way his waist would be much smaller than 33 inches. If it is, he would be one seriously underweight, undernourished six-footer. Evidently, this measure has not taken into account of height difference.

What happens to discrimination? Being fat in Asia is already a social stigma. Teens and kids get bullied in school for being fat – many driven to the the point of suicide. Case in point: obese people walking around the streets are usually given the eye of judgment. Will enacting such a law only further aggravate such social stigma? Will enacting such a law only serve to justify bullying and discrimination of the overweight?

Japanese Man Waist Checkup
Japanese Man at a Waistline Checkup
Photo from the New York Times

What happens to employment equality? By imposing fines on employers, and not the individual man, will employers now seek out slimmer employees, so they can avoid paying any fines? Will employers now require a full-body pictures of the applicants and their families, before considering them for interviews? This brings discrimination to a whole new level. This law is practically forcing fat people out of society; it’s saying that if you’re fat, you’re not allowed to have a job and they will treat you like a fat piece of unemployed, useless meatball, until you decide to slim down.

Yet not everybody is fat by choice. No, I’m not talking about those who eat french fries everyday, and don’t understand the meaning of portions. There are those who truly are big boned. There are also those who suffer from low metabolic rates, as a result of certain medical conditions. These people will have a very hard time losing weight. And even if they manage to shed some pounds, their weight loss will be virtually impossible to sustain because of their condition. I don’t think it is fair for these people and their employers to be penalized for what they have no control over.

Despite all my protests, I’ve learned something new about Japan today: I now finally understand why the Japanese Parliament is called the Diet.

Just kidding. XD

What do you think of Japan’s new law? Would you like to see it implemented in your country?

  • Having grown up in Korea with Korean relatives . . . it’s hard being overweight. I can definitely fathom to that. I think that’s one reason why I don’t want to work for the Korean economy because I know I will be discriminated against for being fat. X_X;;

    To see Japan do that though . . . X________X;; It kind of sucks. And your “Diet” comment was funny!

  • I think everything you said is quite right. I don’t how they came up with such a ridiculuous law but it’s pretty stupid. It’s encouraging discrimination against people who are fat, or even those slighlty overweight or with bigger bones. I don’t see how there can be an optimum weight for people, or waistline size in this case. I really hope they realise how stupid it is! (though this law reminds me of the new anime chocolate underground, where the goverment has banned chocolate to make people healtheir. Seems stupid things like that are possible! πŸ˜› )

  • Id

    35.4 inches for women? They couldn’t round it up to the nearest .5?!

  • oh my goodness…in France this type of laws will never pass…ehehehe anyways most japanese are thin as far as im concern ..so i guess they dont have anything to worry about anyways LOL

  • Ivy! Where have you been?!

    Wow, That’s crazy. No! I would definitely not want it to be implemented here. I think it’s ridiculous. What if someone wants to be chubby? As long as they can get the job done well, they should be hired at no extra charge to employers

  • That’s plain ignorant. What about foreigners? And as you said, it’s not a choice to some; it’s in the gene. This will further reduce their population in my opinion.

  • I think that’s quite absurd. I never heard of this law but I was shocked after reading your blog. Some people are naturally big boned and have no control over their body size or weight. It’s in their genes. I think everyone is entitled to be the way they would like to be, rather than being controlled by some stupid law.

  • It’s absurd that Japan, being such a tolerant society, cannot accept people who are overweight. Discriminating against potential employees that are overweight, based on waistline, is completely baseless. A huge waistline doesn’t mean being fat – what about those having thyroid disorders. And there are people who are genetically predisposed to be obese – so the government is blaming them for having a bad hand at genetic lottery?

    By fining employers that are employing fat people, the government is simply discouraging employment of fatter people – and the cascading effect will trickle down into schools and institutions, into families where the fatter kids will be forced to lose weight, by hook or by crook. Fitness does not correlate to obesity – someone horribly thin can be so unfit that they couldn’t even outrun someone obese.

  • Wow. If it’s something crazy, it must be Japanese. πŸ˜›

  • Woah. I’ve never heard of this until I read it here… I wouldn’t want this to be in the US! Even though I’m actually underweight for my height, it’s still discriminating! I’m sure that they won’t be able to pass any laws like this here in the U.S.

  • At first, I thought “This has to be bullcrap.” Like the time my Dad heard on the radio that a number of predominantly Muslim countries were trying to make being Christian illegal, but then I asked him what radio station it was and it was the extreme Christian fundamentalist station.

    But, I googled it. And it’s true! However, it seems to be a little more specific, as far as I can tell from this. It seems to be geared toward 40-75 year olds (4th paragraph down).

    I’m just kind of in shock. Japan is already a very thin nation, but it makes sense in the context of helping older people stay thinner so they don’t get diabetes.

  • Japan must also look into the influx of fast foods chains in the market. THe gaming industry is also seeing a great bite with this issue. Take for example the famous Wii gadgets.

    Great post by the way. Good day!

  • mosquito ringtone

    I think japan did some intelligent thing here . People have become plan lazy . It will save japan’s billion’s of dollars in health related programs.


  • Great post.

    I think it`s pretty absurd to pass a law like this and expect it to be successful.

    Japan is no where near the tolerant society that people are led to believe in the west and this is a pretty good example of just how intolerant it can be.

    Judging or penalising an individual on their waist size, particularly in the work place, opens up a pandoras box of problems which would probably be best left unopened.

    If the Japanese governemnt really wanted to take issue with employee health and well being, they`d be much better off targeting the bordeline alcoholics and chain smokers which seem to prevail in may of the offices I`ve worked in over the years.

    And what`s the deal with fat relations?!?!!?

    How does that have any bearing on how an individual can function in the work place?

    Perhaps I`m using the word `individual` too much. That would probably have quite a few Japanese civli servants lost on reading that alone.

    Great blog!

  • Bensbury

    If Japanese being fat is purely the result of their genetics and cannot be helped, then why is there a global increase in obesity.
    Are we suggesting that human’s genetic structure has been altered so they have become fatter?

    Japanese are culturally and genetically slimmer by Western standards.
    It’s extremely noticeable in Japan how much bigger Japanese are getting.

    There are many forms of social descrimination.
    Some people are genetically pre-disposed to being more stupid than other people and they are victimised by society by being refused jobs and further levels of education.
    Some people are genetically pre-disposed to being psychopathic and that would be a good reason not to employ them and I doubt there would be any argument there.

    However in the majority, people’s weight is nothing to do with genetics but their lifestyle and eating habits.
    People just don’t like to take responsibility for their own reality and prefer to blame someone else for oppressing them.

    Many societies tax people for the damage they do to their bodies’ through alcohol and tabacco.
    This is a similar effort.

    People like to say: If I want to do x, y, z then I can. I should have the right to.

    Japanese society and hopefully people in their own societies like to recognise that they co-exist with the other members of that society too.

    So yes you do have the right to do x, y,z just as if I want to I should be allowed to urinate in the street, smell like ass, shout at the top of my voice all day and run about naked.

    However doing so would probably annoy a heck of a lot of people and so being socially aware I’d refrain.
    Doing so would probably not make me a lot of friends who I have to co-exist with.

    You could turn up for a job with a company wearing a ripped t-shirt, a purple mohawk, a pair or beach shorts and refuse to speak in English and only speak French (the company is Enlish speaking).

    Understandably you won’t get a job.
    The company has their right to not employ you and it isn’t surprising.

    Is this fair? Well not by the argument of I should be able to do what the hell I want.
    But socially yes.

    I have to wear a suit to work, be well-kempt, I have to be clean shaven.

    That’s beard discrimination, and fashion discrimination.
    Also you need a university degree for my job so there is also educational discrimination.
    If I want to work in my job and in this society I have to accept these discriminations or alternatively I can go against it but not complain about the social consequences.

    People who are obese are considered to put a strain on the health resources of a society.
    Therefore it is a social responsibilty to be in a condition to reduce this strain.

    Just as it is a social responsibility not to destroy property or park your car in the middle of a road.

    ……..In Japan when people get drunk they don’t get violent.
    Maybe due to less testostorone (or social education) they are genetically pre-dispose to being less aggressive.

    However Northern European and Africans are supposed to naturally have more testostorone making them more aggressive.

    So should people in society have a responsibility to be non-violent?
    Certain groups and individuals will be genetically disadvantaged due to high levels of testostorone.

    These high levels could be really useful in another society where defeating dangerous opponents by force is necessary.
    Although in modern society the repression of this aggression gets them into trouble.

    Being violent is against the law!

    Some people are naturally violent.
    A government initiative to help these people become less violent would be encouraged.
    Very few people would say it was discrimatory and unfair. (maybe the violent people would)

    So the genetic argument isn’t relevent.
    And people in a predominantly fat society will view it as unfair.

    Just as if the Violence law came into effect in a War-like society it would be seen as crazy.

    The law is a result of being part of a society with it’s own cultural values.

  • McKenzie

    Thank you for posting this!! We are having a class discussion about this tomorrow and this is the only website I could find on the subject. l totally agree with your point of view. l’m for equality for everyone, regardless of weight, color, religion, or beliefs.

  • Ivy

    @McKenzie: No problem. But from an academic perspective, it’s always better to get your sources from news than blogs. I hope you found the link to the NY Times article. πŸ™‚

  • @Michael: Well they have enough people for such a small teritory so it wouldn’t be in their loss

  • Tony Vector

    When I first heard this, I thought the Japanese were being pushovers because they wouldn’t fight against this bullshit law. Some of them seem to be, considering what I read. I’ll say this, however, the ones that can’t get hired just because they’re fat or have fat relations should, and maybe do, have protest rallies and other ways to fight such ridiculous discrimination. Governments are meant to make rules not trouble, yet they seem to cause more trouble than good lately.

    Racism is already an irritating issue; we don’t need fat discrimination!

  • Tony Vector

    By the way, I don’t think something like this would EVER work in America. There’s enough chaos here as it is. The last thing we need is a civil war.

  • UniSCORN

    I think it’s fine.
    If the chubbier people are unhappy because they can’t get jobs they are more motivated to lose the weight, which will benefit them in the end.

    Staying under 35 inches really shouldn’t be too hard, even for us foreigners, if you think it is you need to take a good hard look at your life.

    We’re forgetting how much/little food we need for how much we do/don’t do on a daily basis.
    We’re forgetting what is good and what is bad for us (I honestly saw someone from the US post a “low carb” recipe on my Facebook feed today that consisted of chicken breasts wrapped in bacon and cream cheese, not to mention the “diet” foods they post they’re eating..their salads are a 4 person meal).

    We as a species need harsh things like this to keep us in check.
    Obesity is a disease, but you can’t give up and be all like “I guess I don have a choice”, yes you do and it is up to YOU to do something about it (with help of course).

    • UniSCORN

      * don’t