My feet are dangling above an outdoor kiddie pool/koi pond hybrid. Hundreds of tiny, black eellike "doctor fish" are swarming below, waiting for me to dip my toes in so they can suck away my dry skin with their toothless jaws. When I volunteered to test-drive Tokyo's fabled beauty treatments, I imagined authentic shiatsu massage with a Zen garden view, not guppies-gone-wild pedicures. But here I am at Oedo-Onsen Monogatari, a spa-themed amusement park next to Tokyo Disneyland that doubles as a date destination (it's open all night). My desire? A complete Japanese beauty overhaul.
Walking around Tokyo, I'm struck with sudden urges to crash-diet. Petite waifs are the dominant body type, and because I'm 5'9" and weigh over 100 pounds, I feel supersize. So far, my Japanese-only diet is making me bloated. Perhaps tempura and beer weren't the best choice after a 14-hour flight?
"The average Japanese person eats roughly 2700 calories per day, versus 3700 for an American," estimates Naomi Moriyama (no relation to Naho), author of Japanese Women Don't Get Old and Fat. Portion size is much smaller here, but everything is placed on miniature plates for the illusion of abundance. And despite the lure of Big Macs, most young Japanese women still eat a traditional diet with one star ingredient: dashi.
A stock made from boiled kombu kelp or dried fish, dashi is the backbone of many dishes, from soups to simmered vegetables. Full of umami, a savory flavor usually associated with meat or fat, dashi gives foods richness without the calories. MC's Moriyama informs me that every meal, even breakfast is fortified with dashi-based miso soup. And after downing bowls of this wonder broth, I see why. Made from fermented soybeans and packed with probiotics, miso naturally helps with digestion.