15 September 2009

The Japanese older generation: living with spirit

Mark Twain, a famous American writer, once said "Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.” This argument never appealed me until last spring when I attended a musical performance by a group of elderly Japanese women in the city of Iwakuni. The group had more than 50 members, all in the age range between 60-90 years. And most of them were in their 80's! The perfect dance steps, folk music and the old dancing queens - watching them performing so well was a treat to the eyes and soul.

Japan is considered as one of the healthiest societies on the planet. Japanese people, particularly women, have the longest life expectancy of any culture. It's been said that Japanese people are far less likely to spend their final years of life in a nursing home. Normally, they don't get fat and are indeed very active even in their old ages. And, as a matter of fact, Japan's population growth rate is negative and population's graying is accelerating. Almost one fourth of the Japanese population is 65 or older.

Nation's daily, The Japan Times reported that the number of centenarians in Japan is expected to reach 40,399, later this month breaking the 40,000 threshold for the first time. The annual survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare ahead of the Respect-for-the-Aged Day on September 21, showed that the numbers of both male and female centenarians are increasing to record highs. Interestingly, women constitute 86.5 percent of the total centenarians.

There are rising concerns regarding the challenges posed by the aging population in Japan. However, what impresses me immensely is the fact that how this population is living its life. Japan's the official retirement age remains 60, however, many elderly Japanese feel that they are still healthy enough to keep working and they enjoy their jobs. They are so healthy and enthusiastic. As a fact, about 70% of men and 40% of women keep working beyond the retirement age. So what's the secret behind this longevity?

The most important ingredients for longer contemporary life spans are diet (balanced nutrition) and an optimistic outlook on life. The elderly Japanese remain independent (and many live alone or only with their spouse) but they keep themselves socially active. Dr. Hinohara Shigeaki, a graduate from the Medical School of Kyoto Imperial University in 1937, advises, "The human body contains about 36,000 different genes, and there are many genes people do not take advantage of. We can use the potential of some of those genes to do things we have never tried before—music, painting, sports, whatever. It does not matter if there is no financial reward. Enjoying new experiences and staying active in body and mind keeps elderly people healthy and happy".

The most important thing I have observed about Japanese older generation is that they wish to work in harmony with the younger generations. Despite that they belong to different generations, they still get on very well as friends. Last year, I had an opportunity to attend a concert by the elderly people where their grandchildren were invited to join and to enjoy the music. In a country where the younger generation is becoming so impatient and pessimistic about life as they don't hesitate even to commit suicide, the life-style of the older generation appears truly inspirational. I admire their unconquerable spirit and positive approach towards life. Let me conclude this post with the quote from Groucho Marx which reads, "Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough".

*Photos courtesy: Niraj Prakash Joshi, Hiroshima University.

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Shirish on September 15, 2009 at 11:39 PM said...

Another inspirational one! Japanese youths who tend to commit suicide should learn from their senior citizens how to live life meaningfully. Very good article Deependra Jee. Bravo!!

Prajwol on September 15, 2009 at 11:48 PM said...

"Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.” Well, once the body stops responding to one's will, then there will be no doubt left about the age :D

Prajwol on September 15, 2009 at 11:49 PM said...

BTW, your blog looks even more professional now. Good job :)

Anonymous said...

a nice post. we can learn many thing form this good behavior.

Anonymous said...

There is little doubt over the fact that Japan's elderly are young both at heart and physically. There is a growing feeling among the older generation that they can no longer depend on their children. so they prefer to spend their hard-earned money on having a good time or saving for a rainy day.

surely, Japan's young generation can learn a lesson or two from their grand parents.

Dilip Acharya on September 17, 2009 at 8:11 AM said...

I found this post informative and interesting too. Like Sirish Ji, I too felt that Japanese youths should learn from their senior citizens.

Basanta on September 17, 2009 at 9:37 AM said...

Very interesting and informative post! I too admire the optimistic approach towards life and anything that elder people in Japan have.

Sujan Sharma on September 17, 2009 at 4:25 PM said...

Thanks for sharing such a nice informative & interesting post.

badri on September 18, 2009 at 12:46 PM said...

Thank you for sharing very intresting and informative post

Alok said...

Thanks for an inspiring article. we do need to learn many things from the Japanese older generation. by the way, over forty thousands people having crossed 100 years of age? wonderful... wonder what do they eat?

also congrats for becoming a dot com blogger :-) looks more professional.

Anonymous said...

Shirish ji, Thanks for your comment and welcome to this blog! I agree with you that the Japanese youth should learn from their senior citizens how to live life meaningfully. In fact, we all have something to learn from the Japanese older generation regarding the art of living.

Prajwol ji, I value your opinion. After all, it's all about having different perspectives on life. In a way, what you said is correct but, my point was just to emphasize on developing an optimistic approach towards life. However, we know that many things in life are beyond our control. By the way, thanks for your compliment about the blog.

Finally, I am thankful to everyone for reading the post and leaving your comments. I am happy that most of you liked it. btw, thank you Alok for the compliment :-)

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