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Japan’s Centenarians

Japan’s Centenarians
Human beings are living longer than ever before, and the Japanese are enjoying the longest life spans of all. Currently, the average life expectancy for Japanese women is 85.81 years, and the average life expectancy for Japanese men is 79 years.
But more and more Japanese citizens are reaching – and surpassing – their 100th year. Japan's centenarian population has quadrupled in the last decade. The Japanese Health Ministry and the United Nations predict over 30,000 centenarians by October of 2007, and one million by the year 2050! Tokyo has the largest number of centenarian citizens, but the densest concentration is found in Okinawa, where 54 of every 100,000 citizens are 100 years old or older.
How do the Japanese live so long? According to the elders themselves, lifestyle and attitude are the keys to a long life. Tomoji Tanabe, Japan's oldest living man at age 112, insists that his longevity comes from a complete abstinence from alcohol. (Milk is his preferred libation; he drinks it every day.) To the contrary, Kamato Hongo - who lived to be 116 and who was once the world's oldest person - enjoyed drinking rice wine. She believed that refraining from worry was the recipe for a long life.
More so than the elders' drinking habits, their diet is thought to play a large role in their increased longevity. The typical Japanese diet consists of healthy fare such as rice, vegetables, and fish. These foods are thought to reduce the incidence of diseases that plague the industrialized nations of the West, such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Eating style is also significant; studies suggest that Japanese centenarians are more likely to eat at a leisurely pace and consume their food in moderation.
Activity might be the best life-preserver of all. Experts have found that Japanese centenarians are more likely to remain autonomous if they engage in regular physical and mental exercise. Pursuits like reading, painting, and writing help keep their minds nimble.
Religious faith and family commitments also help to sustain the centenarians' sense of purpose. Many of the elders have outlived their own children, but feel a sense of duty and love toward their surviving grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
These elders are no strangers to hard work, and they recommend it to others who wish to live long lives. Statistically, over 42% of the centenarians had worked as farmers or foresters during their lifetimes, even though agricultural jobs are held by only 6% of the general workforce in Japan.
The Japanese centenarians overwhelmingly subscribe to a carefree attitude. They take life as it comes, and advise others to do the same. This philosophy might get put to the test, and soon; the exploding elderly population is expected to put an enormous strain on Japan's public pension system. Elder care is also a concern. As the fastest-growing segment of the Japanese population, many centenarians have limited care options. Those who can care for themselves do. Others turn to family; it’s traditional for the eldest child to live with and care for their aging parents, though this tradition has diminished in recent years.
The Japanese government encourages in-home nursing and co-habitation for elders who need constant care, and autonomy for those who can manage it. Privatization of elder care is another option for easing Japan’s financial burden. Daycare centers and facilities for short-term stays are increasing in number, and more health care workers are being recruited in order to meet the needs of the aging population.
How do the centenarians feel about their country’s problematic future? True to form, they’re not too worried. As Tomoji Tanabe said on his 112th birthday, “I want to live forever.”
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