Miss contest” in which women over 80 years old participate… “Traveling abroad and playing the guitar” are surprising hobbies of the elderly in Japan’s longest-lived village. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Miss contest” in which women over 80 years old participate… “Traveling abroad and playing the guitar” are surprising hobbies of the elderly in Japan’s longest-lived village.

Nonfiction writer Kota Ishii approaches the reality of a "society of the elderly without connections.

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Elderly Community in Kitanakagusuku Village

Japan is a country with the longest average life expectancy in the world. Kitanakagusuku Village in Okinawa Prefecture is known as the village with the longest life expectancy in the world.

Following on from Part 1: “The Secret of Longevity is the ‘Yuimaru’ Spirit,” the village with the longest life expectancy in Japan, we will now take a closer look at the secret of longevity, citing the report “Mukonenronen” (The Elderly Person’s Aloneness) that describes the loneliness of the elderly.

In Kitanakagusuku Village, an event called “Miss Kitanakagusuku” is held every year. In other words, it is a “Miss Contest” for the elderly.

At this event, three women over the age of 80 are selected each year to serve as PR ambassadors for the village. The selected women participate in the village’s events and official functions that year to promote the village as a place of longevity.

The elderly in the village have a high participation rate in these events, as many of them are held in the village. The village’s Federation of Senior Citizens’ Clubs is the driving force behind these events. It is the central organization of the senior citizens’ associations in each district.

The total number of members in the federation is over 1,000. The association holds a wide variety of events, including athletic competitions such as gateball and grand golf, exhibitions of crafts and paintings, performing arts contests where songs and dances are performed, and volunteer activities such as cleaning up the village.

Senior Citizens Association and Children’s Association Together

The chairman, Yukio Asato (81), says, “The senior citizens’ association focuses on intergenerational exchanges.

The senior citizens’ association puts a lot of effort into intergenerational exchange, which I think is a good stimulus for the elderly. In the village, various events are held, such as rice cake pounding, Christmas parties, folk song concerts, and cooking classes. The senior citizens’ association does not hold these events by itself, but it works together with the children’s association, the youth association, the women’s association, and so on. This gives us a lot of stimulation and helps us to get to know each other better in private.

In fact, the event will be more active if various generations are involved than if only the elderly take part in it. The knowledge of the elderly may be useful in unexpected ways and increase their self-esteem, while the new values possessed by the young may stimulate them to start something from scratch. All of these things are useful in preventing aging.

Mr. Asato continues, “In addition to the activities of the senior citizens’ association, I have been involved in a number of activities.

Apart from the activities of the senior citizens’ association, the secret of longevity, in my opinion, lies in the village culture of taking it easy and not working hard. There is an atmosphere in which people value being able to enjoy their hobbies and cherish their relationships with their families more than working hard to earn money. I think these things lead to less stress and families supporting each other.”

The elderly in the village often spend time with their children and grandchildren. The village is less than an hour’s drive from Naha City and Okinawa City, making it a bedroom community. Therefore, many of the children remain in the village after they come of age, or live within easy reach.

Mr. Asato, by the way, is one of those who cherishes his hobbies and family time. After retiring from the company, he began learning to play the sanshin, a traditional Okinawan instrument, and has since immersed himself in hobbies such as shigin (recitation of a Japanese poem), pottery, foreign art, and making ocarinas. He says he enjoyed expanding his personal relationships with each new thing he started.

His children, who are now independent, live within driving distance, and they gather at his parents’ house every month for birthday parties, Obon and New Year’s celebrations, and other annual events.

Says Mr. Asato.

In this village, it is normal for families to be close. My children often have barbecues with their siblings, and I sometimes take my grandchildren to senior citizens’ association events.

As far as I know, I have never heard from other elderly people that they are estranged from their children or that they do not know how to relate to their grandchildren. Many of the elderly people in the village have worked on U.S. military bases for decades, so some are fluent in English, enjoy traveling abroad, or like to barbecue and play the guitar. Maybe that’s part of what keeps them young.

It would be significant for grandparents and grandchildren to have something in common. If grandparents only eat pickles, grandchildren may not be interested in eating at the family home, but if barbecues and guitar playing are their hobbies, they may be happy to join in. Such relationships are naturally nurtured in the village culture.

Maintaining good health is essential for the elderly to achieve longevity. Whether it is the activities of a senior citizens’ association or the salons we saw in Part 1, unless the elderly are willing to maintain their own health, they are unlikely to participate in such activities.

I visited Shiosai, a day service center for the elderly operated by the CSW. I wanted to learn how the elderly maintain their awareness of health through the elderly who gather at the welfare center.

Shiosai is located on the second floor of a building facing the sea, with a daily capacity of 20 users. Transportation is provided at 9:00 a.m., followed by massage and rehabilitation in the morning, followed by lunch and a nap, then exercises and games from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. The fee is 700 yen a day, including meals.

It’s like coming to a playground.

Ryota Tanahara, an employee at Shiosai, says, “Our facility is characterized by the fact that we are not certified to provide nursing care.

One of the features of our facility is that elderly people who have not been certified for nursing care are using it. They don’t come here reluctantly after their health has deteriorated, but rather to maintain their health before that happens. That’s why they are so positive, and it’s as if they come here for fun.

The way the patients dressed was a testament to this. The women are all beautifully dressed and made up. The men also had their hair set with hair styling products and were wearing freshly ironed clothes. The elderly people go to the day service as if they were going to a shopping center to hang out with friends, rather than going to a day service. Because of this, the elderly seem to be enjoying themselves from start to finish.

Mr. Tanahara continues.

For the users, this is a community where they can gather with their friends. So when they become too weak to use our facility due to nursing care certification, they feel as if they are the only one who has dropped out of the community. Even if they fall and break a bone, they will try their best to come back after rehabilitation. Even if they fall and break a bone, they will try their best to come back after rehabilitation.

The number of weekly patients reaches 100, and most of them come of their own volition, not on the recommendation of their family members.

Tanahara is also curious about the secret to their longevity, and has asked some of the elderly why they are able to live so positively. He tells us.

The users tell me it’s because they eat delicious food,” he says. Everyone is a gourmet, and even though they are over 80 years old, they are still eating their favorite foods with full bellies. He also says, ‘You have to laugh and enjoy yourself. He also says, “You have to laugh and enjoy yourself,” and that it is important to have an attitude of laughing and enjoying whatever you do, rather than dwelling on the bad things forever. In fact, that seems to be how everyone is living their lives.

What this reminds me of is that eating delicious food and laughing and enjoying yourself are only possible when you have someone by your side.

For the details of the secret of their longevity, please read “Mukonenrei Ninen” (The Unrelated Senior Citizen), but there are many cultures and systems in the village that allow people to connect with others in a friendly manner, including those mentioned in “Part I”. By making good use of them, they must have a positive attitude toward life. This may be what makes the “Village of Longevity” possible.

  • Interview, text, and photos Kota Ishii

    Born in Tokyo in 1977. Nonfiction writer. He has reported and written about culture, history, and medicine in Japan and abroad. His books include "Absolute Poverty," "The Body," "The House of 'Demons'," "43 Killing Intent," "Let's Talk about Real Poverty," "Social Map of Disparity and Division," and "Reporto: Who Kills Japanese Language Ability?

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