No.1 for 17 consecutive years…! The longest-lived village in Japan: “Beer in the open air after work” – The secret of longevity is the “Yuimaru” spirit. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

No.1 for 17 consecutive years…! The longest-lived village in Japan: “Beer in the open air after work” – The secret of longevity is the “Yuimaru” spirit.

Nonfiction writer Kota Ishii approaches the reality of a "society of the elderly who are not related to the elderly.

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Kitanakagusuku Village, Japan’s Longest-Living Village

Japan is known as the country with the world’s longest life expectancy.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the average life expectancy in Japan is 84.3 years, the highest in the world. By gender, men live 81.5 years (2nd in the world) and women 86.9 years (1st in the world).

In Japan, there is a village famous for its longevity. It is Kitanakagusuku Village in Okinawa Prefecture.

The average life expectancy of women in the village is 89 years. The average life expectancy by municipality has been reported every five years since 2000, and Kitanakagusuku Village has held the No. 1 position for 17 years since 2005, except for the first year when it was ranked No. 2.

Why has Kitanakagusuku Village become the village with the longest life expectancy? I would like to explore the secret by quoting from the reportage “Mukonenrei senronen” (The Elderly without a Relative) (Kota Ishii, Ushio Publishing Co., Ltd.), which describes the problem of the isolation of the elderly.

Kitanakagusuku Village is about the size of Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward. The population is 17,888. Surrounded by the sea and hills, it is a village where warm sea breezes blow. Recently, more and more people from the mainland are moving to the village.

The village mayor, Takanori Higa, says, “I have had many scholars and doctors come here.

Various scholars and doctors have investigated the secret of the village’s longevity. The general consensus is that longevity is achieved by a combination of several factors in the village. I would like to mention the spiritual element that supports this: the “Yuimaru spirit” among the villagers. This is a term used to describe the mutual support and solidarity of the villagers.

In the old days, there were many farmers growing sugarcane in the village. Sugarcane is harvested four times a year, and one family alone could not do it. So during harvest time, it was customary for neighbors to join forces and harvest each other’s fields. Because of this, there is a strong bond between the residents, and the idea of helping each other is deeply rooted.

What I felt while actually touring the village was the good relationship among the residents. In the village, there is a kind of public well called a “kha (well spring),” which is equipped with benches and a small park. Villagers gather at such places in the morning and engage in small talk.

Penniless and rebuilding their lives due to the war

Incidentally, the flower beds in public spaces like Kha are maintained by a local volunteer group, the Hanasakai. The mostly elderly men get together twice a month to plant flowers in parks and vacant lots. The members enjoy drinking beer outdoors after the work is done.

Higa says, “When it comes to women’s longevity, it’s not just about the longevity of women.

When it comes to women’s longevity, the women’s association has always been very active in the village. When the Pacific War ended, many women lost their husbands and homes and had to rebuild their lives with nothing. Women who had married from other villages must have been especially worried because they had few relatives and friends.

This led to a growing momentum among the women to unite and do their best, and various activities centering on the Women’s Association became more active. Many salons were established, and they are still in existence today.

In fact, the happiness rate in Kitanakagusuku Village is 52.8%. Compared to the national average of 44.63%, this is quite high.

How are the villagers connected? To find out, we visited “Salon Tominaga,” one of the many salons in the village.

In Kitanakagusuku Village, a salon is a community for the elderly held in their homes. The village encourages residents to set up their own salons, where they are encouraged to perform “square step” exercises to prevent the need for nursing care. The idea is for the elderly to get together, look after each other, and maintain their health through exercises.

Salon Tominaga is organized by Misako Tominaga, 78. She holds the salon in her home, and nine elderly people in their 80s and 90s who live nearby participate voluntarily. The following events take place at the salon.

The elderly gather at Tominaga’s home after 9:00 a.m.

Singing the village song

Radio calisthenics

Mouth exercises

Tea break

Square step exercises

Chatting and laughing until 11:00 p.m. and then dismissal.

When Mr. Tominaga was working as a welfare commissioner after retiring from the village office, he noticed that there was a lack of places for the elderly to stay. So she decided to open her home and hold a salon.

She says, “Everyone seemed to be having a good time.

Everyone seems to be there because it looks like a fun gathering. I think the main purpose is to meet and talk with people rather than to do exercises. That’s why we value our tea time. Everyone needs to have regular face-to-face time to chat and smile,” he says.

For example, one of the participants is a man with a limp. He walks from his home for dozens of minutes with a cane to come to every meeting. However, he is not a big fan of exercises, so he joins only for the chatting time, enjoys a cup of hot coffee and a good chat, and then goes home satisfied with his visit.

Mr. Tominaga actively engages with these residents even on days other than salon days. For those who live in two-family houses and have difficulties with their children, she invites them to spend time with her even on Saturdays and Sundays when the salon is not open, and for those who are living in poverty, she delivers newspapers that she has finished reading.

She says, “I support my clients and their families.

I don’t feel that I am supporting or helping them at all. Rather, I am supported and learn a lot from the people I connect with. For me, there is an aspect where I am doing this for myself rather than for others. I think that is why I am able to continue.

Tominaga’s children are now independent and her husband has passed away, so she lives alone in a house. At times, she may feel lonely. It is at times like this that the relationships that have developed at the salon come into play.

So, what are the thoughts of the long-lived people living in the village? Part 2: “Traveling Abroad and Playing the Guitar” in Japan’s Longest-Lived Village, will introduce the surprising hobbies of the elderly in more detail.

Part 2: Traveling Abroad and Playing the Gu itar, Surprising Hobbies of the Elderly in Japan’s Longest-Lived Village

  • 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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