Is aging something to fear?
Aging isn't easy. But the Japanese have figured out how to beat the odds on the process. According to the World Health Organization's World health statistics 2011, Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world. Japanese men have an average life span of 80 years and women 86 years. So, what's their secret to a long life? I've met a few who shared their techniques.
Tsuneko Sasamoto, Japan's first woman photojournalist, could pass for a sprightly septuagenarian. She is still taking photos, holding exhibitions and traveling the world for assignments and speaking engagements. When I met her last year I was shocked to hear her say, "Well, actually, I'm 96." "A nonagenarian? No way," I thought as I stared at her energetic figure and dazzling smile. Her recent book, "Girl with a Curious Spirit -- Now 97," offers clues to her long life. Among them: "A glass of red wine every day."
I met 94-year-old Shuntaroin Hida mid-November. He is a physician, Hiroshima A-bomb survivor (hibakusha) and former director of the Hibakusha Counseling Center.
Since narrowly missing the bomb's direct hit on Aug. 6, 1945, he has treated thousands of victims, with both physical and emotional wounds. In the process, he has become a powerful voice in the antinuclear weapons movement. In his memoir, "Under the Mushroom-Shaped Cloud in Hiroshima," Dr. Hida reveals his dedication to humankind, and life.
Famed film director Kaneto Shindo, 98, has also promoted an anti-war message among his 49 films. I met him in April at a press conference where he spoke about his latest and "last" film, "Postcard." The film is based on his own experience as a soldier in World War II. "In a company of 100, I am one of the six survivors with no apparent reason, and it still haunts me," he says. "War is hell." Shindo's powerful and moving films reflect his enduring quest for life's answers.
Creativity has been the driving force behind Toko Shinoda, 98, one of Japan's celebrated sumi (ink) painters. Her abstract works have graced the walls of museums worldwide. Born in Manchuria and raised in Japan, she was inspired by her father's love of calligraphy and Chinese poetry. Staunchly independent, she has never married, has no pupils and never joined any calligraphy group or societies. During our meeting (when she was only 92) she explained, "Every morning I walk up and down the stairs in my atelier. If you lose your legs, that's it." On aging, the elegant and resilient Shinoda says, "Age is only a number." (By Lucy Birmingham)
Profile: Lucy Birmingham is a writer and photographer based in Tokyo for over 20 years. With a specialty in the arts and culture of Japan, her articles have appeared in Architectural Digest, Bloomberg News, The Boston Globe, Newsweek, Wall Street Journal Asia, Artinfo.com, Artforum.com, ARTnews, among many other Japanese and international publications.
(Mainichi Japan) January 17, 2012