Japan: Thoughts on Longevity

As the most rapidly ageing country in the world in addition to having the highest life expectancy, Japan has a lot to think about concerning quality of life and a sustainable society. However, it's rare that one contemplates about it on a personal level. In Long Life is a Risk (長生きはリスクである), blogger Satonao shares his unique perspective that perhaps longevity itself is not to be celebrated.

Note: The post was translated in its entirety with permission from the blogger. All links were added by Tomomi Sasaki for reference.

Lately, I keep getting into conversations with various people about how “long life is a risk”.

This is probably because my closest friends are entering their forties and fifties and I regularly hear stories that hit close to home: she's had a breakdown from having to take care of her parents, his father is always in different hospitals for cancer, or her mother has dementia and requires full time care. On top of that, our salaries aren't getting any higher and money is tight. Everyone has their worries and troubles. Many people who go through a lot eventually conclude that “a long life doesn't necessarily equal happiness”. The preposition that long life leads to happiness is one that has long been passed on among the Japanese people. It seems inevitable that at some point this idea, which has been stuck in our heads since the Showa period, will have to change.

An acquaintance in their 70's has started a “slow suicide”.

In other words this person, who has so far lived a healthy abstinent life, has started doing whatever they want, including things that they stopped doing precisely because they are considered “bad for you”. Living a long life is a risk. The line of reasoning goes: rather than live a longer life, do what you want without regard to the fact that you might die sooner.

I've been so busy this month that I've neglected to take care of my body.

Even if one lives a long life by tracking health related stats and diligently ‘saving’ oneself from overdoing it, one may still suffer from dementia, become bedridden or wracked with illness at the end. Any of these are painful and may be a strain on the children. There is a need to think more seriously about how to balance moderation and excess because illness is not to be treated lightly. For now, however, I'd like to break free from the idea that “long life equals happiness”. Long life doesn't necessarily mean happiness. Live life one day at a time and when the time comes, die with a quiet dignity. This is how I'd like to go. My affairs are in order and I do mental exercises that today may be the last, but what remains to be seen is how to die. Obviously, this is a very complex matter.

Please note that I'm not making light of having been born or of life itself. I'm not writing about suicide, either. I'm writing about how to greet the end of life. Thinking about how one will die is thinking about how one will live. I simply want to think a little bit more strictly and specifically about appreciating the miracle of life while being able to welcome the death that we will each inevitably experience.

Remember, it's live long and prosper.

Related reading: Japan: Momus, on This Ageing Country

Thanks to Ziggy Okugawa for helping with the translation.


  • Narayama-bushi kô or soylent green?

  • Marta Inglés Figueroa

    Dear Tomomi san,

    His article I found particularly interesting for both professional and personal reasons. In 2003 I lived in Yokohama in Japan and my stay was extended for 1 year and a half. During that time I watched with great interest the treatment generally given to the elderly in their country.
    I worked as a teacher of Spanish for foreigners in two public universities in the country: in one, exclusively for women, had two older students attending classes with a good disposition and in another, the average age of my Japanese colleagues was over 50 years. In addition, one member of the Japanese family with whom I lived was a lovely old lady with that, unexpectedly, I experienced few problems due to ease of Comuniación be understood beyond language and cultural impediments.
    Daily life in the huge Japanese cities seems extremely hard for seniors: long distances, complex transportation networks, technology everywhere … but, nevertheless, the curiosity to keep intact the Japanese seem to seniors allows them, I think, generally enjoy a good quality of life.

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