Japan’s centurion on how to live a good, long life

One of the world’s longest-serving doctors has died at the age of 105.

Shigeaki Hinohara helped revolutionise medicine in Japan and continued to treat patients almost up until his death. His obituaries, including this excellent piece on the BBC, tell the story of his remarkable life.

When he was 95 years old, I met Dr Hinohara at St Luke’s hospital where he worked. I asked him why he established an organisation aimed at bringing a good quality of life to elder people.

You can hear a recording of the interview in English here

Here’s the transcript of our conversation:

The reason why I made the social group for New Elderly Citizens over the age of 75 is because quite a number of these people have good energy and power to keep working. So I wanted to help these people keep on working, even if they have some physical problems.

How old is an “old person” in Japanese society now?

Among the young generation, say kids under ten, they have the view that anyone over the age of 50 is old! But generally speaking, 60 is borderline and in many civilised countries, old age is seen as over 65. In Japan, most of the working people start to retire at 55 or 60. But the government is eager to raise the level to 65 as most government employees retire at 60. Generally speaking though, people over the age of 65 want to keep working.

And can they still contribute to the economy?

Yes, not with occupations with a salary but as volunteers. Only the farmers keep on working because the young people don’t stay in the country.

Well, I have been to the Japanese countryside and I have seen people working to the age of 70, or even 75 even. Why does that happen?

The young people leave the farm and want to go to the capital city for more jobs and more income.

So, if you look at Japan’s society as a whole, will there still be a big economic contribution from those rural communities, where people are generally getting very old?

Yes, but the number of the farmers is decreasing because the income from their harvests are so low. They often take other jobs and only go out into the fields on Saturday and Sunday. That’s not productive.

You said you are encouraging people over 75 to work. What do you mean by that?

I don’t mean work for themselves – I’m talking about contributing to society. If they have the talent for teaching mathematics or science, why not educate the kids? But they think only of themselves or their families and they forget to look out for others.

But even in the worst situation during the War, we helped each other. Kids and adults these days think too much about themselves or their home or their company.

We should be telling the stories of the real Japanese culture. I think we have a good culture and this should be known by the new generation. If we have a good culture, we can export to that to other countries, too.

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