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Saturday, Nov. 1, 2008

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The secret of living to 200


It takes a special kind of person to live on a small island of 688 people — a crazy person. And it takes a special island to put up with 688 crazy people.

If I were living in the city, I'd probably be hanging out with university intellectuals. But the island is a place where at any one time I can be with one intellectual, one fisherman, one factory worker, and a Buddhist priest — all drinking on the tatami mat floor of my house and engaging in a conversation familiar to everyone present. In addition, these people can vary greatly in age, from 25 years old to 81.

If you are impressed with how long people live in Japan, you ought to come to this island. I swear there are some people still here from the Heian Period. And they continue to get along just fine on their own. Which makes you wonder: How do they do it?!

My guess is that it has something to do with living on this island. While you'd think any island would do, apparently this is not so. Of the total of five islands in the Kasaoka Island chain, all the islands have lost half their populations in the past 10 years, except for our island. Shiraishi Island has lost only 23 percent. Perhaps we're just better at finding the people who get lost.

But I believe that this higher-than- average island population is proof that people here just don't die! And not only that, while there are over 200 people over the age of 67, they are all able to get around fine and take care of themselves. In effect, this makes us a fountain of youth!

I've made certain observations about these people, and have come up with some theories on longevity. Here is how you too can live to be 200 or older. • Bending over: Bending over must have something to do with longevity. These old men and women who work outside in their vegetable gardens all day long, are bent over most of the day as they plant, weed and harvest. Think about it. If you bend over all day, that means you also have the ability to bend over and touch your toes. If you can do this, you can still put on your socks and shoes every day. • Deep knee bends: Deep knee bends must be another longevity secret as the elderly can squat endlessly in the fields while doing their work, while talking on the corner, or while having a drink or snack. If you can squat, you have the muscles to get up after sitting on the tatami mat floor, to get up from the futon and to use a Japanese-style toilet on your own. • Pushing vegetable carts: Pushing vegetable carts is perhaps a key to longevity. When I see old ladies pushing their vegetable carts home from their gardens, they move so slowly you would think it must take hours to get home. And it probably does. But they still do it. No sitting at home and watching TV for these ladies! They didn't have it in the Heian Period and they're not going to have it now. • Illegal street crossing: This is not exactly jay walking, only because it has nothing to do with walking. But the old people on this island have invented their own kind of exercise that happens to also be very illegal.

If you take the ferry to the mainland, in order to get to the city you have to cross a busy street where big heavy trucks rumble past. While the young people walk the 50 meters up to the traffic light and wait for the walk signal, the older people stand at the road in a line and as soon as there is a break in the traffic, they run for their lives across the road. And when you think about it, why not? It's the perfect exercise for old people: It's a short distance, requires a burst of energy, and has the certain possibility of getting run over by a cement truck.

While other people around the world are running 42 km marathons along the sides of roads, our old people are doing 10-meter sprints across the road. I could swear that several times I've seen a few of them pass a baton. Perhaps they are going to make this an event in the next island sports festival: road sprinting.

In another 10 years, I fully expect this to be a wheel-chair event. And by then, they'll have incorporated wheelies into their routine After all, you don't think these 80-year-olds are going anywhere between now and the year 2019, do you? Because on our island, old people don't die; They just become "wheelier."

So there you have it, the secrets to longevity. Oh, and one more thing. Being a tad crazy doesn't hurt either.



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