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Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009
Maybe it's time for some age-old wisdom
By AMY CHAVEZ
The cover of a Japanese magazine recently showed a photo of Shiraishi Island along with a title that urged people to come and relax in shima no jikan (island time). This, of course, is the image outsiders have of our island.
They come here and see the elderly people ambling along the road, the old wooden fishing boats languishing in their berths, piles of decomposing fishing nets and mountains of rusting anchors. I suppose it's only natural to think that these things are indicative of a similar anchored lifestyle among the people. And yes, 60 percent of the island's population is over 60 years old.
Despite all of Japan being in the same time zone, our island definitely does have its own time.
For example, today was a clean-up-the-pilgrimage-route day. Next Saturday is clean-the-temple-grounds day, and the Saturday after that is clean-the-neighborhood day.
All these events officially start at 7 a.m. Except that once converted into "island time," 7 a.m. is actually 6:30 a.m. This is because the older people get, the earlier everything starts.
And I suspect that this grace period of 30 minutes is getting longer all the time. A few years ago, people would arrive 15 minutes before the scheduled meeting time. Then it slowly crept to 30 minutes. But today, when I had finally caught up with the group that was cleaning, they had nearly finished the two-hour job. They must have arrived at least an hour early!
I can't keep up with these old people. They do absolutely everything at rapid speed. Perhaps they realize they don't have that much longer to live and as a result are trying to fit in everything they possibly can.
When I joined the group, a 79-year-old fisherman was taking up the rear wielding a motorized weed cutter while 80-year-old Rikimatsu-san was perched on a very steep slope raking leaves to one side. And all the rest of the group moved like squirrels as they hopped from place to place cleaning and putting the pilgrimage path in order. Seeing I wasn't needed there, I ran ahead to help the others. But when I got there, someone had just declared the job finished.
Think about it: If all three events this month start one hour early, that means we'll have gained three hours by the end of the month. And if this keeps up over the years, it won't be long until we have a 26-hour day! And those extra two hours will surely be added to the morning so rather than waking up to the 6 o'clock chimes, we'll wake up to 4 o'clock chimes.
Living among people with overactive thyroids, I'm careful not to suggest certain hobbies such as, for example, car racing. Can you imagine the drag races around the island at 4 a.m.?
Or how about speed reading? The old people would soon figure out that by speed reading, they could save money because they'd only have to buy one copy of the newspaper for the entire island. Everyone would get two minutes and ten seconds to read the paper. Heck, after some practice, they'd surely be able to read the newspaper before it was even printed. In this way, if they worked hard enough, they could probably even reverse time. Such is the power of old people.
But seriously, even if speed reading were a success, the old people would then want to learn speed cleaning and speed laundering.
I'm kind of enjoying taking my time getting through life's daily activities. But, I'm a little concerned about the old people. If they continue at this rapid pace like a watch that runs too fast, people are going to actually die sooner because they will have reached the end of their life ten years sooner than they were supposed to.
On the other hand, perhaps we should be utilizing the power of old people. We could put their skills to work where they would make the biggest difference: in Japan's Diet. They'd be rapid decision-makers who would work tirelessly, from 4 a.m. every morning, for change.
They'd find people jobs at an astounding pace and they'd teach debt ridden people money-saving techniques such as speed reading. They'd bring in their rakes and motorized weed cutters and clean up corruption before breakfast. They'd reclaim the Russian-held islands by lunch and they'd meet targeted carbon dioxide emissions by dinner.
Then they'd solve the pension fiasco before retiring for the day. Two hours early.