Second “Youth” from Age 95: “No Time to Spare in Life” Says Busy Japanese Centenarian of International Fame
My past two articles here have both unwittingly been about gratitude toward good friends who have passed on – an inevitability that we human beings, especially those of us in the senior age bracket, have to accept philosophically; not that it’s easy. But there has also got to be a flipside to that…something that could re-kindle that energy and will in us that we can, after all these years, still do “whatever we want” if we set our mind to it.
This was running through my head as I looked for a topic for this article. Then I found it – a man who, after losing his wife and three children, at age 95 decided to live his “second youth.” Since then, Saburo Shochi, among other things, has been around the world seven times giving lectures on health and longevity in many countries. He walks ramrod straight and entertains overseas audiences with a Japanese dance (“Kurodabushi”) performance complete with costume. When he was climbing the Great Wall of China at age 100, an accompanying photographer asked him “Would you please slow down?” Quite a guy. He is in the Guinness Book of World Records as “the oldest person to go around the world using public transport.” Allow me to wait until the end of this article to reveal his present age.
Mr Shochi recently discussed some of his tips for good health and long life in a magazine interview (Sh?kan Bunshun, 28/3/2013). Of course we find such “tips” everywhere we look what with the medical industry, food industry and the publishing industry, among others, doing their level best to market their goods and services.?But methods for staying healthy and active literally demonstrated by a man who has lived to be over 100 must surely be worth taking note of.
Born in 1906, Mr Shochi has had a very full life. A quick check shows that as a specialist in education and psychology he taught as professor at Fukuoka University, Kyushu U. and Hiroshima U. Among other things, he is also well-known as the founder of Shiinomi Gakuen, a school for mentally-handicapped children, which he set up in 1954 because no such care institution existed at the time for one of his children who was handicapped. He is still principal there today.
What I find remarkable is that while his home is in Japan, he’s one of those borderless people engaged in activities targeting the whole world. Since 2003, he has been on lecture and cultural exchange tours that have taken him to universities and international organizations in the US, the UK, Germany, France, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Canada, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Brazil, Turkey, Senegal and elsewhere. He has studied language for practical purposes, and can handle at various levels English, German, Russian, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese and French. For example, he started learning Mandarin at age 95, as his book about his school was being published in Mandarin. He can now give speeches in that language.
“Studying languages is a great way to stay healthy,” says Mr Shochi in the interview, adding: “Learning a second language is good way to activate your brain.” I have indeed read somewhere that “activating your brain” is really the re-generation of more cells in a certain region of the brain through its active use.
Another one of his tips is to keep smiling. “When you keep a smile on your face, something nice is bound to happen, Frowning is no good,” he says. Another tip is obviously regular physical exercise. In his case, it is daily calisthenics consisting of kendo (traditional swordsmanship)-inspired moves using a stick. It can be tai chi, golf swings, walking the dog, or anything else, whatever works for you as long as it’s regular.
With regard to eating, Mr Shochi follows a balanced diet. He believes in eating a little bit of everything, including meat. Just as important, he says, is chewing your food thoroughly. Since his childhood, he has made it a practice to chew every mouthful 30 times. Chewing action produces saliva which helps his ingestion. When he used to live in a dormitory at a teacher’s college, “four of us would eat at one table, but while everyone else ate six bowls of rice I could only manage three.”
He also makes it a habit to sleep on a hard mattress. When he goes overseas, he cannot take his mattress with him, so he gets a veneer board to put on his hotel bed to sleep on. “That way you can stay at a hotel for a month and not worry about your back getting bent. If you sleep supine with your back straight, you wake up refreshed in the morning,” says the man whose posture is remarkably good.
The motto Mr Shochi lives by is: “Seniors should practice the 24 cho,” alluding to the Japanese expression “kuchi haccho (8 cho ),” or “talking a mile a minute.”
“Talking is exercising your mouth. Don’t sit there clammed up like it’s a wake or something,” he advises. Add to that “te haccho,” or using your hands a lot and “ashi haccho,” or using your feet a lot, and you get 24 cho altogether. “I always use a pen to answer letters…and since walking becomes more important as I get older, I make it a point to walk around every day.”
There is nothing really extraordinary in these tips except that they come from a “superman” as it were. Now aged 106, he quips: “My youth began at age 95. From there to age 99 was a run-up to the real performance that began at age 100.” I don’t know if I can follow all of his tips, but even as one “still wet behind the ears” approaching 70, I can vouch for some of them at least.