COVER STORY:Life Innovation
Caption: Mayako Muroi still practices piano for eight hours a day, in the morning, evening and later at night.
Credit: TETSUO SAKUMA
Japan’s Lively Seniors
Many Japanese people continue to lead active, productive lives well into their twilight years.
Keys to a Healthy Long Life
At eighty-nine years of age, Mayako Muroi is Japan’s oldest working pianist. She started playing the piano at the age of six, and in 1941 graduated top of her class from the Tokyo School of Music (now the Tokyo University of the Arts). In 1956 she was dispatched to Vienna as a representative of Japan on the 200th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, and then went to Berlin to study. She made her debut in Europe in 1960, and has continued to perform ever since, both in Japan and overseas. This year she is scheduled to perform in a total of six concerts.
“The secret to my health? I don’t really do anything special,” Muroi laughs. “I eat whatever I want whenever I want, and I especially like fillet steak tartare.” Muroi lives by herself in Tokyo. She eats three meals a day, each of which she cooks herself.
At the age of eighty-five, Muroi started using a computer to play games and make business cards and New Year’s greeting cards. She has started a blog, which she updates almost every month, occasionally uploading photos that she has taken of flowers and other subjects.
“I’m simply happy to hear that my performances have the power to uplift listeners,” says Muroi of her work.
Happily Ever After
Umeto Yamashiro entertains visitors to Ryukyu-mura with her famous bottle-balancing trick.
Credit: YOHEI OSHIRO
For many years, Okinawa—or the Ryukyu islands—has been associated with longevity. The impressive life spans of the people of Okinawa is often attributed to the year-round mild climate, abundant nature, and a diet that relies heavily on pork, green and yellow vegetables, and seaweed, but not much salt. Another factor is likely to be the local lifestyle, with people working and participating in regional community activities even when they are elderly.
At Ryukyu-mura (Ryukyu Village) in Onna-son village, a theme park where visitors can experience the traditional culture of Okinawa, some women over eighty years of age work cheerfully and in good health.
One of them is the famous grandmother Umeto Yamashiro, aged ninety. She works at Ryukyu-mura every other day and entertains tourists with a performance in which she dances with an awamori
liquor bottle on her head. Many people come to Ryukyumura just to see her.
“It is fun to meet many people at Ryukyu-mura,” says Yamashiro. “The secret of staying healthy is to live happily without getting angry.”