Shitsui Hakoishi is a 104-year-old woman who carried the Olympic torch on March 28 for 200 meters in Japan, in the pouring rain. Her son and nephew, a septuagenarian and an octogenarian, accompanied her. And her nephew caught a chill in the rain and died soon afterwards. There were rumors that she died too due to exhaustion, but that’s not true. The feisty centenarian continues, living alone, walking half an hour every morning, and even lifting a little bit of weights daily.
She’s not the oldest. The oldest is Kagawa, the 109-year-old woman who carried the torch for a while on April 12. Right now, there are 80,000 centenarians living in Japan and in the next five to ten years, it is estimated that there will be an additional 40,000 people over 100 who’s going to live in Japan–and many of them live alone. I was astonished just to hear the number and this piece of news. Then the camera switched to the daily life of these adorable elderly people with an upbeat narrative, saying that they continue to work to make sticky rice cakes–obviously their retirement money is not enough. Many had to work to supplement their income.
Last year, when the pandemic first started, I thought a lot about illness, aging, and death. One just couldn’t help it. One documentary I watched tells a story of retirees in Japan, who would deliberately break the law and commit minor crimes so that they could be sent to minimum security prison. There they can live for free, socialize with others, and save their retirement money for the future. Since they are anticipating a very long retirement life, saving money becomes very important. And no matter how much one saves for retirement, it just never feels enough. That’s true, isn’t it? If one lives up to 110-year-old, that’s 40 years of retirement even if one retires at 70. Who can save money for 40 years of living? With the inflation, which is surely to come after the pandemic, the money saved before is going to be shrunk and devalued. Is longevity a blessing or a curse?
I have this tendency to indulge in gloomy thoughts. And life is not so dark and dispirited overall. Just look at Shitsui Hakoishi. When the journalist gave her the microphone to ask her to make a statement, I thought she’s going to advocate for old people’s rights, to denounce the discrimination of elderly, or to say something for women (90% of centenarians are women). But she did none of that. Instead she said she wanted to go back to her hair salon, which she had kept shut for three days just so that she had some time and energy to prepare for the Olympic torch and the TV appearance. She’s a hairdresser and at 104 she’s still cutting hair. Wow. That’s the spirit.