Japan from the inside out

But then, I regress

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, September 15, 2010

IN 2001, brothers Bradley and D. Craig Willcox teamed with Makoto Suzuki to publish The Okinawa Program, a plan for life extension based on the results of a 25-year study into Okinawan longevity. Here’s an excerpt from their first chapter:

Okinawa is the home of the longest-lived people in the world. People there seem to have beaten the aging process and the debilitating diseases that accompany the “Golden Years” in the West. Heart disease is minimal, breast cancer so rare that screening mammography is not needed, and most aging men have never heard of prostate cancer. In fact, as a group, the three leading killers in the West—coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancer—occur in Okinawa in with the lowest frequency in the world (1996 WHO study).

To understand the magnitude of this health phenomenon, imagine a typical town of 100,000 inhabitants. If the town were located in Okinawa, only 18 people would die from coronary disease in a typical year. If the town were in the United States, 100 people would die. Simply put, if Americans lived more like Okinawans, we would have to close down 80% of the coronary care units and one-third of the cancer wards in the United States, and a lot of nursing homes would also be out of business.

The Okinawan secret to longevity and the program they recommended is no mystery to people already interested in healthful living. From the Foreword:

The general principles of living the Okinawa way are not foreign. Indeed, they are highly accessible to everyone and quite consistent with the latest medical research on healthy lifestyles and healthy aging. They include getting lifelong, regular physical activity, eating a mostly plant-based diet that includes fish and soy foods with a great variety of vegetables and moderate amounts of the right kinds of fat, and enjoying strong social and community support as well as a sense of independence and self-responsibility for health.

While the authors noted that the Okinawans had pushed back the limits of population life expectancy, they also realized then that the pace of gains was slowing, and suggested: “What may potentially end this meteoric rise is not a biological barrier but the tragic loss of old ways.” In other words, younger Okinawans were increasingly adopting unhealthful lifestyle habits.

The day the authors dreaded may have arrived. The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare yesterday released the results of their latest study on longevity showing that Okinawans no longer have the highest number of centenarians per 100,000 people in Japan. The national leader in that category is now Shimane, with 74.37. Okinawa—which had been the leader for 37 consecutive years—slipped to second place with 66.71.

The ministry thinks this might be due to the declining population of Shimane and the rising population of Okinawa. They have a point. Shimane has the highest percentage of population aged 65 or older in the country at 29%, though that has been the case for the past 35 years. Meanwhile, Okinawa has the highest birthrate in the country. (There has also been a slight trend for people from the rest of the Japan to move there in the same way Americans have moved from the Snow Belt to Florida, California, and Arizona over the years.)

Nevertheless, the results came as a jolt to the Okinawans. Said a prefectural official: “The impact (of the study) is overwhelming. We will immediately analyze the factors.”

They should already have an idea where to start. Here’s a blog post that quotes extensively from a Bloomberg article from three years ago that’s no longer on line. The headline of the article reads:

“Fries, GIs, Beef Bring Diabetes to Japan’s Isle of Centenarians”

And a quote:

The island that once boasted more centenarians than anywhere else in the world now has the highest prevalence of obesity in Japan, and life expectancy is falling rapidly. The government is concerned the deteriorating health of Okinawans may be a prelude to a nationwide crisis.

Don’t think that Bloomberg article is an exercise in American-bashing, either. If anything, the Americans are getting worse. Try this brief article with a clip from ABC news in which they interview a man who says that America is living in “The Periclean Age of Bacon”. He also says that for him, bacon fat is the meat and the bacon meat is the vegetables.

As if on cue, Lady Gaga (or her publicity machine) weaves all the strands together by crossing the Pacific to wear a raw meat bikini for the cover of Vogue Japan. Is that not a classic example of the primary motivation for all youthful rebellion—flouting contemporary social convention by shocking the easily shocked and living dangerously?

Now’s the time to trot out an old Chinese saying:

Everyone likes life, but few like the path of long life. Everyone dislikes death, but many like the things conducive to death.

Bon appétit!

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8 Responses to “But then, I regress”

  1. Paul said

    Of course the Japanese government is going to use this as an excuse to run people’s lives for them. Why live to be a hundred if you’re going to be frail and hideous? Besides, if everything you do is for the purpose of trying to stay alive as long as possible, your life is going to be very boring and depressing.

    Also, I read somewhere (can’t remember where, and can’t be bothered to look it up) that each hour of exercise only adds an hour to life expectancy. So unless you actually like exercising, there’s really no point.

  2. Roual Deetlefs said


    There is also a relationship between chlorinated water and heart disease …

    Dr. Joseph Price wrote a highly controversial book in the late sixties titled Coronaries/ Cholesterol/ Chlorine and concluded, “ Nothing can negate the incontrovertible fact, the basic cause of atherosclerosis and resulting entities such as heart attacks and stroke, is chlorine.” Dr. Price later headed up a study using chickens as test subjects, in which two groups of several hundred birds were observed throughout their span to maturity. One group was given water with chlorine and the other water without chlorine. The group raised with chlorine, when autopsied, showed some level of heart or circulatory disease in every specimen; the group without had no incidence of disease.

    So how does Japan purify its water ?
    I don’t know, but I did find this.

    Water purity where I live has a bad reputation among the locals. We have a filter in a separate spigot in the kitchen sink for the water for drinking and cooking.

    – A.

  3. Roual Deetlefs said


    I know that France is quite big on purifying their water with Ozone. Because of that, the incidence of cancer in France is quite low. I couldn’t get good articles on this, but I did find this :

    When we took potential confounders and exposure to chlorination byproducts into account, the risk of bladder cancer decreased as duration of exposure to ozonated water increased (OR = 0.60 [95% CI = 0.3-1.3] for 1-9 years; OR = 0.31 [0.1-0.7] for 10 years or more). Simultaneously, the risk of bladder cancer increased with duration of exposure to chlorinated surface water and with the estimated trihalomethane content of the water. Our data suggest that ozonation reduces the risk associated with the chlorination of surface water and that ozonation alone could have an independent beneficial effect on bladder cancer risk.

    Conclusions: Our results are consistent with experimental evidence that ozonation in combination with chlorination decreases the concentration of trihalomethane in treated water and eliminates some of the mutagenicity of raw water.

    Then there is this from some conspiracy-theorist-cum-healthnut site :

    I have shown you that ozone floods the body with oxygen, but why is that important in treating cancer? As I once said in a Canadian lecture: Doctor Otto Warburg is a two-time Nobel prize winner, in 1931 and 1944 (Hitler kept him from accepting). He got the Nobel Prize for discovering that the cause of cancer is no longer a mystery to us. We now know what the cause of cancer is. They were so astounded that he figured this out they awarded him the Nobel Prize for discovering these facts. Remember, because you do not have enough oxygen, your cells are constantly filling up with toxicity, in some people quicker than in others. The little cell gets covered with garbage, and washed in toxic fluids constantly because it’s surrounded by dirty fluids.

    The garbage piles up until it denies the cell 60 percent or more of its oxygen requirements. This is the root cause of cancer. Picture pouring black paint on an orange. This cell needs oxygen. Hold your breath, and when you feel short on oxygen, breathe. All your cells need oxygen, that bad, all the time. If you cover up the cell with garbage, you block the oxygen from getting into the cell. If you cover it with enough toxicity, so much that 60 percent of the oxygen it needs constantly is not there, then that cell will be so short of breath its respiratory mechanism will be damaged.

    In other words, if the oxygen’s not there and the cell is trying to breathe, it will become so damaged that it can’t breathe anymore. And when the cell can’t breath because of the damaged respiratory mechanism, it mutates to survive. The poor cell drops 31 steps, down to the level of a green plant-type cell that just grows and grows. The cell has lost all its higher functions: it no longer heals or regulates things, it no longer makes hormones, it no longer digests your food. Whatever part of the body this mutating cell is in, it’s dropped down to the level of a plant-type cell that just grows and grows and grows. Cancer.

    I must apologize for these comments that went on a (not quite related) tangent. But then to paraphrase Bill Clinton’s campaign slogan : It’s the water stupid. But yes, I do believe healthy living will have an effect of life expectancy. I once read that life expectancy of Americans during the 18’th & 19’th centuries were higher than it is today. And I think diet and activity must have been a prime reason for this.

    As for myself I can’t quite understand this skepticism with red meat. During the raid on Gallipoli in WWI, it was quite easy to distinguish between British and Australian troops. The Australians were generally bigger than the Brits, and it was assumed to be due to their red meat diets.

    This from the first paragraph at this site :

    The standard issue bayonet for the Lee-Enfield rifle was about half a metre long (blade was 43cms, handle extra) and when on the end of a rifle held by a cranky ANZAC was a fearsome weapon. ANZAC’s were on average taller, heavier built and stronger than Europeans and the idea of an Australian bayonet charge became a thing of fear amongst German troops.

    I’m sorry I digressed a bit too much here …
    In re: Red meat

    About 10 or so years ago, I was sitting in a hospital waiting to get a test done for something minor and saw a graph chart on the wall with two curves.

    One curve was for the per capita consumption of beef in Japan from the end of the war to the (then) present. The line kept rising sharply with the passage of time.

    The second curve was for the incidence of colon cancer in Japan covering the same time period.

    The lines were nearly identical.

    I was talking to another doctor in Japan a few years ago. He said, “Do you want to live a long time? Japanese women who came to adulthood in the 1960s have the world’s longest lifespans. They ate mostly fish, rice, and tofu (soy).”

    – A.

  4. Roual Deetlefs said


    Point taken.

  5. bender said

    Don’t confuse Ozone with O2. Maybe you can test by breathing tons of both to see what happenz. Oh, don’t breathe Ozone first, ’cause you’ll forfeit the chance to breath Ozone, and you won’t want to miss out on dat!

  6. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    I have this belief that man should have vast variety of foods to take to balance nutrition…… centered around fish, soy-beans, rice and vegetables (including varied mushrooms, eggplants, green peppers, bamboo shoots, sea weeds). I do eat red meat and chickens though, but not that frequent – fish vs meat ratio is about 3:1). We avoid pickles (except for slightly salted cucumber) and other overtly salty things. But all these, not with consciousness for long life expectancy. We do not like limited menus…. We eat out often to save my wife a bit of time and labor in the night…..Our current fav restaurants are 1) Korean barbecue run by real Korean people (supply of red meats for us), 2) Chinese one nearby run by real Chinese people (reasonable price and variety of menus) and 3) Yakitori/Kamameshi resaurant (broiled chicken/pottery boiled rice with variety of ingredients).

    About Okinawan foods, my wife loves bitter melon, I do not like it so much (cause it is really bitter), but when it is there I simply have it. Seems do some good for health. I have never been to Okinawa and it is a shame. My wife did at least two times and she loved it.

    Ampontan, do you avoid red meats completely?
    Not completely, but mostly. My wife’s father made nori, and originally was a fisherman family. They lived next to the Chikugo River. (One side of the river embankment is in their back yard.) Fish on the table three meals a day. She dislikes beef and pork. She made it every once in a while right after we got married, but she finds the smell unpleasant, and she also doesn’t really know how to buy the meat or cook the meat. At the same time, I was getting health-conscious anyway (genmai instead of hakumai, for example). So I told her she didn’t have to make it any more. About half our dinners are all vegetables, the other half have fish or chicken. If we go out and have something like ramen, she gives me the meat. If I go out by myself for a social function, I eat beef and pork if it’s served without any problem. I like yakitori a lot and eat the beef and pork, but I don’t go all that often. My wife and I went last month with a married couple she knows.

    In fact, I met her because she was working in a yakitori that specialized in karubi. (It’s really very good.) She wanted to buy an expensive TV and so took a temporary job in one that her friend operated with her husband. (Took the place of someone who got sick.) The smell of the beef made her feel bad, but she put up with it. That sort of determination was one of the reasons I got interested in marrying her.

    My general principle is that the important thing is not what you do every once in a while, it’s what you usually do every day.

    Japanese people often ask me what my favorite Japanese food is. None of them expect me to say gameni! Also, the beverage I ususally drink is green tea.

    – A.

  7. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    Ampontan: Thanks for giving me a good account. I know some Yakitori place offer good broiled beef as well. I agree that what we do every day is important. I love genmai, and the only reason I do not have it everyday is my wife says it is an extra effort to have continous supply of genmai. The beverage I usually drink is Mugicha (Straw Tea). I love dense green tea and black tea as well. Keemung, would be best among black tea but it is hard to find and/or expensive.
    I knew a younger woman who mixed brown and white rice, but I don’t know how she cooked it. My wife got some black rice and mixed in a little last winter, but she hasn’t done it lately. Once I tried making black rice only, but that was a mistake. Very sticky in the rice cooker!

    – A.

  8. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    Right, amount of water and cooking time relevant to different rice seems making it difficult – you have to be much more precise, perhaps. white rice is easy and more tolerable for +/- of water, i guess….. For me, when I am alone at home spending one full day or a half day at weekend (typically when my wife and my kid are out to some friend’s place to play around), a bowl of white rice and a plate of just tofu (Hiyayakko) with soy sauce or soba dipping sauce (slightly milder and sweeter than normal soy sauce) would make one complete meal – and it is super delicious – I can stay with this simple menu for one full day or two, probably.

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