I was 23 and couldn’t stop thinking about ageing— until the Japanese senior citizens saved me.
It was embarrassing even admitting that. But trust me, there was a time in my life when I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about it.
It’s not just the ageing I was scared of.
Everything else that came along with it, too, haunted me — the loss of physical agility and strength, the loss of memory, the chronic diseases that would overpower my body, and the possibility of bank accounts drying.
That’s not it. I was the most scared of the possibility of slow and painful death. The questions and fears were limitless.
What if I die a lonely death?
What if there is nobody to take care of me?
How would it feel having the loose and wrinkly skin hanging from my bones?
What if I grow old alone?
How pathetic would it be not to be able to take care of me?
Will I have accomplished my goals by then?
I would be anything but graceful. How would it feel?
I was so scared of the possibilities that I stopped living and enjoying the present. The fear was so horrorsome and crippling that I couldn’t meet my grandma’s eyes for a while.
Please don’t get me wrong. I didn’t hate older adults. No. Not at all.
If anything, I felt this overpowering innate urge to help somehow boost their telomerase activity or anything — to protect them from going through the horrors I was undergoing in my head. I wasn’t only scared for myself growing old but also of the ever-increasing senior people.
Fear of getting old (FOGO), or gerascophobia, as they call it, is not a new phenomenon. It’s so rampant that as many as 87% of Americans have one or the other fear of ageing. The statistic is not much different in the other parts of the world, either.
Six years of my constant mental battle were defeated by introducing one page of the 2018 Guinness Book of World Records. The Japanese always top the oldest living population but do not look a day above 70. Despite being 100+, they live everyday life, care for themselves, and still work towards their ambitions.
The ageless Japanese older adults from the Guinness book taught me that growing old is an inevitable part of life. It doesn’t have to be scary. You must be willing to age gracefully — as they do.
The 80-year-old Mountaineer
It’s easy to point out eating habits and exercise routines as the main factor in ageing elegantly. But if there is anything that most people miss out on, it is the relentless spirit of competition that we shouldn’t lose — regardless of age.
Strange, you might say.
Meet Yuichiro Miura.
He was 70 when he climbed Everest and became the oldest person in the world to do so. Miura didn’t stop there. He broke his record by scaling the mountain at 75 and again at 80. He proved to the world that age is just another number.
Do you think he stopped at 80?
That was just his warm-up.
Now, nearing 90, he is still working towards breaking his previous record to summit Everest.
The Super-Aged Society and Their No-Meiwaku Attitude
Ageing societies are not a new phenomenon. The recent World Population Prospects: The 2019 Revision by the United Nations revealed that the number of people above 80 would triple by 2050 — the number of older adults will increase from 143 to 426 million in three decades. On the other hand, Japan has entered a ‘super-aged’ society. Senior citizens above 65 years account for more than 28% of their population.
Japan is unique in hard-wiring the ‘senior mentality’ in its citizens from an early age. They are made to believe in the guilt-laden philosophy of meiwaku — being a nuisance.
For instance, if your friend approaches to help you with anything, it’s polite to refuse the offer the first time and accept it only the second time. Independence — financial and mental — is a challenging concept drilled through the no-meiwaku attitude even after growing old.
This is why Japanese old-aged people do not give up on living and work towards their fulfilment regardless of age. Even after crossing 60 or 70, they continue to work or immerse themselves in volunteer and community activities.
A vast population of senior citizens in Japan invest in their hobbies or take up new ones and continue to inspire the world. They volunteer at local school events, at zoos, or learn about the internet. Many peers in Japan's ‘super-aged’ group look out for each other within the community. They are often the ones who organize programs and motivate others to be proactive too. This way, they play a massive role in helping remove the age-related stigma.
The 90-year-old ‘Insta-gran’
Meet Kimiko Nishimoto.
Despite her age, Nishimoto’s passion for photography captures her quirky demeanour, leaving all of her followers wanting more. Her zealous nature for food, clothing, and trying new things are captured in each photograph of hers.
From poking fun at her ‘oldness’ to capturing cute pictures of her son in ribbons — her beautiful existence on social media proves that ageing is just another part of life as breathing is. She teaches the world that growing old has nothing to do with losing hope but everything to do with giving hope.
Japanese senior citizens are a source of inspiration for the world to understand that growing ‘old’ is not an option. It’s a reality. We are so focused on ‘when’ we will get there that we forget about ‘how’ we will get there. Just because we will grow old and wrinkly one day doesn’t mean that we stop dreaming and start putting an age limit on everything we do.
Yes, growing a little older daily can sometimes get a bit overwhelming. But don’t it doesn’t have to be always that way. Stop thinking of old age as the end of your life journey. Think of it as starting a new independent phase — like a promotion — where you have all the experience you need.