It wasn't just to see the Cherry Blossoms that I went to Japan. The purpose of the trip was to try to understand Japan's secret to 'longevity'. Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world. Public Health calculations that use life expectancy use Japan's figures as a benchmark. As a population they enjoy better health, for longer, than anywhere else in the world.
Part of the trip included a visit to Okinawa - a small island, closer to Taiwan than Japan, that has the higest concentration of centenarians in the world. These two wonderful 'elders' let us in on a few of their secrets. The lady in the group shot was 90 years old. She had just had her cataracts done so couldn't drive - her eldest sister drove her to the community centre for lunch! The gentleman was 94 year olds, still living at home alone and gardening daily. Most of the vegetables he eats come from his backyard. His secret... go to hospital when you feel sick! A worthwhile tip to remember!
Surely, we thought that the secret must be in the food. So much fish, so many vegetables. And the sushi tastes so good, it must be healthy?
But then you see this. Everywhere. Japan has some of the most lax smoking laws of anywhere I've visited. You can still smoke in all retaurants and bars. Ironically you can't smoke on the street - it makes too much rubbish. But passive smoking inside is quite okay. At the fish market it was forbidden to wear perfume or deoderant, incase the smell infused into the fish - but smoking on the job was no problem. Longevity and smoking really can't go together?...
In the end I don't think we came up with an answer. Japan is full of contradictions. But the people were wonderful, the food delicious, public health legislation was patchy at best... and the sake - fantastic!