Japanese Prayer Wall

Japanese Prayer Wall

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Respect-for-the-Aged Day

Today is Respect-for-the-Aged Day in Japan.  According to the book Japan at a Glance, this is “[a] day to express respect for aged people, to thank them for their contributions to society over many years, and to celebrate their longevity.”

On a regular basis I struggle to guess the age of Japanese people because they usually age very well and look younger than their true age.  What’s their secret?  Do all the pickled foods that Japanese people eat somehow preserve their lives too?  Well, until recently, the typical Japanese diet relied heavily on vegetables, with little meat.  Fresh seafood is commonly available all over Japan, so this low fat option is utilized.   Also, traditional Japanese sweets often incorporate sweet beans and have a much lower sugar content.  As time has passed, McDonalds, KFC, and other fried foods have worked their way into Japan more and more.  The more a person sticks to a traditional Japanese diet, though, the more their health and body reflect that.

Church women at the reception
Traditional Japanese Sweets
Another impressive quality is just how active people stay, even when they are well into their golden years.  Bicycles and walking play a big part in transportation, so an active lifestyle is a part of daily living; that is one thing that I especially enjoy about living in Japan.

So, how does one observe this national holiday?  Most people observe it by enjoying a day off of work or school, but there are other activities as well.  Yesterday, after the church service, there was a reception for members who are 70 or older.  The participants enjoyed traditional green tea and sweets (including the previously mentioned sweet bean paste).  An MC interviewed a few of the elderly participants, and then everyone played a sort of Mad Libs game.  I admit that I didn’t really follow all of this though with the language barrier and all. 

One of the most impressive qualities about Japan is that in small ways, every day is Respect-for-the-Aged Day.  Elderly people are valued for their wisdom and experience.  I regularly see younger people giving up their seats on trains or buses so that the elderly can sit down.  Also, older people are usually addressed with very polite forms of Japanese to show respect.  We could learn a lot from the way that the Japanese culture honors and celebrates the elderly, even though there is not a specific day set aside to do this in America.

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