You Live And Learn
July 12, 2014

You Live And Learn

As Alanis Morissette told us, “you live, you learn.” She also told us that a traffic jam when you’re already late is ironic, which it isn’t really, it’s just very unfortunate. A traffic jam when you’re already late for a convention about reducing congestion on the roads, that’s ironic. But what do I know, I am only a youngster, really. I might one day learn that I have the definition of irony all wrong and that I should listen to my elders, even Alanis. I realized that I can stand to be corrected by anyone, but certainly by people who have lived longer than I have, when I received an email this week from a nice lady from Sweden.

Isabel (she said she was happy for me to use her name!) contacted me to say she had read my blog “Why Do Japanese People Live So Long?” She said it was nice to read, but that she wanted to raise a few points, as somebody in their 60s. She made the point that a lot of what I was saying was in the context of modern Japan, and contemporary Japanese lifestyles, even though I was mainly talking about the lives of older people. As she correctly told me, the lives of those people will have been very different when they were younger, and she gave examples from her own life.

She suggested that for people over 100 years old, it was a totally different world that they lived in for a long time. I would suggest the same even applies to people a little younger than that, too. Isabel said that drinking habits have changed, and while it is well known that drinking alcohol has a very long tradition in Japan, it is unlikely that ordinary people were able to drink as much as they can today purely as a result of financial restrictions, regardless of the fact that binge drinking is a relatively new trend anyway. I wondered in my blog why Japanese men had such a high life expectancy, despite their lifestyles of drinking, smoking and hard work. Isabel’s point may explain why drinking has not yet taken its toll (although sadly the conclusion is that younger generations of Japanese men may be more greatly affected by alcohol). She also went some way to explaining why work-related stress had not seemed to drastically affect the life expectancy of men, in that it was probably less a few decades ago. People had more secure jobs and therefore less pressure to perform, and, a good while ago, had jobs different to the intense “salaryman” work that many Japanese people do today.

But Isabel’s main point was in defense of women, and rightly so. I realize now that one of the points in my blog may have amounted to, at worst, “I can understand perfectly well why Japanese women live so long, given how easy their lives are, but not so much the poor, hard-working men.” A very male point of view, I am willing to admit! As Isabel says, in days gone by especially, their job was the only thing that men did. In Japan, this is still quite often the case. Tough though it may sometimes be, that job is probably no more difficult than all the things that women in traditional roles have done; taking care of the family, finances, household and all kinds of never-ending demands. If they had a full time job on top of that, too, they would have to be, to use Isabel’s term, an “octopus.” It is indeed a wonder that the women live so long, not the men.

So I stand corrected, and have lived and learned a little from an older woman about older people, and women.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Email


John is a freelance writer from the UK, currently living in Japan and thoroughly enjoying their food and whiskey. His first novel, Three Little Boys, and his travel book, Following Football, are currently available on

Send John an email