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In North America, longevity is the holy grail. But in Japan, home of the famous centenarians of Okinawa, living to a ripe old age is becoming a source of shame.

While magazines such as National Geographic rhapsodize over Okinawan seniors – who are among the longest lived on earth – Japan's new Finance Minister, Taro Aso, has a harsh message for the nation's elderly: "hurry up and die."

Aso made the statement Monday during a meeting of a national council looking at changes to social security, the Guardian reports.

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Adding insult to injury, Aso referred to seniors who are unable to feed themselves as "tube people."

The statements sound callous to a Western ear but may get thumbs-up among Japanese youth.

Japan, the world's tenth most populous nation, has become one of the world's fastest aging societies, Reuters has reported.

Almost a quarter of the population is over age 60, leaving Japan's social services crippled by the financial and medical needs of the elderly.

The number of households receiving welfare that include a senior over age 65 represent about 40 per cent of the total, the Guardian reported.

Aso, a wealthy 72-year-old, said he couldn't imagine living off the state in his golden years. "I would wake up feeling increasingly bad knowing that [treatment] was all being paid for by the government," he said.

Falling birth rates are partially to blame for Japan's silver-haired status. But so may be an old Japanese saying – Hara hachi bunme – which tells people to stop eating when they are 80 per cent full.

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The practice has been linked to longevity in Japan, but is virtually unknown in North America – the fattest place on earth.

Too bad McDonald's restaurants are tanking in Japan. Excessive doses of fast food could be the answer to the nation's longevity woes.

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