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.
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.
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.