What’s life like, at 96 and alone? asks Shukan Gendai (Nov 13-20). Good, answers Masaji Fujioka.
Media reports of extreme old age tend toward bleakness, possibly distorting the overall picture.
Fujioka grew up near Hiroshima. During the war he served in the navy. The war over, he moved to Kobe and joined a company as a rank-and-file employee. He retired and returned to Hiroshima. His wife, with whom he was close, died 16 years ago. He has been alone since.
His days unfold something like this: First thing in the morning he works in his garden, growing the vegetables that are the core of his diet. Afternoons he relaxes in front of the TV. Twice a week he plays shogi at the local community center. Conversation there is inconsequential but enjoyable. “Everyone’s younger than me,” he smiles. At his age that’s to be expected.
He has another hobby – he writes waka (traditional 31-syllable poems) and senryu (comic haiku) for the local newspaper. “It keeps my mind alert,” he says, “and it feels so good to see my poems in print.”
His meals, like his life, are simple – eggs, natto and vegetables. “At this age you don’t have much of an appetite,” he explains. “I spend almost nothing on food.”
Or on anything else, it seems. His pension is small, but so are his needs and wants. He’s mildly diabetic but otherwise fit. He needs no care and little medical attention. Once a month he goes to a clinic for a blood test and his diabetes medication. Insurance covers most of that. Otherwise, apart from utilities, “I don’t spend money, so I’m quite comfortable,” he says.
His is a serene and quiet contentment, rare in this agitated and troubled world. Of course, Shukan Gendai points out, not everyone is so fortunate – the financial, psychological and medical problems of aging are very real – but more people would be, the magazine implies, if they would adopt something of Fujioka’s attitude towards life.
Fujioka mentions no anxieties of any kind. Does he ever get lonely? Does he fear death, or waning faculties and the need for care? We don’t know. Mumeko Shima, 94 and also living alone, is similarly independent and, it seems, not much less content, but shares with Shukan Gendai one fear – of a fall while bathing. A retired hairdresser living in Osaka, she applied for and received a municipal subsidy for installation of a railing around her bathtub.
She’s been on her own since her husband died six years ago. She has a weak heart – not painful or disabling, but it needs watching, and a nurse comes to check up on her once a week. Other than that, she cleans the house, does the laundry, cooks and tends her garden, all without help. On weekends she gives herself a break from the kitchen. Her municipality operates a subsidized food delivery service – “tasty and well-balanced meals,” 300 yen each. Like Fujiioka, Shima suffers no financial stress – not because she’s rich but because wants at her age are few. Small things bring pleasure, as they must if one is to be happy. She mentions one: her weekly chat with the driver who brings her meals.© Japan Today