I suppose there’s another reason for my wanting to return to Nippon, albeit more of a superstitious and unfounded one. Eternal youth.
Although Japan is host to the largest elderly population in the world, it is also a country that doesn’t look its age. Whenever I did some people watching in a train station hub, I would always assume some salaryman was 5-10 years older than he appeared. I mistook a 70-year-old man for about fifty on my first day in Osaka. Women are even better about not showing their age – I could easily mistake someone in her thirties for an early twenties.
Appearance is just a small part of the equation. I worry about feeling my age all the time; naturally, being 26, it hasn’t really been a problem for me, but I’ve had reminders from time to time: riding a coworker in Kagoshima about his performance in the Sakurajima Half Marathon, to which he responded: “Wait until you’re my age. It will happen, you know”; watching my father struggle to walk up the road into Dinosaur Park on the volcanic island… I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I were physically unable to accomplish something that I had done a few years earlier.
That’s the problem with being a runner. Everything is so quantifiable: you know exactly how much you’ve slowed down with each passing year. It’s not that you’re simply a little tired, or a little out of shape; age is sucking your talent, and it’s only going to get worse. A 5:00 mile turns into a 5:10, then a 5:30, and finally you’re nearly bonked going for six minutes.
Maybe it was simply the fact that I spent a good deal of my prime years (24-26) in Japan, but I never seemed to feel really run down or lacking in charisma. A huge part of it, and what enables the country to keep such a centennial population alive, is a healthy diet: plenty of fish, a respectible amount of rice, and fresh vegetables. Rarely will you see an obese Japanese.
Another is hot springs. Purifying the water in your system liter by liter, and, I personally believe, slowing the decay of your internal organs. What makes us age? Imperfections. If your body were a perfect engine, able to take 100% of the energy absorbed and use it accordingly, with perfect cell efficiency and regeneration, then you’d simply carry on, with no loss in age or ability. You’d still be completely vulnerable to disease and injury, but barring that is immortality.
Fear is what it comes down to for me. Fear of change, and losing what all have lost at all times. I just think of Japan as a place to pass the time, where your body does become more of an efficient engine, able to handle everything you throw at it… a place to feel young and stay young.