The World Health Organization has issued their annual report for 2006 called the “World Health Report” stating that life expectancy is expected to increase worldwide with the highest projected life expectancy in 2030 to be Japanese women, at 88.5 years. That’s up 2.5 years from the current life expectancy of 86 years. The life expectancy for Japanese males is 79 years, a little less than a decade short of women but certainly a long life by any standards.
Generally speaking the average lifespan is on the upswing but there are areas in Africa where due to AIDS and other diseases a person might be considered extremely lucky if they can live to see their 40th birthday. Japan, and many of the Western nations have the luxury to be able to fret about the increased life expectancy and the consequences of a graying society (高齢化社会, koureika-shakai). Nevertheless, it is a very real concern for those living in the rapidly graying nation of Japan and one that will require considerable attention and thought from the government in order to make allowances for the ever-expanding senior population.
The extended lifespan is attributable to a combination of diet, lifestyle and access to medical services in the country as well as genetic disposition. For us gaijin currently residing in Japan who can partake of the apparently beneficial culture, diet and health services it remains to be seen if we too can expect a comparatively longer life.
While the government and society concern themselves with how they will adjust their infrastructure to accommodate for the increasing number of seniors it is ultimately up to the individual to answer the question of how they choose to live their expected 80+ years. Western magazines have recently written that 40 is the new 30, which is to say that with the longer expected lifespan people are enjoying a prolonged adolescence and youth before settling in and making major life decisions.
In Japan as well, the opportunities for second chances in life are now, more than ever, within reach. Changing jobs, careers and returning to school, divorces and second marriages, quitting the salaryman rat race and pursuing your dream, all are viable transitions that one can make. During the 80 some years that makes up an average Japanese life how many of those years are going to be spent in pursuit of one’s bliss and how many of those years are going to be sacrificed on the altar of duty and societal expectations?
The World Health Organization report measures the quantifiable aspects of health, access to medical facilities and lifespan. It would be a shame for medical sciences to continue extending the life of individuals who are ultimately incapable or unwilling to spend those years happily.