Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

By Brigitte Steger

The Japanese don’t sleep. This is what everyone – the Japanese above all – say. It’s not true, of course. But as a cultural and sociological statement, it is very interesting.

I first encountered these intriguing attitudes to sleep during my first stay in Japan in the late 1980s. At that time Japan was at the peak of what became known as the Bubble Economy, a phase of extraordinary speculative boom. Daily life was correspondingly hectic. People filled their schedules with work and leisure appointments, and had hardly any time to sleep. The lifestyle of this era is aptly summed up by a wildly popular advertising slogan of the time, extolling the benefits of an energy drink. “Can you battle through 24 hours? / Businessman! Businessman! Japanese businessman!”

Many voiced the complaint: “We Japanese are crazy to work so much!” But in these complaints one detected a sense of pride at being more diligent and therefore morally superior to the rest of humanity. Yet, at the same time, I observed countless people dozing on underground trains during my daily commute. Some even slept while standing up, and no one appeared to be at all surprised by this.

I found this attitude contradictory. The positive image of the worker bee, who cuts back on sleep at night and frowns on sleeping late in the morning, seemed to be accompanied by an extensive tolerance of so-called ‘inemuri’ – napping on public transportation and during work meetings, classes and lectures. Women, men and children apparently had little inhibition about falling asleep when and wherever they felt like doing so.

If sleeping in a bed or a futon was considered a sign of laziness, then why wasn’t sleeping during an event or even at work considered an even greater expression of indolence? What sense did it make to allow children to stay up late at night to study if it meant that they would fall asleep during class the next day? These impressions and apparent contradictions led to my more intensive involvement with the theme of sleep for my PhD project several years later.

Initially, I had to fight against prejudice as people were reluctant to consider sleep a serious topic for academic enquiry. Of course, it was precisely such attitudes that had originally caught my attention. Sleep can be loaded with a variety of meanings and ideologies; analysing sleep arrangements and the discourse on it reveals attitudes and values embedded in the contexts in which sleep is organised and discussed. In my experience, it is the everyday and seemingly natural events upon which people generally do not reflect that reveal essential structures and values of a society.

We often assume that our ancestors went to bed ‘naturally’ when darkness fell and rose with the Sun. However, sleep times have never been such a simple matter, whether in Japan or elsewhere. Even before the invention of electric light, the documentary evidence shows that people were scolded for staying up late at night for chatting, drinking and other forms of pleasure. However, scholars – particularly young samurai – were considered highly virtuous if they interrupted their sleep to study, even though this practice may not have been very efficient as it required oil for their lamps and often resulted in them falling asleep during lectures.

Napping is hardly ever discussed in historical sources and seems to have been widely taken for granted. Falling asleep in public tends to be only mentioned when the nap is the source for a funny anecdote, such as when someone joins in with the wrong song at a ceremony, unaware that they have slept through most of it. People also seem to have enjoyed playing tricks on friends who had involuntarily dozed off.

Early rising, on the other hand, has clearly been promoted as a virtue, at least since the introduction of Confucianism and Buddhism. In antiquity, sources show a special concern for the work schedule of civil servants, but from the Middle Ages onwards, early rising was applied to all strata of society, with “going to bed late and rising early” used as a metaphor to describe a virtuous person.

Another interesting issue is co-sleeping. In Britain, parents are often told they should provide even babies with a separate room so that they can learn to be independent sleepers, thus establishing a regular sleep schedule. In Japan, by contrast, parents and doctors are adamant that co-sleeping with children until they are at least at school age will reassure them and help them develop into independent and socially stable adults.

Maybe this cultural norm helps Japanese people to sleep in the presence of others, even when they are adults – many Japanese say they often sleep better in company than alone. Such an effect could be observed in spring 2011 after the huge tsunami disaster destroyed several coastal towns. Survivors had to stay in evacuation shelters, where dozens or even hundreds of people shared the same living and sleeping space. Notwithstanding various conflicts and problems, survivors described how sharing a communal sleeping space provided some comfort and helped them to relax and regain their sleep rhythm.

However, this experience of sleeping in the presence of others as children is not sufficient on its own to explain the widespread tolerance of inemuri, especially at school and in the workplace. After some years of investigating this subject, I finally realised that on a certain level, inemuri is not considered sleep at all. Not only is it seen as being different from night-time sleep in bed, it is also viewed differently from taking an afternoon nap or power nap.

How can we make sense of this? The clue lies in the term itself, which is composed of two Chinese characters. ‘I’ which means ‘to be present’ in a situation that is not sleep and ‘nemuri’ which means ‘sleep’. Erving Goffman’s concept of “involvement within social situations” is useful I think in helping us grasp the social significance of inemuri and the rules surrounding it. Through our body language and verbal expressions we are involved to some extent in every situation in which we are present. We do, however, have the capacity to divide our attention into dominant and subordinate involvement.

In this context, inemuri can be seen as a subordinate involvement which can be indulged in as long as it does not disturb the social situation at hand – similar to daydreaming. Even though the sleeper might be mentally ‘away’, they have to be able to return to the social situation at hand when active contribution is required. They also have to maintain the impression of fitting in with the dominant involvement by means of body posture, body language, dress code and the like.

Inemuri in the workplace is a case in point. In principle, attentiveness and active participation are expected at work, and falling asleep creates the impression of lethargy and that a person is shirking their duties. However, it is also viewed as the result of work-related exhaustion. It may be excused by the fact that meetings are usually long and often involve simply listening to the chair’s reports. The effort made to attend is often valued more than what is actually achieved. As one informant told me: “We Japanese have the Olympic spirit – participating is what counts.”

Diligence, which is expressed by working long hours and giving one’s all, is highly valued as a positive moral trait in Japan. Someone who makes the effort to participate in a meeting despite being exhausted or ill demonstrates diligence, a sense of responsibility and their willingness to make a sacrifice. By overcoming physical weaknesses and needs, a person becomes morally and mentally fortified and is filled with positive energy. Such a person is considered reliable and will be promoted. If, in the end, they succumb to sleep due to exhaustion or a cold or another health problem, they can be excused and an “attack of the sleep demon” can be held responsible.

Moreover, modesty is also a highly valued virtue. Therefore, it is not possible to boast about one’s own diligence – and this creates the need for subtle methods to achieve social recognition. Since tiredness and illness are often viewed as the result of previous work efforts and diligence, inemuri – or even feigning inemuri by closing one’s eyes – can be employed as a sign that a person has been working hard but still has the strength and moral virtue necessary to keep themselves and their feelings under control.

Thus, the Japanese habit of inemuri does not necessarily reveal a tendency towards laziness. Instead, it is an informal feature of Japanese social life intended to ensure the performance of regular duties by offering a way of being temporarily ‘away’ within these duties. And so it is clear: the Japanese don’t sleep. They don’t nap. They do inemuri. It could not be more different.

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160506-the-japanese-art-of-not-sleeping

by Kristy Puchko

Northwest of the majestic Mount Fuji is the sprawling 13.5 square miles of Aokigahara, a forest so thick with foliage that it’s known as the Sea of Trees. But it’s the Japanese landmark’s horrific history that made the woods a fitting location for the spooky horror film The Forest. Untold visitors have chosen this place, notoriously called The Suicide Forest, as the setting for their final moments, walking in with no intention of ever walking back out. Here are a few of the terrible truths and scary stories that forged Aokigahara’s morbid reputation.

1. AOKIGAHARA IS ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR SUICIDE DESTINATIONS IN THE WORLD.

Statistics on Aokigahara’s suicide rates vary, in part because the forest is so lush that some corpses can go undiscovered for years or might be forever lost. However, some estimates claim as many as 100 people a year have successfully killed themselves there.


2. JAPAN HAS A LONG TRADITION OF SUICIDE.

Self-inflicted death doesn’t carry the same stigma in this nation as it does in others. Seppuku—a samurai’s ritual suicide thought to be honorable—dates back to Japan’s feudal era. And while the practice is no longer the norm, it has left a mark. “Vestiges of the seppuku culture can be seen today in the way suicide is viewed as a way of taking responsibility,” said Yoshinori Cho, author of Why do People Commit Suicide? and director of the psychiatry department at Teikyo University in Kawasaki, Kanagawa.

3. JAPAN HAS ONE OF THE HIGHEST SUICIDE RATES IN THE WORLD.

The global financial crisis of 2008 made matters worse, resulting in 2,645 recorded suicides in January 2009, a 15 percent increase from the previous year. The numbers reached their peak in March, the end of Japan’s financial year. In 2011, the executive director of a suicide prevention hotline told Japan Times, “Callers most frequently cite mental health and family problems as the reason for contemplating suicide. But behind that are other issues, such as financial problems or losing their job.”

4. SUICIDE PREVENTION ATTEMPTS INCLUDE SURVEILLANCE AND POSITIVE POSTS.

Because of the high suicide rate, Japan’s government enacted a plan of action that aims to reduce such rates by 20 percent within the next seven years. Part of these measures included posting security cameras at the entrance of the Suicide Forest and increasing patrols. Suicide counselors and police have also posted signs on various paths throughout the forest that offer messages like “Think carefully about your children, your family” and “Your life is a precious gift from your parents.”

5. IT’S NATURALLY EERIE.

Bad reputation aside, this is no place for a leisurely stroll. The forest’s trees organically twist and turn, their roots winding across the forest floor in treacherous threads. Because of its location at the base of a mountain, the ground is uneven, rocky, and perforated with hundreds of caves. But more jarring than its tricky terrain is the feeling of isolation created from the stillness; the trees are too tightly packed for winds to whip through and the wildlife is sparse. One visitor described the silence as “chasms of emptiness.” She added, “I cannot emphasize enough the absence of sound. My breath sounded like a roar.”

6. DEATH BY HANGING IS THE MOST POPULAR METHOD OF SUICIDE AMONG THE SEA OF TREES.

The second is said to be poisoning, often by drug overdose.

7. A NOVEL POPULARIZED THIS DARK TRADITION. . .

In 1960, Japanese writer Seichō Matsumoto released the tragic novel Kuroi Jukai, in which a heartbroken lover retreats to the Sea of Trees to end her life. This romantic imagery has proved a seminal and sinister influence on Japanese culture. Also, looped into this lore: The Complete Suicide Manual, which dubs Aokigahara “the perfect place to die.” The book has been found among the abandoned possessions of various Suicide Forest visitors.

8. BUT IT WAS NOT THE START OF THE FOREST’S DARK LEGACY.

Ubasute is a brutal form of euthanasia that translates roughly to “abandoning the old woman.” An uncommon practice—only resorted to in desperate times of famine—where a family would lessen the amount of mouths to feed by leading an elderly relative to a mountain or similarly remote and rough environment to die, not by means of suicide but by dehydration, starvation, or exposure. Some insist this was not a real occurrence, but rather grim folklore. Regardless, stories of the Sea of Trees being a site for such abandonment have long been a part of its mythos.

9. THE SUICIDE FOREST MAY BE HAUNTED.

Some believe the ghosts—or yurei—of those abandoned by ubasute and the mournful spirits of the suicidal linger in the woods. Folklore claims they are vengeful, dedicated to tormenting visitors and luring those that are sad and lost off the path.

10. ANNUAL SEARCHES HAVE BEEN HELD THERE SINCE 1970.

There are volunteers who do patrol the area, making interventional efforts. However, these annual endeavors are not intended to rescue people, but to recover their remains. Police and volunteers trek through the Sea of Trees to bring bodies back to civilization for a proper burial. In recent years, the Japanese government has declined to release the numbers of corpses recovered from these gruesome searches. But in the early 2000s, 70 to 100 were uncovered each year.

11. BRINGING A TENT INTO THE FOREST SUGGESTS DOUBT.

Camping is allowed in the area but visitors who bring a tent with them are believed to be undecided on their suicide attempt. Some will camp for days, debating their fates. People on prevention patrol will gently speak with such campers, entreating them to leave the forest.

12. THE SUICIDE FOREST IS SO THICK THAT SOME VISITORS USE TAPE TO AVOID GETTING LOST.

Volunteers who search the area for bodies and those considering suicide typically mark their way with plastic ribbon that they’ll loop around trees in this leafy labyrinth. Otherwise, one could easily lose their bearings after leaving the path and become fatally lost.

13. YOU MAY NOT BE ABLE TO CALL FOR HELP.

Rich with magnetic iron, the soil of the Suicide Forest plays havoc on cellphone service, GPS systems, and even compasses. This is why tape can be so crucial. But some believe this feature is proof of demons in the dark.

14. NOT EVERYONE WHO GOES THERE HAS DEATH ON THEIR AGENDA.

Locals lament that this natural wonder is known first and foremost for its lethal allure. Still, tourists can take in gorgeous views of Mount Fuji and visit highlights like the distinctive lava plateau, 300-year-old trees, and the enchanting Narusawa Ice Cave.

15. GOING OFF THE PATH CAN LEAD TO GHASTLY DISCOVERIES.

The Internet is littered with disturbing images from the Suicide Forest, from abandoned personal effects snared in the undergrowth to human bones and even more grisly remains strewn across the forest floor or dangling from branches. So if you dare to venture into this forbidding forest, do as the signs suggest and stay on the path.

http://mentalfloss.com/article/73288/15-eerie-things-about-japans-suicide-forest

But if video games weren’t created until the middle part of the twentieth century (most video game historians point to the Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device, created in 1947, as the first true “video game”), what exactly did Nintendo do in its early years?

The company that would become “Nintendo” was founded in 1889 by entrepreneur Fusajiro Yamauchi as “Nintendo Koppai” (also known as the “Nintendo Playing Card Co. Ltd.,” and was styled as a playing card company that mostly made Japanese playing cards called “Hanafuda.” The so-called “flower cards” have been a part of Japanese gameplay for centuries, and Nintendo had great success in manufacturing and marketing them. The company still makes cards to this day.

Despite the company’s success with playing cards, Yamauchi’s grandson Hiroshi eventually realized that Nintendo had probably gone as far as anyone possibly could with just cards. In 1956, the young go-getter was astonished to see that the massive United States Playing Card Company was run out of a small office. If that’s what they were working with, what could Nintendo possibly aspire to?

First up: character cards. Nintendo (quite sagely) picked up the rights to the Disney cabal of characters, putting them on their cards and driving sales, but that wasn’t quite enough. They needed to think bigger.

The early sixties weren’t too kind to the ever-expanding Nintendo empire. The company, hellbent on mixing things up and pushing past just playing card sales, stretched itself too thin by getting involved with everything. Well, nearly everything.

Between 1963 and 1968, Nintendo began dabbling in such disparate industries as transportation (a taxi company), hospitality (a love hotel chain), and food (they specialized in ramen) under the umbrella of “Nintendo Co., Ltd.” None of these attempts at expanding into different industries worked out, and Nintendo soon needed to find something new to embrace.

After the mixed bag that was the ’50s, Nintendo turned its attentions to toys, including the carnival-like “Love Tester” and the popular “Kousenjuu” light gun games, which paved the way for the company to turn their attentions to more light gun-based gaming. Slowly, the company moved towards more electronics-heavy games and toys, even though they couldn’t initially keep up with big names like Bandai and Tomy.

Nintendo steadily worked their way into the video game realm, but things really changed in 1974, when the company bought the distribution rights for the Magnavox Odyssey video game console. In 1975, the company set about making their own video arcade games, with Genyo Takeda’s “EVR Race.” By 1977, the company was making its very own consoles, originally styled as five different kinds of the “Color TV-Game.” (The first Color-TV Game console is responsible for bringing six different takes on Pong to the world.)

These consoles were partially designed by Shigeru Miyamoto, who would go on to design Donkey Kong for the company in 1981, a game-changer through and through. Once Donkey Kong hit the market—allowing Nintendo to enjoy licensing their own products to other companies—Nintendo had established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the burgeoning video game sector.

Once Nintendo’s dominance in the industry was recognized, the company began churning out inspiring new creations, from the handheld “Game & Watch” game series, to the “Family Computer” for home gaming (eventually launched as the NES outside of Japan), to the smash-hit that was the Game Boy (invented in 1989). The company’s success continued in the late eighties, thanks to the release of the Super Nintendo (SNES), which also helped kick off the infamous battle with rival Sega.

In 1994, Nintendo celebrated the sale of one billion game cartridges (a tenth of them attributed to Mario games alone). A series of missteps marred the rest of the ’90s, including the disappointing Virtual Boy in 1995, but the company quickly rebounded with the Nintendo 64, the Game Boy Pocket, and the Game Boy Color.

The aughts proved to be similarly fraught for the company with the disappointment of machines like GameCube and Game Boy Micro. This was briefly tempered by the success of the Nintendo DS and the New Super Mario Bros. game in 2006.

If there’s one thing that’s really changed things for the company, though, it’s the Wii, first introduced in 2006. The motion-controlled system has proven to be especially successful for Nintendo.

Next up for the company? A heavier reliance on glasses-free 3D displays, an interest in video compression, and games that fold in advanced face and voice recognition.

http://mentalfloss.com/article/59057/brief-history-125-years-nintendo

By Eva Botkin-Kowacki

Plastic is everywhere around us. We drink out of plastic cups, buy disposable water bottles, unwrap new electronics from plastic packaging, take home plastic shopping bags, and even wear plastic in polyester fabrics.

Some 311 million tons of plastic is produced across the globe annually, and just 10 percent makes it back to a recycling plant. The rest ends up in landfills, or as litter on land or in the ocean, where it remains for decades and longer.

As for the plastic that has been recycled, it has given rise to an unintended side effect: A team of scientists searching through sediments at a plastic bottle recycling plant in Osaka, Japan have found a strain of bacteria that has evolved to consume the most common type of plastic.

Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6 can degrade poly (ethylene terephthalate), commonly called PET or PETE, in as little as six weeks, they report in a new paper published Thursday in the journal Science.

Common uses of PET include polyester fibers, disposable bottles, and food containers. The last two are typically labelled with a No. 1 inside a recycling symbol.

But this new paper doesn’t mean you should ditch your reusable water bottles in favor of a tray of disposable ones, or that we’re going to inject this bacteria into landfills tomorrow. This study simply evaluated if the bacteria in question could degrade PET and was conducted under laboratory conditions.

“We hope this bacterium could be applied to solve the severe problems by the wasted PET materials in nature,” Kohei Oda, one of the study authors, tells The Christian Science Monitor in an email. But “this is just the initiation for application.” More research has to be done in order to make this a practical solution to plastic pollution.

But could this sort of fix work in theory?

“[Plastics] have been engineered for cost and for durability, or longevity,” says Giora Proskurowski, an oceanographer at the University of Washington who studies plastic debris in the ocean but was not part of this study, in a phone interview with the Monitor. But he’s hopeful that this research could yield further studies and technologies to mitigate the problem.

The durability of plastic isn’t the only challenge this potential fix faces. Microbes are like teenagers, Christopher Reddy, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who studies environmental pollution and was not part of this study, explains in an interview with the Monitor.

“You can tell them to clean the garage over the weekend but they’re going to do it on their own timescale, they’re going to do it when they want, they’re going to pick the easiest thing to do and they’re likely going to leave you more frustrated than you think,” he explains the metaphor. Similarly, you can’t rely on microbes to break down compounds. “Don’t rely on microbes to clean the environment.”

Dr. Reddy says that has a lot to do with the environment outside the lab. In the experiment, he says, the researchers controlled the situation so the bacteria ate the plastic, but in nature, they would have many options for food.

Also, if I. sakaiensis 201-F6 were to be applied, it would likely only help plastic pollution on land. PET particles are denser than water, so they tend to sink down into the sediment. The trillions of tons of plastic particles amassing in the oceans are other types of plastics, types for which this bacteria probably lacks an appetite. Also, Dr. Proskurowski says, marine organisms have evolved to withstand the saltwater and sunlight that sediment-dwelling organisms might not.

Still, perhaps this bacteria could be harnessed to accelerate degradation of plastics that make it to a landfill, he says.

But this study does show that “the environment is evolving and you get the microbes evolving along with that as well,” Proskurowski says. “These are evolving systems.”

Neither Proskurowski nor Reddy were surprised that the researchers found an organism that can consume PET.

“I’m surprised it’s taken this long. I’ve been waiting for results like this,” Proskurowski says.

“Nature is incredibly wily, microbes are incredibly wily,” Reddy says. “Microbes are very good eaters.”

This is not the first time researchers have found an organism that will eat trashed plastic. Last year engineers at Stanford University found a mealworm that can eat styrofoam. And in that case, it was not the animal’s digestion that broke down the styrofoam, but bacteria it its gut.

http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2016/0310/Researchers-discover-plastic-eating-bacteria-in-recycling-plant

Police in Toda, Saitama Prefecture, have arrested a 71-year-old woman on suspicion of setting her son’s room on fire.

Eiko Sasaki is suspected of setting fire to her son’s room at around 9 a.m. Sunday, Sankei Shimbun reported. The fire spread and destroyed the 50-square-meter apartment.

According to police, Sasaki has admitted to the charge and was quoted as saying that she was upset with her ​​50-year-old son for letting magazines pile up in his room, so she decided to burn them.

Sasaki said she lit a newspaper and threw it into the room while her son was out.

http://www.japantoday.com/category/crime/view/71-year-old-torches-her-sons-room-for-not-cleaning-up-mess

robot farm

The Japanese lettuce production company Spread believes the farmers of the future will be robots.

So much so that Spread is creating the world’s first farm manned entirely by robots. Instead of relying on human farmers, the indoor Vegetable Factory will employ robots that can harvest 30,000 heads of lettuce every day.

Don’t expect a bunch of humanoid robots to roam the halls, however; the robots look more like conveyor belts with arms. They’ll plant seeds, water plants, and trim lettuce heads after harvest in the Kyoto, Japan farm.

“The use of machines and technology has been improving agriculture in this way throughout human history,” J.J. Price, a spokesperson at Spread, tells Tech Insider. “With the introduction of plant factories and their controlled environment, we are now able to provide the ideal environment for the crops.”

The Vegetable Factory follows the growing agricultural trend of vertical farming, where farmers grow crops indoors without natural sunlight. Instead, they rely on LED light and grow crops on racks that stack on top of each other.

In addition to increasing production and reducing waste, indoor vertical farming also eliminates runoff from pesticides and herbicides — chemicals used in traditional outdoor farming that can be harmful to the environment.

The new farm, set to open in 2017, will be an upgrade to Spread’s existing indoor farm, the Kameoka Plant. That farm currently produces about 21,000 heads of lettuce per day with help from a small staff of humans. Spread’s new automation technology will not only produce more lettuce, it will also reduce labor costs by 50%, cut energy use by 30%, and recycle 98% of water needed to grow the crops.

The resulting increase in revenue and resources could cut costs for consumers, Price says.

“Our mission is to help create a sustainable society where future generations will not have to worry about food security and food safety,” Price says. “This means that we will have to make it affordable for everyone and begin to grow staple crops and plant protein to make a real difference.”

http://www.techinsider.io/spreads-robot-farm-will-open-soon-2016-1

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

Five places in the world are now considered so-called “Blue Zones” – geographic areas where people are living much longer and more active lives. The first Blue Zone identified was Sardinia’s Nuoro province, which researchers Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain found to have the greatest number of male centenarians. Four other Blue Zones have since been identified by National Geographic explorer Dan Buettner and his team of longevity researchers. In these Blue Zones people are reaching the age of 100 at a much greater rate than anywhere else in the world. So what exactly sets these places apart from the rest? In his book The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, Dan Buettner discusses the lessons he learned from the people inhabiting the Blue Zones and what specific lifestyle characteristics allow these people to live longer and better lives.

Ikaria, Greece

The tiny Mediterranean island boasts nearly non-existent rates of dementia and chronic disease and an isolated culture with a focus on socialization. Residents often drink goat’s milk and herbal teas and eat a Mediterranean diet full of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, potatoes, and olive oil. Because this population is comprised traditionally of Greek Orthodox Christians, many fast for nearly half the year (caloric restriction has been linked to a slowing of the aging process in mammals). They also exercise by gardening, walking, or completing yard work but also nap regularly.

Loma Linda, CA

It may be surprising that one of the Blue Zones is located in the U.S., but Loma Linda is home to about 9,000 Seventh-day Adventists who form an extremely close community. Many Seventh-day Adventists adhere to a vegetarian diet rich in fruits and vegetables and consume water and nuts in lieu of soda and unhealthy snacks. They also spend time with family and friends, particularly during the weekly 24-hour Sabbath, and give back by volunteering.

Nicoya, Costa Rica

Besides their diet, the secret to a longer life for Nicoyans may be in their sense of purpose and strong social connections. They eat a traditional diet of fortified maize and beans, drink water with the country’s highest calcium levels, and eat a light dinner early in the early evening. Nicoyan residents often live with family members for support and strongly wish to contribute to a greater good. Their physical work keeps them fit and is embraced in everyday life.

Okinawa, Japan

Although this area is experiencing a decline in life expectancies from the influence of factors like fast food, older residents have consumed a plant-based, soy-rich diet most of their lives and eat pork only for infrequent ceremonial occasions in small amounts. Okinawans spend time outside every day and nearly all grow or have grown gardens (a source of vitamin D and fresh vegetables). It is also traditional to form a moai, or social network, for emotional and financial support.

Shuri Castle in Okinawa, Japan

Shuri Castle in Okinawa, Japan

Sardinia, Italy

Sardinia has nearly 10 times more centenarians per capita than the U.S., which could be attributed to a combination of genetics and a traditional lifestyle. The rare genetic M26 marker is common in this population and has been associated with longevity; due to the geographic isolation of the island, this gene is not prevalent in other areas worldwide. Sardinians eat a plant-based diet with pecorino cheese made from grass-fed sheep that is high in omega-3 fatty acids and drink wine in moderation. Laughter may be good medicine on this island – men in particular here are known for their afternoon laughing sessions in the street.

View of Cala Domestica beach, Sardinia, Italy

View of Cala Domestica beach, Sardinia, Italy