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Pokkuri-dera: The meaning of longevity among Japanese elderlyby: Yumi TakahashiIntroduction_______________________________________________Japan has enjoyed fame as a choujukoku (a country of longevity). In 2003, the life expectancy for Japanese females was 85.23 years old, whereas that of Japanese males was 78.32 years old Asahi Shimbun, 2003). The number of elderly who are over 100 years old have significantly increased within four decades from 153 in 1963 to over 20,000 in 2003 (Asahi Shimbun, 2003). Great advances in medicine have largely contributed to the ability to live longer.Living longer, however, does not necessarily guarantee quality of life in old age. One may live until 100 years old or over while being bedridden for years due to prolonged illness. While there is a great potential to live longer, the quality of that prolonged life becomes a crucial question. As stated earlier, is often referred to chouju-koku, to which poses a sharp criticism. Ei (1994) states that the Japanese terms chouju (longevity) and jumyou (life expectancy) presume that living long is happy and joyous. He goes on to state that if there is no meaningful, enriched quality of life in such a long life, the Japanese term choumei (long life [without positive implications]) seems to be more appropriate than the term chouju or jumyou. Then, if there is a lack of quality of life in the life of Japanese elderly, Japan should be referred to as choumei-koku (a country of long life) rather than chouju-koku. This raises the question of the meaning of living longer and quality of life in old age.The elderly experience many changes as they age. For example, they are more likely to experience the death of their relatives and friends (Woss, 1993) A decline in their health is another change that they experience, which is often associated with fears of becoming ill and of having long term suffering (Woss, 1993). There are increased worries about being bedridden, being dependent, and creating financial difficulties. The elderly also experience loss of a meaningful role both in family and in society, which tends to cause a feeling of lacking in self-worth and life purpose (Woss, 1993). The experience of these changes often poses two questions to the elderly: How they want to spend their later life and how they want to die.
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