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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The World's Oldest Man: The Greatest Story Never Told

Here’s an AP story about the world’s oldest man—112 years old. After it, I go onto a long diatribe lamenting how the right types of questions should have been asked. After all, after 112+ years, there must be something interesting about him other than the fact that he’s old.

The story itself is fine. I even kept the story's original AP headline (below) - but it's all to make a point.

There's this belief in modern media (social and otherwise) that stories need to be short because people have a short attention span. Maybe.

But maybe you just need to make the story more interesting.

If you build it, they will come. The same holds true for any story. If the audience is intrigued they will read more than a few lines of whatever. 

I know I write long articles... but even if you hate the article today, come back tomorrow, and there's something different.. a new topic available tomorrow... and the next day and the next. 

For this blog, I once planned a schedule whereby I would write a science story on Monday, my autobiography on Tuesday, a sports story on Wednesday, a commentary on Japan on Thursday, etc... but how boring is that? I gave that up by Wednesday. 

Even as I am typing these words, I have no idea what I'm going to say next. I like not knowing what my next topic is. I think many of you feel the same way. 

Structure is great, but not 100% of the time, as far as my writing goes.

Here... let's read the story on Nonaka Msazao (surname first), and see just how interesting a person he is. 

Oldest man likes soaking in Japan hot springs, eating sweets

TOKYO (AP) — Masazo Nonaka has enjoyed soaking in northern Japan's hot springs for many years — probably longer than most people.
The super-centenarian, whose family has run a hot springs inn for four generations, was certified Tuesday as the world's oldest living man, at age 112 years, 259 days.
Nonaka received the certificate from Guinness World Records in a ceremony at his home in Ashoro, on Japan's northern main island of Hokkaido, and celebrated the recognition with a big cake.
Born on July 25, 1905, Nonaka grew up in a large family and succeeded his parents running the inn. The 105-year-old inn is now run by his granddaughter Yuko. He regularly soaks in the springs and also enjoys eating sweets, especially cakes.
Nonaka, wearing a knit cap and a kimono-style jacket, flashed a smile and posed for a group photo with his family, making a victory sign with his right hand.
He dug into the cake after it was cut and served, and said, "Delicious," according to NHK public television.
His family members say Nonaka still moves about by himself in a wheelchair.
He reads a newspaper after breakfast every morning, and loves to watch sumo wrestling and samurai dramas on TV. But his favorite pastime is to soak in the hot springs and relax.
Nonaka has outlived all seven of his siblings, as well as his wife and two of their five children.
Guinness says Nonaka replaced Francisco Olivera of Spain, who died earlier this year at age 113, as the world's oldest man.
A 117-year-old Japanese woman, Nabi Tajima, who is currently the oldest living person in Japan, is expected to be certified as the world's new oldest person, replacing Violet Moss-Brown of Jamaica, who died in September at age 117.

A nice, fuzzy warm story.

But what I want to know, is: what type of sweets and cakes is this man eating? Does he smoke, drink? Did he ever? He lived through Japan’s Imperial stage of WWII as a mid-30s adult male.

Did he get drafted into the military? Did he volunteer? Where was he stationed?

How tough was life for him when he got back to his home and inn after the war?

What did he think of the Allied Forces running things in Japan for a while? When did he get over the “gaijin” influence in how Japan was being recreated?

How long ago did his wife pass away? How old were two of his kids when they died?

Over such a long life, what is it about the Japanese way of life from the early part of the 20th century does he miss the most?

What fascinates him the most about all of the advancements he has seen come and go during his lifetime?

Besides soaking and snacking, is there any other activity that he enjoys?

When did he stop walking?

Does he read? Watch TV? What about sports? Did he have a team he enjoyed rooting for? 

If he could do anything, regardless of age, what would he liked to have done or still do? A loaded question, to be sure. 

These are all questions that just rolled off the top of my head.

They may not seem like the most important questions the world has ever seen, but this is a chance to get a “first-hand” personal glimpse into what life was like 100 years go.

While some of us may have been smart enough to ask our aging parents or grandparents about what life was like,  most of us either didn’t get the opportunity, or squandered (like myself) by being too self-centered about their own life.

A wasted opportunity.

Even a humble occupation such as an inn keeper must have stories to tell! Did anyone famous ever stay at his place? What made his inn special or different from anyone else’s? What did it cost to stay?

His parents were born in the 1860s or later: did he ever talk to them about what life was like under a Shogun? What was the transference of the country’s power like back to an Emperor?

Back then getting mew fashions and technologies from outside of Japan must have been something special… even the early part of his life… does he have any thoughts or memories?

Does he know if he had any relatives who had such a long life?

He was still a pre-teen when WWI broke out and Japan was on the sides of the Allies… did he have relatives who fought in the war?

Back in 1990-1993, when I was in Japan, my downstair's neighbor was already around 80 years old and had been a foot soldier stationed on one of those Buddha-forsaken islands in the South Pacific trying to defend it against the Allies. Out of ammunition and food, they were very happy, he told me, when they surrendered to the Allies.

He said they were grateful to the treatment they received, and he never ever held any hard feelings to them.

He said he never understood why his country was attacking everyone. He said they had to go to war, or there would have been trouble caused for his family, but despite the general view that all Japanese were happy to be out killing the enemy, he never enjoyed being in a war.

I asked him if he shot anyone during WWII. He said he hoped not. In the jungle, he said, you couldn’t even see who you were shooting at.

Who says stuff like that?

You just have to ask the questions.

When I was in the interview process still in Toronto to try and get into the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme to become an AET (assistant English teacher), they asked me why I wanted to go to Japan.

Truthfully, I didn’t, but amongst other details, I did say that I wanted to go and talk with the senior citizens there and ask them about their experiences during WWII.

I was told then and there that they might not want to talk about such things, because the Japanese are a very private people.

It’s true. But then again, most people everywhere are private. But most people will talk about themselves when they are comfortable with the person they are talking with. Some people don’t care if the past embarrasses them, because of who they are now. It’s how I can write about myself now.
I’m comfortable in my own skin.

Also, being a foreigner in their country I had no problem asking the personal questions because that’s what we do when we actually want to get to know someone better. Social decorum goes out the window when it becomes personal.

You can’t say stoopid things, but you can still provide stories that might seem stupid when they happened, but where just a part of your life at the moment and are thus far more interesting in the present.

The stories define who we really are. Everyone is a story.

Surely after 112+years this man has a few stories.

You just have to ask the questions.

Andrew Joseph
PS: I know, just from the brief moments some of you have communicated with me, amazing snippets into your personal lives… and there’s been quite a few of you… everybody has a story. Everybody is interesting to me.
PPS: To me, even the fellow who goes to work, does his job, comes home, eats his dinner and watches TV and goes to bed is interesting. What type of work? How did he get into that? What did he want to do - his dream? Has he ever gone on vacation? Can’t afford it - okay, why? What if the answer is because he doesn’t like to travel? Why? Has he always been that way? What type of foods does he like to eat? What’s the strangest food or drink he has ever had? Why was it strange?
It goes on, and on… every answer provides another opportunity to ask another: who, what, where, when, why, and how? Sometimes asking “how are you?” is the most important question. People usually just say they are fine… but I like to mess them up by asking “Really?” If you can show that you really want to listen and care, people will tell you what’s what. Sometimes you can tell them something personal first to lower the guard.
For those who like to say “too much information,” I pity you. You are missing out on a great story.


  1. Everyone has a story ... but not everyone can write a story like you can! Inquiring minds want to know, but many of us would never feel comfortable asking. That's why I work with computers! (Hah) I'll read what people feel comfortable disclosing.

    Hope all is going well with you and yours.

    1. You were one of the people I was thinking about when I wrote that. I appreciate you commenting, but I appreciate it more knowing you are okay.
      People tell me stuff all the time. Maybe it's because I can relate, or maybe it's because they feel comfortable. Maybe both. It's a blessing and a curse, but at the same time, hearing about other people and their issues stops me from descending into any sort of pit of despair or woe is me type attitude. I wonder WHY I can tell a story. Curiosity is one reason... but WHY I can tell it in a more or less correct order is mystifying. Maybe my brain takes in the technical aspects of stories I've read or had told to me, and am able to process my stories in a way that makes sense to me. I figure that if I can understand it then anyone can.
      I'm doing okay. I can't wait for it to warm up, though. Cheers :)

    2. You have a gift. Glad that you can share it with us readers.

      I have a gift with technology and understanding people who work with technology. Unfortunately, that is not enough in my current role. Lots of politics and game playing going on right now at work, and I don't play games. I'm looking for an exit strategy. I hope it's retirement. But dunno. We'll see how things work out.

      My 94 year old Dad ran a stop sign the other day right around the corner from my house. Cop caught him, looked at his license and said, "Sir, should you be driving?" My dad said he's never been stopped by a cop for a driving violation in his 94 years. Cop gave him a warning but could have recommended revoking his license because of his age. So, I asked my Dad if would move in with me, 'cause that's what we do in our family. But he cherishes his independence and doesn't want to. That day is coming ... (Kinda on-topic with this article.)

      Enjoy the nice weather ... Carpe diem ;D

    3. A person like you would be in demand. Keep that in mind as an exit strategy, too.
      How can they revoke his license? Doesn't he have to renew it once a year at his age? I think in Canada it's done every year past 70. Now... your dad, since he knows the area, should have been more aware of that stop sign, but sometimes sh!t happens. Did you ask him to move in with you BECAUSE of the driving incident or because you think there's another issue? If the latter, well... you know.. But if the former... well... if he knows the reason, then yes, he doesn't want to admit he's getting to THAT age. I walk quickly at the mall, and hate it when someone younger actually moves faster than me... and I don't know if it's because I'm slowing down, or if it's because they are really fast walkers. I tend to look like I'm walking with a purpose...
      Carpe diem... yeah, I should gone fishing today. :)