Masaaki Goto, 83, runs a tiny pharmacy in Tokyo. Japan has the highest number of prescriptions per capita in the world and, after the United States, it is the world’s second largest pharmaceutical market. There are about 50,000 community pharmacies in the country, and large drug stores and convenience stores also sell medicine. About 15 percent of the world’s population consumes approximately 95 percent of all pharmaceuticals, half of which is purchased in the U.S. and 20 percent of which is bought in Japan. It’s no wonder that Japanese universities produce the most pharmacy graduates per head of population per year in the world. And that, coming after their U.S. counterparts, they are the second-highest-paid pharmacists in the world. Goto, however, is not one of them: He began helping his father in the pharmacy as a child and by age 19, in 1946, he was working fulltime. Too busy to go to university, in 1949 he got the basic pharmacist license that allows him to sell over-the-counter drugs, but not prescription medicine. Still, Goto is familiar with just about every common ailment and knows how to fix it. Neighbors stop by daily for a genki (energy) drink and a quick chat, which usually fixes whatever might be bothering them. Not much is sold here, but Goto doesn’t mind — as long as everyone’s healthy, he’s happy.
Green tea is delicious and provides the best natural health protection. Sencha (green tea) is full of catechins, which have strong chemo-preventative and antibiotic effects. Shizuoka Prefecture produces about half of Japan’s tea and the area has one of the lowest numbers of cancer patients. Even babies drink green tea there! Gargling with green tea is an excellent way to prevent the spread of diseases.
If you worry too much about nothing, you will soon have plenty to worry about. I know a few people who won the lottery. One kept it a secret because he was scared that everyone would want to get a share of it. He was afraid of people, of life and of success. He got sick and died a few years later. But another buddy, who also won some money, just called everyone over and said: “Let’s party! I’m rich!” He’s still alive, with a big smile on his face. The money is gone, but he doesn’t care.
When pharmaceutical companies are healthy, you know that people aren’t. It’s true that because we live longer, we need more medical care, but in Japan, drugs are grossly overused. Doctors prescribe antibiotics for any small problem. They justify this practice as the “best care” for patients, but the truth is that prescribing expensive drugs lands doctors higher returns. Once people realize this, many skip the docs and go to a small pharmacist like me instead. It’s faster, safer and a lot cheaper, too.
If you can move, you’re lucky! I’ve worked standing up in our shop for 63 years — from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., six days a week. On Sundays I work from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., so I can go home for a family dinner. On other work days, however, when I have dinner and take a bath at 5 p.m., my wife works in the store. I’m off for maybe for an hour a day. I don’t sit down because it looks unprofessional, not to mention that my legs would get weak.
Never boast about helping others, but when someone helps you, never forget it! In Japan, talking about having helped someone is very uncool. We stay silent, but for as long as we live, we never forget those who have helped us. We don’t need to give back to the same person who helped us, but we should give back to society, to someone else who needs a break.
Less is more when it comes to healthy eating. I grew up hearing that we should stop eating when we are 70-80 percent full. I think that keeps my generation strong. Also, we eat very simple stuff: takuan (pickled daikon), miso soup, rice, nattō (fermented soybeans), sautéed vegetables. That’s the base for our daily three meals, and at night — a little piece of fish or tofu, maybe an egg. I eat something fried once a week and meat no more than once a week.
Don’t think you’re so cool even if you are! Ogasawara-ryū is a popular etiquette that teaches us to be humble. For example, it advises us to walk on our toes, quietly, like a ninja. Actually, this way of walking protects the knees and bones, so it’s good for your health, too.
It can be easy to get used to a handicap. I lost vision in my left eye 14 years ago, but I still live and work as I did before. The only difference is that I always keep both my hands by my sides so that I don’t bump into furniture. I also wear a cap outside as it prevents me from bumping my head against poles or tree branches.
A day without some little arguments is a day without learning. My wife and I got married in 1949, 61 years ago. We’ve never had a big argument but we have many small ones every day. “Why don’t you hurry up?” “That’s not the right medicine for that customer!” This is how we get new answers and refresh ourselves a few times a day.
If we don’t work, why should we have food to eat? I was brought up to believe in a work ethic that didn’t include retirement benefits. I hope to die in my store, behind the counter.
Aging stinks — literally. Kareishu is the unpleasant smell men over 40 have. It’s not from the armpits. It’s caused by fatty acids and the smell escapes through the whole body via sweat.
A lot is old in Japan: people, customs, rules and our laws. Koseisho (Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare) is slow, like a snail. We still use cancer medicine developed decades ago because new ones take many years to approve. By the time they get the OK, they are already outdated. This can only go on because the Japanese suffer in silence. I think we should start screaming.