Fumie Takino, 79, is the founder of the Japan Pom Pom cheerleaders, a group of 28 women, with an average age of 67, whose decades-defying energy would give any cheerleader a run for her money. Established in 1996, the group have now been performing wild dance routines to club music for 15 years.

They dress in matching sequined leotards and wigs and kick their legs in the air while swirling giant gold pom-poms in unison. But these women are very much individuals. Though none have formal athletic experience, encouraged by Takino they greet each new challenging routine with enthusiasm — and another set of pom-poms. That’s something to keep cheering on! And you can you do so at their Charity Show to raise funds for Tohoku, which will be staged at Nerima Bunka Center in Tokyo on Nov.19 from 1:30 p.m.

Don’t worry about what people think, especially when they disagree with you. People are often conservative. Even the young think that older people shouldn’t wear miniskirts, go on dates or get tipsy. They assume that retirees don’t fall in love or make love. Sadly, most children would rather see their widowed parents die alone than remarry. But who cares what they think? I don’t. I just wanna have fun. And they should, too!

Women should be independent. That was what my father thought. So, in 1954 he sent me — not my older or younger brothers — to university in America. Back in those days, the women’s liberation movement was strongest there, so I crossed the ocean to get a taste of it. It was delicious.

If you go abroad to study, stay away from people from your own country. At first I was at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. It was 1954, and back then there were many smart Fulbright scholars from Japan at American universities. I wasn’t one of them, my father just paid for my education. Being with those Japanese students was like being back in Japan: not at all liberating. So I transferred to the much smaller Albion College, where I thought I’d probably be the only Japanese. I was. And then I was free.

Turn personal tragedy into a chance to learn something. I adored my father. He loved pretty women, so maybe he was not a great husband; but as a dad, he was the best. He was healthy, but at 80 he suddenly became very weak and then he was bedridden. He cried and said that he didn’t want to live like that. I was shocked by his suffering and I wanted to learn more about aging — how we might stay healthier and happier for longer. That’s why I chose to study gerontology in the United States. I was 53.

When I am dying, I want to say that I had a very happy life. I’m getting there!

The secret to a happy old age is independence and respecting others’ freedom. My professor in Texas when I studied there was 60 and her mom was 90. Both lived alone in big houses, but the daughter visited her mom every day for 15-20 minutes. She would take some snacks and they chatted: “Tonight there is a good program from 8 p.m, mom, check it out.” “OK.” The following day they would then talk about the show. What a happy relationship, I thought.

You don’t get much from studying something at school. If you did, all teachers would be smart and happy people, but that’s not necessarily true.

Getting results is important, it’s not just about making the effort. In Japan, as long as someone is trying hard, they are considered to be doing a good job. But that’s not how I see it. If we can’t perform well, we should practice more so we can get better.

Instead of studying how to keep people alive longer when they are already on their deathbeds, we should learn how to stay out of hospital in the first place. Japan is the world’s fastest-aging society and we have the longest life expectancy. Yet most medical schools focus on geriatrics — the study of diseases the elderly get — and not on gerontology, which is the study of aging. Aging doesn’t mean getting sick. Aging is not a disease. When I wanted to study more about this, I couldn’t find a Japanese university that had a major in gerontology. That’s why I went to America again. I even published a book about my adventures — ” A woman alone: 53 and studying abroad” — and I got a master’s degree in applied gerontology. It was great fun.

When parents are selfish, children suffer. Most Japanese parents are very self-centered. They expect younger generations to take care of them until they die — whether it’s their children or their grandchildren. Let’s face it, when parents live to their late 90s, there is a good chance that their children will die before them. All the beautiful old stories of Japanese caring for their ailing parents were written in an age when life expectancy was less than 50 years. Now it is 87 for women and almost 80 for men. It’s ridiculous to expect anyone to take care of the elderly. I tell my kids that I can take care of myself.

Religion should help people till the very end, not only when they can pay for it. In the U.S, churches build nursing homes that are free of charge for the poor. I don’t know why only a handful of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Japan provide such facilities for their followers.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “journeys in japan” Learn more at: juditfan.blog58.fc2.com. Twitter: @judittokyo

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