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A Guru's Guide.At 94, He Knows How to Live

A Guru's Guide.At 94, He Knows How to Live

Monday, Oct. 10, 2005

Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara was en route to a medical conference in 1970 when his flight was hijacked. For four days he and 130 other passengers onboard lived under the threat of death, as the communist-inspired terrorists stalked the aisles, wielding samurai swords and explosives, demanding to be taken to North Korea. "I expected to die," says Hinohara, now 94 years old. But the hijackers eventually agreed to release all of the passengers in Seoul, before taking the plane to North Korea. For Hinohara, those four days changed everything. "I believed I was privileged to live," he says, "so my life must be dedicated to other people."
Hinohara decided to devote much of the rest of his working days?35 years and counting?to helping elderly Japanese learn to make the most of their sunset years. He formed the New Elder Citizens Group to inspire seniors, and in 2001 published an advice book, How to Live Well. (His publishers convinced him to change the title from the somewhat less commercially appealing How to Die Well.) The book became a surprise hit, selling more than 1.2 million copies and solidifying Hinohara''s status as Japan''s guru of healthy aging. His seductively simple message: "If you keep working, if you keep learning something new, you''ll never get old." Top Headlines
That''s a prescription the nonagenarian doctor?and part-time poet, novelist and composer?has clearly followed himself. He first joined the staff of St. Luke''s International Hospital in Tokyo in 1941 and stayed on full-time until 1998. He served as president for the last 24 years of his career, which included running the hospital''s response to the Aum Shinrikyo sarin attacks in 1995, at 83. When it comes to aging well, Hinohara is less concerned with the specifics of diet and exercise?though he personally restricts himself to 1,300 calories a day, sleeps little and avoids water?than with promoting the right mental attitude. Japanese people already know how to live a long time, he says, pointing to the country''s 25,000 centenarians. What they need to learn is how to stay productive and engaged after they''ve moved into the third phase of life. "After 75, you can still have potential," he says. "You need to have the freedom to explore that. You need to start something new, something you''ve never tried before."
Hinohara sees old age as a time when it''s finally possible to cultivate an individuality that has too often been sacrificed for the sake of work. His own popularity shows just how resonant that message is among Japanese?his second advice book also hit the best-seller list, and he receives scores of fan letters every day from readers around the country. Still going strong, Hinohara says he has more books in the works, and he continues to lecture on aging around the world. But he''s beginning to consider making a few concessions to approaching geezerhood. "When I get to 95, I think I''ll take up golf," he says. "I''ll finally have the spare time."

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