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Why Japanese live longer than the others and what does it have to do with Confucianism?
When speaking about Japanese longevity a lot of people sigh with envy: "Well, of course, their traditional cuisine is so healthy – fresh seafood, rice. Also the climate! And the health care, not comparable to ours!" In other words, people list every possible external factors that supposedly help Japanese people remain the most living people on this planet. And they are right, but only to a certain extent.
Traditional diet of Japanese people seems like one of those offered by dietitians today. Speaking of health care, it is great, but far from the best in the world. Japan spends 8.7% of its GDP on health care while the USA spend twice the costs, Germany and France spend few % more. The amount of doctors per head in Russia is twice as much as in Japan. However the frequency of visits to doctors in Japan is one of the highest. This may reveal the main secret of their longevity – they care about own health.
Confucian thinker and doctor Kaibara Ekiken writes in his "Youjoukun" (養生訓 "Admonition about live's nurse") – "You must not forget that the basis of your body was given to you by your father and mother, and the basis of everything was given by Heaven and Earth. So you who are born and then nursed by Heavens, Earth and your parents cannot consider your body your property with which you can do everything. You body is more like a precious gift gotten from Heavens and Earth. It is also somewhat left behind by your parents. So you must love it, feed it, prevent the harm and destruction, take care of it for all the years you are given by Nature. This is the basis of how to be respectful to Heavens, Earth, your father and mother. If you lose your body, you are good for nothing. Moreover, light-heartedly harming or destroying your body is the biggest ingratitude."
So Confucian ethics practically gives you no choice in the question of taking care of your health. Nurse of your body becomes a moral imperative to other people, first of all your parents and lord. The logic behind that is quite simple. Body is a tool of serving, therefore a sick body is a useless tool. Sick person not only becomes unable to do his duties, but also turns into a burden for others. And whereas duty is one of the basic terms in Japanese behavior culture, they have been considering healthy lifestyle as an essential part of their lives.
And how does traditional Japanese healthy lifestyle look like? Here are the basic recommendations for "Youjoukun":
· Eat and drink in moderation, without excess, stop eating when you feel half full;
· Do not eat food that can harm stomach and bowels;
· Be cautious about your sexual desires;
· Do not sleep for a long time, also during daytime and after the food consumption;
· Do not sit doing nothing too much;
· From time to time move, thus helping ki (in Chinese medicine the basic material substance of everything in the Universe) circulate, especially after food consumption;
· Be restrained with your mind unrest, try your best to lessen anger, sorrow, unrest and melancholy;
· Pay attention to your speeches, lessen the amount of useless talks and become laconic.
The excessive desire connivance is compared to taking a sword and killing yourself – slowly, but the result remains the same.
However, even though this book encourages you to lessen your desires, there is nothing about suppressing your nature. If one wants some harmful food, he may taste it, but not swallow. If sexual desire is getting stronger, than one is recommended to have sexual life, but without ejaculation – complete abstinence is harmful. If one is very exhausted, he can sleep during daytime. Thus these recommendations are based on moderation not getting to extremes. They are suitable not only for strong-willed warriors, but for common people as well. Kaibara Ekiken teaches that "you should not repudiate the principle of Heavens and Earth but also should not give up on your right to find pleasure in things."