Dan Buettner, Expedition Leader: Ushi Okishima is arguably the most famous centenarian in Okinawa and probably in the world. I met Ushi five years ago while doing an educational project on longevity. My co-leader at the time was a young educational manager by the name of Sayoko Ogata.
What was it about that first meeting that made you think, "I want to change my life?"
Sayoko: My life is really really crazy. Nothing. Just work.
Dan: And I remember meeting Ushi and just seeing her as another senior. Meanwhile, Sayoko had a profound experience with Ushi.
I decided to change my life. I married, I have a baby, and I quit my job. And I change from where I live. Tokyo, a big business city to small green island, Yokishima.
Dan: We had an opportunity to meet Ushi again today. We filed in. She was sitting regally in a blue kimono. We all sat down like a bunch of kindergarten students and you instantly felt this warmth from her. And itís not something you can observe as much as you feel with these special centenarians. Thereís a reason people come from all over the world to see Ushi. Sheís not the oldest person in Okinawa. Sheís 104, yet when youíre with her you sense the wisdom that comes from walking the Earth for a hundred years.
About three quarters of the way into the interview, I asked Sayoko if she wanted to tell Ushi her secret. She was hesitant, but she got up and the ensuing experience was amazing.
Sayoko: Something come from inside, like my tears are like coming down. So I cannot say, I cannot explain this emotion.
Dan: This detail I noticed was when Ushi grabbed Sayokoís hand, it wasnít just an embrace, but you actually saw Ushiís hand stroking, unconsciously, Sayokoís hand. Itís that unconscious detail that these successful centenarians possess. It not only gets them to old age, it gets them there well.
I first looked at Ushi and I told her sheís a national treasure. I think almost everyone is afraid of getting old. But when people come see her, they can actually look forward to getting old. She offers kind of a vision of old age that I think you actually might aspire to.
When it was time to leave, I realized I started this project really feeling ambivalent toward seniors. But after seeing an exchange like this, you couldnít help but feel the magic that comes from spending time with people who have lived long lives well.
Sayoko: Iím so happy now. And now Iím really really full of love, energy, smiling. Iím not still like Ushi-san. Still I have to train more, to make people happy, but now, me, Iím so so happy.