I didn't realise that the Japanese advance in life expectancy had happened over such a short space of time. Maybe I am forgetting what the comparative figures are for the West, but this still seems remarkable:
A baby girl born in Japan today can expect to live to 86 and a boy to nearly 80. But it has not always been so.
According to a paper in a Lancet series on healthcare in Japan, this is a rise of 30 years from the expected lifespan in 1947. While Japanese diet has contributed, it is far from the only factor.
The remarkable improvement in Japanese health began with the rapid economic growth of the late 1950s and 1960s. The government invested heavily in public health, introducing universal health insurance in 1961, free treatment for tuberculosis and cutting childhood deaths through vaccination and treatment of intestinal and respiratory infections.
Following the control of infectious diseases, Japan tackled its high death rate from stroke with salt reduction campaigns and the use of drugs to control blood pressure.
The cultural things that the article notes as significant to good Japanese health are attention to hygiene, and a high degree of health consciousness that means regular check ups. The downside, though, is pretty big (especially for a country that is forgetting to have babies):
The downside of Japan's success in keeping its people healthy is that the population is unbalanced and becoming more so. At the moment, 23% of the population is over 65 but by 2050, that will rise to 40% in a population shrinking from 127 million to 95 million. Other problems include drinking and smoking among overworking business people and a high suicide rate partly attributable to rising unemployment. Unless these issues are tackled, the paper suggests, Japan could lose its position at the top of the longevity table.