My 101-year-old Grandma’s Secret of Longevity

 By Rei H.

According to World Health Statistics 2016 published by WHO, Japan’s average life expectancy is 83.7 years (women 86.8 years), the highest number for the last 20 years straight. This is not a surprise to me since I witness many active elderly people in every corner of Japan. There are more than 65,000 people who are over 100 years old in Japan, and my grandma, Setsu O., is one of them. She will turn 102 in September, and remains healthy and energetic more than ever. How does she maintain her healthy living for over a century? Well, the secret of her longevity is hidden behind her daily nutritious Japanese breakfast.

So what’s on my grandma’s breakfast menu on an ordinary day? Grandma always enjoys her breakfast like a king and has more than ten items on the table every day. The top six items stay the same, and she adds several items for variation.


Grandma’s “longevity” breakfast menu:


  1. Sticky rice (1 bowl)
  2. Miso soup (1 bowl)
  3. Onion soup (150ml)
  4. Half-boiled egg
  5. Natto (Fermented beans)
  6. Grilled fish
  7. Potato salad
  8. Broccolis
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Yogurt
  11. Kiwi
  12. Milk (180ml)


This long list explains why she remains very healthy at age 101, doesn’t it? A typical Japanese breakfast menu is much shorter though; mainly consisting of rice, miso soup and a couple more items. The variety of food my grandma eats every morning is astonishing, even for a health-conscious Japanese woman like me. Furthermore, she eats her meals without her dentures. I fell off from my chair when I saw it!


Not only the variety of food she eats matters to her healthy living, but the freshness of the produce remains a very important factor in her diet. Living in a small town surrounded by mountains and rivers in Akita (300 miles north of Tokyo), grandma and mom used to have a morning routine: Their day started with a stroll to the field near the family house where they harvested fresh organic produce such as tomatoes and eggplants for breakfast.

Being born and raised in a farmer’s family, my grandma rarely used processed food or artificial flavors for cooking as she learned how to prepare meals with natural ingredients.

Lastly, a wisdom grandma passed down to us is to always be curious and try new foods. When my family was in Vancouver, Canada in the 80’s, grandma visited us. During her stay, when we were at the supermarket, she kept on filling the cart with Western vegetables, which we have never tried before, such as nopales, artichokes and celeriac. At that time, we had no idea how to cook them, as there was no Internet to look up for recipes. My mother and I thought she was crazy! At the kitchen, grandma invented her own recipes by following her intuition and prepared the food for us. We were skeptical first, but it turned out great and we all enjoyed having her meals eventually. I believe that her curiosity and love for food have been a sparking joy for more than a century.

I absolutely adore my happy grandma and her healthy living motivates me to be attentive when preparing my own meals at home. In Tokyo, I used to skip breakfast or ate unhealthy when I was constrained with time. Living in Ann Arbor now, I believe that I am on the right track to reach the age 100, just like grandma. Why? Because I enjoy for breakfast my green kale smoothie, boiled eggs, fruits, honey, vegetables and many more seasonal produce available at Ann Arbor Farmers Market.


Photos: Rei H.