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Japan: Encouraging Population Growth

In the sixty years since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s landmark achievement, over 5000 people have ascended Mount Everest – which, at around 8850 metres, is the tallest mountain on the planet. Now, a new world record has been set, with 80-year-old Yuichiro Miura becoming the oldest climber to reach the summit.

Miura has a history of daring exploits: in 1964, he set a new world speed skiing record; in 1966, he became the first person to ski down Mount Fuji, using parachutes to control his descent; and in 1970, he skied Everest’s South Col face – an event captured in Oscar-winning documentary The Man Who Skied Down Everest. This is the third time that Miura has climbed Everest, having previously reached the top in 2003 and 2008 at the ages of 70 and 75 respectively. And if that weren’t impressive enough, his latest feat comes on the back of a number of health problems, with Miura having undergone heart surgery four times since 2007 – not to mention fracturing his pelvis and thigh bone in a 2009 skiing accident.

While climbing Everest is still a dangerous venture – with over 200 deaths on the mountain since 1953 – improved mountaineering equipment and a better medical understanding of the way extreme altitudes and temperatures affect the human body have helped make the mountain top more accessible than in Hilary’s day. But such advances only partly explain Miura’s remarkable accomplishment. With an average life expectancy of 82, Japan’s population lives longer than that of any other country, with pensioners like Miura enjoying a higher standard of health than elsewhere in the world. However, an ageing population has its downsides. Already, over 20% of Japan’s population is aged 65 or over, placing a significant strain on the country’s resources and negatively impacting its economy. For this reason, various government policies have been introduced over the years to try and encourage Japanese families to have more children – though to date their successes have been limited.

As for Miura, his record could be short lived. While the Japanese daredevil celebrated, 81-year-old Nepalese climber – and previous record-holder – Min Bahadur Sherchan prepared another attempt on the summit. Miura wasn’t about to surrender his record quietly, and insisted that, should Sherchan reach the top, it would only count if accompanied by clear photographic evidence – something that the financially disadvantaged Sherchan seemed unlikely to be able to provide. In the end, it was the weather that thwarted Sherchan’s plans, as rain and warming temperatures forced him to abandon his attempt. As a result, Miura’s record remains in place – for the time being at least…