What is the secret to living large in old age? This week Dateline meets a squad of octogenerian Japanese cheerleaders and a famous TV writer challenging assumptions about people in their 90s.
Tuesday, September 5, 2017 - 21:30

NOTE: Due to copyright reasons, this film is no longer available. 

Can old age be as exciting as youth?

On this week’s Dateline we meet people in their 80s and 90s who are looking to the future, not the past – leading fulfilling lives and staying active as they approach their centenary.

In Japan’s capital Tokyo, a city with more than 9 million senior citizens and a rapidly ageing population, an urgent point of discussion is how to improve quality of life for the city’s elderly.

The gradual integration of robots into everyday Japanese life is seen by some as a solution to loneliness and boredom. But one group of elderly women are maintaining their youth in a surprising way; by cheerleading.

In ‘Cheerleading Grannies’, we meet 86-year-old Fumie Takino, the founder of Japan Pom Pom, a cheerleading squad with an average age of 70.

Once a week they get dressed in colourful lycra bodysuits, pick up their pom poms and dance.

“As long as you can dance normally, you’re okay,” Fumie tells reporter Dean Cornish. “Sometimes, some people lack co-ordination.”

“Apart from that there’s nothing; no height requirement. No need to claim you’re good looking. No requirements except the age.”

The cheerleaders have bright costumes, play their music loud, and are constantly smiling while they dance – though Fumie wasn’t always outgoing and confident.

She comes from a generation of social conservatism, which she adhered to for many years. But after witnessing her father’s death and hearing about his regrets, she decided to change her approach to life – which led to her ending a marriage she was unhappy in and moving to the United States. “I made a decision to walk out and lead my own life,” she says.

This philosophy, combined with seeing an elderly cheerleading group in the US, drove her to start Japan Pom Pom. Initially they were received with suspicion – “the Japanese expect old people to behave modestly,” says Fumie. But more recently, at least based on a survey of people in the street, their support has grown.

The instructor of the group, a young woman, says she is amazed at how powerful the Japan Pom Pom cheerleaders are.

“I think it’s one of the solutions to the ageing population,” she says.

“Not only does it keep them physically active to stay healthy, but it also offers a community to stay social.”

For Fumie, she cherishes this new social group she’s brought together. To her, every day is a gift – she didn’t expect to still be living large in 2017.

“I didn’t think I’d make it to 80,” she says. “I thought I’d die younger.”

“No matter what it is or how old you are, I tell everyone to start something. Stop blaming your age for being unable to do this or that.

“Start something. It may change your life.”

While Fumie is doing her best to stay active in her 80s, acclaimed TV writer Norman Lear is showing the world how to live an exciting life in your 90s.

In ‘Not Dead Yet’, the writer of ‘The Jeffersons’ and ‘All in the Family’ lets us into his daily life, which still involves producing TV show – on the day we visit him he’s watching auditions for a new sitcom, focused on the lives of elderly people.

He has a constantly energetic attitude despite his age (he was 93 years old at the time of film), which may be due to what he believes may be the secret to longevity – “I’ll sing and dance, alone, in front of a full length mirror.”

Lear says old age has been a disadvantage when it comes to work.

“I wrote this five years ago,” Lear says of the sitcom he’s taking auditions for. “And the right people read it, I know, the right people thought it funny, I know. But the right people said, ‘it’s not our demographic’.”

The lack of interest in television shows focused on the elderly has a knock-on effect for actors. One actress who auditioned for Lear’s sitcom, ‘Guess Who Died’, says; “I’m not up for anything, all you’re right for are little grannies, but it’s not how I go through the world, you know?”

For Lear, he sees old age as a gift, and believes life doesn’t slow as you age – you continue to grow with it.

“Why would you be less expected to grow when you’re 80?” he says. “The culture dictates how you behave, and maybe the elderly buy into it the way they grow old?

“My role here now is to say, ‘wait a minute, that’s not all there is’. There’s a good time to be had at this age.”

Watch the full story at the top of the page.


Hanging out with an 86-year-old cheerleader in Tokyo
Japan has a rapidly ageing population, but a group of elderly cheerleaders and their fearless leader Fumie, are an example to the rest of the country of how to keep life fun as you grow old.
The Intern Diaries: Japan's Cheerleading Grannies
Dateline reporter Dean Cornish talks about his story on Fumie Takino, a beer drinking, pizza eating 86-year-old cheerleader from Tokyo.
Writing TV shows in your 90s
What it’s like to spend a day with writer Norman Lear, who is still producing television shows in his 90s and rallying against stereotypes about the elderly.
How cheerleading helped this 86-year-old age fearlessly
The leader of an over 55s Japanese cheerleading squad says high kicks make her feel young, fit and happy.
Rising life expectancy and why we need to rethink the meaning of old age
The life expectancy of human beings will soon exceed 90 years for the first time, scientists have predicted.


‘Cheerleading Grannies’

Reporter: Dean Cornish

Producer: Joel Tozer

Associate Producers: Ana Maria Quinn, Anna Watanabe

Fixer: Kiwa Wakabayashi

Editor: Nick Hogan


‘Not Dead Yet’

Producers: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady

Camera: Tony Hardmon, Jenna Rosher

Associate Producer: Ana Maria Quinn

Editors: Amira Dughri, Andrew Saunderson



REPORTER:  Dean Cornish

FUMIE TAKINO, CHEERLEADER (Translation):  Some people find Tokyo cold. In apartments you don’t know what your neighbours do. I think that is just how Tokyo goes.

In the world's biggest city, there are more than nine million senior citizens. Fumie is one of them, she's 86. Her generation places politeness and respectability at top of the agenda but Fumie is different. Tonight she is in a hurry and not letting anything get in her way. For Fumie, it's the best night of the week. Because it's cheerleading practice!

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation): Japan Pom Pom is a senior cheerleading group.

Everyone in this squad is over 55. The average age is 70. It doesn’t matter if they’ve had a hip replacement or a heart bypass, all they need is a sense of rhythm.

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation): As long as you can dance normally, you’re okay. Sometimes, some people lack co-ordination. Apart from that there’s nothing. No height requirement. No need to claim you’re good looking, no requirements except the age.

Hello, is it the pizza shop?  A Margarita and a Quattro premium. See, all the Coca-Cola…and beer. Delicious!  Oh, it looks good!

Bad eating habits, booze and lycra bodysuits. Is she a granny behaving badly – or is she living life to the full?

REPORTER:  What did you imagine you would be doing in your 80s?

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation): I didn’t think I’d make it to 80. I thought I’d die younger.  A beautiful lady dies young, as the saying goes.

Fumie was in her fifties when an unexpected event  turned her life around - her father passed away and she learned he was full of regret. She decided not to follow the same path - even if it meant going against the conventions of polite Japanese society.

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation): He passed away at 86.For the last six months or so he was bed-ridden. He had been saying he would enjoy his life until the very end, but then, he said his life was empty. He’d wake up disappointed he was still alive.  I thought I wouldn’t want to be like that, that is why I made a decision to walk out and lead my own life.

First she left her husband at age 52.

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation): Our relationship wasn’t working. I’d been putting up with it. I wanted to say at the end of my life “I’ve been happy. I’ve had fun. Thank you.”  So I left home.

Then she moved to the United States.

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation):  I knew there were studies called gerontology in the US. So I went to the US to study, at the age of 53.  First of all it was so big. It was almost too big....They express their affections. Even old people do. I was so comfortable with their individualism, so I love the US.

For Fumie, America was full of new discoveries.

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation): It was a group called the Sun City Poms.  “Senior people can cheerlead!” I was so surprised.  “Why not in Japan?”  I thought.

The average age of the women in the Sun City Poms was 74 and their leader was Fumie's inspiration.

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation): I asked her what sort of music she used and what sort of dance they did, because I didn’t know anything about it. I asked her how I could start a group.  That was the beginning.

But audiences at home in Japan weren’t as appreciative as those in the United States.

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation): Well, 20 years ago, when our group performed, it was the first time in Japan. About a half of the audience didn’t like it. “Look at those old ladies showing off their legs.”  All our friends said it was good.  But probably...50 per cent of the audience, even more, I guess were disgusted because the Japanese expect old people to behave modestly.

Fumie just can’t understand why so many people criticise her and the group for showing a little skin.

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation): Since then, we’ve received many calls from the media. The first thing the TV crew did was to shoot only our legs and ask if we were embarrassed. Every single station shot our legs and asked if we were embarrassed. I found it shocking! They start with legs, idiots.

Over the last twenty years, the squad has gone from strength to strength, and last year Fumie achieved the once unthinkable, she led her group to the US Cheerleading Nationals as guest performers. The group will return to the United States early next year to perform and this time Fumie wants to push the squad with a more challenging routine.

REPORTER:  Is it very complex to learn the beats and the moves?

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation):  Once you learn it and it gets changed it throws you out. I love up-tempo music, I love quick movements, I can’t do them. But still…I seem to love trying what I can’t do.

To help them perfect the fast moves - Fumie has brought in a new coach with fresh, younger ideas. And they’ve upped the rehearsals to three times a week.

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation):  Our first year we did weekly lessons, it was like a group of dementia patients but as we kept going… our level improved.  When challenged with a goal, people try to reach it. That's what I feel. 

Japan's population is ageing faster than any other country in the world. By 2060 – senior citizens will make up 40% of the population. In Tokyo's elderly mecca, Sugamo, also known as 'Grandma's Harajuku', people shop for old-age comforts. Clothing, traditional foods, and red underwear that is said to bring good luck. They also come to pray - perhaps for a quick and painless death. With so many people Fumie's age, in one street I thought this would be a good opportunity to ask what they think of Japan Pom Pom.

REPORTER:  So, what do you think of women in the 80’s dressing like this and dancing like this?

WOMAN (Translation):  How wonderful to do this at their age!

REPORTER:  Do you think this is appropriate behaviour for women in the 80’s?

WOMAN (Translation):  I think they are really stoic about themselves, I think that is good in a group. It is a different story if you did it by yourself. In a group it is fine.

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation):  Did you hear we have got a new dance teacher? 

TOSHIKO MIOTA (Translation):   What is she like? 

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation): She is so energetic.

Across town in the more youthful district of Shinjuku, Fumie is meeting her old friend, and former Japan Pom Pom member for lunch.

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation): The former instructor was… maybe I shouldn’t say this, not that enthusiastic.

Toshiko left cheerleading after an injury forced her to take up a more gentle form of dance.

TOSHIKO MIOTA (Translation):   Why don’t you belly dance?

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation):  I’m not cut out for belly dancing. Come on.

TOSHIKO MIOTA (Translation):   It suits you.

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation): No, no…

TOSHIKO MIOTA (Translation):   Put on dingle-dangles and beautiful things. But… so that you can seduce men.  She dumped her husband completely.

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation):   You too…

TOSHIKO MIOTA (Translation):   Once you become single you have many choices, believe me. No matter how old you are.

We set up for an interview in Shinjuku gardens, I had no idea what they were saying when we started filming.

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation): A lovely man is sitting next to us.

TOSHIKO MIOTA (Translation):   Yes, he is lovely. I might seduce him with my belly dancing.

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation):  Really?

TOSHIKO MIOTA (Translation):   Yes, seduce him.

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation): I don’t care what other people say, that affects so many things. That’s the biggest thing I suppose. If you worry about what people or friends say you can’t do anything. Once you free yourself from that you can do anything you want. It’s good and bad, I suppose.  Anyway, that attitude is reflected in everything I do.

It’s the second rehearsal for the week and the squad is limbering up with the new coach.

MIKI NAGAMINE, DANCE TEACHER (Translation): I think it’s one of the solutions to the aging population. Not only does it keep them physically active to stay healthy, but it also offers a community to stay social. In that way, I think it’ll lead to a solution.

After a 2-hour rehearsal the ladies hit the pub.

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation):  Every week our usual members gather and drink and eat and go home fatter!

It’s obvious the cheer squad all look up to their fearless leader.

CHEERLEADER (Translation):  She is my role model. I want to be like Ms Takino - so cheerful, positive and decisive.

A group of cheerleaders out on the town. 

REPORTER:  Who out of these guys can do the splits?

CHEERLEADER (Translation):   Do you want me to do it here?

It's inevitable they’ll attract some male attention.

REPORTER:  What do you think of ladies of such an elderly age doing this sport?

MAN (Translation): I think it is wonderful that there are people of that age still being active.

CHEF (Translation):  Women are stronger, explain for them. It is true in any part of the world.

MAN (Translation):  They are really amazing, I was so surprised.

Perhaps Fumie and her Pom Pom team have found the answer to long life and happiness. And the answer to Japan's old-age woes.

FUMIE TAKINO (Translation): No matter what it is or how old you are, I tell everyone to start something. Stop blaming your age for being unable to do this or that. Start something. It may change your life. That’s what I believe.



REPORTER:  Heidi Ewing

Norman Lear is the man behind some of the most successful sitcoms of the 1970’s, including “Good Times” and “All in the Family.” He is still producing television shows at age 93.

NORMAN LEAR, DIRECTOR:  Often I’ll get undressed. Look at myself nude, dissatisfied but amused. And I’ll sing and dance, alone, in front of a full-length mirror. And I have wondered for a great many years, how do we know that that's not the secret to longevity?

WOMAN:  Look at the casting they got for this show. She's the real deal.

Today he is auditioning a new sitcom.

NORMAN LEAR:  I know that face…

WOMAN:  Come on in!

WOMAN 2:  Mr Lear, so nice to meet you!

NORMAN LEAR:  I like to meet you too, what do you know about that?

WOMAN:  Come on in.

WOMAN 3: Hey, baby! What the hell have you been doing all these years?

MAN:  Do you know how long its been?

NORMAN LEAR:  Tell me.

MAN:  30 years. The pilot for Sanford and Son.

NORMAN LEAR:  Oh for crying out loud. I like your face, I don’t give a sheet what anyone says.

MAN 2:  Guess who died. Or as my mother used to say, you’ll never guess who died.

NORMAN LEAR:  I wrote a script called “Guess Who Died.” A show about the elderly that nobody wants.

WOMAN: Morning Patricia, how are you doing?

WOMAN 3:  Terrific.

WOMAN 4:  Fantastic? Can’t sleep without Zanax.

WOMAN 5:  Can’t get up without Celebex, can’t eat without Brilazec.

WOMAN 6:  Other than that, I’m terrific.

WOMAN:   I heard you grumbling, getting up this morning, stumbling to the bathroom with all your aches and pains.

MAN: Yeah, but you know nothing of the great dump that followed.

MAN 2:  If humankind could experience when great collective dump there would be peace on earth that even Gandhi didn't dream of.

NORMAN LEAR:   I believe in that. I’m so delighted to hear it read. Because I’ve never heard it read. It's never come to the place where actors have read it for me, and I like it. I really like it. So I wrote this five years ago... And the right people read it, I know, the right people thought it funny, I know. But the right people said it's not our demographic, it’s not our demographic.

WOMAN:  Well they’re overlooking a lot of people, there's no question.

WOMAN 6: I haven’t done any TV in-I don’t even keep days, but I’m not even up for anything. All you’re right for are little grannies. But that's not how I go through the world you know?

NORMAN LEAR:  Enjoying ageing. What's not to enjoy?

WOMAN 5: It's a gift many don’t get, old age.

NORMAN LEAR:  It's a gift many don’t get, old age. Youth worship. Why does the media seek out 18-39? They believe older people don’t matter. I wrote it because we are so under represented.

Norman spent years trying to get the pilot made but says no-one will go near a project about older people. He vows to keep trying.

NORMAN LEAR:  This is called watching an old man struggle to eat a cookie.  I will be 94 on the twenty seventh of July. Somebody said to me, you know, God, ‘You want to live to 102? But you have to die the next day. Would you sign this paper? I wouldn’t sign it for 118. Because I don’t want to know- well maybe 118, I have to rethink that. I seriously thought about 118.


ALLEN:  Oh, hello.

NORMAN LEAR:  What do you think of Murry?

ALLEN:  He is a little young for me.

NORMAN LEAR:  You are approaching 88.

ALLEN:  I am 88.

NORMAN LEAR:   So his wife has died moments before, and her body… she's sitting the way she was when she died…

ALLEN:  So Blanche - From that, to this. That first sight of you in that fluttery spring dress, I don’t know what they were praying for at that moment across the street but I was praying for another gust of wind to lift that chiffon to see more of what had to be the most exquisite legs in the history of exquisite legs. Blanche, I love you 66 million 130 thousand 405 Barbie dolls dressed for a wedding to the men of their dreams all of them singer-songwriters. And I love you, Blanche, enough to trust you with my every secret. The deepest of which is how much I love you.

NORMAN LEAR:  God you made me cry... I love the way you did that.

ALLEN:  Ah, thank you. Well I think if you’ve lost someone... and I have at home... There's a beautiful ceramic urn with my wife's ashes and I like that the fact that it's there. From that to this. You know? I mean it was all so real.

NORMAN LEAR:  Aren’t you expected to grow? Learn more about yourself, learn more about the world? You are when you’re young. Why would you be less expected to grow when you’re 80? The culture dictates how you behave and maybe the elderly buy into it the way they grow old. My role here now is to say. Wait a minute, that's not all there is! There's a good time to be had at this age.


Japan's Cheerleading Grannies


dean cornish

story producer

joel tozer

associate producers

ana maria quinn

anna watanabe

story editor

nick hogan


Not Dead Yet


heidi ewing

story producer

rachel grady

story editor

amira dughri

andrew saunderson