|By David Hickey, Japan Times,
TokyoMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 18, 2008 - It
was reportedly good enough for Elizabeth Taylor. It kept Chairman Mao
forever young (until he died). And Charlie Chaplin went straight to the
source -- a clinic in Bucharest -- for it. Now, thanks to a tieup
between Romania's government and the high-class healing resort Hotel
New Akao Royal Wing in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, the famed antiaging
treatment developed by controversial late gerontologist Ana Aslan is at
hand -- and it's available less than 40 minutes from Tokyo by train.
Skeptical but spent after partying too hard over the festive
holidays, I leave the Tokyo office at lunchtime and find myself
stretched out on a massage bed by 2 p.m. "We'll turn your gray hairs
black!" Hotel New Akao Royal Wing General Manager Takayoshi Goto boasts
in the lobby of his establishment, perched on the Izu Peninsula's
craggy eastern coastline on Atami's outskirts.
The middle-age Goto sports a shiny charcoal mane, suggesting
he's living proof of the success of the hotel's treatments.
The business of trying to stay looking young is likely to have
a bright future in Japan. With the nation's population both shrinking
and aging -- some experts predict that it may fall by as much as a
quarter by 2050; when 35 percent of the population will be aged 65 or
over -- more old people will be put to work.
Four years ago the government recognized as much, amending a
law to require companies to raise their mandatory retirement age to 65
"More and more people aged 50 or above will have to keep on
working," says Goto. "And they can only do that if they're healthy."
Which is where the Hotel New Akao Royal Wing fits in.
Everything about this 100-room palace to pampering oozes rejuvenation
and relaxation. Even the elevators have chairs in them in case you're
too knackered to stand. "We're hoping to attract company managers,"
says Goto. "At the moment, the number of senior males having beauty
treatment is close to zero. It's an image problem.
When Japanese think of beauty treatment, they think it's for
women." Not unreasonably, the resort staff believe that environment,
food and customer service are as important as the antiaging treatment
itself in making guests feel younger. The hotel's standard plan offers
a three-night stay for two (Â¥127,500 per person;
Â¥498,000 per person for the Imperial Suite) in a generously
proportioned twin room with an ocean view; breakfast and a
health-conscious eight-course dinner with some produce sourced locally;
and three 75-minute-long beauty-treatment sessions at the resort's
four-bed spa, Rejuve.
Guests even get their own concierge to advise them on how to
make the most of their four days. This might entail taking a walk
through the hotel's vast Akao Herb and Rose Garden (at 82,500 sq.
meters, it's 13 times the size of Tokyo Dome) or a soak in the hotel's
rose-petal-scented hot spring (for women only; men get their own onsen,
but no petals).
Well, if it was good enough
Though it's not mentioned on the hotel's Web site, the plan
also includes treatment at Atami Onsen Clinic, just in case all of the
above hasn't taken 10 years off you. There, after a patch test for skin
allergies, guests can receive a series of injections and prescription
drugs in line with Aslan's treatments. The Romanian antiaging
specialist attracted thousands of wealthy types from around the world
to her Bucharest clinic in search of the drug she developed, Gerovital
H3, which she promoted as having rejuvenating qualities. Some of the
effects purportedly include the boosting of hormone levels -- resulting
in enhanced sexual potency -- and the neutralization of those nasty
free radicals that make your skin age.
Although the World Health Organization acknowledged Aslan's
work, much of the medical establishment -- including Japan's health
ministry -- remains skeptical of GH3's promise of prolonged youth.
Nonetheless, Goto confirms that GH3 is included in the clinic's
treatments. Hotel New Akao Royal Wing recommends four sets of
injections over a year, and I tell myself that it is because my stay is
for 24 hours only that I spurn the needles for a bit of kneading --
hoping that an hour at Rejuve having my face scoured of a layer of skin
(Extaz Basic Facial: Â¥15,000) will do the trick.
"Is this your first time?" asks Rejuve beautician Izumi
Tanaka. "Yes." "Do you have any skin problems?" Tanaka probes. "Well,
given the choice, I'd rather not have those bags under my eyes, and my
skin often feels rather rough, but then perhaps that's because of the
face wash I'm using." Tanaka nods, then leads me to one of the four
rooms and steps outside to allow me to disrobe.
Five minutes later I'm lying on my back and Tanaka is applying
antioxidization cleansing milk with cotton wool and rubbing every
corner of my face into submission. The aim is to restore my skin's
natural moisture balance and reduce tension. She then scrubs that off
and gets to work with another cleansing lotion that should help my skin
avoid pimples (it's high in vitamins) as well as remove grime. All the
while, she's telling me that facials are beneficial to everybody from
20 to 80. Including men. With me suitably lathered and already feeling
ready to doze off, Tanaka starts to massage the back of my head,
shoulders and neck. "Wow, it's so hard!" she says, as she wrestles
gainfully with my scalp. I ask for her expert assessment as to the
cause. Tanaka thinks it's stress.
She's doing her best to alleviate that, though, as she moves
on to a facial massage, smearing me in sea buckthorn oil (sea buckthorn
leaves were supposedly the gruel fed to Pegasus to help him take
flight) and coaxing every ounce of tension from my pores. She finishes
me off by baking my face in hot towels. And if that lot won't relax
you, nothing will. Staring in the mirror, my weary visage certainly
looks healthier; my skin feels moist, velvety even. But to stand a
chance of actually beating back the aging process, Aslan's disciples
recommend medication -- and this includes injections -- four times a
year. My treatment was just beginning.
Atami is 37 minutes from Tokyo Station on the Nozomi Shinkansen (Â¥1,890). Shuttle buses then take guests to Hotel New Akao Royal Wing; for reservations call (0557) 83-6161 or visit www.newakao.jp
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