Grannies stay young with cheerleading
STRUTTING her stuff in a gold-hemmed mini-skirt, white leather boots and shaking silver pom-poms, octogenarian Fumie Takino has discovered her elixir of youth - cheerleading.
She and her troupe of spirited grannies tweak the nose of old age, even if their routine to the song Dreamgirls leaves them out of breath and their tank tops dripping with sweat.
Ms Takino, 84, has spearheaded the group of more than 20 bubbly seniors for some two decades, founding the "Japan Pom-Pom" squad after being bitten by the cheerleading bug in her 60s.
"You have to be 55 or older," she told AFP, referring to the qualification for joining her team, the average age of which is 70.
Ms Takino notes that her hobby has helped mitigate the effects of ageing.
She took up the activity when her relationship with her husband began to falter.
She explained: "I put up with it until my children got married."
Ms Takino added that she became emboldened by changes she made in middle age.
The first came at 53, when she flew to Texas to study.
After completing a master's degree in gerontology at the University of North Texas and a work placement in New York, she returned home with a new-found sense of freedom.
But it was actually in Japan that she encountered the quintessentially American activity of cheerleading.
"It blew my mind," said Ms Takino, who immediately rounded up five friends to start her own troupe after first hearing about cheerleading.
Two decades later, the grannies gather each week for intense training.
This year, the team celebrated its 20th anniversary by performing as guests at Japan's annual United Spirit Association (USA) Nationals competition, where mostly high school and university teams compete.