AFP 

KOHAMA

They joke about knocking on heaven’s door, but a Japanese ‘girl band’ with an average age of 84 have struck a blow for grannies everywhere by becoming pop idols.

Hailing from the remote, coral-fringed island of Kohama in Okinawa, KBG84 — a play on the name of saccharine teeny boppers AKB48 — admit to being slightly bemused by their success after cutting their first disc and completing a sellout Japan tour. “When I first heard someone call us ‘idols’ I thought an idol meant someone who had lived a long life and was at the gates of heaven,” pint-sized diva Tomi Menaka, 92, told AFP in a herb garden overlooking Kohama’s turquoise sea.

“But in Tokyo they told me it was an entertainer — which was a relief because I thought it meant I was on my way to heaven,” she added, picking up steam as her fellow group members collapsed in fits of giggles. “I hadn’t even been to Tokyo or Osaka. I wanted to go there before I went to heaven.” The 33-strong troupe of singers and dancers has released a single called “Come on and Dance, Kohama Island”, with a heart-warming video shot on the tiny honeymoon isle, which has a population of just 600 and lies a mere 150 miles (240 kilometres) off Taiwan.

Normally hunched over a walking stick, Menaka tosses her cane aside like a bona fide rock star when she’s on stage, dancing with joyous abandon to the pling-plang of traditional Okinawan string music given a Tokyo-style pop makeover. “I’ve never been as happy as I am when we perform,” she said, wearing a stripy kimono and flame-red headscarf, her gold teeth glistening in the midday sun.

“Going to Tokyo for the first time, I thought I was so lucky to be born. I got to meet my grandchildren. I’ll never forget it. I was moved to tears.” Okinawan islanders have one of the highest life expectancies in the world, their diet containing more vegetables and less sugar than that of mainland Japanese, the staple food the purple-fleshed local sweet potato rather than rice.

Menaka, a queen bee of the group, which has a minimum age requirement of 80, stays fit by doing housework. But she is not particularly fussy about her diet. “I like meat and sweet things,” she cackled, flanked by the group’s eldest member, 97-year-old Haru Yamashiro, who shook her head disapprovingly. “I look after my health by cleaning my home, wiping the floors, steaming rice. I stay in the shade when it’s too hot. I don’t want to tan. I have to take care of my skin — I’m still young at heart!”