Okinawa: Home to the Secret to Long Life
Nowhere else in the world will you find more centenarians per capita—people who live beyond the age of 100 years—than Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost prefecture. Okinawa is made up of 160 islands of various size scattered across a vast area of ocean.
What is the secret?
Dan Buettner, who wrote the book on Blue Zones—the areas in the world where people live longest—attributes longevity on the island to one thing. And no, it’s not a superfood native only to the island or something in the water.
The key thing allowing so many Okinawans to reach their 100th birthday healthy and happy is ikigai. Translated roughly to ‘reason for being’, the concept of ikigai centres on finding and living one’s passion and purpose in life, and is what shapes many of the islanders’ lives to date.
In today’s day and age, finding your true passion, let alone your calling in life, can seem a little daunting— often unreachable. If you suddenly feel a pang of anxiety just thinking about these sorts of things…
And take a deep breath.
Like the seasons, your ikigai changes over time and is something to pursued over an entire lifetime. Don’t worry, it’s a process. There are many things you can do to identify your true passions in life and find your ikigai. If you, like many, find that packing your bags and taking a break from your daily life gives you clarity and perspective, perhaps taking a trip to the island of longevity and happiness is a good place to start. Although small in size, Okinawa and the surrounding Southwest islands of Japan are packed with things to see and do. There is something for everyone—and everyone’s ikigai!
Eat as the locals do
The island’s diet has been attributed to being one of the major factors of the health and wellbeing of its residents. Goya champuru, Okinawa’s signature dish, is a simple but tasty stir-fry with tofu, eggs, bitter melon and pork-belly or sometimes Spam. Yes, Spam! For snacks, you can’t go past umi budou, or
‘sea grapes’, served with a side of soy sauce and vinegar, or chinsuko, Okinawan salt cookies for those with a sweet (and salty?) tooth.
Proudly known as the ‘Village of Longevity’, Ogimi is located in Kunigami District and is home to the most centenarians in the country. Boasting a warm climate all year round, take part in the local craft and sport activities and experience the daily secrets to long life and happiness for yourself.
Fun under the sun (and underwater)
Head to the one of the many pristine beaches that Okinawa has to offer. If you’re looking for that insta-worthy shot, look no further than Cape Manza, the main island’s most iconic, picturesque beach. It features a cliff is shaped like an elephant’s trunk. If you’re looking for some fun for the kids, Busena Marine Park offers an underwater observatory and glass-bottomed boat rides to see the colourful marine life up close.
For those looking to take their beach experience up a level, or rather down a level, take a convenient trip to one of the Kerama Islands (40km west of the capital city of Naha) for a spot of snorkelling or scuba diving. The main Kerama islands of Tokashiki, Zamami, and Aka can be reached by high-speed ferry. Renowned for its world-class, crystal-clear water, explore hundreds of coral species, fish and if you’re lucky—sea turtles!
Set your clock to island time
Explore one of the many small, surrounding islands to embrace relaxed village living and avoid the big city bustle. Taketomi is an island in the Yaeyama District and not only encapsulates Ryukyu culture, but offers the special charms of Okinawa’s tradition and untouched nature. Famous for its traditional houses with red ceramic roofs and flower-lined streets, find yourself a ryokan or quiet corner on the island, perhaps with a cool drink, and soak up the calm and the quiet.
Although it’s unlikely that you will be looking to move to Okinawa permanently, although no one would blame you, you can always take a little piece back home with you, to bring you one step closer to finding your ikigai.