The islands of Okinawa are located south of mainland Japan, surrounded by the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. A social and healthy lifestyle makes the people in the archipelago reach the highest ages in the world.
Street life in Naha is full of activity. The capital city of Okinawa Prefecture is home to about 300 000 people and is the biggest city in the Okinawa Prefecture.
Often overlooked by cities on the mainland, it is in fact one of the most interesting cities in Japan. The city offers good shopping, especially of food products. The main landmark is the Kokusai-dori, or international road which runs straight through the city centre and is packed with vendors selling tropical fruits like dragon fruit, papaya, mango, pineapple and the famous shiquaasa, a lime-like citrus fruit.
At the Makishi public market vendors sell locally produced seaweed-products and sea grapes; also called green caviar. A smoked sea snake is hanging from the ceiling and the local habu snake – popular with mainly Chinese tourists, is found throughout the market.
A big plate of fresh sashimi is not only a feast for the palate, but at three euro, also for the wallet. If you like ice cream, head to Blue Seal which has the most famous ice cream in Okinawa and odd flavours like salt cookie and purple sweet potato.
Many people think of Kobe beef as the best Japanese meat but Okinawa has it’s own prized beef: Ishigaki beef, named after the island of Ishigaki in the Okinawa Prefecture. At Retro Steak House in Naha the vibe will take you back to the 60’s, but rather than retro, the place is well preserved. You definitely come her for the juicy steaks.
When you want to get out of the city take a daytrip to Kerama Islands National Park, which consists of a cluster of about 20 islands – about 35 kilometres west of Okinawa main island, including four inhabited rainforest covered islands. Beautiful emerald green waters and visibility to a depth of 50 meters makes the area a great diving spot.
Beach life and corals
When you want a beach close to Naha, head to Bibi Beach – a short car ride away. White sand and turquoise water makes it ideal for an afternoon hangout. Iesha Llewellyn from Wales is working in a parasailing shop located near the water’s edge. “I’m living on a beach, it’s very laid back,” she says.
The islands also have underwater adventures. Several dive operators offer scuba diving at the archipelago’s coral reefs. Due to global warming Okinawa has experienced coral bleaching, like in many other parts of the world. Replanting of corals along the islands coastline is trying to tackle the problem. Washed up corals are still used in an ancient dying style called Bingata – where corals were used to dye clothes – in the Okinawan culture.
Oldest people in the world
Okinawa is foremost famous for its old population; the citizens reach the highest ages in the world – mostly due to active lifestyles and a healthy diet. This is specifically true in “the longevity village” of Ogimi on the northern part of the main island. The village has about 3200 people and 156 of the villagers are between 90 and 105 years old.
We visit when the village celebrates a birthday party in the public community hall. Yaeko Miyagi is turning 88 – a lucky number seen as a threshold to longevity. The secret behind a long life? Access to gardens where the elderly grow their own vegetables like Goya, which is a bitter lemon. It’s the symbol of Okinawa’s vegetables and contains twice as much vitamin C as lemon.
Activities such as farming also keep the inhabitants fit through daily exercise. Because people live close to nature and the weather is warm year-round, it is easy for the elderly to do outside activities.
It is very common that children do sports after school from a young age and elderly play gate-ball (Japanese croquet) with friends. Also, people often go down to the ocean to catch some seafood such as clams and seaweeds as well as grow their own vegetables.
The social network is important; people interact and lend things and money to each other when needed. Moai is one of the unique things about Okinawa; that you won’t see in mainland Japan. Essentially, moai are informal groups formed by people who won't cooperate with each other. Members of these ad hoc co-ops commit to offering emotional, social or even financial assistance to one another.
While moai are often practical in their collaborative purposes, they also provide a way for men and women to share stress during difficult times and to serve as a sort of extended family. Being a member of a moai offers people everything from long term friendships to group problem solving, from financing a business to responding to a personal crisis.
Yaeko Miyagi skips meat and keeps her diet of fish and vegetables
- " I eat three meals a day, get up early and go to bed early", she says.
Taking care of the family’s finances makes her “using the brain”. Daily talks with friends keep her alert. "And I drink tea with the younger generation as often as possible"
Okinawa has a subtropical climate and consists of 160 islands of which 40 are inhabited. The population is about 1,5 million. The average age is 87 for women and 79 for men. Okinawa has the highest centenarian ratios in the world: with 60 per 100 000 people. Tourism is the biggest sector, with seven million tourists a year, where 90 per cent is domestic.
Try bingata dying technique: www.shuri-ryusen.com