Okinawa is the largest island among the Ryukyu Islands in southeast Japan. Not only does it look like an amazing holiday destination, the people of Okinawa have one of the highest life expectancies in the world. In recent times, the region has been termed a ‘blue zone’- identified as one of the pockets around the world where people lived measurably longer and better.
The area is quite distinct from mainland Japan and in time has developed a unique culture.
During the 14th Century an abundance of knowledge flowed from the Song Dynasty (China), whereby Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) values promoted longevity through the concept of ‘food as medicine’.
The Okinawa diet is predominately plant-based, including antioxidant, nutrient-rich vegetables such as sweet potatoes and goya. Goya is a “bitter melon” known to be cooling in summer and a core ingredient in traditional meals like Chanparu.
Many of these vegetables they harvest themselves, and they stay active in the sunlight daily.
‘Eat the entire pig and leave nothing’ is an Okinawan saying whereby the entire pig including the legs, feet, ears, and organs is consumed. Fat is removed in a process known as akunuku and consumption is reserved to rare ceremonial occasions.
Traditional ideas about ‘health and youth’ are ingrained in Okinawan thought, evident in annual festivals celebrating youth, Yoru Kame (The Health Song), as well as Jurojin known as the God of Longevity.
An epidemiological study looked at the high prevalence of centenarians in Okinawa. The data revealed the concept of calorie restriction (CR) present across their life-course. The study is supportive of at least a partial role of CR in Okinawan longevity.
Although interesting data, the principles of longevity are certainly not isolated to CR rather, a combination of physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual elements.