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Japan’s Blue Zone

A Blue Zone is a region in the world where people live much longer than the average human lifespan anywhere else. There are five known geographic areas where people live statistically the longest: Okinawa in Japan, Sardinia in Italy, Nicoya in Costa Rica, Icaria in Greece, and Loma Linda in California. In the last location, the centenarians belong only to the Seventh-day Adventist population. 

What do residents of these areas do that give them a long life? Scientific research revealed the following: They put family ahead of other concerns that they may have in life. They do not smoke. They are semi-vegetarians, as most of the food they eat come from plants.

They also regularly engage in moderate physical activity, and they are socially active through personal interaction, not through electronic or digital means. Legumes are also a constant in their diet.

Why are these regions referred to as the Blue Zones? Simply because the two original researchers drew concentric blue circles on the map, as they zeroed in on the particular areas known to have a lot of centenarians. They later began referring to the area inside the circle as the Blue Zone.

So, let’s take a closer look at the Blue Zone nearest us and see what makes the people there live longer than those in the rest of Asia.

One of the many pristine beach destinations in Okinawa
Okinawa is in the southwestern tip of Japan, and is in the same latitude as Hawaii, Miami, Cancun, and other resort areas in the world. Could its location also be a factor in prolonging the lives of its residents? It could very well be because its subtropical climate keeps its residents warm even during winter. 

Okinawa has a very interesting history. It used to be an independent kingdom, the Ryukyu Kingdom, which had a flourishing trade with various Asian countries until Japan annexed it. At one time, after World War II, it was under the administration of the USA and, in fact, until now, it holds almost half the number of US military personnel stationed in Japan.

Such landmark events in its history gave rise to Okinawa’s diverse culture, exhibited in its crafted products, cuisine, performing arts, and martial arts.

For tourists who are looking beyond the sun-sea-sand attraction that this destination offers, its many World Heritage and War Memorial Sites give visitors a first-hand look at its glorious historical past.  

Okinawa is also called the Island of Song and Dance. Ryukyuan dance is so diverse, yet so representative of its culture. Its diversity requires it to be classified under four genres—classical, popular, modern, and folk—and designated as an important Intangible Asset of Japan. The traditional music drama, Kumi Odori, a narrative traditional dance indigenous to Okinawa, has been registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Folk songs are played to the accompaniment of the sanshin, a traditional Okinawan musical instrument that is similar to a banjo. It has a rounded body, usually made of snakeskin, a neck, and three strings.  

The Eisa, a valiant dance performed by native Okinawans to the beat of drums, to honor the spirits of their ancestors, is still performed today, the same way their ancestors did it hundreds of years ago.

Tourists take in the sights in a wooden cart drawn by a water buffalo
So how does Okinawa feed every visitor’s craving for souvenirs? There is a wide array of pottery wares, lacquerware, dyed goods, and textile. Glass-making is also a popular industry, and beautiful ornamental glassware can be had for a song!

So what can visitors eat to try to match up to the residents’ healthy lifestyle and, hopefully, live to be a hundred, as well? The locals call it Kusuimun, meaning healthy and medicinal food. A typical meal consists of Champuru, a stir-fry mix of a variety of ingredients including tofu, meat, and vegetables. Some also binge on dishes with plenty of pork, seaweed, and fresh fish caught in the local waters.

An Okinawan meal is best enjoyed with Awamori, a traditional distilled liquor produced since its origin in the Ryukyu Kingdom period. As it ages, the degree of maturity increases, enhancing its mild taste and distinctive aroma.   

Although there still are no direct flights from Manila to Okinawa, we can fly to Hong Kong any day of the week and catch any of its direct flights to Naha Airport in Okinawa, less than three hours away.  

Doesn’t the idea of living to be a hundred excite you? Go and see how they do it in Okinawa.

For feedback, I’m at [email protected]

Topics: Blue Zone , Okinawa , Island of Song and Dance , Ryukyuan , Awamori , Champuru

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